VESTAL, New York — As a mid-major conference, America East has had its collective work cut out for it in terms of maintaining relevance in the national picture.
This season, with University at Albany and University of Maine leading the charge, the league ranks 16th out of 32 conferences in the Rating Percentage Index, jumping from last season’s rank of 23rd.
America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen said it is a testament to the overall caliber of basketball and the tough scheduling being done by conference programs.
“I think heading into this week we were in the 16th position, but two teams over [No.] 100 heading into the final week of the season is a credit to those top two programs, but then the bottom of the league [is] continuing to improve,” Huchthausen said said prior to Sunday’s conference semifinals at the Events Center on the campus of Binghamton University.
Albany was ranked 51st in the Rating Percentage Index as of Sunday afternoon, while the UMaine was at No. 69. The Great Danes and the Black Bears shared the conference regular-season title and will play for the tourney title at 4:30 p.m. Friday in Albany.
“It’s great to see our best teams be in the best position as they enter the tournament because of the depth of our league,” Huchthausen added.
The America East women’s tournament, the quarterfinals and semifinals of which were played at Binghamton each of the last two seasons. The title game is awarded to the highest remaining seed.
Huchthausen said America East women’s coaches prefer the current format, as opposed to the new men’s tournament, which is played on the home courts of the highest seeds throughout the postseason.
“I think it’s a great celebration of women’s basketball, a great celebration of the America East conference,” Huchthausen said.
“Our women’s coaches really like to have all the teams together and provide that traditional tournament atmosphere and experience for the student-athletes,” she added.
In addition to America East’s improved standing in the conference Rating Percentage Index, the conference also continues to benefit from increased national exposure. That comes through broadcast of the tournament games on ESPN3, the network’s Internet channel.
“The visibility that has, especially in a year like this when you’ve got some of the best mid-major teams and players in the country, anyone who’s watching and fans of women’s basketball know who some of our top players are,” Huchthausen said.
“They know what Maine’s doing, they know what Albany’s doing and so the fact that they can get on ESPN and people that are on the [NCAA] Women’s Basketball Committee are watching games, that is just so much more accessible as we head into selections next weekend,” she added.
Friday’s championship game will be televised on ESPNU.