(photo courtesy: America East)

Early Thoughts on America East

A few weeks are now in the books, so here is an early look around America East.

Thoughts:

1. The league is a bit better this season. After sitting as the 28th best conference in college basketball according to KenPom the past three seasons, the America East is up to 26th in 2016-17. Yes, Maine and Hartford are still really struggling, but a true middle class has emerged, which is helping keep the league competitive with similar mid-majors.

2. The personnel though is still developing. While Stony Brook lost almost its entire core from the NCAA tournament run a season ago, the rest of the league is relatively young. Of the 27 players using at least 20% of their team’s possessions only four are seniors, and just one (Hartford’s Jalen Ross) is among the 12 players using at least 24% of a team’s possessions. The league’s go-to guys are mostly sophomores and juniors.

3. New coaches, new results. UMBC has played a Charmin-soft schedule, but the Retrievers are 4-1 and look like they could at least be competitive in America East this season. UMBC hasn’t won more than five conference games since the 2008-09 season. That has a chance to change in Year 1 of the Ryan Odom era. Stony Brook has struggled a bit (going 1-4) against a strong non-conference schedule. The Seawolves have some easier games coming up. Jeff Boals should be able to keep the team above .500 in league this season before he can start bringing in the players he’d like to see on Long Island.

Power Rankings:

1. Vermont – The Catamounts almost beat a good Houston team last week and squeaked by Woffod and Yale. (And beat Hofstra by 14 at the Gulf Coast Showcase.) The team looks like an improved version of last season’s. Both sides of the ball are just a little bit better, which is enough to make the Catamounts the America East favorite.

2. New Hampshire – UNH has already won at Winthrop and Temple this season, probably the two best wins for any America East team. They also lost to Abilene Christian at home on a night where the offense never got going. Tanner Leissner is a legit superstar, averaging 17.3 ppg along with 10.5 rpg.

3. Albany – The Albany-Siena rivalry is great. The Great Danes don’t have much depth—David Nichols and Joe Cremo are both playing around 35 minutes per game—but they look great with the right personnel on the court. Mike Rowley, Greig Stire, and Dallas Ennema have provided the inside presence Will Brown needs for his guard-heavy attack to succeed.

4. Stony Brook – Things look much different this season for the Seawolves. After relying on Jameel Warney and Carson Puriefoy the past few seasons SBU is scoring by committee in 2016-17. Four players score in double-figures, but no Stony Brook player is in the top 10 in America East in points per game; Tyrell Sturdivant’s 13.2 ppg leads the way. Stony Brook’s non-conference schedule lightens up during the rest of December, so it’ll be interesting to see how this team plays against mid-major competition.

5. UMBC – Jairus Lyles is the Retrievers go-to guy at 21.8 ppg, but K.J. Maura has also provided a nice spark. The former Abilene Christian point guard is averaging 12.0 ppg, 3.3 apg, and 2.5 rpg. Maura is turning the ball over a bit too much, but he’s really the only UMBC player with that issue. The Retrievers currently rank 18th in Division I with turnovers on just 15.1% of their offensive possessions.

6. UMass Lowell – By the transitive property UMass Lowell might be better than UConn (the River Hawks beat Wagner just days after the Seahawks defeated the Huskies), but the beginning of the season has been rather rocky. Jahad Thomas is leading an offense that scores enough, but the defense has been awful. That leads to a lot of high-scoring losses. UML has allowed at least 82 points in all five of its defeats.

7. Binghamton – Tommy Dempsey’s team has been up-and-down all season. They’re 4-4 thanks to four-straight win-loss couplets. The streak might continue this week as the Bearcats host Mansfield before playing at Saint Francis U. Dempsey needs to find some offense around JC Show, 15.8 ppg.

8. Maine – There are some things to like in Bob Walsh’s third season—the offense isn’t turning the ball over, the Black Bears hit the glass defensively—but the record looks like it might end up being almost exactly the same as the 2015-16 campaign. Maine has struggled to replace their top two leading scorers, Isaac Vann and Kevin Little, who transfered to VCU and Colorado State respectively. Right now it’s another transfer, Wesley Myers from Niagara, leading the way with 13.8 ppg.

9. Hartford – Jalen Ross is shooting a lot and playing quite efficiently considering the burden being placed upon him, but someone else will have to step up if the Hawks want to be competitive and John Gallagher wants to save his job. Ross leads all AE players with 23.4 ppg.

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