At this point, it’s not much of a surprise who falls at the top spot in this year’s America East (AE) Conference preseason rankings. With 63 poll points, including seven first place votes, Vermont has continued to impress year after year, and the reigning champions will be front-runners in the 2022-23 season. Despite losing key players from last year’s title run, reigning coach of the year John Becker still looks like he can lead this team to another chip. Forward and two-time AE Player of the Year Ryan Davis, as well as guard Ben Shungu, are the biggest losses for the Catamounts this season. The duo were selected to last year’s AE All-Conference First-Team and finished first and third in scoring, respectively. With Davis and Shungu leaving the program, fifth-year guard Finn Sullivan, who was named to the AE All-Championship Team last season, is a player who will look to fill their role. In his first season at Vermont, he averaged 7.2 points and 3.3 rebounds a game, including a 14-point performance in the AE championship win against UMBC. New to the UVM roster is fifth-year guard Dylan Penn, a transfer who led Bellarmine to the Atlantic Sun Championship (ASUN) and was the tournament’s MVP. Posting 16.6 points and 5.0 assists per game last year, Penn will be vital in ensuring the Catamount offense is as efficient as ever. The eight-time AE champions are clear favorites based on last year’s run, but only time can tell whether they go back-to-back.
With the departures of Hartford and Stony Brook within the AE lineup, Bryant has become the newest addition to the conference. The Bulldogs, albeit being newcomers, are still Northeast Conference (NEC) regular season and tournament winners, earning a Division I program-record 22 wins in the 2021-22 season. Coach Jared Grasso has transformed the Bulldogs into an established basketball program in the northeast, winning 15 or more games in their past three campaigns, and boasting a 24-2 home record in the past two. These successes place them just behind last season’s champions with 58 poll points, and even though they have yet to prove themselves in the AE, they earned two first place votes. Junior guard Earl Timberlake and senior guard Charles Pride are ones to watch on this squad. Pride, going into his fourth year at Bryant, is the most go-to-go guy on this team, playing every game last year and making all-conference and all-district teams. He combined with former Bryant guard Peter Kiss to be the nation’s highest-scoring duo, contributing with 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Kiss’ 25.2 points per game was ranked first in the NCAA Division I, a tough pair of shoes to fill for new transfer Timberlake (4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last season at Memphis). Timberlake will look to form a similar partnership with Pride in hopes of grabbing the glory in Bryant’s first AE season.
3. UMass Lowell
Despite finishing seventh in the conference last season, and getting knocked out by eventual finalists UMBC in the playoff quarterfinals, UMass Lowell still has plenty to build off of in the 2022-23 season. The River Hawks, last year, had a new program-best record of 15-16, with coach Pat Duquette setting up a team that prioritized defense over everything. Duquette’s squad led the AE in steals (7.3), blocks (4.2) and rebounds per game (36.1), in addition to holding their opponents to an average of 65.8 points per game, another conference best. While it may have not been seeded as high, earning 47 poll points, UMass Lowell’s stats prove it will only improve this year. On the floor, the example was set for the River Hawks by graduate student forward Allin Blunt, who has played nearly every game for his school since he was a freshman. Blunt dropped a career-high 33 points in the AE quarterfinals against UMBC, helping to push the game into overtime, but couldn’t find the win. Lining up with Blunt will be junior forward Max Brooks, who is coming off a breakout season and an AE All-Defensive Team selection. Brooks nearly doubled the previous UMass Lowell record for blocks last year with 67. Moreover, Brooks’ shooting percentage of 63.1 percent, an AE high, proves that he will be a crucial two-way player this season as his team looks to climb the ladder even further.
As last year’s runner-up in both regular season and tournament play, UMBC will have to work past some setbacks in order to reach the same heights in the 2022-23 campaign. Leaving the team this season is AE All-Conference First-Team pick Keondre Kennedy, who led the Retrievers with 14.8 points per game, as well as eight points and a team-high eight rebounds in the championship game against UVM. Other big losses are senior guards Darnell Rogers, who bagged 10 points in that championship game, and L.J. Owens, who played more minutes than any of his teammates last season — all noticeable holes in head coach Jim Ferry’s roster this year. Despite being seeded second in the conference last season, UMBC needs to find a big way to bounce back from its final loss, an 82-43 blowout in the championship game. Senior forward Yaw Obeng-Mensah will be at the center of the Retrievers’ attempt for redemption this year, taking on a central role in the team by being one of the only returning players on the entire roster. Obeng-Mensah averaged a team-best 5.3 rebounds per game and an additional 6.9 points per game, while clocking in the highest field goal percentage in the squad with 53.5 percent. With most of the members of its second-place lineup now gone, it remains to be seen if Ferry will get this new look UMBC back to the heights of last year.
After twenty years with Will Brown, UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings now enters his second season at the helm, still trying to build a team that can match the heights of Brown’s three-peat winning squad. Last year’s fifth seed, who broke even in AE Conference play with a 9-9 record, managed only 25 poll points ahead of this season. The Great Danes fell to Hartford in last year’s quarterfinals with an offensive performance to forget, as they struggled to score the rock with a 25.8 percent field goal percentage in just the first half. Also, UAlbany lost a key man over the summer, as senior guard and reigning AE Defensive Player of the Year Jamel Horton transferred to Mississippi. One of the players who will try and fill Horton’s shoes is sophomore forward Justin Neely. The AE Rookie of the Year, as well as six-time Rookie of the Week, is coming off an extremely strong first year for Albany. The Miami native averaged 6.4 points per game and had a team second-best 4.4 rebounds per game. His teammate, sophomore forward Aaron Reddish, made the AE All-Rookie Team alongside him, formulating a young and effective frontcourt for the Great Danes. With a team that is mainly sophomores like Neely and Reddish, it is difficult to say whether Killings’ team is ready to take the next step or if they will remain in the bottom half of the AE.
7. New Hampshire
With 23 poll points from the conference, last year’s fourth seed and a team that finished 10-8 in AE Conference play, UNH seems to have taken more steps backward than forward ahead of the 2022-23 season. The Wildcats are one of only 37 Division I teams that have never made the NCAA tournament, and their 72-69 loss against Binghamton in last year’s quarterfinals ensured that number stayed the same. Veteran head coach Bill Herrion now enters his 17th year with UNH, and will try to make up for some key losses in the offseason this year. Forward Jayden Martinez, his team’s scoring and rebounding leader last year (15.1ppg, 5.5rpg), will be by far the biggest miss. The team has named three co-captains for 2022-23, with hopes that they can prevent the Wildcats from dropping further in the standings. Graduate students forward Jaxson Baker and guard Matt Herasme have transferred in from Central Arkansas and Marist, respectively. Both captains on their previous teams, Herrion looks on them to bring seniority and leadership to his squad. The third and final captain is sophomore guard Nick Johnson. The 2020-21 AE Rookie of the Year is the most experienced Wildcat. Now going into his fourth season, he spearheads the team with 8.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, as well as being a team leader in blocks with 16 last year. However, there’s no telling whether or not he and his co-captains will be enough to prevent UNH from dropping spots this season.
NJIT has seen some impressive campaigns in the past few years under head coach Brian Kennedy, most notably their 22-13 record in the 2018-19 season. However, the 2021-22 season did not prove as fruitful, as the Highlanders finished second to last in the AE with a record of 6-12. The unfortunate plaguing of injuries over the course of several seasons has prevented the Highlanders from getting the most out of a squad that holds the second to last spot in the preseason predictions with 14 poll points. Leading the line for NJIT this year will be senior forward Miles Coleman. One of the most consistent performers for the Highlanders last year, Coleman bounced back from an injury in the 2020-21 season and played 20 more games, averaging 15.6 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting and scoring 22 points as his team got knocked out by Vermont in the playoffs. Alongside Coleman, one to watch for the Highlanders this year will be sophomore forward Keeshawn Mason, a pick for last year’s AE All-Rookie team. While his playtime last year was limited, a 16 point and 6 rebound performance in just 16 minutes against Stony Brook last year proved Mason has what it takes to be a consistent AE performer. It is difficult to see where NJIT have improved ahead of the 2022-23 season, but the competition around it ensures the team could make playoff basketball again this year.
It is no surprise that the bookends of this year’s list have effectively picked themselves. While the champions stay at the top of our preseason predictions, last year’s 10th seed — and the only team to not make the playoffs — remain at the bottom with only 12 poll points ahead of the 2022-23 season. Maine finished with a 3-15 record in AE Conference play last year, 6-23 overall — a record that called for a change of leadership. Richard Barron ended his four-year stint as head coach and has been replaced by Chris Markwood, a former Boston College assistant coach who took over in March. It is no secret that Markwood has his work cut out for him as the Black Bears have consistently finished in the bottom two of the AE standings over the past few years. Like most of the teams on this end of the standings, Maine has gone through some roster changes. A notable returner, however, is senior guard Lechaun Duhart. Duhart put up 8.5 points per game last year, with a 90 percent free throw percentage to boot. Whether Duhart can be a game-changer in an otherwise unremarkable Black Bears roster remains to be seen. Digging this team out of the hole they’ve been in for so long will be quite the challenge for Markwood and his squad.