By Jesse Kramer
The America East should once again have an exciting conference title race between Vermont and Stony Brook. Both teams, which were the top two in the conference last year, return a bunch of key players and are capable of winning 20 games.
As we’ve come to expect every year in the America East, Vermont is one of the favorites. The Catamounts, who finished second last season, only big loss is that of Trey Blue, who started 11 games and averaged 8.6 points. Aside from him, they return their top eight leaders in minutes.
Brian Voelkel (pictured) will not stand out to the average fan, but he is a 2013-14 conference player of the year candidate. Voelkel filled up the box score last season with six points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, and 1.4 steals per game, and he is a triple-double threat. He fulfills a role similar to America East Player of the Year Tommy Brenton’s last season at Stony Brook.
In addition to Voelkel, the Catamounts return seniors Clancy Rugg and Luke Apfeld and sophomore Ethan O’Day in the frontcourt. Rugg led the team in scoring with 11.4 points per contest, Apfeld averaged 10.7 points and made 22 three-pointers, and O’Day averaged 6.8 points and led Vermont in field-goal percentage at 51.9%.
In the backcourt, Vermont brings back seniors Sandro Carissimo, Candon Rusin, and Josh Elbaum. Carissimo averaged 10 points and drained 36.6% of his three-pointers, Rusin averaged 7.5 points, and Elbaum averaged 1.6 points.
2. Stony Brook
Stony Brook is still looking to get over the hump and into the NCAA tournament for the first time. The Seawolves won the regular season title last year but lost to Albany in the conference semifinals, and they lost a few key players at the conclusion of the year, including player of the year Tommy Brenton.
Still, they will have a shot at capturing that NCAA tournament berth in 2014.
Returning are four starters, including sophomore forward Jameel Warney. Warney was a freshman phenom last season, earning Rookie of the Year, All-America East Second Team, and All-America East Defensive Team honors. He is surefire pick for the first team this season and could even be the player of the year. Last season he averaged 12.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks while shooting 61.8% from the field.
The Seawolves also return senior forward Eric McAlister (4.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg) to the frontcourt.
At guard, Stony Brook will have seniors Anthony Jackson (11.3 ppg, 36.2 3P%) and Dave Coley (11.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and sophomore Carson Puriefoy (5.3 ppg).
Hartford finished fourth last season and returns all but one key player, John Peterson, who averaged only 4.5 points per game.
The Hawks return All-America East first teamer Mark Nwakamma, a 6’6″ forward who averaged 14.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game. In conference play, the junior recorded 15.8 points per contest. Hartford also returns big men Nate Sikma (7.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.2 apg), Jamie Shneck (3.1 ppg, 2.0 rpg), and Oren Faulk (1.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg).
At guard, the Hawks bring back starters Yolonzo Moore II, Corban Wroe, and Evan Cooper. Moore led the team with 2.6 assists per game, and he was also second in scoring with 9.2 points. Guards Wes Cole (6.3 ppg) and Taylor Dyson (3.9 ppg) also return.
After finishing fifth last season, Albany graduated leading scorers Mike Black and Jacob Iati along with Jayson Guerrier and Blake Metcalf, who each started 17 games.
The Great Danes are still in good shape for the future though, as they return All-Rookie team member Peter Hooley, Sam Rowley, and John Puk.
Hooley, now a sophomore, averaged eight points and 3.1 assists last season. He scored in double figures 10 times and had a good showing against Duke in the NCAA tournament with 13 points, eight rebounds, and five assists.
Rowley and Puk lead the charge in the frontcourt. A junior, Rowley averaged nine points and 6.2 rebounds while Puk averaged 5.3 points and 4.4 boards.
Junior college transfers Anthony Odunsi and Anders Haas should also make an impact in the Albany backcourt.
Binghamton has been at the bottom of the America East for four long years. Here are their KenPom over those four seasons: 275, 313, 343, 343.
But head coach Tommy Dempsey is slowly building the program back towards the top half of the conference.
America East Rookie Team member Jordan Reed (pictured) is back for his sophomore season. Reed led the conference in rebounding with 9.5 boards per game and was second in scoring with 16.6 points. Guards Rayner Moquete (8.1 ppg, 35.6 3P%) and Karon Waller (2.0 ppg) also return to the Bearcats’ backcourt.
In the frontcourt, Binghamton returns Roland Brown (5.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg) and Alex Ogundadegbe (2.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg). They will be supported by the additions of freshmen forwards Nick Madray and Magnus Richards, both of whom were two-star recruits on ESPN.com.
6. New Hampshire
New Hampshire will remain competitive with the returns of forwards Patrick Konan and Chris Pelcher. Konan is the team’s top returning scorer with 11.8 points per game, and Pelcher contributed 9.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks.
Seniors Jordon Bronner (3.9 ppg, 2.1 apg) and Scott Morris (4.5 ppg, 40.0 3P%)return in the backcourt, but the addition of shooting guard Matt Miller, a Seton Hill transfer, is huge for the Wildcats. In 2011-12, Miller was one of the best players in Division II, averaging 20.1 points, 3.4 assists, and 1.6 steals. He shot 50% from the field and 44.9% from beyond the arc.
UMBC has not finished above .500 since 2008, when it won the conference championship and played in the NCAA tournament. That trend will probably not change in 2013-14.
The Retrievers return three starters, including senior forward Chase Plummer. Plummer showed the potential to be a star as a sophomore when he averaged 15.4 points and 7.4 rebounds while shooting 41.4% from the field, but last year he was a bit disappointing with 11.8 points, 6.4 boards, and 37.3% shooting. However, he still ranked in the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.
UMBC also returns guards Aaron Morgan and Quentin Jones, who combined for 4.8 assists per game last year.
Maine’s future appeared bright until its two leading scorers, Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser, opted to leave the program. A third starter, Jon Mesghna also chose to transfer, and starting forward and All-Defensive team member Mike Allison graduated.
By the end of this tumultuous offseason, Maine was left with only two notable returners on its roster: Xavier Pollard (9.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.3 apg) and Zarko Valjarevic (8.4 ppg).
UMass-Lowell had the potential to be competitive in its first year in the America East, but that flew out the window when star guard Antonio Bivins and freshman guard Jahad Thomas both suffered season-ending ACL injuries.
The Riverhawks still have a solid backcourt with Akeem Williams (19.9 ppg, 3.3 apg, 40.0 3P%) and Chad Holley (11.2 ppg, 3.2 apg, 42.5 3p%), but they will not have enough firepower to climb higher than eighth place.
America East Player of the Year
Brian Voelkel, Vermont
America East Defensive Player of the Year
Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
America East Freshman of the Year
Nick Madray, Binghamton
America East All-Conference Team
Xavier Pollard, Maine
Jordan Reed, Binghamton
Mark Nwakamma, Hartford
Brian Voelkel, Vermont
Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
*All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.