The Catamounts are poised to return as the America East (AE) Conference champions, as they were picked to finish in first place in the AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll for the second consecutive season. Returning senior guard Trae Bell-Haynes, who averaged 11.2 points while shooting a lights-out 48 percent from the field as the reigning AE Player of the Year, Vermont will likely earn its seventh AE Championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Last year, UVM set the program record for most wins (29), broke the conference record for most victories and were the only AE team to record a 16-0 undefeated conference season in the league’s history.
The Great Danes finished in a tie for third place last season, posting a 10-6 AE record, 21-14 overall. Last year, after defeating Hartford and SBU in the AE Tournament, Albany ultimately fell to Vermont in the title game. Albany head coach Will Brown will return his top-five scorers for the upcoming season, including two all-conference players: junior guard David Nichols, who previously averaged 17.9 points and 3.2 assists, and junior guard Joe Cremo, who logged 15.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per contest in the 2016-17 season. Albany was selected to place second in conference with 57 points and one first-place vote in the AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Expect the Great Danes to be the greatest threat to the formerly undefeated Catamounts.
Following a 2016-17 campaign where the Retrievers recorded nine AE wins and 21 nonconference victories, UMBC was selected to finish third in the AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll with 45 points. The selection marked the highest preseason projection the Retrievers have earned in 15 conference seasons. Highlighting their 21-win season last year, graduate-student guard Jairus Lyles, the conference’s top returning scorer, paced UMBC by averaging 18.9 points and two steals per game. The elusive 6-foot-2-inch guard led the Retrievers in rebounds (6.6) and has scored 1,086 points in two seasons alone. Under the guidance of UMBC head coach Ryan Odom and behind Lyles’ stellar play, anticipate the Retrievers to make some noise this year in conference.
Two years removed from their memorable NCAA Tournament trip, the Seawolves took a slight dip in production last season under the direction of their new head coach Jeff Boals. Despite posting 17 wins, 12 of which occurred in conference play, SBU was picked to finish fourth in the AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll (38 points). Surprising some by ending the year second in the AE and advancing to the semifinals of the conference tournament for the eighth consecutive season, Stony Brook will likely be unable to repeat its successes. The Seawolves are only returning two starters from last year: senior forward Tyrell Sturdivant, who led the team with 5.4 rebounds, and Junior Saintel, who posted 4.6 points per game. It would not be surprising for SBU to fall slightly below the preseason prediction.
Selected to finish fifth in the AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Wildcats are seeking to repeat a successful 10-6 conference season. Senior forward Tanner Leissner, an all-conference selection, powered UNH to 20 victories overall with averages of 17.1 points and 6.9 rebounds last year. As a team that was in the bottom-half of the AE in both blocks (59) and steals (129), New Hampshire will rely heavily on Leissner and company to turn boards into points. With a real chance to surpass Stony Brook and secure a top-four finish, UNH must be able to crash the glass, convert on second-chance opportunities and become a higher-scoring offense.
Tied with Binghamton for sixth place in the AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll (29 points), the River Hawks tallied only five AE wins and 12 nonconference victories in the 2016-17 season. Commanding the offense this past year, redshirt senior guard Jahad Thomas enters this season after leading UMass in scoring and rebounding for the last three years. With career highs of 18.3 points, nine rebounds and 4.6 assists per game last year, Thomas is the undisputed focal point of the team. Since the team has clearly made an emphasis of the long ball (second in the conference in both 3-point field goals made and percentage), the River Hawks have a realistic chance at a top-five or -six finish, but not much more.
Following a lackluster 2016-17 season plagued by injuries among multiple top players, Binghamton men’s basketball coach Tommy Dempsey and his team are ready to put the past aside and focus on the future success of the upcoming season.
“We don’t ever talk about last year,” Dempsey said. “We made a conscious decision that everything was going to be about moving forward and being positive.”
Following its 9-23 season (4-12 AE), Hartford fans have little reason to hope for an improved season. Chosen to finish eighth in AE Preseason Coaches’ Poll (16 points), the Hawks fell in the bottom half of the conference in scoring, defense, free-throw percentage, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage. The lone bright spots of the Hartford squad are returners redshirt senior guard Jalen Ross and sophomore guard Jason Dunne. Ross posted 19.9 points and 2.1 assists while Dunne contributed 13.7 points and 3.9 rebounds a season ago. With BU, Maine and UML rounding out the lower tier of the conference, Hartford would be fortunate to finish sixth.
Returning nine players and welcoming eight newcomers, the Black Bears were picked to finish last in the AE Conference for the upcoming season. Despite a strong season for AE All-Rookie team performer sophomore forward Andrew Fleming, his average of 10.7 points and a team-high 46.3 clip from the field will not be nearly enough to propel Maine past any team in the conference. The Black Bears were in the lower echelon across the board in season statistics from the previous campaign: assist/turnover ratio, steals and defensive rebounds. There is little reason to believe Maine will exceed expectations, even when taking into account the team’s new additions.
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