Stony Brook is at the top, Vermont takes a step up, the River Hawks soar, Maine is on the move and UNH goes down, down down down, down down down down, down…
The America East conference slate is in full swing and the league is starting to fall in line with some of our own preseason predictions (mostly teams 3-5, the rest of it, welp, we tried): Stony Brook and Vermont are playing their best basketball while looking like clear favorites. Albany continues to show star talent, but gave a lackluster effort in a double-OT thriller against UMBC and plain didn’t show up in a beat down at the hands of the Catamounts. The Great Danes were also physically beaten up by Vermont, suffering several injuries to key players.
Hartford is exactly who we thought they would be: when Mark Nwakamma is on the floor and the Hawks three’s are falling they can beat anyone, but when either doesn’t happen (a frequent occurrence) they can lose to anyone.
UMBC has show reDunkulous athleticism, but inexperience, lack of outside shooting, and lackluster upperclassmen continue to handicap their potential. Maine has been surprisingly half-decent as of late, destroying Binghamton at home and nearly knocking off UMBC on the road. The Bearcats, meanwhile, continue to show explosive young talent, with equally heaping doses of inexperience and a dire lack of depth.
For the last 12 games, New Hampshire has looked like the worst team in league history – it’s been that bad.
The surprise of the season: The UMass Lowell River Hawks. The fighting Pat Duquette’s have had the most heart and hustle in the league all season, but with the return of senior forward Antonio Bivins, the River Hawks now the legitimate talent and athleticism to compete with anyone in the league.
Of course, the addition of the transitional River Hawks to the America East – and lack of apparent awareness of these issues by the America East, its member schools and the college basketball world as a whole created possible NCAA bylaw violations by both Vermont and Maine in regards to scheduling too many non-Division I schools. The storm clouds were rapidly forming overhead and the sky is darkening, but the league seems to have swooped in and saved the day. (We’re pretty sure when the film rights to this are sold, America East Commissioner Amy Huchthausen will be playing the role of the Dirt Harry-esque hero, while OBW’s Sam Perkins will be playing the bumbling villain… Can you say blockbuster hit?)
Without further ado, here’s how we see the league right now. As a reminder, all records omit games against non-Division I schools (we count Lowell as a DI, even if the NCAA does not… or does… or, whatever…)
1. Stony Brook Seawolves (9-6, 2-0 in AE)
Results: L 68-63 at Columbia; W 73-50 at Hartford
This week: Jan. 15 vs Binghamton; Jan. 18 vs UMass Lowell.
Stony Brook hasn’t looked like last year’s Seawolves squad – putting up points in bunches, but statistically looking pretty pedestrian on defense – but their starting to resemble it a bit more, with Pikiell going from what had been a seven, and even at times six, man rotation back to his traditional 11-12 man shift against Hartford. Stony Brook lost to a hot shooting Columbia squad on the road, but they played them to the wire and carried themselves well (as an aside, how far has the league fallen that when the AE’s best squad loses to Columbia it’s taken as simply “business as usual”? But I digress). Jameel Warney is a monster, plain and simple, and demands double-teams every night. The problem for much of the non-conference slate was the Seawolves seemed incapable of making teams pay for selling out to stop Warney. They’ve now flipped the script, with senior guard Dave Coley beginning to round into form, Anthony Jackson’s sharp shooting, Eric McAlister cleaning up around the rim and Carson Puriefoy creating off the bounce. Red-shirt freshman wing Ahmad Walker has quietly found his stride as a high-energy athlete and freshman Chris Braley is starting to find his shooting stroke. Jackson missed the Hartford game due to a suspension for what was deemed a “violation of team rules,” and the Seawolves still won by 23. (more…)