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America East competition will be silenced by Lamb, Vermont

Greg Peterson
VSiN.com

November 6, 2017 08:55 PM

A loaded Vermont team ran the table a season ago in the America East, a conference in search of its first NCAA Tournament win since the Catamounts took down Syracuse in the 2005 tournament. This finally could be the year.


Vermont went 29-6 overall last year, and coach John Becker again will have the services of America East Player of the Year Trae Bell-Haynes. The 6-foot-2 senior guard was third on the team in scoring with 11.2 points per game as he did a bit of everything, chipping in 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals.

He got a sizable amount of help from starting forwards Anthony Lamb and Payton Henson. The two combined for 24.3 points and 10.8 rebounds. The 6-foot-6, 225-pound Lamb also had 1.2 blocks per game a freshman and made 41.3 percent of his 3-point attempts.

Ernie Duncan is also a good 3-point shooter, as he converted 39.9 percent of his shots from distance and averaged 8.7 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists. A veteran group led by Lamb and strong defense should allow Vermont to take the AEC by storm once again.

Stony Brook managed to go 12-4 in conference play, good for second in the America East. The Seawolves lost three starters but return top scorer Tyrell Sturdivant. The team is hoping 6-foot-8 freshman Anthony Ochefu's interesting background leads to production. He’s the brother of former Villanova standout Daniel Ochefu and played alongside Texas center Mohamed Bamba, who was rated by ESPN as the No. 2 center in the 2017 class.

Stony Brook still does not have enough to take down Vermont unless Ochefu is the second coming of Jameel Warney, but the team is still going to have a winning record.

UMBC boosted its win total from seven to 21 last year, eclipsing the 10-win total for the first time since the 2008-09 season. It was coach Ryan Odom's first year with the program and he now tries to elevate the team into an NCAA Tournament contender.

The Retrievers shot 39.3 percent from 3, which ranked 22nd in the country, and they were 19th with 9.7 threes per game made. Their shooters are a great compliment to the team's leading scorer, Jairus Lyles. The 6-foot-2 senior led the team with 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game and chipped in 2.6 assists and 1.7 steals.

UMBC has a good shot at going from fifth in the conference standings to third and getting back to 20 wins. The team built positive momentum by ending the 2016-17 season with a trip to the CIT final four and has one of the most grizzled rosters in college basketball.

Albany has won 19 games or more in each of the past six seasons, making the NCAA Tournament each year from 2013-15. Coach Will Brown has some players to replace in the frontcourt, but has his top scoring guards in David Nichols and Joe Cremo back.

The two combined to shoot 36.4 percent from 3-point range and averaged a combined 33.7 points. Cremo and Nichols also combined to make over 85 percent of their free throws to lead a team that shot 75.7 percent at the line as a team, which ranked 28th in the nation.

The team should have tons of depth. Albany would take most mid-major conferences in the country, but Vermont will be tough to beat. Albany is the clear No. 2 team in the conference, though anything can happen in a winner-take-all tournament championship game.

Prior to the 2015-16 season, New Hampshire never had a 20-win season. Coach Bill Herrion has now led the program to two in a row, but he has the task of replacing the backcourt of a team that was very thin.

The losses put the pressure on 6-foot-7 senior Tanner Leissner to put up monster numbers after having a very good season in 2016-17. He led the team with 17.1 points and also grabbed 6.9 rebounds. He also was a superb free throw shooter for a big man, converting a team-best 83 percent of his free-throws.

Six-foot-9 center Iba Camara will lend him support in the post as he logged 9.4 points and a team-high 9.5 rebounds as a junior.

Ever since making the 2009 NCAA Tournament, things have been a massive slog for Binghamton. The Bearcats have not won more than 13 games in a season the past eight years and are coming off a 12-20 season in which the team had a conference record of 3-13.

Though this team will have its deficiencies, it does have a pair of 6-foot-6 senior forwards to build around. Bobby Ahearn and Willie Rodriguez had a combined 21.7 points and 10.1 rebounds last year, though not a lot of those boards came on the offensive glass. The team was 218th in the country in field-goal shooting percentage, so being 325th in the country in total offensive rebounds certainly did not set the team up for success.

The team should have the services of its top scorer back in J.C. Show, who began his career at Bucknell before joining the AEC school. Through the first 12 games of the season, the 6-foot-2 shooting guard had 13.3 points and 3.9 rebounds per game before injuries cut his season short. Binghamton was 7-5 when Show went down and went 5-15 the rest of the way.

UMass Lowell is looking for its first winning season since jumping to the D-I level for the 2013-14 season, as the River Hawks have won between 10 and 12 games each of the past four seasons.

The team is very undersized, which makes 6-foot-8 sophomore Cameron Wolter’s development crucial for this squad. He had 4.8 points and 1.4 rebounds per game off the bench last season, which is not going to get the job done if UMass Lowell is to get above .500.

It was point guard Jahad Thomas who had to do it all for the team last year. He averaged 18.3 points, nine rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game, all of which were team highs. Thomas is a unique player as he has the skill set of a forward despite being 6-foot-2, yet is also a very good passer. Six-foot-3 junior Ryan Jones is back to help him out as he posted averages of 13.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and three assists per game a year ago.

Hartford never has had more than 17 wins in a season in the 33 years the school has been at the Division I level and that is highly unlikely to change this year.

Coach John Gallagher must find a way to replace the production of departed senior Jalen Ross, who led the team with 19.9 points per game last year. Hartford must also replace its No. 2 scorer, Jason Dunne. That leaves 5-foot-10 junior post guard J.R. Lynch to try to steer the ship out of murky waters. He had eight points and a team-high 2.8 assists per game for a Hawks team that had a 9-23 record.

Hartford has attracted a number of foreign players to the program and are hoping to catch lightning in a bottle with freshman guard Ziga Habat. As for the big guys, the team will once again rely on 6-foot-10 Hassan Attia to clog up the paint. 

The highlight of Maine's 2016-17 season was sixth man Marko Pirovic suffering a broken jaw in a fight related to the music being played in the locker room. Had the players fought as hard on the court as they did over those jams, the may not have finished with a record of 7-25 that included an AEC-worst 3-13 mark in conference play.

Pirovic transferred in the offseason along with the team's leading scorer, Wesley Myers. Six-foot-7 sophomore Andrew Fleming becomes the focal point as he led the team with 6.5 rebounds per game and added 10.7 points.

This should be Vermont's conference to lose, though the middle of the conference should give the Catamounts a bit more of a battle this year.

Greg Peterson’s America East Conference forecast:
1. Vermont
2. Albany
3. UMBC
4. Stony Brook
5. New Hampshire
6. Binghamton
7. Maine
8. UMass-Lowell
9. Hartford

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