With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, the water is rising – or falling – to its own level in the America East and the conference’s playoff standings are beginning to take shape.
With just four regular season games remaining and a two game lead over Vermont, Albany remains firmly in the drivers seat to secure home court throughout the playoffs, with the Catamounts as the only team with a true chance of overtaking the Danes. New Hampshire has also insured itself of no worse than a fourth place finish, while Stony Brook has all but locked up another spot in the top for. And while the final order in the top four remains up for grabs, it’s a safe bet that the winner of the conference playoffs is going to come from that quartet of teams.
So without further ado, here’s a look around the league with our latest America East Power Rankings
1. Albany (18-7, 12-0 in AE)
Results: W 62-46 at Binghamton; W 65-59 at NJIT
This week: Tuesday vs Stony Brook, Friday vs Hartford
Albany’s winning streak is now at 13 games – the program’s Division I era record – 12 of them coming in America East play. But it was the non-conference win, Friday night at NJIT, that was perhaps the biggest – and certainly most emotional – of the team’s season, as star Peter Hooley made his return after an eight game absence, during which time he returned home to be by his mother’s side as she battled colon cancer, before laying her to rest after her passing. In Hooley’s absence, senior forward Sam Rowley established himself as the team’s go to scorer, and junior point guard Evan Singletary shouldered Hooley’s normal load as the team’s big shot extraordinaire. Hooley played limited minutes coming off the bench, but cracked double-figures while surpassing the 1,000 career point plateau. If Albany can get Hooley back to form, the Danes are easily the odds-on favorites to win the league playoffs and punch their ticket to the NCAAs.
2. Vermont (16-10, 11-2 in AE)
Results: W 96-53 vs UMass Lowell; W 74-51 vs UMBC
This week: Wednesday at Binghamton
Don’t look now, but in the Great Danes’ shadows there is another America East team riding emotional to an inspiring winning steak. The Catamounts have now won five straight games, four of them since top-ranked recruit Josh Speidel suffered a traumatic head injury in a car accident. And while the Great Danes have been finding ways to win in the closing minutes and seconds, the Catamounts have been straight smacking people. Freshman point guard Trae Bell-Haynes has hit a bit of a wall down the stretch, but fellow frosh Cam Ward and Brandon Hatton have picked up the baton and carried on, while junior center Ethan O’Day is playing the best basketball of his career, scoring at will around the post. The Catamounts have officially joined the Great Danes in distancing themselves from the rest of the America East pack.
3. New Hampshire (16-10, 9-4 in AE)
Results: W 76-70 (OT) at Hartford; W 66-48 vs Binghamton
This week: Saturday at UMass Lowell
This is officially the best season the Wildcats have experienced in two decades. With a win over Binghamton Saturday, UNH assured itself winning seasons both in league play and overall for the first time since the 1994-1995 season. Three more wins and the Wildcats will surpass the 94-95 team’s win total in conference play and tie it’s overall number of wins (19). The secret sauce behind New Hampshire’s success: Toughness, energy and selfless play according to head coach Bill Herrion. Sophomore forward Jacoby Armstrong’s return to form, paired with freshman stud Tanner Leissner, gives the Wildcats one of the best front courts in the league, senior gunner Matt Miller remains the best shooter in the America East, and Herrion has revived his trademark defense – arguably the best in the league. The Wildcats remain unproven, and no one of the roster has experienced post season success, but make no mistake, this is a team no one wants to play in the post season.
4. Stony Brook (17-10, 8-4 in AE)
Results: W 73-61 at UMBC; W 80-52 vs Maine
This week: Tuesday at Albany; Saturday vs Binghamton
The Seawolves got two huge shots in the arm on Saturday in the form of a career-high 24 points from raw but talented red-shirt freshman wing Roland Nyama and 15 rebounds from junior forward Rayshaun McGrew. Whether those performances can translate against the top of the conference – as opposed to the dregs of the league – remains to be seen, but if Stony Brook is going to make a run at the first NCAA Tournament appearances in league history, they are going to need to get consistent play from their supporting cast. Junior center Jameel Warney is a horse, but against the crème of the America East crop, it has been proven that Warney can’t do it alone.
5. Hartford (12-13, 5-7 in AE)
Results L 76-70 (OT) vs New Hampshire; L 69-63 at UMass Lowell
This week: Tuesday vs UMBC; Friday at Albany
Hartford got a huge boost over the weekend with the return of star senior forward Mark Nwakamma, who went down two weeks ago against Vermont for what was originally feared would be a season-ending knee injury. Hartford needs Nwakamma on the court, demanding double teams and spacing the floor to open up the perimeter to their shooters. Unfortunately, even with Nwakamma on the court, the Hawks haven’t proven they can consistently knock down enough shots to be a real threat, as evidenced by Saturday’s loss against a UMass Lowell team playing without its top talent.
6. UMass Lowell (11-15, 5-8 in AE play)
Results: W 67-51 vs UMBC; L 69-59 at Albany
This week: Wednesday vs Maine; Saturday vs New Hampshire
The River Hawks continue to inspire as one of the league’s best stories (they would be the best if not for the inspiring seasons of Albany and Vermont). When do everything freshman star Jahad Thomas (who was running away with the Rookie of the Year award) went down with a torn ACL two weeks ago, the River Hawks season was supposed to be over. Instead, they’ve kept fighting, with freshmen Matt Harris and Brad Schaub stepping up their games, while seniors Kerry Weldon, Marco Banegas-Flores and Chad Holley are going out the way all seniors should: leaving everything on the floor. Lowell has now surpassed last season’s win total despite playing with far less overall talent and experience – a testament to head coach Pat Duquette’s abilities.
7. Binghamton (4-24, 3-10 in AE)
Results: L 62-46 vs Albany; L 66-48 at New Hampshire
This week: Wednesday vs Vermont; Saturday at Stony Brook
The tough season continues for the banged up Bearcats, who are back on the snide having lost four straight. Binghamton’s freshman class has shown ability across the board – from Romello Walker’s athleticism and energy, to Justin McFadden’s defensive ability, Willie Rodriguez’ toughness, Dusan Perovic’s scoring and Bobby Ahearn’s toughness – but they can’t avoid the injury and illness bug, and haven’t been able to field enough healthy – let alone experienced – bodies to compete day in and day out.
8. Maine (3-22, 2-10 in AE)
Results: L 80-52 at Stony Brook
This week: Wednesday at UMass Lowell; Saturday at UMBC
There’s a common trend among the bottom three in the league, and that is rebuilding programs who are lacking enough healthy bodies to compete for 40 minutes. Maine continues to fight the good fight under first year head coach Bob Walsh, but the team is battling against a culture of apathy engrained over the past decade, and injuries to key players. Freshman scoring guard Kevin Little has been electric for stretches, and freshman point guard Aaron Calixte is cool under pressure. That duo, combined with next year’s incoming class, should give Black Bear fans hope of a brighter tomorrow.
9. UMBC (3-22, 1-11 in AE)
Results: L 3-61 vs Stony Brook; L 74-51 at Vermont
This week: Tuesday at Hartford; Saturday vs Maine
You have to be impressed by the job head coach Aki Thomas, his staff, and his players have done when staring down the most daunting and insurmountable odds in the league. No team has shown more heart over the season than UMBC, which has somehow found the resolve to show up and fight with everything they have every day despite suiting up just eight bodies – only four or five of whom are really Division I quality players.
OBW America East Player of the Week
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Rowley scored 36 points, ripped down 23 rebounds and dished out five assists in a pair of Great Danes wins, including a 20-point 15-rebound effort against Binghamton, to help Albany push its winning streak to 13 straight.
America East Rookie of the Week
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Stony Brook’s Roland Nyama had the best game of the week, going off for a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting in a route of Maine, but Leissner had the best week, scoring 30 points and pulling down 21 rebounds while playing a whopping 81 minutes in a pair of Wildcats wins, including a 14-point 15-rebound effort against Binghamton.
OBW America East Fab Five
Ethan O’Day, Jr., F, Vermont
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont
OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Kevin Little, G, Maine
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell