The expectations for Vermont don’t change much year to year. The defending America East champions have finished either first or second in the conference standings for 10 out of the last 11 seasons, and the last three seasons have seen them win the regular season title. The Catamounts are a team that has its sights set on not only playing in the NCAA Tournament but winning it. After receiving two votes in this year’s AP Top 25 Preseason Poll, they are recognized as one of the top mid-major teams in the country. The core that dominated the conference last year and had an average scoring margin in the positive double digits was mostly returns, including the reigning AE Player of the Year, senior forward Anthony Lamb. Lamb was named to the Julius Erving Small Forward of the Year Award watch list, an award which is given to the top forwards in the country. Along with Lamb, Vermont’s returning starters include junior guard Stef Smith and redshirt junior guard Ben Shungu. Many players that were key contributors off the bench are back for them as well, including siblings redshirt senior guard Everett Duncan and sophomore guard Robin Duncan. Vermont will hope to be stellar on defense again this year, as they led the conference last year, allowing just 63 points a game. The expectation for Vermont is to once again claim the regular season and tournament AE titles.
UMBC will look to make three straight appearances in the conference title game this year. Led by preseason all-conference team member senior guard K.J. Jackson, the Retrievers were the only team to receive a first-place vote outside of Vermont in the preseason coaches poll, as Vermont’s vote went to UMBC. While Jackson is the only double-digit scorer to return to the squad this year, his defense is what makes him stand out. He led the league in steals last year with 2.3 a game and anchored a UMBC defense that ranked second in the conference last year. While the Retrievers’ leader on defense returns, their leading scorer forward, Joe Sherburne, ‘19, graduated. UMBC will hope that Jackson, along with 2018-19 AE all-rookie selection sophomore guard R.J. Eytle-Rock, can fill the void. With some new faces mixing in with the talented core from the last two seasons, UMBC can once again pose a serious threat to Vermont in the conference.
After finishing in second place last season, and coming off a shocking first-round AE tournament loss to Binghamton, no team is more ready to put last season in the past than Stony Brook. The Seawolves enter the 2019-20 season with more experience than last year’s team, with 2018-19 third team all-conference selection junior forward Elijah Olaniyi and all-rookie selection sophomore guard Miles Latimer returning to the squad. Also returning are 2018-19 AE Sixth Man of the Year redshirt junior forward Andrew Garcia and AE Defensive Player of the Year junior center Jeff Otchere, who led the AE with 2.4 blocks a game. While many of the key players from last year return, there is a new head coach for the Seawolves this year. Geno Ford is taking over the program after serving as former head coach Jeff Boals’ associate for three years. Last year, Stony Brook proved it had the talent to compete with anyone in the conference despite being a young team, setting a school record for regular-season wins with 24. This year is about taking the next step and advancing in the postseason.
An exciting young core headlines this year’s Albany squad. Last season, the Great Danes’ starting lineup featured three freshmen who will look to take the next step in their sophomore campaigns. Sophomore guard Cameron Healy will be the player to watch, as he was one of two sophomores selected to the preseason all-conference team, coming off a season where he averaged 16 points per game and set a school record for 3-pointers made in a season. Healy will likely be joined by forward Adam Lulka and forward Brent Hank in the starting lineup. Another key contributor back for the Great Danes is senior guard Ahmad Clark, who averaged 15.7 points per game last year while also leading the conference in assists per game with 4.3. Albany has a mainly young team that has the potential to develop as the season progresses. If their sophomore core can take the next step, the Great Danes can contend for a championship this year and in the future.
UMass Lowell led the conference in scoring last season, averaging 76.8 points per game, and will look to continue that offensive success this season. In order for that to happen, preseason all-conference selection graduate student guard Christian Lutete will have to lead the way. He averaged 18.7 points per game last season and led the AE in scoring during conference play. Defenses focusing on stopping Lutete can open up scoring opportunities for the rest of the team, and the River Hawks know how to find the open man, as they led the AE in assists last year. Joining Lutete in the back court is junior guard Obadiah Noel, who averaged 14.6 points a game last year. If the River Hawks want to improve on their record from a year ago, they will have to play better on the other end of the court, as they paired their best offense in the conference with the last-ranked defense last season, allowing 75.6 points per game.
With more newcomers than returning players on the team this season, Hartford’s lineup will look very different. The Hawks lost the top six players in their rotation to graduation, meaning that their starting lineup will be totally revamped. Newcomers and returners alike have big shoes to fill as they will replace a core that led Hartford to its most successful two-year run in the 35-year history of the program in Division I, winning 37 games. Some new faces to watch for Hartford are freshman guard Moses Flowers, who scored over 1,000 points at Thayer Academy, and freshman guard P.J. Henry, who was one of the top five players in Houston his senior season. The task of building a whole new rotation to replace the second-highest-scoring team in the conference falls on head coach John Gallagher, who enters his 10th season at the helm. How he manages the new-look Hawks will be a story line to follow. Replacing four all-conference selections is challenging. Coming off back-to-back winning seasons, this has the look of a rebuild year for Hartford.
Despite its lackluster record, Maine was competitive in many of its conference games last year. Ten out of their 16 conference games were decided by single digits, and they led at halftime in four out of their first five conference contests. They only managed to hold onto one of those leads, as they started 1-4 in the conference and went 2-8 in the 10 games that were decided by nine points or fewer. The theme for the second year under head coach Richard Barron is consistency — playing well from the opening tip to the final buzzer and closing out games down the stretch. In order for Maine to turn those close losses into wins, they may need their preseason all-conference selection, senior forward Andrew Fleming, to take over games like he did a season ago. The senior led the team in average points (13.8), rebounds (7.0) and assists per game (3.1) a year ago and was the first college basketball player in 20 years to shoot 90 percent in a game on over 20 shots. Maine will look for Fleming to lead a team with seven new freshmen and only three players with game experience.
Coming off a disappointing season that saw them miss the AE tournament, New Hampshire fields a balanced roster in 2019. The Wildcats struggled mightily on offense a year ago, ranking last in the conference with 60.1 points a game and a .376 shooting percentage. Former guard Jordan Reed, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago and the only player to average double-digit points per game, graduated. Junior guard Josh Hopkins will look to improve on his scoring average of 9.1 points per game last year. Other notable returners are sophomore forward Nick Guadarrama, who led the team in rebounds last year with 5.3 per contest and shot 40.6 percent from 3-point range, and sophomore forward Jayden Martinez, who averaged 7.9 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. A freshman that could contribute right away is guard Nick Johnson, who earned Class A Player of the Year honors in New York during high school. He could provide the spark the offense needs to improve. On defense, the Wildcats were in the middle of the pack, ranking fourth in the AE with 68.6 points per game allowed. New Hampshire will look to return to the playoffs this season.