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America East Season Preview: Can Vermont reign supreme once again?

UMass Lowell poses the biggest threat to the Catamounts after a breakout 2022-23 season

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round - Vermont v Arkansas
Aaron Deloney returns to Vermont after posting 11.6 points per game last season.
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Vermont has defeated opponents by an average of nearly 30 points per game over the past two America East conference tournaments. The conference has been anything but competitive at the top over the past few years.

While the Catamounts are still the favorite, the league is expected to have more parity this year. UMass Lowell received multiple first-place votes in the preseason poll after an excellent 2022-23 campaign. Bryant, not Vermont, was the only team to have multiple players voted to the preseason all-conference team. A few other programs had exciting offseasons.

Preseason All-Conference Team

  • Abdoul Karim Coulibaly, UMass Lowell
  • Clarence Daniels, New Hampshire
  • Sherif Gross-Bullock, Bryant
  • Aaron Deloney, Vermont
  • Earl Timberlake, Bryant
  • Kellen Tynes, Maine

Preseason Poll

1. Vermont 62 (6)

The America East still runs through Burlington with Aaron Deloney returning to lead the way for John Becker’s bunch this year. The Catamounts lost a ton of scoring from last year, but as always, they developed and reloaded.

Tarleton State transfer Shamir Bogues will joining Deloney in the backcourt. He is one of the top defensive guards in the country and is an extremely efficient scorer at 6-feet, 4-inches.

Vermont also brought in TJ Long from Fairfield, who began to break out of a slump at the end of last season and averaged 15.4 PPG over the final seven games.

Matt Veretto is back, and he’s ready to take a step forward on both ends.

There isn’t overwhelming amount of size in the frontcourt for Vermont, but Deloney is the only player shorter than 6-feet, 3-inches, so the Catamounts will always have size in the backcourt.

2. UMass Lowell 55 (3)

The Riverhawks now have the burden of high expectations after a surprise breakout season in Lowell for Pat Duquette’s group.

Abdoul Karim Coulibaly is one of the top rebounders and defenders in the America East, and he’s expected to be a dominant force once again. Max Brooks and Ayinde Hikim are both back and expected to see increases in their scoring averages. UMass Lowell would love to see Hikim shoot more efficiently, as his defense and playmaking already make him a high-level player.

Between Brooks, Coulibaly and Cam Morris, there’s athleticism and power in the frontcourt that not many teams in the conference can match.

3. Bryant 51

With all of the chaos surrounding the Bryant program and the uncertainty of head coach Jared Grasso, the team is still expected to have a good season.

Earl Timberlake and Sherif Gross-Bullock are two of the best scorers in the conference, each possessing the ability to take over a game. Timberlake had stops at Miami and Memphis and has now found a dominant level as an interior scorer.

Rafael Pinzon struggled to assert himself at St. John’s, but he absolutely has the requisite talent to be an excellent contributor at the America East level. Doug Edert is still around, and he’s looking to bounce back from a difficult season last year, where he shot just 28% from three.

4. Binghamton 44

Last year’s 8-8 finish was the best record that Binghamton had mustered in America East play since 2010.

While Jacob Falko and Miles Gibson are gone, Armon Harried returns to the fray for the Bearcats. The former Canisius wing is one of the top defenders in the conference, while also chipping in double-digit points last year.

Dan Petcash returns to the backcourt as well following a season in which he led the America East in 3-point field goal percentage.

Syracuse grad transfer Symir Torrence is expected to be the starting point guard. He is expected to play a more pass-first role than Falko did last season in that position.

5. Maine 36

Reigning America East Defensive Player of the Year Kellen Tynes returns to the team after leading college basketball in steals per game at 3.3, which was 1.5 more than anoyone else. Tynes averaged 14.3 PPG, 4.6 RPG, and 3.8 APG to go along with his elite defense.

Everything for the Black Bears will run through the 6-foot-3-inch guard in year two under Chris Markwood. However, it wouldn’t be wise to ignore the rest of the returning talent on this roster either.

Jaden Clayton is expected to take a sophomore leap, while Ja’Shonte Wright-McLeish, Peter Filipovity and Kristians Feierbergs also return to reprise and boost their roles from last year.

6. UMBC 25

There’s a ton of unknown surrounding the Retrievers in year three under Jim Ferry. All seven of the top scorers from last season’s team are gone, and there isn’t a clear alpha on this year’s team.

The only notable returner on the roster is Dion Brown, a point guard who can space the floor and run in transition. Surrounding him are transfers Marcus Banks, Bryce Johnson and Marlon Short, who all bring different skillsets to the table.

In the frontcourt, grad transfers Max Lorca-Lloyd and Khydarius Smith are expected to start and provide the bedrock of experience for the young roster.

7. UAlbany 23

I was surprised to see UAlbany picked to finish this low in the poll. The Great Danes had a terrific offseason, even with the loss of Gerald Drumgoole.

Jonathan Beagle is one of the best big men in the conference. Guards Sebastian Thomas, Amar’e Marshall and Tyler Bertram should really help. Marshall oozed potential in his limited minutes last season at Hofstra, and he should thrive under Dwayne Killings.

Aaron Reddish and Marcus Jackson are also back in the picture for Albany, and Justin Neely returns from injury to provide another high-impact piece.

8. New Hampshire 18

New Hampshire scored a major win when Clarence Daniels removed his name from the transfer portal early in the offseason.

However, with three other double-digit scorers gone, the Wildcats are forced to find new options. Nathan Davis found a few possible diamonds in the rough at the JUCO level. Ahmad Robinson averaged 17 PPG, 5.4 APG and 4.9 RPG for Western Texas, and he’s going to be the starting point guard. Dior Davis is another high-scoring JUCO guard who should play a role in his first season at the Division I level. Paul Gakmar and Naim Miller should also contribute to the team.

Returning sophomore big man Ridvan Tutic is expected to make a jump as well.

9. NJIT 10

Grant Billmeier put together an excellent staff at NJIT, but their task in year one is a heavy one. After a 4-12 finish last year, the Highlanders lost a plethora of key pieces.

The new staff has already made an impact on recruiting. NJIT reeled in Roselle Catholic PG Sebastian Robinson and Avon Old Farms wing Jeffrey Akintolu. Both are is expected to start for the Highlanders.

Assistant coach RaShawn Stores brings along with him Manhattan transfers Elijah Buchanan and Daniel Schreier. Buchanan is expected to be one of the top scorers along with returner Adam Hess.