America East men’s basketball roundup 2/14/15

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, every game is magnified for America East teams jockeying for position in the standings and seedings in the America East Playoffs — seedings that are more important than at any other time in recent history with the new, high-seed host format.

With just a handful of conference games left, Albany has distanced themselves from the pack at 12-0 in league play, and a regular season title and home court advantage throughout the playoffs would appear to be theirs to lose, with an 11-2 Vermont squad as the only other team with a realistic shot.

Here’s a look at sights, sounds and results from a huge Saturday of hoops with the America East men’s basketball roundup.

New Hampshire 66 Binghamton 48
The Wildcats were expected to roll over the Bearcats and they did just that, but make no mistake, this was a huge win for the players, the program, and head coach Bill Herrion. Now standing at 16-10 on the year and 9-4 in America East play, New Hampshire has officially clinched a winning record for the first time in Herrion’s tenure and the first time since the 1994-1995 season (There is no scenario where the Wildcats could lose more than four America East contests without a win, or five total games including a post-season birth without a victory, ensuring a winning season).

Freshman forward Tanner Leissner posted his fourth double-double of the season and third in the past five games he has played, scoring 14 points to go with a career-high 15 rebounds to pace four Wildcats in double-figures.

The undermanned Bearcats got 10 points apiece from sophomore guards Yoseph Yacob and Marlon Beck II and freshman forward Bobby Ahearn, but were held to just 27.8 percent from the floor (15-of-54) by the vaunted Wildcats defense.

UMass Lowell 69 Hartford 63
Valentine’s Day was a huge win for the host River Hawks and an outright bad loss for the visiting Hawks. Despite playing without the team’s offensive and defensive epicenter, freshman forward Jahad Thomas, lost for the rest of the year with a torn ACL, UMass Lowell continued to play with tremendous heart and effort, outworking and out-willing Hartford all night while executing a methodical game plan on both ends of the floor.

Led by senior forward Kerry Weldon’s 15 points – among them an emphatic dunk – eight different River Hawks scored, including 13 points off the bench from sharp-shooting freshman Matt Harris, nine points from reserve junior guard D.J. Mlachnik and eight points apiece from Brad Schaub, Marco Banegas-Flores and Chad Holley. Defensively the Rive Hawks held the bombs-away Hawks to just 24 percent from downtown (6-of-25) and 42.9 percent from the floor (24-of-56), while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 34.8 percent from downtown.

For Hartford, the loss – the team’s sixth in its last seven games – was another painful reminder of the team’s shortcomings in what was supposed to the “their year.” With six seniors on the roster – including star forward Mark Nwakamma, heart and soul guard/forward Corban Wroe, and fiery leader and point guard Yolonzo Moore II – Hartford was supposed to be built to compete for a title this season. But with the daunting task of a complete roster rebuild next year, the Hawks have not only failed to build on their momentum from the past two years – a pair of 17 win seasons in which they won 10 regular season America East games – but have now begun a serious back slide.

Stony Brook 80 Maine 52
Red-shirt freshman forward Roland Nyama exploded for a career-high 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting, to go with five rebounds. Junior forward Rayshaun McGrew added a 15-rebound, 10-point double-double, junior center Jameel Warney posted a double-double of his own with 13 points and 11 rebounds and junior point guard Carson Puriefoy chipped in 12 points.

After disheartening losses to New Hampshire, in a game they never competed, and Vermont in a game they coughed up a massive second half lead on their home court, the Seawolves’ have benefitted from back-to-back basement dwellers, following up a 12-point win over UMBC with a massacre of Maine. The pair of beatings over a pair of massively undermanned and overmatched squads should go a long way in restoring the Seawolves’, but it’s hard to gauge how much of their recent play will translate against the top of the league (Stony Brook’s record currently stands at 1-4 against first place Albany, second place Vermont and third place New Hampshire).

Getting production from players not named “Jameel Warney” is a must if Stony Brook is going to make a run at the NCAAs, and while their supporting cast has proven they can dominate the have-nots of the league, they are going to need to show consistency against the America East “haves.”

For Maine, this was a game where the Black Bears – at the bottom of a ground up program build under first year head coach Bob Walsh — were simply and completely overmatched

Vermont 74 UMBC 51
The Catamounts have now won five straight games, including four emotional wins in honor of recruit Josh Speidel who was severely injured in a Feb. 1 car accident.

Junior forward Ethan O’Day continued his inspired play, matching his career-high with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with eight rebounds and three blocks in just 25 minutes, and Vermont shot a blistering 51.9 percent from the floor (28-of-54). Nine Catamounts broke into the scorers column and 10 played double-digit minutes as Vermont turned a six-point first half lead into a route.

Dre Wills continued to shine as the Catamounts do-everything star and lynchpin, scoring 10 points to go with four assists, two rebounds, a steal and a block.

For UMBC, the game one again highlighted the Retrievers horrific lack of depth following a litany of injuries and suspensions, but even more amazing their indomitable heart and hustle. Playing just seven players, one of them walk-on Ben Grace, the Retrievers gave Vermont everything the Catamounts could handle for a half, before running out of gas in the second half.

Nightly awards:
OBW America East Player of the Game

Ethan O’Day, Jr., F, Vermont
22 points, 9-of-12 shooting, eight rebounds, three blocks

OBW America East Rookie of the Game
Roland Nyama, F, Stony Brook : 24 points, 9-of-12 shooting, 6-of-8 3pt, five rebounds

Standings
Team – Conference Record (Overall Record)
1. Albany 12-0 (18-7)
2. Vermont 11-2 (16-10)
3. New Hampshire 9-4 (16-10)
4. Stony Brook 8-4 (17-10)
5. Hartford 5-7 (12-13)
6. UMass Lowell 508 (11-15)
7. Binghamton 3-10 (4-24)
8. Maine 2-10 (3-22)
9. UMBC 1-11 (3-22)

OBW America East Power Rankings v11

With no team having more than six conference games remaining, we are officially in the home stretch of the regular season, with the America East Playoffs bearing down on teams like a bespectacled Austin Ganly on a helpless defender in the open court. At this point, there is a clear separation between the top four in the league standings and everyone else, with that quartet looking like the only teams with a true shot at winning the whole thing and going dancing.

So without further delay, here’s a look at how the teams stack up with the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (16-7, 11-0 in AE)
Results: W 63-62 vs New Hampshire; W 69-59 vs UMass Lowell
This week: Tuesday at Binghamton; Friday at NJIT
What more can be said about the Great Danes at this point? Playing in the shadows of tragedyColon cancer that took the life of Great Dane’s star Peter Hooley’s mother, Sue, and has kept Hooley from the team for roughly three weeks – Albany has found a way to go on a remarkable run, opening the conference play by going a perfect 11-0. In Hooley’s absence, senior forward Sam Rowley has entrenched himself as a near unstoppable scorer in the low post, and JuCo transfer Evan Singletary has stepped into the spotlight as a star scoring point guard who will take – and make – the biggest shots of the game without conscience or remorse. The Great Danes have gotten enough from their role players – the bigs play physical, JuCo wing Ray Saunders locking down defenders – to continue to win, but they may be running a little bit on fumes as of late, eeking out a win at home over a Tanner Leissner-less UNH squad and being given a real game by a Jahad Thomas-less UMass Lowell. Hooley is expected to return following the Binghamton game and make no mistake this is the America East team to beat.

2. Vermont (914-10, 9-2 in AE)
Results: W 68-49 vs Maine; W 57-48 at Stony Brook
This week: Wednesday vs UMass Lowell; Saturday vs UMBC
The Catamounts became the latest America East team to be reminded that, in the grand scheme of things, basketball is just a game, and there are things in life so much bigger than wins and losses, when top Vermont recruit Josh Speidel was critically injured in a car accident on Feb. 1. Since the accident, which left Speidel in critical but stable condition recovering in an Indiana hospital, Vermont has played inspired basketball in their future teammate’s honor, destroying Maine at home, before roaring back from a 17-point halftime deficit to KO Stony Brook on the road. According to head coach John Becker, “it seems like it’s a different group of 5-6 guys every night who step up and play their best basketball,” and against Stony Brook, three of the biggest heroes proved to be star center Ethan O’Day, reserve freshman shooter Brandon Hatton, and all guts no glory freshman Josh McRoberts. The one constant throughout the season for Vermont has been shooting guard/flying tank Dre Wills, arguably the league’s Defensive Player of the Year who does literally everything every night out for the Catamounts. While Vermont needs to get consistent play from their front court offensively, the Catamounts remain powered by frenetic back court defense.

3. New Hampshire (14-10, 7-4 in AE)
Results: L 63-62 at Albany; W 80-46 vs UMBC
This week: Tuesday at Hartford; Saturday vs Binghamton
The Wildcats are officially no joke, and a team whose sum is far greater than any individual part, as proven by their last second, one-point road loss at Albany despite playing without their best all around player (and far and away best scorer) freshman forward Tanner Leissner. While the Wildcats have gotten back to head coach Bill Herrion’s bread and butter – ferocious team defense for 94 feet – they have a completely new look and new attitude from any previous team Herrion’s nine-year tenure, capable of scoring around the hoop courtesy of Leissner and Jacoby Armstrong, in the mid-range (Leissner), and from downtown thanks to Matt Miller and Daniel Dion. They can also create off the dribble behind Dion and Jaleen Smith and finish the fast break with authority with players like Ronnel Jordan. And, considering various nagging injuries that have bothered them for much of the year, they still haven’t hit their ceiling.

4. Stony Brook (15-10, 6-4 in AE)
Results: L 57-48 vs Vermont
This Week: Wednesday at UMBC; Saturday vs Maine
Following a loss to Vermont that would be impossible to call anything other than bad after coughing up a 17-point second half lead (OK, some stronger language than bad might be appropriate) Stony Brook head coach Steve Pikiell was steadfast in his resolve that he feels the best is yet to come for the team. Me, I’m pretty darn concerned about Stony Brook, which has now lost two straight and currently sits at 1-4 against the three teams above them in the standings. Center Jameel Warney remains an automatic double-double and the most dominant player in the league, but he simply can not win games alone against the top of the league and he’s getting almost nothing from his supporting cast. Furthermore, as was the case in each of the past two seasons, Warney appears to be hitting a bit of a wall, as a season’s-worth of double and triple teams may be catching up to him again.

5. Hartford (12-11, 5-5 in AE)
Results W 62-61 at Binghamton
This week: Tuesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday at UMass Lowell
Plain and simple, Hartford is a bad team without Mark Nwakamma, a reality the Hawks were forced to face for the better part of the last two games after a knee injury to the team’s star senior forward and offensive epicenter. The good news: Nwakamma will hopefully return to the lineup Tuesday night. The bad news: While the Hawks are markedly better with Nwakamma in the lineup, they haven’t exactly been a good team with him either. Roughly three-quarters of the way through the season, playing a rotation that features six seniors, at this point Hartford is what it is: A team that can get hot from behind the arc and beat anyone, but seems unlikely to be able to sustain that type of white-hot shooting for any consistent period of time – certainly not three straight games in March, which is a prerequiste to punch through to the NCAAs. The odds of Hartford undergoing a metamorphosis into a complete basketball team at this late juncture are pretty slim.

6. UMass Lowell (10-14, 4-7 in AE play)
Results: W 67-51 vs UMBC; L 69-59 at Albany
This week: Wednesday at Vermont; Saturday vs Hartford
The River Hawks lost red-shirt freshman Jahad Thomas for the remainder of the season two weeks ago at Binghamton to a torn ACL – his second in as many years. To call Thomas’ loss a huge blow to the River Hawks is a massive understatement: The 6’2” 235 pound battering ram had emerged as the America East’s version of Charles Barkley (or the reincarnation of former America East star Darryl Proctor). Without Thomas, Lowell will struggle to find consistent scoring. But the River Hawks defend like crazy, play with discipline, and execute their offense, and in the bottom half of the AE that will still win you some games.

7. Binghamton (4-22, 3-8 in AE)
Results: L 62-61 vs Hartford; L 67-64 at Maine
This Week: Tuesday at Albany; Saturday at New Hampshire
Binghamton is still struggling to execute consistently, as evident by their loss against previously hapless Maine. But the Bearcats are playing a lot of very young but very talented players a lot of minutes, and sooner than later the experience they are gaining is going to start turning into wins.

8. Maine (3-21, 2-9 in AE)
Results: L 68-59 at Vermont; W 67-64 vs Binghamton
This week: Saturday at Stony Brook
After competing for the first half against the likes of New Hampshire, Albany and Vermont only to get annihilated after the intermission, the Black Bears found a way to stem the second half tide and score a much needed win over the visiting Bearcats. Head coach Bob Walsh inherited a completely bare cupboard, and a team with a decade-old culture where subpar effort, surrendering easily, and accepting losing. Breaking such ingrained habits isn’t easy, and Walsh more than has his work cut out for him, but Maine is taking steps in the right direction, and it likely is no coincidence that Walsh’s two recruits – explosive scoring guard Kevin Little and heady, steady point guard Aaron Calixte – appear to be the team’s two best players.

9. UMBC (3-20, 1-9 in AE)
Results: L 67-51 at UMass Lowell; L 80-46 at New Hampshire
This week: Wednesday vs Stony Brook; Saturday at Vermont
Head coach Aki Thomas, his coaching staff, and what’s left of his team, because they are all working harder than perhaps any other team I have ever seen and they have so little tangible to show for it. At this point, the Retrievers’ plight has been well told: Down to seven healthy bodies, only five of them scholarship players, after a rash of injuries, suspensions and other misfortunes, UMBC is completely gassed at this point, yet they keep finding the courage and resolve everyday to dig down deep and fight. It sounds corny, but the fact that Thomas has his team playing so hard is a huge victory in its own right.

OBW America East Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week
Kevin Little, Fr., G, Maine
In two games, Little played 79 of 80 available minutes for the Black Bears, scoring 38 points to go with nine rebounds while shouldering a massive load for Maine, all while playing on what is rumored to be a badly injured lower leg/foot. The fearless freshman gunner drilled what would prove to be the game winner for the Black Bears with 41 seconds remaining against Binghamton on Saturday, and spent the entire week playing with veteran confidence and swagger. This kid is going to be good.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
**Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Tanner Leissner, Fr., F, New Hampshire
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past four games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

**UMass Lowell red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas has been, according to raw numbers and advanced statistics, easily one of the five best players in the America East all season long, ranking second in points and fifth in rebounds, and scoring at an insanely effective clip despite constant double and triple teams. However, Thomas will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL and thus will likely fall out of First Team All-Conference contention due to sheer games played.

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

UMass Lowell star Jahad Thomas out with a torn ACL

Jahad Thomas. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Jahad Thomas. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

As first reported by Matt Langone of the Lowell Sun, and confirmed by numerous sources, UMass Lowell red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas will miss the rest of the season with his second torn ACL in as many years – injuring the opposite knee to the one that cost him his true freshman year.

At 6’2” and 230 pounds, Thomas ranks second in the America East in scoring at 14.3 points per game and fifth in rebounds at 6.5 boards per contest, 52.3 percent from the floor, and had emerged as a dynamic, dominant scorer despite being massively undersized at the power forward position, demanding double and triple teams on a nightly basis.

Thomas landed awkwardly with just 45.9 seconds remaining of a 76-69 loss at Binghamton, a game in which he scored 20 points, pulled down 10 rebounds, and added two assists and two steals in 32 minutes, and had to be carried from the court by multiple teammates.

Through the first 39 minutes and 14.1 seconds Saturday, Thomas had looked like a lock for the America East Rookie of the Year award, and, statistically, had made an excellent case to earn First Team All-Conference honors as a freshman. Now he will miss the rest of the season, and quite possible a chunk of next year.

With Thomas, the River Hawks had rattled off a 9-13 record – just one fewer win than all of last season with seven games remaining. Without Thomas – the team’s epicenter on offense, backbone on defense and toughness, tenacity and heart – the team may struggle to win another contest.

OBW America East Power Rankings v10

Evan Singletary has blossomed into a go-to star for Albany. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Evan Singletary has blossomed into a go-to star for Albany. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

With seven games left in the regular season, and a full two game lead over second-place Vermont, the America East regular season title – and coveted home court advantage throughout the new conference playoff format — is officially Albany’s to lose. The Great Danes have been nothing short of remarkable since conference play started, knocking off all of the next five teams below them in the standings on the road.

That alone has been truly remarkable, but considering that Albany has won the last five games without their leading scorer and arguably their best player Peter Hooley, who returned to Australia to be by his mother’s side as she valiantly fought cancer before passing away on Friday, defies words.

After Albany, it’s a dogfight for the next three spots in the standings – a top four finish guaranteeing a first round home game in the America East playoffs.

So without further ado, here’s a look around the league at the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (14-7, 9-0 in AE)
Results: W 47-44 at Vermont; W 77-59 at Maine
This Week: Wednesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday vs UMass Lowell.
You would be hard pressed to find a team in the country that has been dealing with more adversity – on and especially off the court – than Albany, which has played six of its first nine league contests on the road, including games against the next five top teams in the standings, and come out on top every time. Couple that with the far larger life and death issues that team co-captain Peter Hooley and his family were facing a world away – and the passing of Hooley’s mother, Sue, on Friday – and Albany’s run to 9-0 in league play is one of the most remarkable and inspiring in league history.

In Hooley’s absence, point guard Evan Singletary has emerged as a dynamic scorer and star, capable of putting points on the board in bunches and hitting the big shot, including the game-winning 3-pointer against Vermont. Sam Rowley continues to play like a First Team All-Conference forward in the low blocks, and freshman Wheeler Baker may have forced his way permanently into the rotation with his hot shooting.

2. New Hampshire (12-9, 6-3 in AE)
Results: W 63-58 at Maine; W 63-48 vs Stony Brook.
This Week: Wednesday at Albany; Saturday vs UMBC.
We have never had the Wildcats this high in our Power Rankings this late in the season, but this team truly looks legit. New Hampshire is defending the way Bill Herrion teams are supposed to – ferociously – and, unlike any previous incarnate, they can score the ball – it may be ugly at times, but they can score. Freshman forward Tanner Leissner is making a strong case to be considered not simply for All-Rookie honors (he should be a lock for those) but First Team All-Conference honors, scoring from all over the court at an increasingly efficient clip. Red-shirt senior shooting guard Matt Miller, playing in his first year of Division I hoops, has emerged as the conference’s best long range shooter, and combined with Daniel Dion finally gives Herrion legitimate floor spacing shooters from behind the arc. New Hampshire has benefitted a bit from playing the top of the league at home, and they may drop back down a bit in the standings as they go on the road in the second half of the AE slate, but they appear to be a legit Top-4 team. And the way they defend the ball, I don’t think anyone is going to want to play them in March.

3. Vermont (12-10, 7-2 AE)
Results: L 47-44 vs Albany; W 65-46 at Hartford
This week: Tuesday vs Maine; Saturday at Stony Brook
Vermont dropped another spot in our rankings, but, honestly, there’s no reason anyone should be disappointed with the Catamounts: This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after graduating six seniors. Instead, Vermont looks primed to make another run at the NCAAs. The Catamounts are getting scoring from across their roster, and showed just how good they can be by beating Hartford behind an incredibly balanced offensive attack in which eight players scored – among them a monster game from back-up freshman point guard Cam Ward, who pulled down 13 rebounds to go with eight points. But the Cats’ are showing signs of freshman fatigue, and will need to get more consistency from their upper class frontcourt of Ethan O’Day and Hector Harold if they are going to punch through to the NCAAs.

4. Stony Brook (15-9, 6-3 in AE)
Results: W 72-66 vs Hartford; L 63-48 at New Hampshire
This Week: Saturday vs Vermont
OK Seawolves fans, It is officially time to be worried about Stony Brook’s prospects this year. No matter how good junior center Jameel Warney is – and the 6’8” 260-pound behemoth is as good as it gets at this level – he simply can not do it alone, and right now, he’s the only player giving Stony Brook consistent production. Freshman point guard Carson Puriefoy has been erratic at best and junior forward Rayshaun McGrew seems to have hit a wall. Unless Puriefoy and McGrew can find a second wind, or the Seawolves freshmen can find a second gear down the stretch, Stony Brook is going to be an underdog (albeit not a major one) to go to the big dance.

5. Hartford (11-11, 4-5 AE)
Results: L 72-66 at Stony Brook; L 65-46 vs Vermont
This week: Tuesday at Binghamton
Seawolves fans should be concerned, but Hartford supporters should be in full-fledged freak-out mode. As we’ve said all along, when the Hawks are running their offense through star senior Mark Nwakamma, senior Corban Wroe is getting to the rim, and the entire team is knocking down open threes, they can beat anyone. The problem is – aside from Wroe’s growth – they are the exact same team they were two years ago, when they were bested by sixth-seed UMBC in the America East Tournament quarterfinals, and they are absolutely no better than last year’s squad, which was beaten thoroughly by Stony Brook in the tournament semis. Even at full strength, Hartford’s game plan relies far too heavily on outside shooting – far too unreliable to count on to win three straight games in March to go to the NCAAs. Far scarier, however, is that this team may not be at full strength, as Nwakamma went down with a leg injury against Vermont and was in a considerable amount of pain. Word is that the Hawks are hoping it is simply a bone bruise or sprain, but that there is serious concern that he tore a ligament in his knee. Without Nwakamma, Hartford flat out can not get to the NCAAs – and with six seniors on the roster, its now or back to square one for head coach John Gallagher.

6. Binghamton (4-20, 3-6 in AE)
Results: W 68-56 at UMBC; W 76-69 vs UMass Lowell
This Week: Tuesday vs Hartford; Saturday at Maine
They say it’s always darkest just before the darn, and things sure were pitch-black at the beginning of January for Binghamton, which had lost former star Jordan Reed on top of losing 14 straight games in a row. One month later, and there is again light at the end of the tunnel for the Bearcats, who have won back-to-back games while also competing as equals against the likes of New Hampshire, Stony Brook, and even for a little more than a half against Vermont. Freshman Willie Rodriguez appears to have turned the corner and is looking like the do-everything All-Rookie type performer he was billed as, fellow freshman Justin McFadden is doing a bit of everything, and freshman forward Bobby Ahearn, who was supposed to just be a body, has given the Bearcats toughness and a scoring punch on the low blocks.

7. UMass Lowell (9-13, 3-6 in AE)
Results: L 76-69 at Binghamton
This Week: Thursday vs UMBC; Saturday at Albany
After consistently out-performing expectations all season long, the River Hawks have hit a bit of a wall, losing five straight. The struggles are to be expected for a team that has nine new faces on its roster, and a team counting on freshmen to carry almost its entire scoring load – let alone a team in just its second year of Division I hoops. Red-shirt freshman forward Jahad Thomas continues to be a man among boys, and a giant among post players despite standing just 6’2”, shrugging off double and triple teams to score at a outstanding rate while also attacking the boards, making pinpoint passes and making all the little plays. Freshmen Matt Harris, Brad Schaub and Lance Crawford are all making strides on the court and showing growth, and the quartet of young, impact players make for an incredibly bright future along the Merrimack River. However, in the here and now, Lowell is quite possibly the smallest team in all of Division I and without a reliable second scoring option next to Thomas, the River Hawks will struggle.

8. Maine (2-20, 1-8 in AE)
Results: L 63-58 vs New Hampshire; L 77-59 vs Albany
This Week: Tuesday at Vermont; Saturday vs Binghamton
The record might not reflect it, but Maine has made some big strides as of late and the Black Bears have climbed out of the OBW Power Rankings basement. Undermanned and outgunned virtually every night they take the floor, Maine is playing hard and competing until the final horn. Freshmen guards Aaron Calixte and Kevin Little have looked darn good (although Little has missed considerable time due to injuries and other circumstances). And Maine’s four guard lineup, with Shaun Lawton playing the power forward position, is a tough matchup for opponents.

9. UMBC (3-18, 1-7 in AE)
Results: L 68-56 vs Binghamton
This week: Thursday at UMass Lowell; Saturday at New Hampshire
UMBC falls to the bottom of our Power Rankings, but through no fault of their players or staff. The Retrievers – the most undermanned team in the entire league — have fought the incredibly admirable fight all season long, finding ways to compete every night despite dressing just six scholarship players and eight total bodies. But with the loss of graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow, the team’s do-everything shooting guard and leading scorer, UMBC has been reduced to just seven bodies and five scholarship players.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany

Singletary’s 13th and final points at Vermont came on his game-winning 3-pointer in a 47-44 win. The Baltimore native followed that up by tying his career-high with 21 points in a romp at Maine. Singletary added 12 rebounds and nine assists over the two games.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire

The longer the season goes, the better Leissner gets, and the better that Leissner gets, the more legit the Wildcats continue to look. The 6’8” Texan notched a pair of double-doubles in back-to-back New Hampshire wins, posting 11 points and 12 rebounds at Maine, and coming up huge with 19 and 11 in a beat-down of Stony Brook.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past four games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his mother, Sue, who passed away on Friday. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

Team managers: ego-less job can be critical to program

They attend every practice, every film session but never will suit up in a game jersey. The public mostly identifies them with water bottles and towels. Every college basketball program has a team manager and their efforts are rarely in the spotlight.

“On his best day, he’s behind the scenes and not noticed at all,” said Northeastern University basketball coach Bill Coen. “If he’s not noticed, he’s done everything right.”

The Huskies coach of nine years said it takes a particular type of individual to fulfill the covert backbone of a Division 1 basketball program. The college student must be selfless and their love of the game must outweigh any potential reward that might come down the line.

Coen has seen some blossom the opportunity into a professional career but the duties and benefits of the job wouldn’t exactly appeal to most.

“You have to be ego-less,” Coen said.

The responsibility for rookie managers include rebounding balls at practice, preparing water and Powerbars, working out with a player whenever they want and preparing film of opposing teams. By the time the manager is a senior, or a head manager, they additionally must supervise the usually three younger managers and maybe, if they’re lucky, arrange travel for road trips.

This all must be juggled with missing classes due to those road trips, coming into the office early for work, all while remaining behind the scenes.

Most coaches would say the dirty work is just as important as any game-winning shot.

“A good manager can be almost as valuable as having another coach on your staff,” said UMass Lowell coach Pat Duquette. “They can have that much of an impact.”

While Coen was an assistant coach at Boston College and even now at Northeastern, some of Coen’s managers have proven the sacrifice can turn into a career in basketball.

Steve Scalzi, a 2006 BC graduate, was a head manager under Coen for four years while at BC. When Coen moved to Northeastern, Scalzi did with him as his director of basketball operations. Last year, Scalzi was hired by the NBA Development League’s (D-League) Tulsa 66ers, the affiliate of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder.

One of Coen’s first managers at Northeastern is his current director of basketball operations, Matt Holt. The 26-year-old Providence-native said he never minded the lack of fame that comes with the gritty job.

“That’s really not what it’s about,” Holt said. “I was just happy to be a part of such a great tradition at Northeastern and especially working for someone like coach Coen.”

Northeastern’s current head team manager, Danny Young, was inspired to sign up because his older brother served as manager at Ithaca College and went on to work for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Young, a 21-year-old senior at Northeastern, knows he wants to work in sports in the future but doesn’t know in what capacity yet. He’s just trying to enjoy what could be his last year as a member of the basketball program.

“Danny has done an outstanding job in that role,” Coen said. “He’s an extension of the staff, his commitment level is extreme and he takes every win and loss as personal, if not more personal, than any other staff or player.”

Young said the players have also accepted him and they regularly eat and study for classes off the court. They treat him like an equal, regardless of the lack of acknowledgement he receives.
“If I’m noticed, I’ve done something wrong,” Young said. “I’ll let the spotlight be on our guys. I know I have a small part in what we’ve accomplished and that’s plenty enough for me.”

Matt Harris: Growing into a complete player

UMass Lowell's Matt Harris gets to the hoop plus the harm against Vermont. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
UMass Lowell’s Matt Harris gets to the hoop plus the harm against Vermont. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

There was a moment in on Sunday when UMass Lowell freshman Matt Harris showed a glimpse of just how far he’s come, both as a player and as a kid, in his first year of college.

It wasn’t when Harris drilled a 3-pointer plus a foul from Vermont forward Ethan O’Day, and subsequently completed the four-point play with 3:28 remaining in the River Hawks eventual 61-50 loss. No, head coach Pat Duquette and his staff always knew Harris could do that.

It came eight minutes earlier when Harris caught the ball in the left corner and drove baseline, elevating in traffic and kissing a finger roll off the glass and in while taking a foul at the rim.

“I’ve told Matt before: I don’t want him to be just a shooter, because if he’s a shooter he’s just a role player. He’s better than that,” said Duquette after the game in which Harris finished with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting.

It was the seventh straight game that Harris played in which the 6-foor-1 210 pound shooting guard had cracked double figures after reaching that mark just once in the River Hawks first 13 games. According to both Duquette and Harris, a native of Eerie, Pennsylvania, the freshman’s recent hot streak can be directly attributed to a watershed moment earlier in the year in which Harris found a new gear he could shift into as far as work ethic and effort.

“I think there was a moment for Matt where he decided that he was going to approach things differently and mature and just execute better,” said Duquette. “

“There’s a moment where I changed and hopefully I can build on that,” said Harris, whose body won’t drawn any comparisons to a Mr. Olympia, but whose silky-smooth jump shot and intangibles caught Duquette’s eye last season.

“Coming in to practice everyday and just working hard – harder than I have been,“ said Harris explaining his inspired play of late.

According to Duquette, Harris’ struggles at the start of the season were to be expected because of his youth, but that being thrown directly into the fire of Division I hoops on a young team that needed him to play from Day 1 has helped his overall development.

“He’s a freshman and freshmen usually take a long time to mature. He did it in the course of his freshman year, he did it early on in his freshman year, and I think some of that is because he was able to get some playing opportunities early, and he’s done great with his opportunity recently.”

Duquette and his staff have known that Harris could shoot the ball since he dropped 22 points on Holy Cross in a closed-door scrimmage before the start of the season, but they see him as having the ability and potential to be a complete scorer from the two instead of simply a shooter.

“He needs to continue to develop his all-around game so that if he’s not shooting the ball well he’s still getting minutes,” said Duquette, who has been extremely pleased by Harris’ work as of late. “He’s doing that. He’s starting to handle the ball better, he’s taking more pride in his defense, and he’s becoming a better all-around player.”

Jahad Thomas and Dre Wills: respect earned the hard way

Vermont's Dre Wills (left) and UMass Lowell's Jahad Thomas (right) earned each other's mutual respect on Sunday. OBW Photo / Sam perkins
Vermont’s Dre Wills and UMass Lowell’s Jahad Thomas (right) earned each other’s mutual respect on Sunday. OBW Photo / Sam perkins

More than 2,000 fans learned the answer to centuries old question when an unstoppable force met an immovable object at the rim at the Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts, on Sunday afternoon.

It was a collision course between Jahad Thomas and Dre Wills that began when both landed in the America East conference in the fall of 2013.

With 8:54 remaining in the second half, Thomas, a red-shirt freshman for UMass Lowell, rumbled through the paint like a runaway freight train, toppling Vermont defenders like tin cans on his way to the hoop. But just as Thomas got to the rack, was intercepted by a heat-seeking missile in the form of Wills, a sophomore for Vermont

Wills was able to disrupt Thomas’ lay-up attempt, but it took all the strength he could muster in the form of a hard foul that sent both men to the floor. Wills and Thomas locked eyes while on the hardwood, breaking into simultaneous smiles and sharing a laugh and pats on the back as they helped each other up off the mat.

“He’s really good,” raved Wills, who finished with 20 points, four rebounds, three steals and an assist, with a big smile following the Catamounts’ 61-50 win.

“He’s a great player,” echoed Thomas, who finished with 20 points, five rebounds, two assists and a steal, breaking into a grin of his own.

On the surface, Wills, an explosive athlete who kisses the sky while playing elbows above the rim despite being very generously listed at 6’1” 175 pounds, and Thomas, a human battering ram who does all of his damage in the trenches below the hoop, at an equally generously listed 6’2” and an understated 235 pounds, seem to be two completely different players.

But dig a little deeper, and they are two peas from the exact same pod: Men without defined basketball positions who, running on guts and guile, hustle and hearts the size of basketballs, find ways to get the job done every night, outworking, out-muscling and out-thinking far larger opponents.

Both Wills and Thomas were also offered all but completely overlooked by the rest of the college basketball world – each receiving just one definitive scholarship offer – because they didn’t pass the eye test of looking like a college basketball player.

“They could both probably have pretty good careers in football,” said UMass Lowell head coach Pat Duquette earlier this year.

“I look forward to matching up with him further down the road,” said Wills (right)  “He’s looking forward to playing against me and I’m looking forward to playing against him,” said Thomas. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
“I look forward to matching up with him further down the road,” said Wills (right)
“He’s looking forward to playing against me and I’m looking forward to playing against him,” said Thomas. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

“Guys like him are what this league is all about – the odd shaped guys who have a lot of success in our league,” said Vermont head coach John Becker of Thomas, the front-runner for America East Rookie of the Year honors, following the game.

Becker could have been talking about his own star in Wills, who may have already run away with conference Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“He was a power forward back in his earlier days,” said Becker about Wills.

Despite being listed in the roster as a guard – not to mention one of the shortest players on the Catamounts – Wills currently leads Vermont in rebounds (5.1 rpg), and field goal percentage (.577), while ranking second in blocks (0.9 bpg) as well as a more traditional guard statistics, assists (2.5 apg). The native of Indianapolis, Indiana, draws the nightly assignment of locking down the opponent’s best back court scorer, and currently leads the America East in steals at 2.2 per game.

“Playing a good defender like that it just motivates me to get better,” said Thomas of Wills.

Wills has also begun to emerge as a go-to on offense. Wills scored a then career-high 17-points on Wednesday night at New Hampshire, before breaking it against UMass Lowell, shooting 6-of-7 from the floor, including a pair of thunderous two-handed dunks.

Wills leads the America East in steals per game, and leads Vermont in rebounds and field goal percentage. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Wills leads the America East in steals per game, and leads Vermont in rebounds and field goal percentage. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

“He can certainly score. He’s got a lot of room for growth on the offensive end,” said Becker.

Thomas has been a monster on offense, and currently ranks third in the America East in scoring (14 ppg) and fifth in rebounds (6.3 rpg), and shooting 51.1 percent from the floor, all while facing nightly double and triple-teams from players six to eight inches taller than him. Against Vermont, Thomas buried contested mid-range jumpers and threes, and took a far longer and larger Catamounts frontcourt to the rack time and time again.

“He’s a beast,” said Wills after the game. “He’s going to be a first-team all-league guy, if not this year, [then] coming up soon.”

Just like Wills offense, Thomas’ defense is also underappreciated, as the bruiser from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, usually defends the opponents best offensive player and is the lynchpin of the River Hawks resurgent defense.

“Offensively, I’m not really looking for that: defense is what gets me going,” said Thomas.

After the game, it was clear both players had earned the other’s respect, and both were eagerly anticipating their next showdown.

“I look forward to matching up with him further down the road,” said Wills.

“He’s looking forward to playing against me and I’m looking forward to playing against him,” said Thomas excitedly.

Jahad Thomas currently ranks third in the America East in scoring and fifth in rebounding. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Jahad Thomas currently ranks third in the America East in scoring and fifth in rebounding. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

OBW America East Power Rankings v9

Sam Rowley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Sam Rowley. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

You can learn a lot about life by watching small conference college basketball — and, for the most part, you can learn about the very best parts of life. If you’re feeling really down and are desperately in need of some inspiration, you can turn to teams at both the top and the bottom of the America East for a pick-me-up.

Playing without arguably their best player in star Peter Hooley, who returned to Australia to be by his mother’s side as she battles colon cancer, the Albany Great Danes are playing truly inspired basketball, and continue to somehow find a way to not only win, but outright dismantle opponents when they should be struggling.

At the other end of the spectrum, a UMBC squad that only has six scholarship players in uniform, plus two walk-ons, and, by all logic, should have no strength – let alone hope – left, continues to take the floor and fight with everything it has every night. Even further south in our rankings, the Maine Black Bears, downtrodden, discombobulated, and, well, outright awful for the better part of the past four years, and coming off of several brutal losses, dug down deep and found the fortitude to knock of Hartford on the Hawks home court.

Here’s a look at the rest of the league in the latest edition of the One-Bid Wonders America East Power Rankings.

1. Albany (12-7, 7-0 in AE)
Results: W 62-53 at Hartford; W 69-55 vs UMBC
This Week: Wednesday at Vermont; Saturday at Maine.
“You look around the league, and in this conference, if teams lose their best player they don’t win. If Stony Brook lost Warney; they’d be in trouble; if Hartford lost Nwakamma, they’d be in trouble; if Vermont lost O’Day or Wills, they’d be in trouble. Peter Hooley is, in my opinion, the best guard in the league, without him, we should be in big trouble. I don’t know how we’re winning; it isn’t a credit to me, it’s a credit to the kids, they’re going out and finding ways and fighting with a passion I’ve never seen before.”

Albany head coach Will Brown offered the above assessment of his team’s 7-0 start to conference play, the best start to the America East slate in Brown’s 14-year career at Albany, the last three wins coming after Hooley returned to his native Australia to stand by his mother’s side as she fights against colon cancer.

The Great Danes win on the road a week ago at Stony Brook was impressive, but it was also perhaps not entirely unexpected coming on the heels of Hooley’s departure – team’s often get a momentary boost, rallying around tragic and traumatic events. But for the Great Danes to follow it up by downing Hartford convincingly can no longer simply be dismissed as a team running on adrenaline and emotion: Albany is playing some serious basketball right now. Rowley has elevated his game and emerged as a go-to scorer who wants the ball, point guard Evan Singletary continues to make things happen, but it’s role players – like athletic wing Ray Saunders, sharp-shooting forward Dallas Ennema, and big-bodies Richard Peters, Greig Stire and Mike Rowley – who have made the team complete.

2. Vermont (11-9, 6-1 AE)
Results: L 73-68 at New Hampshire; W 61-50 at UMass Lowell
This week: Wednesday vs Albany; Saturday at Hartford
Losing to New Hampshire wasn’t a huge shocker – even during their worst years, the Wildcats have always had a way of being a thorn in Vermont’s side – but the way Vermont lost – missing free-throws, and struggling to open the floor up by posing any threat from behind the arc – was a bit concerning. But only a little bit. Vermont is extremely young, and they aren’t always going to be a well oiled machine. Going in the Catamounts favor: they are young, and don’t seem to have a clue that they are “supposed” to be rebuilding. Vermont’s backcourt continues to make the team go, with Dre Wills turning into an absolute monster – a slam dunking, shot-punching, pick-pocketing monster – and the focal point of the Catamounts on both ends. Junior center Ethan O’Day remains the key to the season: When he can stay out of foul trouble and on the floor, Vermont can beat anyone, but when he’s on the bench, they are vulnerable.

3. Stony Brook (14-8, 5-2 in AE)
Results: W 65-45 at UMass Lowell; W 61-54 at Binghamton
This Week: Wednesday vs Hartford; Saturday at New Hampshire
Stony Brook bounced back from a smackdown at the hands of Albany with two wins over teams they should beat, including an annihilation of a solid River Hawks squad on the road. Against Binghamton point guard Carson Puriefoy seemed to snap out of his slump, erupting for 27-points in a win over Binghamton. On the other hand, even with Puriefoy’s monster game, the Seawolves could never truly put away a Bearcats squad that was at a massive disadvantage in size, depth and experience… not to mention game-ready talent. Center Jameel Warney remains far and away the best player in the league, but just like last year (albeit to a much lesser degree) the 6’8” beast seems to have run into a bit of a wall in conference play, with his numbers taking a dip. Make no mistake, Warney alone, let alone Warney, Puriefoy, and a solid supporting cast makes Stony Brook an automatic contender for the NCAAs, but the Seawolves need consistent play from their roll players.

4. New Hampshire (11-9, 4-3 in AE)
Results: W 73-68 vs Vermont
This Week: Wednesday at Maine; Saturday vs Stony Brook
New Hampshire got a huge win at home against a then undefeated Vermont squad, showing toughness, tenacity, and an ability to win extremely close games in the final minute – all traits absent in Durham during previous years. Freshman forward Tanner Leissner continues to impress as the team’s go to scorer, and with sophomore Jacoby Armstrong finally rounding into form, the Wildcats have arguably their best front court since the days of Chris Brown/Ben Sturgill/Assane Faye/Austin Ganly. But the big difference has come from red-shirt senior Matt Miller, who has been absolutely unconscious from behind the arc in his first year of Division I hoops, giving Bill Herrion a true, go-to shooter for the first time in his entire tenure in Durham. And, of course, there’s still the defense: With guards like Joe Bramanti, Jaleen Smith, Ronnell Jordan and Tommy McDonnell imposing their will on opposing back courts.

5. Hartford (11-9, 4-3 AE)
Results: L 62-53 vs Albany; L 70-61 vs Maine
This week: Wednesday at Stony Brook; Saturday vs Vermont
Hartford beat New Hampshire, the team above them in the rankings, at the last second on the road, and we strong considered keeping the Hawks in fourth. However, they found a way to lose, at home, to Maine… Maine. That Maine team. And not only lose, but lose RESOUNDINGLY. As always, when the Hawks are on – forward Mark Nwakamma is out of foul trouble and getting post touches, and Hartford shooters are knocking down uncontested threes – this team can beat anyone in the league. But it’s such a complex style of play, and one that is extremely hard to consistently execute well.

6. UMass Lowell (9-12, 3-5 in AE)
Results: L 65-45 vs Stony Brook; L 61-50 vs Vermont
This Week: Saturday at Binghamton
Lowell continues to be undersized and overmatched (at least in terms of game-ready talent) every single time they take the court. And yet, nine times out of 10, the River Hawks find a way to compete as equals against teams that, on paper, should be wiping the floor with them. Jahad Thomas continues to be both a marvel and monster on the court, finding ways to help the River Hawks win with his passing, defense, and intangibles now that team’s are keying on him completely as a scorer. While Lowell will struggle to beat any of the teams above them this season, the fact that freshmen like point guard Lance Crawford, shooting guard Matt Harris, and forward Brad Schaub are showing noticeable improvement bodes well for the team’s long-term future.

7. UMBC (3-17, 1-6 in AE)
Results: W 76-59 at Maine; L 69-55 at Albany.
This week: Wednesday vs Binghamton
UMBC is suiting up eight players, only six of them on scholarship. They are without sophomore Rodney Elliot, a First Team All-Conference level talent. They have no business competing against anyone in the league right now. And yet, they’ve given just about everyone they’ve played in the league not named Albany a real game – a pretty remarkable feat that speaks to the team’s heart. Graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow has been a wonder on both ends of the floor, serving as both a go-to scorer and facilitator, senior Devarick Houston has been a terror on defense, and junior forward Cody Joyce is close to unstoppable when he gets the ball in his hands around the rim.

8. Binghamton (2-20, 1-6 in AE)
Results: L 61-54 vs Stony Brook
This Week: Wednesday at UMBC; Saturday vs UMass Lowell
Even with the loss of Jordan Reed, Binghamton remains one of the most athletic – and, arguably, talented, at least in terms of raw talent — teams in the conference. However, they are incredibly young and have also been racked by injuries. Dirty work freshman forward Willie Rodriguez seems to be getting his second wind, wing Romello Walker continues to fly around the court impacting the game at both ends, wing Justin McFadden is starting to show flashes as a high energy defender, and forward Bobby Ahearn has shown signs of being able to score the ball and hold his position in the low blocks.

9. Maine (2-18, 1-6 in AE)
Results: L 76-59 vs UMBC; W 70-61 at Hartford
This Week: Wednesday vs New Hampshire; Saturday vs Albany
Hats off to the Black Bears. Seriously. Entering Sunday, the Black Bears were riding a 13 game losing streak – many of those loses coming in the demoralizing, and perhaps downright embarrassing fashion. It had been several weeks since Maine had simply competed for 40 minutes, or been able to stop a nosebleed on the defensive side of the ball. But the Black Bears found a way against Hartford – or, arguably, freshman shooting guard Kevin Little found a way and took the rest of his teammates along for a ride.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany

Rowley scored a career-high 22 points to go with eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks while absolutely destroying reigning First Team All-Conference selection Mark Nwakamma in Albany’s 62-53 win at Hartford, and followed it up with 12 points in a win over UMBC.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Kevin Little, G, Maine

Little exploded for a career-high 25 points, hitting 8-of-16 shots, including 5-of-10 from behind the arc, to carry Maine to a massively needed road win at Hartford. Earlier in the week, Little scored 15 points in a loss to UMBC.

OBW America East Fab Five
*Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
Jameel Warney, Jr., C, Stony Brook
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

*Peter Hooley has missed the past three games after taking an indefinite leave of absence from Albany to be with his ailing mother. During his absence Hooley is not an “active” member of the Fab Five, but his play up until his leave was stellar and he had entrenched himself on the team, thus we feel he still deserves to be recognized.

OBW America East Frosh Five
Jourdan Grant, G, UMBC
Trae Bell-Haynes, G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, F, New Hampshire
Willie Rodriguez, F, Binghamton
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

OBW America East Power Rankings v8

Hartford is trending up in the latest America East Power Rankings. Courtesy photo / Steph Crandall
Hartford is trending up in the latest America East Power Rankings. Courtesy photo / Steph Crandall

Sometimes in life, basketball can be so much more than a game. Sometimes, life is so much more important than the game. The past week and a half saw a great deal of shuffling in the OBW America East Power Rankings, but it’s hard to focus on the court when a player like Peter Hooley is facing so much more off it.

With that said, here’s a look at how the teams stack up.

1. Vermont (10-8, 5-0 AE)
Results: W 55-52 vs Dartmouth; W 71-54 at UMBC; W 64-44 vs UMBC.
This week: Thursday at UNH; Sunday at UMass Lowell.
The Catamounts took care of business last week, winning games they were supposed to win (albeit with a bit of a scare against Dartmouth), while dismantling UMBC and Binghamton. The Catamounts are deep, extremely fast and athletic, and are exploiting their energy and speed on both ends of the floor, playing in transition on offense, attacking the rim in the half court, and pressing and smothering the bejesus out of opposing back courts. Center Ethan O’Day has returned to early season form, giving the Catamounts a reliable scorer around the rim on offense and a shot blocker on D. The return of redshirt sophomore Brendan Kilpatrick, an extremely athletic and energetic forward who has battled a litany of injuries, could also prove to be a big boost.

2. Albany (10-7, 5-0 in AE)
Results: W 73-58 vs Binghamton; W 64-47 at Stony Brook.
This Week: Thursday at Hartford; Sunday at UMBC.
It’s hard to talk about Albany basketball in light of the far, far large real-life tragedy being faced by Great Danes’ redshirt junior Peter Hooley, who returned home over the weekend to his native Australia to be by his mother’s side as she battles cancer, and his family.

The duality of life can be cruelly ironic, and those dualities played out for the Great Danes last week, when Hooley helped head coach Will Brown earn the 200th win of his career over Binghamton, and only days later was forced to fly home. Without Hooley, but playing with arguably their best player in their hearts, Albany went out and played truly inspired ball, taking it to Stony Brook on the Seawolves home court. Forward Sam Rowley is playing like a dominant low post presence and First Teamer, and point guard Evan Singletary also looks like a star as a tough, scoring guard. If Albany can keep playing like they did on Long Island, they will quickly move to the very top of these rankings, but one has to wonder how much of that was a sustainable level of play in Hooley’s absence (there is no timetable on his return), and how much of it was going out, running on emotion and adrenaline and winning one for their teammate.

3. Stony Brook (12-8, 3-2 in AE)
Results: W 64-54 vs UMBC; W 82-39 at Maine; L 64-47 vs Albany.
This Week: Thursday at UMass Lowell; Sunday at Binghamton.
For the first time all season, I’m genuinely worrying about Stony Brook. Don’t get me wrong, this is absolutely a top-3 team and remains a strong contender to win the conference tournament and finally break through to the NCAAs, but there are legitimate cracks in Stony Brook’s armor. Junior center Jameel Warney remains an absolute man among boys and far and away the best player in the league, but since their Jan. 10 loss at Vermont, the game plan (crafted by UVM head coach John Becker) is out: Let Warney get his in single-coverage, and focus on stopping the rest of the cast. And thus far, the Seawolves supporting cast, has not been able to shoulder the load. Point guard Tre Puriefoy has been in a funk shooting the ball, and Stony Brook simply hasn’t been able to find enough consistent offense outside of Warney. One bright spot has been the play of redshirt freshman Roland Nyama, who is turning into a very good junkyard dog and jack of all trades on both ends of the floor.

4. Hartford (8117, 4-1 AE)
Results: W 68-67 at New Hampshire; W 68-62 (OT) vs UMass Lowell; W 65-63 at UMBC.
This week: Thursday vs Albany; Sunday vs Maine.
Is the glass half full or half empty? Hartford has proven it can find ways to win close games – a mark all championship teams must have; grinding out three wins in three straight last minute finishes, including a gut-check on the road at UNH and an overtime thriller that saw the team collapse in the second half only to find a way to victory in overtime against UMass Lowell. On the other hand, Hartford really had it’s hands full with two teams in UMass Lowell and UMBC that a true America East top dog – or top hawk — really should have put away, and has struggled when playing with leads in the second half. We’re going to go with glass half full for a change, mostly because Hartford senior Corban Wroe is back in a really big way, knocking down big shots and creating havoc on both ends of the floor. While Wroe has done a lot of scoring from behind the arc, he’s the rare Hartford guard who can also generate offense going to the hoop and keeps defenses honest.

5. New Hampshire (8-8, 1-2 in AE)
Results: L 68-67 vs Hartford; W 73-66 (OT) at Binghamton; W 67-64 (OT) vs UMass Lowell.
This Week: Thursday vs Vermont; Sunday at Maine.
A constant struggle for New Hampshire teams during the last, oh, lets say nine seasons, has been their ability to win close games that go down to the final possessions. While the Wildcats once again came up short against Hartford, they proved on back-to-back overtime outings against Binghamton and UMass Lowell that they can find ways to win close, hotly contested games – a big step for a program that’s looking like arguably the best during head coach Bill Herrion’s tenure. Freshman forward Tanner Leissner continues to sparkle, scoring in unorthodox ways from all over, and point guard Daniel Dion can light it up from behind the arc, but the biggest boost the Wildcats have gotten since the start of conference play is the play of forward Jacoby Armstrong around the rim and shooting guard Matt Miller from downtown, giving UNH a legitimate low-post threat and floor-spacing shooter from behind the arc.

6. UMass Lowell (9-10, 3-3 in AE)
Results: W 62-59 at Maine; L 68-62 (OT) at Hartford; L 67-64 (OT) at New Hampshire.
This Week: Thursday vs Stony Brook; Sunday vs Vermont.
The River Hawks are in the midst of a tough stretch, losing two in a row, four of their last six, and eight of their last 11. In the grand scheme of things it really doesn’t matter because head coach Pat Duquette continues to be a miracle worker along the Merrimack River. Duquette’s incredibly young squad is massively undersized across the board at every position even in the tiny America East conference, yet they continue to give opponents everything they can handle. With 10 games remaining, Lowell currently sits one win away from matching last season’s improbable Division I win total, and Duquette’s freshman class continues to shine. Red-shirt freshman forward/fullback Jahad Thomas remains the league’s best Rookie, finding ways to put the ball in the hoop, grab rebounds, and beat up and bully his front court opponents despite giving up a half of a foot in height on every night, and freshman Matt Harris is also finding his shooting stroke. The River Hawks remain a team that’s sum is far larger than its individual parts, and will continue to be a thorn in the side of the rest of the league all season.

7. UMBC (2-16, 0-5 in AE)
Results: L 64-54 at Stony Brook; L 71-54 vs Vermont; L 65-63 vs Hartford.
This week: Thursday at Maine; Sunday at Albany.
If Aki Thomas hasn’t earned himself at least a small contract extrension I don’t think anyone in the AE deserves one. The fact that UMBC is competing at all, let alone competing against the top of the conference, is astounding. This UMBC squad is massively – MASSIVELY undermanned – suiting up just eight players, only six of them on scholarship. They’ve been without their best talent, a true star in the making in Rodney Elliot, all season long due to a torn labrum. They’ve been without their best – albeit enigmatic – athlete Charles Taylor due to a suspension. Stretch-four Will Darley, who appeared to be coming into his own, has been lost for significant time due to a knee injury, as well as role players Malik Garner and Aaron Morgan, also suspended – not players to write home about, but given their current roster every healthy body would make a difference. The Retrievers are still searching for their first league win, but they are fighting as hard – if not harder – than anyone else in the league, and that says a lot about Thomas as a coach.

8. Binghamton (2-19, 1-5 in AE)
Results: L 73-58 at Albany; L 73-66 (OT) vs New Hampshire; L 64-44 at Vermont.
This Week: Sunday vs Stony Brook.
Binghamton is at the first floor of a complete program rebuild – a long ways to go, but at least a floor up from the basement they were in just a short time ago. The Bearcats are struggling without any impact veterans on the roster, coupled with injuries to 6’9” forwards Dusan Perovic (lost for the season) and Nick Madray (out for extended time). Binghamton is incredibly young and inexperienced, and continuing to battle through growing pains. With that said, this team is talented – very talented – with the bulk of that talent residing in their freshman class. Wing Romello Walker is an insane athlete, impact defender and now coming into his own on offense. Willie Rodriguez is a junkyard dog of a 6’5” power forward and the kind of player who gets things done in the America East. Those two, along with several other hard working freshmen, give head coach Tommy Dempsey a nice foundation to build upon. The fact that such a young, impressionable team hasn’t quit on the season or its coach says something about the coaching staff and the kids suiting up.

9. Maine (1-17, 0-5 in AE)
Results: L 62-59 vs UMass Lowell; L 82-39 vs Stony Brook; L 65-55 vs NJIT.
This Week: Thursday vs UMBC; Sunday at Hartford.
When a pattern of behavior is treated as acceptable for a generation of players, it becomes an ingrained habit. It is incredibly, incredibly hard to kick a habit once it becomes a part of a teams nature. Such is the case for Maine basketball, where for the past decade a nonchalant attitude, utter abhorrence to playing cohesive team basketball, and above all, complete contempt for defense or 40 minutes of effort was the norm. First year Maine head coach Bob Walsh has found himself fighting against that ingrained behavior all season long, culminating in second half defensive implosions for the past month. Walsh has every reason to make excuses and take a “wait till next year” attitude when he will have several highly-regarded incoming recruits of his own choosing, filling out a roster almost devoid of leftover talent from the previous regime. But he doesn’t want to hear about it, and won’t accept any explanation for the team’s struggles. It’s probably going to be a long remainder of the season, but it sure is fun to watch a coach who seems to genuinely care about building a program in Orono.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Evan Singletary, Jr., G, Albany

Singletary scored 50 points in three Great Danes wins, including 21 points a piece in victories over UMass Lowell and Stony Brook, to go with 14 assists and eight rebounds during that stretch. Against Stony Brook, playing without star Peter Hooley by his side, Singletary was the best player on the floor.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell

Thomas scored 50 points, pulled down 30 rebounds, swiped nine steals and dished out seven assists in three games, highlighted by a 19-point 13-rebound effort against a New Hampshire team that may be the league’s best defense, and a near-triple double against Maine.

OBW America East Fab Five
Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
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
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell
Romello Walker, G/F, Binghamton

OBW America East Power Rankings v7

Dre Wills has been a beast for Vermont. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics
Dre Wills has been a beast for Vermont. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics

Just week after Stony Brook scored the biggest America East win of the season, the Seawolves fell to Vermont in the biggest America East game of the season (at least to date).

Looks like it’s going to be that kind of a year in the ol’ “AE,” which means we’re all in store for one wild ride.

Last week Stony Brook was riding high fresh off the biggest win in program history, an upset over then 13th ranked Washington, while Vermont was fighting the good fight but struggling to get over the hump against tough foes and Albany was struggling to find consistency. A lot can change in a week, and while the trio of true contenders (at least in our eyes) remains the same – the usual suspects of top America East dogs and cats – they’ve once again bunched back up, with very little separating them in our eyes. With that said, here’s a look at the latest OBW America East Power Rankings.

1. Vermont (7-8, 3-0 AE)
Results: W 68-54 at Maine; W 71-57 vs Stony Brook.
This week: Wednesday vs Dartmouth; Saturday at UMBC (AE)
The young, bloodied, bruised and banged up Catamounts took out what had been the America East’s top dog in Stony Brook and they did so in absolutely terrific fashion, executing a very bold game plan from head coach John Becker to perfection. Up until Saturday, virtually every team that had faced Stony Brook had thrown a “stop Jameel Warney at all costs” defense at the Seawolves, focusing on doubling and tripling the walking, talking double-double and nations leading rebounder. Becker, instead, opted to single cover Warney all night, and allow the unstoppable Juggernaut to get his while focusing on stopping every other player in a Stony Brook uniform. The end result: Warney finished with 26 and 10 on 10-of-14 shooting, but the Catamounts came away with a 14-point win. Certainly the game was closer than the final score, and a flurry of free-throws in the game’s final 90 seconds opened up the final margin, but Vermont won this game from start to finish and the Catamounts crazy athletic and relentless back court defense and transition offense is no bleeping joke.

As an aside, what in the world does Becker have to do to earn a contract extension at this point? Yes, the Catamounts head coach still has three more years remaining on his contract, but when you take a step back and look around the league, only Albany’s Will Brown has a more impressive resume at his current post. And, when you look around the league and see other coaches landing contract extension after contract extension for seemingly getting out of bed, brushing their teeth, and not mucking things up, you have to wonder if Vermont’s head coach is going to start to feel a bit slighted – and perhaps at least entertain the calls that are going to start coming in to bolt for greener pastures.

2. Stony Brook (10-7, 1-1 in AE)
Results: W 70-61 at Columbia; L 71-57 at Vermont
This Week: Wednesday vs UMBC; Saturday at Maine.
We all knew Stony Brook wasn’t going to go undefeated during the America East slate, and if you’re going to lose a game, losing a thriller on the road in the hostile environment of Patrick Gymnasium is as good as a loss can be. Jameel Warney is a monster and the most unstoppable player in the league, and not many teams can duplicate the kind of back court pressure the Catamounts threw at Stony Brook. Jameel Warney alone is going to make Stony Brook one of the favorites to win the America East, and the Seawolves have shown that when the supporting cast is carrying its weight, they are as good – and arguably better – than anyone else in the league. However, the blue print is now out to try to take down the Seawolves: Let Jameel Warney get his 20-25 points and shut down everyone else. Point guard Carson Puriefoy is in a funk and as long as he is sputtering, the Seawolves are definitely vulnerable.

3. Albany (8-7, 3-0 in AE)
Results: W 80-56 vs Maine; W 64-62 at New Hampshire; W 64-51 at UMass Lowell
This Week: Wednesday vs Binghamton; Monday at Stony Brook.
The Great Danes are on the mend after apparently going 12 rounds with the bubonic plague, and they are once again looking like a team to be reckoned with. The Great Danes are getting terrific play from the one-through-four positions, with power forward Sam Rowley and shooting guard Peter Hooley giving their usual, blue-hat and lunch pail performances. Small forward Ray Sanders is also making a growing impact defending the ball and knocking down open shots. But the difference maker, and quite possibly the team’s most talented and best player (quite the statement considering how good Rowley and Hooley are) might be point guard Evan Singletary, who has been taking over games with increasing regularity. Albany’s bigs clog the lane and put a body on opponents, and if head coach Will Brown can get even a little bit more out of them, Albany might find itself in the America East’s driver’s seat. Monday’s match-up at Stony Brook will be incredibly telling.

4. New Hampshire (8-8, 1-2 in AE)
Results: W 68-61 vs Brown; W 63-60 at UMBC.
This Week: Wednesday vs Hartford; Saturday at Binghamton.
This is definitely looking like Bill Herrion’s best team since the Wildcats were less than two-minutes away from hosting the title game. In true Bill Herrion style New Hampshire is defending like crazy, but in previous years that was only enough to make them a pesky nuisance to the top two-thirds of the league. The difference this year is that they can score – often in ugly fashion, but they are putting up points. Sophomore point guard Daniel Dion is creating and burying daggers from anywhere inside the building, and freshman forward Tanner Leissner as some of the craftiest and gutsiest moves in the league. But the big difference makers as of late have been senior shooting guard Matt Miller, who despite playing the first Division I hoops of his career has given UNH a long-range threat to stretch the floor, and bruising and athletic sophomore power forward Jacoby Armstrong, who is beginning to look like the All-Conference talent he was supposed to be.

5. Hartford (8-7, 1-1 AE)
Results: W 69-59 vs Binghamton
This week: Wednesday at New Hampshire; Saturday at UMass Lowell.
The Hawks won their only contest of the week, downing a hard-fighting but massively undermanned Binghamton squad. It isn’t that we’re down on Hartford as much as it is that we’ve seen a lot more from the four teams above them. Corban Wroe is beginning to score the ball again in the same manner as down the stretch last season, when he single-handedly gave the Hawks a new dimension. As always, when Hartford hits their three’s and senior Mark Nwakamma stays on the floor they can beat anyone, but can they do that consistently or devise a Plan B for emergencies?

6. UMass Lowell (8-8, 2-1 in AE)
Results: W 73-61 (OT) at UMBC; L 64-51 vs Albany.
This Week: Tuesday at Maine; Saturday at Hartford.
The River Hawks stand at 2-1 in league play, with seven Division I wins on the season – just two DI wins away from last season’s total, one amazing accomplishment for second year head coach Pat Duquette. The truth of it is, the River Hawks are incredibly limited overall, with red-shirt freshman Jahad Thomas – an undersized man-among-boys – as virtually the entire UMass Lowell offense. Team’s are beginning to throw the typical Jameel Warney defense at Thomas, AKA swarm, mug and stop him at all costs, and UMass Lowell has struggled to find consistent second and third scoring options. They may finally have found one, however, as freshman shooting guard Matt Harris has scored 29 points in the past two games and 39 over the past three, after scoring just 45 in the River Hawks first 12 contests.

7. UMBC (2-13)
Results: L 73-61 (OT) vs UMass Lowell; L 63-60 vs UNH.
This week: Wednesday at Stony Brook; Saturday vs Vermont.
The good news: UMBC is really, really defending the ball extremely well, junior forward Cody Joyce is beginning to come into his own as an automatic low-post scorer, and graduate transfer Wayne Sparrow has given UMBC a go-to scorer. The better news: Despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles, head coach Aki Thomas has the Retrievers playing harder and longer than they have at any point since Darryl Proctor and Jay Greene graduated back in 2009, and freshman Jourdan Grant is blossoming as a playmaking point guard. The bad news: UMBC is dressing just eight players for games, only six of them on scholarship, and one of them a recent addition to the team as a walk on, and playing just seven in their rotation. As long as UMBC keeps fighting, they are going to stay in games and will squeak out a few wins, but they really do not have the horses.

8. Binghamton (2-16, 1-2 in AE)
Results: L 69-59 at Hartford; W 65-46 vs Maine.
This Week: Wednesday at Albany; Saturday vs New Hampshire.
Binghamton is officially on the board in the Division I wins category, soundly steamrolling Maine in the second half for a 65-45 victory. Much like with UMBC, head coach Tommy Dempsey deserves kudos for keeping his very young, very impressionable squad fighting hard despite player defections and injuries. High-flying freshman wing Romello Walker has taken a step from impact defender to offensive threat, and forward Willie Rodriguez also appears to have found his second win. A season-ending knee injury to forward Dusan Perovic and a leg injury that has kept forward Nick Madray on the bench present large obstacles in the Bearcats’ short term prospects.

9. Maine (1-14, 0-3 in AE)
Results: L 68-54 vs Vermont; L 65-46 at Binghamton.
This Week: Tuesday vs UMass Lowell; Saturday vs Stony Brook.
It’s going to take time for head coach Bob Walsh to be able to recruit his own players and implement his demanding and complex system, so fans should not fret. To be blunt, this is the least talented team to suit up in Orono in a very, very, very long time – quite possibly ever – thanks to the revolving door of disenfranchised and disgusted players who jumped ship during previous years under the former regime. However, this Maine squad – despite it’s struggles to defend in the second half – is playing SIGNIFICANTLY harder than any Black Bears squad in recent years, which is a very positive sign in the long term.

OBW America East Player of the Week
Dre Wills, Soph., G, Vermont

The favorite for America East Defensive Player of the Year honors continued to make a far larger impact than his raw numbers, propelling the Catamounts to a pair of wins. That’s saying something considering his numbers for the week: 26 points, 11 rebounds, five assists, eight steals and three blocks. In a huge grudge-match win over bitter conference rival Stony Brook, Wills completely locked down Seawolves point guard Carson Puriefoy, holding the dynamic playmaker to six points on 2-of-12 shooting, while forcing him into four turnovers.

OBW America East Rookie of the Week
Romello Walker, G/F, Binghamton

Walker is coming into his own, making a big impact as an extremely energetic and athletic disruptor on defense, while turning into a human-highlight reel on offense. In arguably the Bearcats best two games of the season – a hard-fought loss at Hartford and Binghamton’s first Division I win of the season in a dismantling of Maine – Walker combined for 35 points, 13 rebounds, and three steals.

OBW America East Fab Five
Peter Hooley, R-Jr., G, Albany
Sam Rowley, Sr., F, Albany
Jahad Thomas, R-Fr., F, UMass Lowell
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
Jahad Thomas, F, UMass Lowell
Romello Walker, G/F, Binghamton