The Vermont Catamounts went a perfect 19-0 against America East foes last season before losing a close game to Purdue as a 13 seed in the Round of 64. That probably won’t be repeated this year — with almost everyone back this team could actually contend for an even better seed in the Big Dance and has a real chance to win a game once there. In fact, the biggest battle in the conference could be between Catamount teammates Trae Bell-Haynes and Anthony Lamb for conference Player of the Year honors. In other words, John Calipari’s young Kentucky team better be on guard when they host Vermont on November 12 during the season’s opening weekend.
As for the rest of the conference, all but one team returns at least three starters, which means that there should be a higher level of play and some very exciting contests, even if they are all only battling for second place. New Hampshire, with star Tanner Leissner, Albany and UMBC are the top three contenders, though any of the top seven preseason picks could make some serious noise this year. It will be especially interesting to watch UMass-Lowell, as the River Hawks will be eligible for the America East and NCAA Tournaments for the first time, and could be in line for the 4 seed and a home game in the conference tournament quarterfinal round.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Vermont – The Catamounts won all 19 games they played against America East foes last season, and return the majority of that team including conference Player of the Year Trae Bell-Haynes and Rookie of the Year Anthony Lamb. This team could be playing multiple games in the NCAA Tournament this year.
- New Hampshire – The Wildcats could have the league’s best frontcourt with Tanner Leissner, Jacoby Armstrong and Iba Camara. If they can find a way to make up for the losses of guards Jaleen Smith and Daniel Dion, they look like the team most likely to jump in if Vermont falters.
- Albany – The Great Danes may have the league’s best backcourt with David Nichols and Joe Cremo, but probably don’t have enough down low to overtake Vermont.
- UMBC – The Retrievers were last season’s surprise team in the America East, and with four starters and a deep bench returning, have a chance to move up even another step this year. Jairus Lyles averaged almost 19 points per game and could make it more than 20 this time around.
- UMass-Lowell – The River Hawks return two senior and one junior double-digit scorers for their first NCAA Tournament-eligible season, led by double-double threat Jahad Thomas. It would not be a total shock to see them finish even higher than this.
- Stony Brook – The Seawolves are likely to take a step back this season with three starters gone and a ton of questions in the backcourt. Tyrell Sturdivant should be their go-to player and is poised for a huge season.
- Binghamton – Although we are picking them in 7th place, the Bearcats have a chance to be a surprise team with most of their rotation back. The key will be keeping Willie Rodriguez and J.C. Show healthy and on the court, something they could not do last season.
- Hartford – The good news is the Hawks return four starters from last season. The bad news is that Jalen Ross, who scored almost 20 points per game, is gone. Hartford should be better than 9-23 last year, but maybe not much better.
- Maine – With all nine teams now eligible for the NCAA Tournament, one school will not qualify for the 8-team America East tournament. Finding a way to avoid being that team would be a successful year for Maine, but even doing that may be a longshot with top scorer Wes Myers gone.