- Ky McKeon
America East Preview
- New Hampshire
- UMass Lowell
- Stony Brook
All Conference Awards
POY: Jairus Lyles, UMBC
Coach of the Year: Bill Herrion, New Hampshire
Newcomer of the Year: Anthony Lamb, Vermont
Key Returners: Trae Bell-Haynes, Ernie Duncan, Dre Willis, Kurt Steidl, Darren Payen, Cam Ward
Key Losses: Ethan O’Day
Key Newcomers: Anthony Lamb, Payton Henson, Josh Hearlihy
Postseason Projection: 14 - 15 Seed (Auto-Bid)
The Vermont Catamounts have not won less than 20 games since 2008, yet have missed the Big Dance the last four seasons. Josh Becker has done an admirable job since taking over for Mike Lonergan in 2011-12, never finishing worse than 3rd in the America East. The Catamounts lose only one major contributor from last season, Ethan O’Day, and feature a ridiculously deep roster that spans the backcourt, wings, and frontcourt. Becker will have so many options to throw at opposing teams – there simply is no other choice than Vermont as the preseason AE champs.
Seriously this team is like Mariana Trench deep. Let’s start in the backcourt. Trae-Bell Haynes, Ernie Duncan and Dre Willis return as the lead guards, while Sixth Man of the Year Cam Ward rounds out the rotation. Becker may not start all three of Bell-Haynes, Willis, and Duncan, but they’ll all get substantial minutes. Bell-Haynes is the primary ball handler on the team, a skilled passer who possesses a knack for slithering his way to the basket and drawing fouls. His shooting slash of .502/.391/.797 was inspiring last year, and he’s also one of the stoutest defenders on the perimeter. Duncan was named to the conference All-Rookie team a year ago; he’s a deadly shooter from outside the arc, ranking 41st in the country with a 44.3% shooting clip last season. Willis missed several games last year due to suspension and thus had a slightly down offensive year in 2015-16. As a sophomore, Willis was named 2nd Team All-Conference, and he earned Defensive Team honors in both his sophomore and junior seasons. Willis attempts most of his shots from around the basket on offense, but it’s his defense that really propels the Catamounts. Last year, Willis ranked 7th in block percentage and 12th in steal percentage in the America East, and as a sophomore he ranked in the top three of both. Ward is instant offense off the pine, scoring 9.1ppg in 23.9mpg and shooting a slash of .504/.340/.759. Ernie’s bro Everett Duncan will also lend a hand in the backcourt – like his big bro, Everett is a scorching shooter from deep.
The wing features talented senior Kurt Steidl, Tulane transfer Josh Hearlihy, and redshirt junior Nate Rohrer. Steidl was yet another proficient deep-ball threat for the Catamounts last season (Vermont ranked 30th nationally in 3P%), shooting 37.4% on 182 attempts. His shooting is his best asset, but he also contributed on the boards where he ranked second on the team. Hearlihy projects to be another good shooting option from the wing and will also be utilized as a secondary ball handler. Rohrer was extremely efficient around the basket, finishing 71.4% of his shots at the rim in limited minutes a season ago. Out of the three, Steidl definitely starts; whether he starts as a true three-man or a small ball four remains to be seen.
Up front the Catamounts consist of another Tulane transfer in Payton Henson, rising junior Drew Urquhart, 5th year forward Darren Payen, and outstanding freshman prospect Anthony Lamb. While these four will certainly make up the rotation, Becker is liable to throw a different starting combination out each night. Henson is my pick to start in the middle; he proved to be an excellent rebounder for the Green Wave as a sophomore two seasons ago and offers competency on offense – though he may want to not ever shoot threes anymore (11/54, 20.4% in 2014-15). Payen started 25 contests last season and Urquhart started 6 of his own. Payen is the better rebounder of the two (may be the best on the team) and offers rim protection on the defensive end. Urquhart struggled with turnovers and fouling as a sophomore in limited time. Lamb could be the best newcomer in the entire conference. The 6’6’’ forward led the Catamounts with 25 points in their first exhibition game this year and followed it up by posting 18 in their second contest. From the two preseason games, Lamb appears to be a very effective rim attacker, shooting a total 22 free throws in the two games. The freshman also showed the ability to step out behind the arc and knock down threes. If was a gambling man, which I most definitely am, I’d wager Lamb starts before the season ends. My lineup of choice would be Henson/Lamb/Steidl/Duncan/Bell-Haynes with Willis and Ward providing defense and offense off the bench, respectively, and Payen/Urquhart providing depth up front.
The Catamounts are heavy favorites to take the America East this season, though they will be challenged by the likes of New Hampshire and the always-competitive Albany Great Danes. Vermont’s unfair depth (can go 10 or 11 deep) will be the key to their ability to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Expect this team to once again be the most efficient offense in the conference and shoot the ball very well. On D, they’ll be slightly vulnerable inside, but Bell-Haynes and Willis are two of the best perimeter defenders in the league. This team will give opposing units headaches in the NCAA Tournament.
2. New Hampshire
Key Returners: Tanner Leissner, Jaleen Smith, Jacoby Armstrong, Iba Camara, Daniel Dion
Key Losses: Ronnel Jordan, Joe Bramanti
Key Newcomers: Jordan Reed, Darryl Stewart
Postseason Projection: NIT/CBI/CIT
Bill Herrion finally has the New Hampshire basketball program on the right track. After decades of futility (seriously, they’ve literally always been bad), the Wildcats have strung together two winning seasons in a row and won a school record 20 games last year. With nearly everyone returning from last year’s squad, the Wildcats have a legitimate shot to reach their first NCAA Tournament in 2016-17.
The Wildcats return the best frontcourt in the America East with former All-League members Tanner Leissner and Jacoby Armstrong, and rebounding extraordinaire Iba Camara. UNH is a balanced offensive team; they attack from both the perimeter and the interior, but tend to lean towards the latter. Leissner is a difficult matchup for America East forwards. He’s quick enough to take bigger defenders off the dribble, can bully smaller guys in the post with skilled footwork, and can even shoot the three-ball a bit. His offensive versatility combined with his excellent rebounding ability makes Leissner a leading Player of the Year candidate in the conference this season. Armstrong was banished to the bench last year after starting the majority of contests during his sophomore campaign. Despite this, Armstrong still finished third on the team in scoring and rebounding while making a meaningful impact every game. He’s a more powerful post player than Leissner and has a really nice face-up game in the paint. With Joe Bramanti’s decision to retire from basketball this offseason, I’d expect Herrion to send out three bigs to start games this year, allowing Leissner to play more of a small forward role. Camara was hands down the best rebounder in the America East last year, and ranked 11th in DR% in the nation. The 6’9’’ center was a major reason UNH ranked #1 in the country in defensive rebounding percentage. His presence on the boards and rim protection ability ensures that this squad will once again be a top three defense in the conference.
New Hampshire’s backcourt will be in good hands with dual point guards Jaleen Smith and Daniel Dion. The combination’s sure-handedness last season led the Cats to ranking 2nd in the league in turnover rate. Smith is the far more used player; he relentlessly attacks the basket where he often draws fouls leading to automatic points from the line (89.8% FT%). Smith is also UNH’s best three-point shooter, knocking in a cool 37% from downtown in 2015-16. The sky is really the limit for Smith in his senior year; he’s one of the most complete guards in the conference. Dion is primarily a pass-first point guard and outside shooter (an area where he struggled from last year). Like Smith, he too shoots 90% from the free-throw line. Jordan Reed, a Rice transfer will play a key role off the pine and JUCO transfer Darryl Stewart could provide instant offense in a reserve role.
Despite all the talent on this roster, UNH was a very poor shooting team last season. The Cats ranked 297th in effective FG% which negated their excellent turnover rate, strong rebounding ability, and free-throw percentage. I think we see a sharp turnaround in the metric as players mature in Herrion’s system and the newcomers provide more offensive options. Herrion, too, mentioned he’d like to see his team get out and run a bit more this season. Defensively, the Cats will still be strong due to the aforementioned Camara and the team’s overall rebounding prowess.
I hope this is the year UNH breaks through and makes the Dance. No disrespect to the Catamounts, but I inherently root for teams who have never received a Tourney berth, and I really like this UNH roster this year.
Key Returners: Joe Cremo, Mike Rowley, Greig Stire
Key Losses: Evan Singletary, Peter Hooley, Ray Sanders
Key Newcomers: Costa Anderson, Devonte Campbell, Jaraan Lands, Terrel Martin-Garcia, Marqueese Grayson
Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16
Will Brown has amassed an impressive resume as the Albany head coach since accepting the job back in 2001. In his 15 seasons, Brown has led the Great Danes to five NCAA Tournament appearances and has achieved an eye-catching 28-4 conference record over the past two years. The Danes lose their three-headed backcourt monster with the graduations of Evan Singletary, Peter Hooley, and Ray Sanders, but still bring back a talented core (including a POY candidate) and several impact transfers. Brown’s team should once again be a force to be reckoned with in the America East.
With the departure of the three-headed monster, 6’4’’ sophomore guard Joe Cremo will be handed the keys to the Albany offense. Cremo was named the America East Rookie of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year last season as a freshman and is expected to put up large numbers this year. Cremo’s preferred style of attack is slashing to the basket, drawing contact in the process for easy trips to the line. Had he qualified, he would have ranked in the top 100 in the country in free-throw rate last season (he ranked #1 in FD/40 in the America East and #2 in free-throw percentage). Cremo isn’t a one tricky pony though, he can also shoot the crap out of the ball as proven by his scorching 40.4% three-point clip, and he’s very adept at posting up and scoring on smaller guards in the paint. With the three leading scorers from last season gone, Cremo is going to have to shoulder the lion’s share of the scoring, which could vault his scoring average near the 20ppg mark.
The three other known entities of this Danes team reside in the frontcourt. Starters Mike Rowley and Greig Stire return to man the inside, while senior Dallas Ennema looks to slot in at the vacant 3-spot. Albany ranked 35th in OR% and 25th in DR% in the nation last season much thanks to the efforts of Rowley and Stire. A big chunk of the Danes’ buckets last season came off of offensive put-backs and second chance opportunities (Albany was not a good shooting team outside of about 5 feet). Both Rowley and Stire are sturdy, hard-nosed forwards capable of gong toe-to-toe with just about any frontcourt in the league. Rowley is a bit more of an offensive threat, while Stire is the more superior rebounder. Ennema was productive in a reserve role last year, particularly from deep where he shot 34.2% from three. The three-headed monster attempted a combined 415 three-pointers last season, meaning we should expect to see Ennema’s usage sharply increase from that area to make up for the lost production.
The main returning cast will be fortified this season with a slew of JUCO transfers. Specifically, 6’2” SG Costa Anderson, 6’6” wing Devonte Campbell, 6’7” forward Jaraan Lands, 6’2” PG Marqueese Grayson, and 6’6’’ forward Terrel Martin-Garcia should have the biggest impacts. If it weren’t for Albany’s glaring need of a point guard, Anderson would likely start for this team (and he still might), but the JUCO All-American is more of a scoring off-guard who works best chucking threes. Anderson’s shooting ability will be a welcome breath of fresh air to a team that struggled with hitting jumpers last year. Campbell is an athletic wing who will push Ennema for a starting spot at the small forward position. He brings defense, rebounding, and three-point shooting to the table for the Danes. Lands will bring a bruising presence in the paint off the bench with his strength, shot blocking, and rebounding ability. Martin-Garcia, too, will help on the glass, but he can also stretch the D by stepping put behind the arc. Grayson will compete with rising sophomore David Nichols for the vacant point guard slot.
Despite the losses of some key veterans, the Great Danes still look to be a top three America East squad. Their elite rebounding ability coupled with their uncanny knack for drawing fouls and scoring points in bunches from the line make them a tough team to reckon with for opposing defenses. On the other side, the Danes utilize both a man and 2-3 zone look to effectively force opponents into shooting unwanted challenged threes (15th best 3P% defense nationally). Brown will have Albany knocking on the door of the Tourney once again in 2016-17.
Key Returners: Willie Rodriguez, Marlon Beck, Thomas Bruce, Everson Davis, Justin McFadden
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Fard Muhammad, J.C. Show
Postseason Projection: Vegas 16/None
If we want to look on the bright side, Coach Tommy Dempsey has improved the Binghampton Bearcats’ record in each of the four years he’s been at helm. If we want a harsh reality check, those win totals over the past four seasons are: 3, 7, 6, and 8. Whoops, looks like he didn’t improve his third year, but instead of taking the coward’s way out and editing that sentence, I’m going to push forward with the preview just like Dempsey is going to push the Bearcats forward this season in what could finally be a year of success. Binghampton returns everyone from last season and add some talented newcomers giving them the tools to play Cinderella in America East.
Willie Rodriguez is the catalyst of the Bearcat offense, an offense that ranked 11th worst in the country last season. Rodriguez efficiency numbers weren’t great, but he still led the Cats with a 98.7 o-rating and bailed them out countless times when the offense went stale. Watching Binghampton’s attack last year was brutal; they couldn’t shoot at all, and they hardly moved on offense leading to Rodriguez or one of his colleagues to force an ill-advised late shot-clock jumper. Rodriguez should still be the focus of Dempsey’s attack this season with his excellent post-up and slashing abilities, but he shouldn’t be on an island. The Bearcats return some capable scorers in the backcourt to support the potential All-League player.
Marlon Beck and Everson Davis are the incumbents in the backcourt, but freshman Fard Muhammad, returning junior Yosef Yacob, and Bucknell import J.C. Show are going to challenge the pair for minutes and starts all season long. Davis played a lot of point guard during his freshman season, but he was literally one of the worst offensive players in the land efficiency-wise (78.4 o-rating with a .401/.169/.723 shooting slash). When Davis’s turnover woes became to pervasive, walk-on Timmy Rose had to step to help with ball handling duties, which hopefully is a huge kick in the balls to Davis and a strong message to get his yips together. Beck, though horrid from inside the arc, tickled the twine from deep at a 35.8% clip, which was by far the best rate of any Bearcat last year. He’ll continue to earn time for his shooting ability.
Muhammad or Yacob could easily replace Davis in the starting five at the point guard slot. Muhammad is a high-scoring point with a lofty ceiling, and Yacob showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman PG in 2013-14 (he regressed in ’14-15 and hurt ’15-16). Yacob also offers the Bearcats with another shooting option, which is sorely needed on this roster. Show should also help in the shooting department; he was a major piece of Bucknell’s 2014-15 squad, shooting 37% on 108 three-point attempts as a frosh. Davis will be on a short leash to perform this year.
Aside from Rodriguez, the Bearcat frontcourt will consist of athletic wing Justin McFadden and big bruiser Thomas Bruce. McFadden wasn’t much of an offensive factor, but he does a lot of little things for Binghampton, including being one of their best defenders. The Bearcats weren’t awful on D last year, and they’ll mix it up with some full court pressure and zone looks with their relatively athletic lineup. Bruce was solid as a freshman, posting good shot-blocking numbers and scoring efficiently in the post (his free throws are brutal though at 47.6%). Bruce is a big-time breakout candidate this season; he could be one of the better post-men in the conference this year. Dusan Perovic, a stretchy four, and Bobby Ahearn, a strong slashing 6’6’’ wing, will add depth to the frontcourt.
This should be the year Coach Dempsey finally breaks into the double-digit win club. While Binghampton shouldn’t really be considered as a contender in this league, they could make a run at a top four finish.
5. UMass Lowell
Key Returners: Jahad Thomas, Isaac White, Matt Harris, Ryan Jones, Josh Gantz, Tyler Livingtston, Logan Primerano
Key Losses: Mark Cornelius
Key Newcomers: Rinardo Perry
Postseason Projection: None
The great Blue Ribbon college basketball preview organization refuses to give in-depth previews to teams currently in D1 transition. While we here at 3MW respect Blue Ribbon, we frankly think this attitude is bullshit, considering teams like UMass Lowell are competing and playing in, you know, D1 basketball. Just because they can’t make the Tourney, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve a fair discussion. The River Hawks have done well in their three seasons in D1, finishing 5th, 6th, and 5th again in conference play. This year, they return their seven most important players, suggesting that this may be the year UMass Lowell cracks the top four.
The River Hawks are led by human bowling ball Jahad Thomas, a 6’2” 210 pound do-everything guard. Thomas is one of the most complete players in the league with his ability to play four different positions. He’s one of the best scorers, rebounders, passers, and defenders in the America East. His only weaknesses are his limited shooting range and dreadful free throw percentage, but he more than makes up for those shortcomings with his toughness on the boards and leadership. Thomas will bring the ball up occasionally, but he is more often used as a ball screener and high-post threat. The junior guard shot 64.4% at the rim last season, which propelled UMass Lowell’s 25th best ranking in 2P FG%.
The River Hawks were the 5th smallest team in the nation last season making it necessary for them to play at one of the country’s fastest tempos and rely on three-point shooting. Matt Harris and Isaac White both return as three-point shooting threats on the perimeter to which Thomas can feed pinpoint passes. White connected on 43.1% of his threes last season while Harris knocked in 41.7%. Joining the two sharpshooters will be sophomores Ryan Jones and Logan Primerano. Jones received the lion’s share of starts last season despite his objectively poor offensive play. Primerano is a versatile scoring threat, able to slash and shoot from the perimeter. Freshman Rinardo Perry could develop into a nice scoring option off the pine; he’s an athletic 2-guard capable of making plays and knocking down open shots.
As expected from the 5th smallest team in the nation, UMass Lowell does not have much of a frontcourt. Josh Gantz, a 6’7” R So., will start at the 5; he’s actually a pretty good shot-blocker for his size, but his rebounding ability and offensive prowess have room for considerable improvement. Skinny stretch four Tyler Livingston and athletic rebounding machine Dontavious Smith will play significant minutes up front, and the trio of redshirt frosh Connor Bennett, and true freshmen Stefan Borovac and Cameron Wolter may be called upon as well.
UMass Lowell should once again play at a top-15 national pace. Their goal on defense will be to pressure opponents up top in the hopes they take quick, ill-advised shots. On offense, they will launch threes and attack the paint via Thomas, looking to get shots early in the shot clock. The River Hawks will be a dangerous mid-tier AE team; an 8-8 or 9-7 conference record is very achievable.
Key Returners: Jairus Lyles, Rodney Elliott, Jourdan Grant, Joe Sherburne, Will Darley
Key Losses: Cody Joyce
Key Newcomers: K.J. Maura
Postseason Projection: None
To the founders of the University of Maryland – Baltimore County: I have to think we can do better in the naming department of this institution. The name doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue and the shortened “UMBC” feels like a mouthful itself. The naming crew did get it right, however, with the Retrievers nickname – that’s both an awesome and unique mascot that deserves praise. Since this is actually supposed to be a preview about the school’s basketball team, I’ll shut up about naming aesthetics and segue to the real topic at hand. Ryan Odom takes over as coach for UMBC, a squad that sputtered to a 7-25 (3-13) record on its way to finishing dead last in a weak America East. The Retrievers return (kind of an unintended pun) almost everyone from that team, which should prove to be one of the best offenses in the conference. The primary issue, however, will be on defense.
Jairus Lyles, Rodney Elliott, and Jourdan Grant return to form one of the best backcourts in the league. Odom has stated he prefers to play a four-out, one-in style, which matches this team’s strengths perfectly. This means we should expect to see a healthy amount of three-point attempts and penetration from the perimeter in what should be an up-tempo offense. Lyles was quite simply terrific last season as a high usage volume scorer. He led the conference in usage and shot percentage (top 20 in both in the country) while shooting respectable percentages of .530/.342/.698. He ranked second on the team in assists and led the Retrievers in rebounding despite his 6’2” stature. Lyles ranked 2nd in the league in steal percentage, averaging 2.5 pilfers per game, which propelled UMBC to the 71st best steal percentage rate in the nation (1st in the America East). Stealing the ball and forcing TO’s were the only things UMBC did well on defense last season. Elliott is a versatile scorer that will serve as the team’s primary ball handler; he’s excellent at getting to the foul line where he converted 81.4% of his free throws last year. Grant ranked 6th in the country in FT Rate (#1 in the AE), but only connected on a dreadful 58.3% of his charity stripe tries last season. Grant is extremely valuable as a slasher, but my God – he has to get better at free throws. 5’8’’ JUCO transfer K.J. Maura will also play a role in the backcourt; he was a 1st Team All-American last season after leading the country in assists per game (9.6).
If this was a 3-on-3 league, UMBC may very well be the favorites to take the conference. That isn’t to say the two starting frontcourt members, Will Darley and Joe Sherburne, aren’t talented, they just aren’t really true frontcourt players. Both Darley and Sherburne are listed as guards on UMBC’s team roster, but they’ll likely start at the 4 and 5. Neither is much of an interior defender, which is why we should expect the Retrievers to get destroyed at the rim once again this year, but they are solid offensive contributors. Darley is the best shooter on the team, posting a very impressive .537/.434/.845 shooting slash. He’s a perfect big man for the type of offense Odom wants to instill. Sherburne is also a deadly outside shooter (34.7%), but rarely goes inside meaning there really isn’t a “one-in” option for Odom’s offense in this starting five. That role could be filled by returning role players Sam Schwietz and Nolan Gerrity. Both sophomores are true big men that prefer to take shots at the rim versus anywhere else on the floor. They’re also the team’s best offensive rebounders by far, and they provide a semblance of rim protection on defense. One of Schwietz or Gerrity may have to start out of necessity unless Odom plans on punting defense altogether.
UMBC will be able to score points in bunches – they averaged 72ppg last season, a number that should increase this year. Their game plan will likely be to outscore opponents because they simply will not be able to competently defend opposing units at the rim. The Retrievers will likely continue applying high pressure on defense, especially on the perimeter, in order to compensate for their lack of size. This could be a much-improved team from last season, but their conference record will all depend on defense.
7. Stony Brook
Key Returners: Lucas Woodhouse, Bryan Sekunda
Key Losses: Jameel Warney, Carson Puriefoy, Rayshaun McGrew, Ahmad Walker
Key Newcomers: Andrew Garcia, Michael Almonacy, UC Iroegbu, Junior Saintel
Postseason Projection: None
Stony Brook comes off their best season in school history after finally breaking through and winning the Auto-bid from the America East. This year’s squad will look completely different from last season’s version. Former coach Steve Pikiell bolted for Rutgers (good luck there, buddy), and the Seawolves lose their top four scorers with the graduation of Jameel Warney (AE POY and all-around boss), Carson Puriefoy, and Rayshaun McGrew, and the recent dismissal of Ahmad Walker (arrested for assault). In steps Jeff Boals, a Thad Matta disciple from Ohio State. Boals is an objectively good hire, as he was one of the more sought-after assistant coaches out there. He inherits an absolutely gutted team and will rely on a couple returners to step up into larger roles and newcomers to make immediate impacts.
Only two players return that played over 20 minutes per game last season – Lucas Woodhouse and Bryan Sekunda. Woodhouse is the team’s point guard, a gifted passer and a deadly standstill shooter. Woodhouse led the America East in three-point percentage as a junior but often deferred to the numerous other scorers on the squad. This year, Woodhouse will be asked to become more than just a pass-first point guard with a jumper. As a sophomore at Longwood, Woodhouse scored 11.5ppg indicating he’s capable of getting buckets. Sekunda tore his ACL back in February, but should be ready for competition when the season starts. Like Woodhouse, Sekunda is an excellent spot-up shooter (42% on 100 attempts last year), but he offers little else on offense. He will be asked to expand his game this season.
Juniors Roland Nyama and Tyrell Sturdivant will see major increases in their playing time, as both men look to enter the starting lineup. Nyama is a talented wing with 3 & D potential; he has enough size and athleticism to play in a small-ball four role. Sturdivant will be given the unenviable task of trying to make up for some of the lost production from Warney’s departure. The 6’7” big man put up great rebounding numbers in limited time last year but will need to improve at not fouling and finishing around the bucket. Senior Kameron Mitchell should also see a bigger role this season on the wing, and 6’11’’ big man Jakub Petras could see time up front.
The newcomers will be the key to Stony Brook’s success this season. Freshmen Andrew Garcia and Michael Almonacy will be asked to step into large roles immediately, as will JUCO transfers UC Iroegbu and Junior Saintel. Garcia was a 2-star recruit coming out of high school; he’s a big wing that prefers to score via slashing and bullying his way to the cup. His size allows him to guard multiple positions on defense. Almonacy will slot into a backup point guard role behind Woodhouse. Iroegbu is a scoring 2-guard, while Saintel is an athletic wing. Two redshirt freshman, 7-footer Alonzo Campbell and 6’6 wing Akwasi Yeboah could also carve out roles for Boals. Campbell especially could contribute with his size – the Seawolves will be an overall shorter squad this year.
Stony will take a huge step back this season, perhaps even finishing in the bottom half of the league. Boals will need to tailor his style to the team, which means the offense will likely be a perimeter-focused one. A go-to scorer will need to emerge from this group to avoid offensive stalls, and the defense is in question as well without Warney (he was also DPOY). I think Boals can eventually success here, but this probably isn’t his year.
Key Returners: John Carroll, Jalen Ross, George Blagojevic
Key Losses: Pancake Thomas, Justin Graham, Taylor Dyson
Key Newcomers: Jack Colovic, Max Twyman, Hassan Attia, Andrew Ramirez
Postseason Projection: None
Hartford had a rough go in 2016-17 thanks to a combination of injuries and inexperience. Their 4-12 record was John Gallagher’s worst showing in the America East since he took the reins back in 2010-11. Youth was certainly a factor, but it also didn’t help that the Hawks were the 17th smallest team in the country leading to them posting bottom-ten offensive and defensive rebounding percentages. Gallagher’s Hartford teams have never been ones that focus on scoring inside; instead, the Hawks prefer to shoot a truck load of threes in hopes of outscoring their opponents with raindrops from the sky. Hartford should be an improved team this year, but the loss of Pancake Thomas to grad transfer massively caps any mild success Gallagher’s squad was expecting to achieve.
Ironically, big Irishman John Carroll may be the Hawks’ most valuable returner this season. Carroll started the first five contests in the middle last year before going down with a season-ending injury. He is a hard worker on the glass and is really the Hawks’ only hope for rebounding competence. He’ll be a huge factor on the defensive end as well where he’ll anchor the paint in Hawks’ zone and man schemes with his above average shot-blocking capabilities.
Carroll will be joined in the frontcourt rotation by stretch-four George Blagojevic, junior Jack Hobbs, sophomore TreVaughn Wilkerson, and JUCO import Hassan Attia. Blagojevic turned in an acceptable freshman season, shooting the ball fairly well from deep and playing pretty good D, but he doesn’t offer much on the glass. Hobbs and Wilkerson were both role players who earned spot starts last season. Hobbs shoots threes while Wilkerson prefers to do his dirty work in the paint. They are both average rebounders, but Wilkerson is the far better defender and potentially could be the Hawks’ best rim protector this year. Attia will be a huge (giggle) addition. He brings size to a basketball program that hasn’t given meaningful minutes to a player over 6’8” since 2011. The Egyptian will immediately upgrade Hartford’s interior defense (putrid last season) and rebounding (also putrid, see above).
The loss of Pancake in the backcourt is catastrophic; he was one of the best players in the America East and was also Hartford’s best and most voluminous three-point shooter. With his absence, returning guards Jalen Ross, J.R. Lynch, and Jason Dunne will need to step up in a major way. Ross is the best candidate to lead this team in scoring and take the biggest leap in production this season. He’s a point guard who takes care of the ball and can shoot the lights out of the gym (ranked 6th in TO rate and 5th in 3P% in the America East last year). Ross is also an underrated basket attacker; he showed a knack for drawing fouls at the cup as evidenced by his 8th ranked free throw rate (conference). It would not surprise me to see Ross throw up 15 a night this season. Lynch played very well as a freshman and will be asked to take on a much larger role in the offense this year. With Pancake gone, Lynch will handle the ball a lot more than last season, a task he should be able to handle given his strong turnover rate last year. Dunne will need to improve on shaky shooting numbers from year ago. He’ll be pushed by former Fordham sharpshooter Jake Fay and steady Albany wing Max Twyman for playing time this season.
Hartford will still look to shoot threes at a high volume (Gallagher has never had a Hawk team rank out of the national top ten in 3PA%) – that much will not change from last season. But this should be a much-improved defensive team, particularly in the interior with a healthy John Carroll and a big transfer in Hassan Attia. Miracles shouldn’t be expected, but a top half finish in the America East isn’t a crazy prediction.
Key Returners: Aaron Calixte
Key Losses: Isaac Vann, Kevin Little, Devine Eke, Shaun Lawton, Till Gloger
Key Newcomers: Wes Myers, Andrew Fleming, Ilker Er, Vincent Eze, Danny Evans
Postseason Projection: None
Here’s something I like about Maine: their nickname is the Black Bears. I like that. The rest of this preview may not be too positive, but we’ll try to keep it light for the kids. Second-year coach Bob Walsh loses five of his top six scorers from a season ago (including his three best players in Isaac Vann, Kevin Little, and Devine Eke) meaning the 8-22 (4-12), 336th ranked Black Bears could fall even lower this season. But I really do like their nickname.
Maine played the 4th fastest pace in the country last season, attempting the 9th most initial FG attempts in transition in the nation. Because of this, the Black Bears play a ton of possessions, score a good amount of points, and play a deep rotation (3rd highest bench minutes in the country last year). Defensively, Maine was really good at stealing the ball and causing turnovers (37th in steal percentage, 28th in TO percentage), but that did not translate to a effective overall defense. The Black Bears ranked 330th in defensive efficiency last year, which shockingly placed them 7th out of the 9 America East teams. Yeesh.
The heavy transition-focused attack means the Black Bears will be reliant on their backcourt to put up points. Aaron Calixte is the best returning player on the roster and should lead the team in scoring in his junior season. Calixte wasn’t great at taking care of the ball, but he was refreshingly efficient scoring the basketball, shooting a slash of .466/.382/.881. He’ll run point for Maine this year and will be the catalyst of this roadrunner offense. Wes Myers, a Niagara transfer, is also going to assume a large scoring role. Myers forced the issue a bit as a sophomore for the Purple Eagles, but he shot a scorching 42% from downtown, which is promising for the bevy of transition threes he’s likely to see. Senior Troy Reid-Knight will need to flip the script on a bad junior year in order to vault Maine to a respectable finish in the conference. Freshman Danny Evans is going to play a major role off the pine as a combo guard; Evans will handle the ball and function as a solid spot-up shooter for Maine. JUCO transfer Ilker Er will likely start on the wing in his first season in Orono. Er led the Black Bears in scoring in their first exhibition game and was originally recruited by the likes of LSU and Rhode Island coming out of high school.
The frontcourt will look to rebuild after losing promising freshman Devine Eke to transfer. Marko Pirovic, Ilija Stojiljkovic, and Garet Beal are the vets up front, while talented newcomers Vincent Eze and Andrew Fleming round out the rotation. Pirovic has been hurt the last two seasons, so it’s difficult to determine how good he really is. He’s potentially a solid stretch-four with plus rebounding capability. Stojiljkovic is also a forward of the stretch-four variety, but he didn’t exactly light it up from the field last season (.458/.327/.474). Eze should start at center for the Black Bears, a super-athletic defensive center that will protect the rim and rebound the crap out of the ball. His offense is still a bit raw, but he’s going to be a major factor for the Bears down low. Beal has also struggled with injuries, but he has the talent to be an effective America East wing / small-ball four. Fleming was the #1 recruit in Maine in the class of 2016 (depending on who you ask); he has a high motor, will fight hard on the glass, and defend his position. This group sets up as a nice-looking frontcourt in a couple years.
With the amount of lost production the Black Bears have this year it’s nearly impossible to think they’ll be an improved basketball team. We’re still going to see an up-tempo team try to run their opponent out of the gym, but more times than not, Maine will fall short of the victory.