America East Conference Men’s Basketball Season Preview and Predictions

With the college basketball season only days away, it’s time for a preview of the upcoming year. College basketball, as a whole, this year isn’t shaping up to be that exciting. Duke, Kentucky, Villanova, North Carolina, and Michigan State are all expected to make a run at the title which is no different from any other year. The top recruiting classes belong to Duke and Kentucky, again, and the ACC is slated to be the best conference in the country, again. Although watching these teams is exciting, the most competitive basketball this year will come from the nation’s worst men’s basketball conference, the America East Conference.

The America East Conference isn’t muchfor basketball. Most people remember 2005, when Vermont beat Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament after TJ Sorrentine, in the words of Gus Johnson, “hit that one from the parking lot!” But that’s usually all people remember or know about the America East.

With only nine teams, the conference gets overlooked. Last season, four out of nine teams were above .500 out of conference and those same four teams were the ones above .500 in conference play. That’s absolutely horrible. And this year isn’t going to change much. This will be the worst conference in the nation for men’s basketball this year. Out of 351 Division I college basketball teams, the America East has one team ranked in the top 100 in the preseason polls. Although it has potential to have some bad basketball, this conference will be one of the most competitive within. Two teams are clearly better than the remaining seven, but those remaining seven teams will give us some of the most exciting games all year. Here are my previews and predictions for the 2016-2017 season of America East Conference men’s basketball…

Ernie Duncan
Vermont’s Ernie Duncan

Vermont Catamounts

In the mid to late 2000s, Vermont controlled the conference. Their coach at the time, Mike Lonergan, was considered one of the best basketball coaches without a big time job. In 2011, he left for the George Washington job, where two weeks ago he was fired due to verbal and emotional abuse. Since he left Vermont, they haven’t been that powerhouse that they once were, but this is the year where they will reclaim their throne. Vermont returns five of their top six scorers from last season where they went 23-14 and finished third in conference play. Coach John Becker will have his team led by Ernie Duncan, Trey Bell-Haynes, and Kurt Steidl who all could be all conference selections. The Catamounts will, once again, win 20+ games and be ready once conference play starts due to their experience and challenging non conference schedule (at South Carolina, at Butler, and at Harvard).

Albany Great Danes

Joe Cremo
Albany’s Joe Cremo

Since 2010, Albany has been the team to beat. Winners of three of the last six conference tournaments, Albany will be the next best team this year. Although they did lose the Trevor Cooney of the America East Conference (both are lanky shooters who seemed to be in school for eight years) with Peter Hooley graduating. With the best coach in the conference, Will Brown, it is hard to not challenge for the title year after year. This year, it also helps that they have one of the conference’s best players, Joe Cremo. Albany lost three seniors but Cremo is a player of the year candidate who will average 20+ points per game, push Albany to 20+ wins, and be the only real challenge for the Catamounts at the top of the conference.

Tanner Leissner
UNH’s Tanner Leissner

New Hampshire Wildcats

Coming off a 20-13 season, UNH will be as strong as they were last year. Returning is guard Jaleen Smith and player of the year candidate Tanner Leissner who led the team in scoring and minutes per game. This will be the best defensive team in the conference for the second year in a row. Head coach Bill Herrion and his staff have their team in the top half of the conference defensively every season and this year will be no different. But that’s not all they will be good for. Expect the Wildcats to win 18+ games and Tanner Leissner to average 22+ points per game and win player of the year.

Binghamton Bearcats

Willie Rodriguez
Binghamton’s Willie Rodriguez

My beloved Bearcats. Being from Binghamton, I’m an avid Bearcats basketball fan. I’ve had season tickets since I’ve been 6 years old and I have no interest in stopping anytime soon. Since 2009, the Bearcats have been the laughing stock of the conference. They had a stretch of three seasons where they won a combined 10 games which can hurt any program for years. Head coach Tommy Dempsey has a strong team this year. Returning every player and adding two freshman and a transfer who is eligible to play will make the Bearcats competitive. Junior forward Willie Rodriguez will lead Binghamton in every category this year and will get first team all conference honors. Senior guard Marlon Beck II will contribute his three point shooting while sophomore forward Thomas Bruce will become one of the better rim protectors in the conference. I see 16+ wins and an overall win percentage around .500 for my Bearcats this season, which is a huge step in the right direction.

Jarius Lyles
UMBC’s Jarius Lyles

UMBC Retrievers
The Retrievers finished last in the conference last year after going 7-25. They return their top four scores from last year including player of the year candidate, Jairus Lyles. The guard averaged 23 points per game last year but the Retrievers are led by new coach, Ryan Odom. Odom has success at his previous school, Lenoir-Rhyne, and is expected to turn the Retrievers around. There is only one way to go for UMBC and that is up in regards to their previous coach, Aki Thomas, who piled up a terrible 28-95 record in four years at the helm. Lyles, who will be first team all conference selection, and Coach Odom have the Retrievers set up for a 15+ win season and could be the sleeping giant in the conference.

Stony Brook Seawolves

Jeff Boals
Stony Brook Head Coach Jeff Boals

Man, where do I begin? Coming off a season where they went 26-7, won the regular season and conference tournament, and gave Kentucky a first half scare in the first round of the NCAA tournament, you would expect them to be the best team, right? So wrong. For starters, the coach left for the Rutgers job so that brings in new coach, Jeff Boals who has been an assistant under Thad Motta at Ohio State for seven years. Four of their five starters will not return including the reigning player of the year, Jameel Warney. But the Seawolves’ cabniet isn’t completely empty. Redshirt freshman Akwasi Yeboah, a member of the England U18 national team is set to be a first team all conference selection and lead the Seawolves to 14+ wins in Boals’ first year in charge on Long Island.

Steve Gallagher
Hartford Head Coach Steve Gallagher

Hartford Hawks

The Hawks would have been right up there with New Hampshire but their leading scorer from last year, Pancake Thomas (yes, his real name is Pancake) left the team this summer to join Western Michigan. That leaves Jalen Ross, the team’s lone senior to lead the Hawks. Ross averaged 12 points per game and led the team in steals. Being a fan of America East basketball, I’ve learned to never under estimate Hartford coach, Steve Gallagher. He has one of the more unique and brightest minds in college basketball and he always gets the best out of his teams. This could be the show me something or get our year for Coach Gallagher who has never won the conference in his arrival in 2010. Unfortunately, without Pancake Thomas, this team has a ceiling of 10 wins which would match their win total from last season. That means Coach Gallagher may be looking for a job come March.

UMASS Lowell Riverhawks

Jahad Thomas
UMASS Lowell’s Jahad Thomas

It is hard to give an accurate prediction on the Riverhawks. Being a Division II school a few years ago, this is their last year of probation where they can not compete in post season play. In a conference where the regular season doesn’t matter as much, the Riverhawks are counting down the days until next season when they can play in March. Last season, they won 11 games and was led by their leading scorer, Jahad Thomas. Good news is that he is back. Thomas is in the conversation to be a second team all conference selection, but due to their lack of size and experience, a 10 win season is looking like the plan for the Riverhawks.

Bob Walsh
Maine Head Coach Bob Walsh

Maine Black Bears

The Black Bears are coming off an eight win season and that’s right where they will be this year. Third year coach, Bob Walsh, will have his hands full. Having let a few players leave the program during the summer, the first six players off the bench will all be sophomores and freshman. The team will be led by junior guard, CJ Ward, who only appeared in six games last year before a season ending injury. The Black Bears will have no all conference selections and their leading scorer won’t average more than 13 points per game. This will be a year to build on for Coach Walsh.

America East basketball will be exciting this year to say the least. Vermont will end up winning it all while Maine rides in the backseat. But the beauty of college basketball is you really never know what will happen. Maybe Maine will win 20 games, maybe Vermont under performs in conference play, or maybe just maybe, my beloved Bearcats shock the conference and win both the regular season and conference tournament. Besides, the Bearcats have one of the best minds in sports always rooting for them so, at this point, anything is possible, right?


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