America East Preview 2015-16

1.      Stony Brook
2.      Albany
3.      Vermont
4.      Hartford
5.      New Hampshire
6.      UMBC
7.      Binghamton
8.      UMass Lowell
9.      Maine

All Conference:
POY: Jameel Warney, Senior, Stony Brook
Coach of the Year: Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook
Newcomer of the Year: Cleveland Thomas, R-Senior, Hartford

First team
G – Carson Puriefoy, Senior, Stony Brook
G – Rodney Elliott, R-Sophomore, UMBC
G – Peter Hooley, Senior, Albany
F – Ethan O’Day, Senior, Vermont
F – Jameel Warney, Senior, Stony Brook

Second team
G – Cleveland Thomas, R-Senior, Hartford
G – Trae Bell-Haynes, Sophomore, Vermont
G – Evan Singletary, Senior, Albany
G/F – Jahad Thomas, R-Sophomore, UMass Lowell
F – Tanner Leissner, Sophomore, New Hampshire

Third team
G – Dre Wills, Junior, Vermont
G – Lucas Woodhouse, R-Junior, Stony Brook
G – Ray Sanders, Senior, Albany
F – Willie Rodriguez, Sophomore, Binghamton
F – Cody Joyce, Senior, UMBC

1.      Stony Brook
C – Jameel Warney, 6‘8, Senior
PF – Rayshaun McGrew, 6‘7, Senior
SF – Roland Nyama, 6‘6, Sophomore
SG – Carson Puriefoy, 6‘0, Senior
PG – Lucas Woodhouse, 6‘3, R-Junior.
Reserves: Ahmad Walker, 6‘4, Jr.; Deshaun Thrower, 6‘2, So.; Kameron Mitchell, 6‘4, Jr.; Tyrell Sturdivant, 6‘7, So.; Jakob Petras, 6’11, So.
Postseason Prediction: 14 seed
After watching this team’s heartbreaking loss in the AE Tourney final last year, I can safely say they will be exceedingly motivated to finish the job this year. Peter Hooley of Albany (an amazing story in his own right) hit a last-second three-pointer to win by 1, and the dynamic duo of Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy were left wondering what might have been. Both are back for their senior campaigns this year, and with a few impact additions, Stony Brook is the clear favorite to win the title.

After finishing a decent 127th in Kenpom’s ranks last year, the Seawolves should jump into the top-100. Warney is, without question, the best big man in the conference, a manchild who finished top-25 nationally in both O-reb and D-reb rate while putting up a dazzling 113.7 O-rating on 27% possession usage. The offense will run through him, and with a solid big man assist rate of 16.2%, he knows how to find shooters and cutters. His only real weakness is free throw shooting, a blah 58%. His partner in crime, Puriefoy, also used a high volume of possessions (26.4%), but was less efficient (99.6 O-rtg). Stony Brook completely lacked a secondary ball-handler last year, meaning Puriefoy almost never got the chance to score and slash from the wing, strengths of his game. This year, that will change dramatically. Longwood transfer Lucas Woodhouse is a perfect complement to Puriefoy, a pure point guard who posted a sky-high assist rate as a sophomore (38.1%, #9 in the country), and he’ll be able to get both studs in great positions to score. He also hit 38% from deep, meaning he’s still a threat on Puriefoy iso possessions or Warney post-ups.

The role players are solid as well. Rayshaun McGrew is kind of a Warney-lite, a great rebounder on both ends, but nowhere near the finisher and rim protector. Roland Nyama is a good spot-up shooter to sit on the weak side and distract a defender, as is Kameron Mitchell. They’ll be asked to guard tougher perimeter opponents as well.  Sophomore Deshaun Thrower will be a major breakout candidate in 2016-17 when Puriefoy and Warney are gone, but for now, he needs to be more efficient in his role (shot 31% from the field). He’s extremely streaky.

Stony Brook hung their hats on defense last year, particularly through utter dominance of the glass (11th nationally in rebound rate). With their depth and versatility this year, the Seawolves should be able to play a strong man-to-man, and a top-60 defense is a very real possibility (72nd last year). With that defense and the increased offensive potency from Woodhouse running the show, there should be plenty here to push coach Steve Pikiell’s squad to its first NCAA berth and give a highly-ranked team hell in the first round.

2.      Albany
C – Mike Rowley, 6‘8, Jr.
PF – Dallas Enema, 6‘6, Jr.
SG – Peter Hooley, 6‘4, Sr.
SG – Ray Sanders, 6‘4, Sr.
PG – Evan Singletary, 6‘1, Sr.
Reserves: Greg Stire, 6‘7, So.; Richard Peters, 6’11, Jr.; Jamir Andrews, 6‘3, Jr.; Travis Charles, 6‘6, Jr.; Joe Cremo, 6‘4, Fr.; Kyle McKinley, 6’10, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
While watching the aforementioned AE title game between Albany and Stony Brook, my roommate and I developed an affection for the Rowley brothers. The two bearded wonders put up a solid battle against Manchild Warney, but unfortunately all-conference older bro Sam has graduated. They’ll hope for a leap from the slightly larger Mike, though some baby steps might suffice with the strength of this backcourt.

Skilled, senior-laden backcourts who’ve experienced success are usually a pretty automatic key for contention at this level, and Albany will be no different this year. Evan Singletary, Ray Sanders, and Peter Hooley will form an intimidating, skilled trio, and depending how the year goes, any of them could make first-team all-conference. Hooley was a rock as a perimeter defender and shooter, and the team missed him greatly when he had to take a somber leave of his absence home to Australia to spend time with his mother before she passed away. He bounced back, though, hitting a storybook three to clinch the title game as his father and sister watched at some ungodly hour back home. With a full year of a clear head, I expect a great year. Singletary is the point guard, an efficient and athletic lead guard who can hit threes (40%) and distribute to the other talented wings. Sanders is a defensive ace who also was a strong offensive option (109.9 O-rtg).

Versatile Dallas Ennema will likely be the fifth starter; he offers a unique dimension as a 6’6 guy who can hold his own at the 4 and stretch the floor with shooting. Although Mike Rowley isn’t a polished inside scorer, he should have a lot of space to operate with four shooters around him. JuCo transfer Jamir Andrews should be a nice scorer off the bench after getting 18ppg last year. Big bodies Greg Stires and Richard Peters will provide depth, and one of them could start over Ennema if Coach Will Brown decides he wants a more conventional lineup. Newcomers Chas Brown and Travis Charles will fight for playing time as well, and true freshman guard Joe Cremo could provide a versatile fifth guard option (though the top 3 will play a ton of minutes).

Albany has the goods to win a fourth straight conference title, though finding an inside scoring option to take advantage of space provided by the guards is a priority. Sam Rowley’s rebounding will also be difficult to replace (7th and 8th in O- and D-reb rates). But Albany had by far the best offense in the conference last year, and that seems sustainable with Singletary and Hooley leading the way. The battle at the top should be a great one this year.

3.      Vermont
C – Ethan O’Day, 6‘9, Senior
PF – Drew Urguhart, 6‘8, Sophomore
SF – Kurt Steidl, 6‘6, Junior
SG – Dre Wills, 6‘1, Junior
PG – Trae Bell-Haynes, 6‘2, Sophomore
Reserves: Cam Ward, 6‘2, So.; Darren Payen, 6‘8, R-Jr.; Brandon Hatton, 6‘3, So.; Everett Duncan, 6‘6, Fr.; Ernie Duncan, 6‘3, R-Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
I’d consider Vermont a slight notch below the top 2 in this league at this point, but they are still a threat to develop and take the conference title. Like Stony Brook, they have a force of a big man inside who can command double teams and protect the rim (center Ethan O’Day), and like Albany, they have a talented and deep backcourt that can hurt opponents in a variety of ways (though they are not quite as experienced as the Great Danes’ group).

The offense and defense both run through O’Day, a true force inside. He is a talented inside scorer on the block (58%), and despite facing constant extra attention from defenses, managed to not turn the ball over very often. O’Day is also a very good shot-blocker (8.7% block rate, 54th in the country). He wasn’t quite the rebounding force one might expect, though, so losing Hector Harold to graduation might be a bigger loss than expected – he could shoot from deep while also owning the defensive boards. Zach McRoberts was poised to take that role, but he left the program after a strong freshman year. Two 6’8 Tulane transfers, Josh Hearlihy and Peyton Henson, must sit this year out. That leaves limited options at the 4, but I expect coach John Becker to make do with a combination of Drew Urguhart (good rebounder, but foul-prone as hell), Hofstra transfer Darren Payen (a long, well-built athlete), and Kurt Steidl (the team’s 6’6 3-man who will swing to the 4 at times when matchups allow for it). Steidl is the team’s best shooter and will play a ton of minutes at both forward spots to help the spacing around O’Day.

The talented backcourt is led by Trae Bell-Haynes and Dre Wills, two talented slashers. Bell-Haynes was the point guard, flashing an impressive 27.7% assist rate and a monstrous 92.0 free throw rate (FTA/FGA – 6th in the entire country), but turning the ball over far too often. Wills is an amazing athlete, posting a 4.2% steal rate and a 4.0% block rate at 6’1 with an outstanding 15.9% defensive rebound rate and his own impressive free throw rate of 55.6 (149th nationally). Neither of the two were threats from deep last year, though, and if neither has developed a shot during the offseason, it could cramp the Catamounts spacing. Another key to that will be sophomore Cam Ward, a 37% 3-point shooter as a freshman and a very good secondary ball-handler. The wild cards on the wing are the Duncan brothers, Ernie (redshirt frosh, was injured last year) and Everett (true frosh). Ernie is a very talented point guard who can stretch the floor as well as distribute, but a stress fracture in his back could be a debilitating injury. Everett is a long athlete who could join Steidl in the lineup at times to cause major matchup problems.

One crazy x-factor for Vermont is the continuing recovery of incoming recruit Josh Speidel, who was in a tragic car accident in February and survived a medically-induced coma. He will defer his arrival at Vermont for a year while he works to overcome his injuries at home, and the team hopes he will still have a chance to join them in 2016-17, but either way, his survival and recovery will be a galvanizing force for the team.

Vermont had an excellent defense last year, barely pipping Stony Brook for the top spot, efficiency-wise. With a great combo of length, bulk, and quickness and a rim protecting anchor in the paint, Vermont could be even better on that end. The biggest issue will be replacing the board work of Harold and McRoberts. My worries about the rebounding and the offensive spacing are what keep Vermont slightly below the top two for now.  

4.      New Hampshire
C – Tanner Leissner, 6‘6, Sophomore
PF – Jacoby Armstrong, 6‘7, Junior
SF – Jaleen Smith, 6‘4, Junior
SG – Daniel Dion, 6‘0, Junior
PG – Joe Bramanti, 6‘2, Senior
Reserves: Frank Okeke, 6‘6, Sr.; Iba Camara, 6‘9, So.; Ronnell Jordan, 6‘3, Sr.; Andrew Dotson, 6‘2, Fr.; Pat McNamara, 6‘5, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
New Hampshire was left wondering what might have been last year, losing by just 2 points to eventual champion Albany despite the absence of talented freshman (and leading scorer) Tanner Leissner, who also missed the team’s postseason loss to NJIT. Everyone except standstill shooter Matt Miller returns for another run at the title, and the now-seasoned Wildcats will be even hungrier after nearly pulling the conference tourney upset.

NH’s best players will probably start at the 3/4/5 spots, though Jaleen Smith can also play some point guard. Smith had the perfectly average O-rating of 100.0 last year, and if he can cut turnovers a bit, he’ll be a more effective distributor. He can shoot a little bit and helps a lot on the glass for his size (5.2 per game). Jacoby Armstrong and Leissner should be the front line. Leissner was a stud as a freshman, finishing 5th in the conference in D-reb rate, 4th in block rate, 4th in free throw rate, and shot 36% from deep. With another year of development, he could challenge for first-team honors. Armstrong was also a solid force inside, drawing fouls and making 52% of his 2’s. That combination should be a big advantage over the lower teams in the AE and give them a fighting chance against Warney/O’Day in the heavyweight matchups.

Joe Bramanti should run the point, but as a senior, you’d hope to see a decline in turnovers. He actually hit 43% from deep, but he only took 21 of them, so an uptick in volume would also be beneficial. He’s a fierce defender, though, and he’ll attempt to make life hard on opposing PGs with his strength. Daniel Dion was a nice shooter last year, and he should take a few of the shots Miller leaves behind. Ronnell Jordan and freshman Pat McNamara will also have chances to prove they can be consistent outside threats.

The other bench options include Iba Camara, an athletic but raw big man who saw valuable time with Leissner injured, and Frank Okeke, a tweener who was a poor shooter last year.

The team in general excelled on the defensive end, playing a tight, disciplined man-to-man that forced bad shots and almost always held opponents to one-and-done possessions (76.3% D-reb rate, #2 in the country). Leissner, Smith, and Armstrong were big parts of that, but the best rebounder was actually Camara, who grabbed an absurd 27.6% of defensive boards when he was on the court – would have been 11th nationally if he played more minutes. Unfortunately, he committed 10 fouls/40 minutes last year, so he couldn’t stay on the court.

With everyone back, the defense should continue to be a major strength. If Camara can play more minutes, UNH has an outside chance at a top-100 D. That would put them in a position to challenge for the conference crown, and these guys know how close they were last year.

5.      Hartford
C – John Carroll, 6‘8, Sophomore
PF – Jack Hobbs, 6‘7, Junior
SF – Taylor Dyson, 6‘4, Senior
SG – Cleveland Thomas, 6‘3, R-Senior
PG – Justin Graham, 6‘1, Junior
Reserves: Evan Cooper, 6‘0, R-Jr.; Jake Fay, 6‘6, R-So.; Jalen Ross, 5’11, R-Sr.; Dougal Weir, 6‘9, Jr.; George Blagojevich, 6‘8, Fr.; JR Lynch, 5’10, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
Middling Hartford seems destined to stay right in the middle this year. Five contributing seniors depart, but a solid incoming group of transfers and freshmen should prevent them from falling far. Like many teams in this conference, the interior defense is kind of a nightmare, but solid man-to-man defense helped keep opponents off the glass and forced a solid share of turnovers. The roster turnover means the defense could suffer a bit (though at least the transfers were able to practice with the team last year), and Coach John Gallagher is optimistic that the new talent will bump the offense above its previous 299th slot.

The best of the newcomers is Cleveland Thomas, who goes by the amazing nickname “Pancake.” A very good wing athlete, Pancake was a solid role player for New Mexico two seasons ago, and with the move to the AEast, should be one of the better athletes in the league. Two other D1 transfers join him: Jake Fay from Fordham and Jalen Ross from Eastern Michigan. Neither player made an impact on his prior stop, but both will likely find roles for Hartford (particularly the super speedy Ross). The freshman class is led by Australian forward George Blagojevich, who could give them a stretch-4 option, and JR Lynch, the starting PG for St. Andrew’s High School in New Jersey (has also produced Tyshawn Taylor, Kyle Anderson, the Hurley brothers, and current Iowa State player Hallice Cooke – oh and Joe Budden). He’ll have to fight for playing time with Ross and the returnees, though.

Despite the heavy graduation losses, a solid core returns, led by guards Justin Graham and Evan Cooper (personal reasons redshirt last year). Cooper and Graham were the starting PGs in 2013-14 and 2014-15, respectively, and both will play together at times this year. Though neither is a great passer, having both on the floor should help create opportunities for others. Wing Taylor Dyson was the most prolific shooter for the Hawks last year, hitting 37% of his 157 attempts. As a team, Hartford actually took the 10th-highest percentage of threes compared to 2’s, but only shot a disappointing 32.5% on them. Three of the graduated guards shot 29%, 29%, and 24%, so distributing those shots to better gunners could be huge.

Up front, the team should start breakout candidate John Carroll and Jack Hobbs. Carroll used a ball-hoggy 30% of possessions despite playing limited minutes and being inefficient, but with a very clear path to more minutes, the stats will come. Hopefully he can finish around the rim a little better. Hobbs was pulled out of a redshirt year last year, and he flashed potential as a stretch big man and competent defensive rebounder. The wild card is freshman TreVaughn Wilkerson, an athletic big who could make an impact but is coming off a knee injury.

Led by Thomas, Graham, and Dyson, Hartford should stay respectable in the league, but unless Thomas really takes over, they don’t really have the impact players to contend for the title. Another year in mediocrity isn’t the worst thing, but it’s hard to see a route to the top.

6.      UMBC
C – Cody Joyce, 6‘7, Senior
PF – Will Darley, 6‘8, Junior
SF – Malcolm Brent, 6‘5, Sophomore
SG – Jourdan Grant, 6‘2, Sophomore
PG – Rodney Elliott, 6‘0, R-Sophomore
Reserves: Jairus Lyles, 6‘2, R-So.; Ben Grace, 5’10, Jr.; Jakob Stenhede, 6’10, So.; Joe Sherbune, 6‘6, Fr.; Daquon Ervin, 6‘0, Fr.; Nolan Gerrity, 6’10, Fr.; Joel Wincowski, 6‘2, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
Ok, let’s get this out of the way first – UMBC was awful last year. Their offense in particular was a mess, by far the worst in the AE and 346th in the entire country. They didn’t shoot it well, didn’t hit the offensive glass, and gave the ball away at a ridiculously awful rate. Their defense was better, but still only ranked 8th in the 9-team conference, and their two best defenders graduate. Why, then, am I mildly optimistic for this team?

Well, most importantly, roster turnover for a bad team can be a positive – the two defensive players the Retrievers lose were both pretty bad on offense, with guard Wayne Sparrow being especially harmful. He posted a dismal 81.7 O-rtg while using 31% of the team’s possessions in the first 20 games before being ruled academically ineligible, and a fresh start without him will be enormously helpful. The guy who will replace him, redshirt sophomore Rodney Elliott, was the league’s rookie of the year in 2013-14, posting a solid season for a freshman leading a crappy offense before missing 2014-15 with a shoulder injury. He’s adept at getting into the lane, finishing 3rd in assist rate and 7th in free throw rate in the AE, and he can shoot it a little bit from deep too. Having Elliott back will be huge as a more efficient catalyst within Aki Thomas’s offense.

Elliott will also have the benefit of playing alongside another capable ball-handler, sophomore Jourdan Grant. Grant handled the point quite a bit as a true freshman, basically playing every minute there once Sparrow was gone. He was a very solid passer and defender, and his efficiency should also see a bump sharing the floor with a better scorer/creator in Elliott. Center Cody Joyce is a nice piece as well, the team’s most efficient starter last year who excelled at drawing contact inside; his chemistry in the pick-and-roll with Elliott will be crucial. Two long wings will likely join the starting lineup, with 6’8 Will Darley playing a stretch four role (36% from 3). He and Malcolm Brent (37%) were good shooters, but really need to cut down on the turnovers. With two creators on the floor, they shouldn’t have to handle the ball as much. Two other bit pieces last year, 5’10 Ben Grace and 6’10 Jakob Stenhede, will also have important roles. Grace was another good perimeter shooter, but he managed to not turn the ball over as much while only using 11.3% of possessions. Stenhede is the team’s best rebounder and flashed solid finishing skills last year, and he will need to play some minutes to keep the team’s rebounding afloat.

For UMBC to really improve, though, some newcomers will need to step into supporting roles as well. VCU transfer Jairus Lyles seems the most likely, as his athleticism and ability to create turnovers will help replace Sparrow’s pesky defense (3.1% steal rate). Of the freshman class, 6’9 Prime Prep grad Sam Schwietz is the most likely to contribute early with his finishing and size. Wings Joe Sherburne and Joel Wincowski, point guard Daquon Ervin, and center Nolan Gerrity will all have opportunities to earn playing time – the incumbents weren’t exactly all-stars last year, so if the young fellas jump out in practice, they’ll get chances.

Bringing a new, more talented point guard can revive an offense, and that’s what UMBC must hope for with Elliott’s return. They team offense was poor in 2013-14 too, but with a more seasoned Elliott (and supporting cast), there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic. A move towards the middle of the standings would be very promising for the program’s future.  

7.      Binghamton
C – Dusan Perovic, 6‘9, Sophomore
PF – Willie Rodriguez, 6‘6, Sophomore
SF – Romello Walker, 6‘6, Sophomore
SG – Justin McFadden, 6‘5, Sophomore
PG – Marlon Beck, 5’11, Junior
Reserves: Yosef Yacob, 6‘0, Jr.; Bobby Ahearn, 6‘6, So.; John Rinaldi, 6‘1, Jr.; Karon Waller, 6‘4, Sr.; Thomas Bruce, 6‘8, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:
Big year for the Bearcats – they get to throw away the diapers and put on some big boy pants this year!! The youngest team in the country last year (a rotation of 5 freshmen, 4 sophomores will do that), they return the top 8 players from that squad and should see some solid progression. The strength of the team is definitely the talented sophomore class, but the juniors and freshmen (and lone senior Karon Waller) provide quality complementary pieces.

The best of the bunch are forward Willie Rodriguez and center Dusan Perovic. The team’s only double-digit scorers last year, the two have games that should complement each other nicely. Rodriguez is a strong, versatile forward adept at getting to the rim and getting to the line, whereas Perovic is a true stretch big man (48% from deep!). If they can take a page from each other’s games, they’ll each be even more intimidating scorers. Bobby Ahearn, another sophomore, stepped into the starting lineup with Perovic out, and he might start next to him this year as the team’s best offensive rebounder by far.

The wings who play the most (along with Rodriguez at the should be Romello Walker and Justin McFadden, two longer players who put up very disappointing outside shooting numbers (27% and 29%). McFadden, though, is elite at getting to the rim (13th in the country in free throw rate), and he should be able to help juice the offense with easy points. Marlon Beck will play a ton of minutes at point guard, but like the other guards, his shooting percentages could use a bump (36% from 3 was serviceable, though). Two 6’6 redshirt freshmen, Jordan McRae and John Schurman will provide additional wing depth and length, and Schurman is a very good shooter.

A player to watch is freshman big man Thomas Bruce. He’ll likely contribute right away as a very good rebounder and a guy who played against high level competition at DeMatha Catholic in Washington DC. His size and athleticism combo will stand out on this team, likely earning him minutes from day 1.

The real key here is a healthy Perovic. With so much youth, the offense really struggled last year, but with more experience and comfort in Coach Tommy Dempsey’s scheme, the Bearcats should be significantly improved this year. Shooting was probably the biggest issue, and Perovic will help that two-fold – by being the team’s best shooter, and by opening the court for his teammates to get better shots.  Defensively, they relied on playing some zone due to a lack of a real big guy. With Perovic and Bruce around for the whole year to body up opposing post players (Warney, O’Day, Leissner, etc.), the defense will be helped greatly – they struggled mightily to rebound out of the zone. The wing length and athleticism should allow for steps forward on that end as well.

8.      UMass-Lowell
C – Tyler Livingston, 6‘6, Junior
PF – Dontavious Smith, 6‘8, R-Freshman
SG – Matt Harris, 6‘1, Sophomore
SG – Jahad Thomas, 6‘2, Sophomore
PG - Keith Hayes II, 5’11, Freshman
Reserves: DJ Mlachnik, 6‘2, Sr.; Josh Gantz, 6‘7, R-Fr.; Jordan Shea, 6‘4, R-Fr.; Logan Primerano, 6‘4, Fr.; Isaac White, 6‘0, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:

The second victim to exclusion from the Blue Ribbon preview book (Northern Kentucky is the other), this program has clearly hit a bit of a “Low-ell” point (get used to the terrible jokes guys!). I’m pretty sure I actually played against DJ Mlachnik when he was a froshy at Muskego High School in Wisconsin (confirmed by MaxPreps – he later transferred to St. John’s Military Academy, school of Trevon Hughes) and I was a senior; he was a scrawny little fella called up to help their varsity’s perimeter scoring. We played one of our worst games of the year and lost (but we went 23-4 and they didn’t do anything that year, so last laugh for us. HA!). Anyways, I was pretty surprised to run into his name on this random America East squad, but good for him!

I’m a bit worried about his squad this year, though. They’re extremely young and pretty small – though at least not as small as last year, when they were last in the entire nation in effective and average height, per Kenpom. Two 5’10 starters depart, though, including promising sophomore point guard Lance Crawford, who transferred to South Alabama. Jahad Thomas will probably play some point guard, though he’s far more effective slashing from the wing (not much of a shooter). That means the PG spot will mostly be manned by true freshmen Keith Hayes and Isaac White. There could be some hiccups there. Sophomore Matt Harris provides some shooting but little else, and although my boi Mlachnik didn’t see the floor much, his experience and shooting (43% from 3) should be valuable with the loss of three prominent guards. Freshman Ryan Jones and redshirt frosh Jordan Shea could earn more playing time than expected if they can score at the D1 level as well.

Up front, yikes. The team has three players 6’6 or taller, and I wouldn’t describe any of them as “thick.” Redshirt freshman Dontavious Smith is long and could block a few shots, but he’ll get pushed around by most big men, even in this league. Josh Gantz and Tyler Livingston will get playing time by default, but Gantz was not that great in high school and Livingston struggled mightily last year.

The River Hawks actually kept their defense respectable by pressuring the hell out of opponents (23.3% forced turnover rate, 13th in the country) and, surprisingly, rebounding pretty well. Thomas in particular cleaned the defensive glass at a shocking rate – 98th in the entire country as a 6’2 guard. Freshman Donny Belcher III could be in the same mold, but again, this team will really need to rebound by committee – which limits their transition opportunities. Like Maine (see next preview), they have absolutely zero shot-blocking (unless Smith emerges), and teams will feast in the paint once they beat the guards’ pressure.

Coach Pat Duquette did a nice job of getting this team to be competitive last year, but he loses a lot of pieces that were crucial to the style they played. They’ll likely be in a race to the bottom with Maine.

9.      Maine
C – Till Gloger, 6‘8, Senior
PF – Shaun Lawton, 6‘5, Senior
SF – Troy Reid-Knight, 6‘0, Junior
SG – Kevin Little, 5’11, Sophomore
PG – Aaron Calixte, 5’11, Sophomore
Reserves: Garet Beal, 6‘6, Jr.; Garvey Melmed, 6‘1, So.; Issac Vann, 6‘6, Fr.; Lavar Harewood, 6‘3, Fr.; Devine Eke, 6‘7, Fr.; Vincent Eze, 6‘8, Fr.; Dennis Ashley, 6‘1, Fr.
Postseason Prediction:

You could call Maine the Pillsbury Doughboy due to its ridiculously soft defensive belly last year, finishing dead last in the country in effective field goal % surrendered. That’s mostly due to the Black Bears’ nonexistent interior defense/rim protection – of the team’s top 9 players, no one had a block rate over 1.2%. Teams straight up murdered Maine attacking the hoop, and for that reason, coach Bob Walsh will probably have to play some of the athletic freshmen right away.

Forwards Devine Eke and Vincent Eze won’t bring a ton of offense, but they are at least athletic enough to provide a glimmer of hope in the paint. Pairing one of the two with senior Till Gloger, a decent post scorer, should make for a decent match of complementary skills, but spacing could be a nightmare. If that’s the case, junior forward Marco Pirovic will play a lot – he hit 9/25 from 3 in only 9 games last year (injury), and more than held his own on the boards (20.3% defensive rebound rate). Shaun Lawton, a rising senior whose playing time trailed off a bit at the end of last year, will also have a role as the team’s best defender (3.5% steal rate) and best slasher. He’s a bit of a tweener 3/4, though. Walsh will need to find the balance between offense and defense in this group.

The strength of the team should be the backcourt, as rising sophomores Aaron Calixte and Kevin Little (music break: immediately found starting role and were forced to learn on the job. Both showed decent passing skills (Calixte was actually the nominal point guard), and Little was an unsurprising combo of strong from outside (39%) and terrible from inside the arc (36%). Neither guy got to the line at all, but Walsh would love to see that change, as both are very good FT shooters.

Troy Reid-Knight should be the fifth starter after coming on very strong towards the end of the year (averaged a 118.9 O-rtg in his last 11 games after a brief injury absence). He’s a good shooter (though not in high volumes). He’s small for a 3, however, and could lose a bit of playing time to bigger wings Garet Beal, Lavar Harewood, and Issac Vann (the latter two of whom are freshmen).

There’s some skill here, but the team’s collective lack of size and defensive prowess will probably short-circuit any attempts to climb the standings. I hope they can manage better than 3-27, though.