America East Season Preview
Not the most talented conference, but still plenty of intrigue.
by Jon Jaques / @JJaques25
I couldn’t decide when the best time would be to start my rundown of each conference before the college basketball season begins in early November, but now that I finally have internet in my apartment in Israel (actually, now that I have started sucking the wireless from my next door neighbor), I can get started. Proceeding alphabetically, I’ll predict the order of finish in each league, followed by some background on the key themes, players, teams, etc…
Defending Conference Champion: Vermont
Defending Regular Season Champion: Stony Brook
1. Stony Brook
2. Boston University
7. New Hampshire
Summary: Wide open. Three of top four teams from last year’s standings (Stony Brook, Vermont, Boston) all lose a ton, but each has enough returning to secure an NCAA berth this season. Stony Brook graduated stud forward and last season’s America East player of the year Muhammad El-Amin, but the Seawolves returning experience and talent will once again make them one of the top teams in the league. Vermont, who claimed the conference’s NCAA bid, will be crushed (yep, crushed) by the loss Marqus Blakely, the freak of nature who terrorized the conference for what seemed like eight years. Boston U returns versatile forwards John Holland and Jake O’Brien, but lost nine seniors from a team that made the America East tournament final. With improvement, Maine is a definite threat because, while its main competitors were hit hard by graduation, the Bears only lose one player from last year’s third place team. No one’s going to argue that this is one of the nation’s most talented conferences, but with no clear-cut favorite, it should be interesting to see who ends up with the inevitable 16 seed/play in game slot come March.
Team on the Rise: Part of me wants to say Maine since they have a legitimate shot at a run to the league title, but I like Binghamton’s young talent a little better. Considering the nightmare the program has been through recently, it’s a miracle the team fifth last season. Everyone is back from that team, and the young, hungry (and NCAA eligible!) talent on this team is intriguing. Greer Wright, one of the few rising seniors who survived the cleansing of the Bearcats’ athletic department, is the clear leader of a team that may be ready to inch toward the top of the league once again.
Team on the Decline: It’s hard to count out Vermont since they always seem to find a way to the top of the America East, but even the most diehard Catamounts fan would have to agree that a down year is on the horizon. If losing starting shooting guard Maurice Joseph hurts, and losing starting point guard Nick Vier stings, then losing all-conference forward Marqus Blakely is the equivalent of a powerful kick to the groin (Kind of like what might have happened to Boston U’s Carlos Strong on this Blakely dunk). Staying on top of the league will mean that a handful of role players step up to fill major roles, and that may be too much to ask right away.
Underrated Player: He might not be underrated to America East coaches and fans, but Hartford’s Joe Zeglinski might be the best America East player the casual college basketball fan hasn’t heard of (does the casual college basketball fan follow the America East?). The rising senior emerged as one of the league’s top scorers last season, and because Hartford doesn’t have many other options outside the Philly native, the team relied on the natural shooting guard to be a playmaker (perhaps pushing him out of his comfort zone and causing a spike in turnovers and a decrease in overall efficiency). Still, his 16.5 ppg was one of the top marks in the league, and 5.1 boards per game is a remarkable stat from a 6-foot guard. If the Hawks’ new head coach John Gallagher finds a reliable point guard and backcourt running mate to distribute to Zeglinski, both the team’s record and the star player’s numbers should improve.
Keep an eye on: The progress Hartford makes under new coach John Gallagher. Gallagher had easily the most interesting summer on the coaching circuit. After leaving Penn for a spot on Steve Donahue’s Boston College staff, just days later he accepted the head coaching position at Hartford, where he was an assistant for two years under the man he replaced Dan Leibowitz (Ironically Leibowitz resigned from his position at Hartford to take replace Gallagher at Penn). Gallagher is obviously extremely comfortable with the Hawks program and vice versa (he recruited many of the upperclassmen remaining on the team), but he has his work cut out for him if Hartford is going to crack the top half of the America East this season.
Jon Jaques is a former starter for the Cornell Big Red and current forward for Israel’s Ironi Ashkelon club.