If there has been anything to be learned from the America East Conference over the past three years, it would be to expect the unexpected.
Dominant teams often laiden with talent-rich roster will run through the regular-season with aplomb and then fall to the crushing weight of a surprise upset during the conference tournament. Such is life in the America East Conference; a conference long debated to be among the best mid-major hoops conferences in the country, if not the best.
Last year was arguably the best year in conference history with three stacked teams at the top of the standings. Albany, Vermont and Stony Brook University all brought talent-rich rosters into the year and it came down to a desperation-heave by Albany’s Peter Hooley in the America East Championship Game to mark any sort of differentiation between the top teams in the conference.
This year will have no such story.
Heartbroken by a last-second loss in the championship game last year, Stony Brook is the cream of the America East crop, returning 4 starters. Among them is the incomparable Jameel Warney, who is not only the two-time reigning America East Player of the Year, but a young man who has every right to claim he’s the best mid-major player in the nation. With a stat-line of 16.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.5 blocks per game and 2.1 assists per game, Warney’s already cemented his status as the best big man in the Northeast.
Joining Warney is all-league first-team selection Carson Pureifoy. Pureifoy averaged 14.4 PPG last year and spearheaded the offense at the Point Guard position with nearly 4 assists a game. Rayshawn McGrew and Roland Nyama are back as well, but the intrigue behind the Seawolves this year will be the addition of Longwood transfer, Lucas Woodhouse and the return of Ahmad Walker after a season away spent at a JuCo. Instantly, Stony Brook has more depth than anybody else in the conference. In essence, the Seawolves has 7 players who would have legitimate cases to start at any other school in the conference.
All of that should be enough to prevent yet another heartbreaking loss in a Conference Tournament Final. The Seawolves are too loaded this year and too deep a team for them to continue the pattern of the past few years.
Standing in their way is going to be defending champion, UAlbany, who brings back the feel-good story of last year, Peter Hooley. Hooley’s heave at the end of a great Conference Championship Game saved the Great Danes last year and ensured the regular-season champions made it to the field of 68. That he did it after the passing of his mother due to cancer only served to further the narrative that this team was destined to win the America East.
Hooley is bringing back his 13.7 PPG and he’ll be helped enormously by Evan Singletary, an all-conference first-team performer in his own right. Still, Albany suffered a big blow when they lost Sam Rowley and his loss is going to be felt when the Great Danes have to stack up against the more athletic and versatile teams in the conference. While they return 5 of their top 7 players from last year, Albany isn’t nearly as deep as they were last year and will be hard-pressed to field off other contenders in the conference.
The Great Danes are going to be pushed for that second spot by the Vermont Catamounts. Although the Catamounts had a disappointing season last year and future star Ernie Duncan was limited to only 4 games, Vermont still managed to tie with Stony Brook for second in the Regular Season standings.
Much of that was thanks to Ethan O’Day. O’Day established himself early as a go-to man in the front court and found himself tabbed at the end of the year as an all-Conference selection. With the return of Duncan and continuing contributions from Dre Wills and Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont has more experience and more depth than last year, a scary proposition when you consider how they played while admittedly under-manned last year.
If anybody can crash the party among the top three, then New Hampshire is the sleeper pick to make some noise in the conference. Losing Matt Miller is a huge blow, but Tanner Leissner is going to dominate this conference sooner rather than later. He’s tall, has range and his movement without the ball is a headache for every other defender in the conference.
– America East Champions: Stony Brook
– America East Player of the Year: Jameel Warney
– All-Conference Team :
* Tanner Leissner (UNH)
* Jameel Warney (SBU)
* Peter Hooley (UAlbany)
* Ethan O’ Day (Vermont)
* Carson Pureifoy (SBU)
Tags: 2015 College Basketball Preview, America East Conference, NCAA Basketball, Stony Brook, UAlbany, Vermont