Last year, the America East was all about Vermont. The Catamounts went 16-0 in-conference in the regular season, giving the school its longest-ever Division I winning streak. Vermont also swept the postseason conference individual awards, headlined by Trae Bell-Haynes winning America East Player of the Year.
This year, Vermont will contend with an improved league, particularly up top. The Catamounts are still the favorites, and by a good margin, but if they want another championship, they will have to earn it.
America East Preseason Power Rankings
Luckily for fans in Catamount country, their team can stay on the national radar, both by winning conference games and pulling off an upset or two out of conference. Their non-conference schedule includes real tests against teams like Kentucky, Marquette, Harvard, and Richmond. Better yet, the Catamounts have almost all of their key pieces returning. That starts with America East Freshman of the Year, Anthony Lamb. The phenom led the team with 12.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game over only 22.5 minutes of playing time. He’s a big man who can shoot it, going 51 percent from the field and 41 percent from three, while remaining a strong defensive presence with 1.2 blocks per game. The Catamounts also return forward Payton Henson, who nearly matched Lamb with 11.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. And that’s not to mention Haynes, who led the team with 3.9 assists per game. Vermont also brings in two strong recruits in 3-star shooting-guard Skyler Nash and 6’9 Ra Kpedi, who was an all-state honoree in Indiana.
Albany won three straight America East tournament championships from 2013-15 and has remained strong since. The Great Danes will return a strong core this year, led by point guard David Nichols. From his freshman to sophomore years, he went from averaging just 2.7 points per game 17.9, with all-conference honors to boot. Guard Joe Cremo, who pitched in 15.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.1 steals last year, will join Nichols. Albany’s true strength will be its efficiency from the field. The Great Danes led the America East in free throw percentage last year and were second in offensive efficiency, according to KenPom.
Unlike the two teams ranked ahead of them, the Seawolves will actually lose a lot, including leading scorer Lucas Woodhouse and fellow guard Roland Nyama. Tyrell Sturdivant will be asked to go from key player to team star, coming off a 10.6-point-per-game season. But Stony Brook is arriving ahead of schedule. The Seawolves were not expected to come in second in the conference last year after losing leader Jameel Warney. Second-year coach Jeff Boals has made a name for himself on the recruiting trail, and this year added Anthony Ochefu, brother of Wizards forward Daniel Ochefu. Most importantly, check out Boals’ Twitter:
The Wildcats will boast one of the best players in the conference this year in Tanner Leissner. Last year, he led the team in points per game with 17.1, while adding 6.9 rebounds per game. He will be called on to do even more, now that Jaleen Smith and Daniel Dion have moved on. Greater conference success for the Wildcats also depends on Senegalese powerhouse Iba Camara, who nearly averaged a double-double last year, and Rice transfer Jordan Reed, who is looking to shine in his second year for UNH. The Wildcats will be tested early with PK80 games at Florida and Texas.
Coach Ryan Odom was not only a fantastic hire last year, but also the 2017 Joe B. Hall Award recipient, given to the best rookie college basketball coach. His team will rely on Jairus Lyles, who transferred from VCU and has blossomed into UMBC’s best player, scoring 18.9 points and grabbing 6.6 rebounds per game last year. ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported other programs were gunning to pull him away, but he stayed at UMBC. Though the Retrievers will lose another nice shooter in Will Darley, they have a strong supporting cast in Joe Sherburne and K.J. Maura. Sherburne shot 45 percent from three and Maura led the team with 1.8 steals per game.
There is a huge gap between the top and bottom halves of the America East. However, it’s hard not to like UMass Lowell. The upstart program has only been D-I since 2013, and its transition period is finally complete. The River Hawks managed to show promise last year with wins against Boston University, Cornell, and Albany. Jahad Thomas may be the most well-rounded player in the America East (non-Vermont division). He can do it all, averaging 18.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 4.6 assists per game last year. Matt Harris and Ryan Jones will look to carry the team from three. They shot 38 percent and 42 percent respectively from deep.
Binghamton simply lacks the firepower to be a contender next year. It’s hard to see a March Madness-type hero emerging on a team that lost nine straight to close last season. Former Bucknell guard J.C. Show led the way with 13.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game, but is it enough? Junior guard Timmy Rose shows promise with 3.6 assists per game and 46 percent shooting from three.
The Hawks will suffer without leading scorer Jalen Ross, who managed to put his 19.9 points per game to use with a summer league contract this summer. Yet even with Ross, the Hawks only managed to win four games in conference last year. Now what?
The Black Bears were a mess last year, finishing last in the conference and enduring plenty of humiliation off the court. Now, they lose leading scorer Wesley Myers and 38 percent three-point shooter Austin Howard.