The America East Conference had a different look and a very familiar look in 2013-14. It started with one and ended with the other.
The season started without one of the signature programs in the conference, as Boston University was off to the Patriot League. While other programs have emerged, the Terriers had a long run of success and were consistent contenders and winners. Their departure hurts the conference, make no mistake about it.
What was also new was the presence of UMass-Lowell, a program in its first season of Division I play this year. Perhaps most surprising was that the River Hawks were far from pushovers in their inaugural season, as they went 8-8 to finish in fifth place. They clearly got better as the season went on, although their record says perhaps as much about the conference as it does about them.
At the end of the season, however, there was familiarity. Vermont won the regular season title by two games, finishing with a ten-game winning streak after losing at second-place Stony Brook. But the Catamounts were knocked off in the semifinals by Albany, who would go on to win a fourth conference title by virtue of winning at Stony Brook.
In other words, there aren’t new faces at the top of the heap. Hartford was expected to challenge that, and the Hawks did finish third with a 10-6 mark. Next year has to be “the year” for them as they will be a senior-heavy team.
Can someone else emerge into the mix? If that happens, the conference could get better, as Stony Brook doesn’t look to be declining anytime soon and Vermont has stayed in contention even when they look like they might be rebuilding. Albany continues to field competitive teams that know how to win under Will Brown’s guidance in March, including on the road.
Since the season ended, Maine has parted ways with Ted Woodward after ten years. Woodward loved it in Maine and also spent six years there as an assistant to John Giannini, and the Black Bears had their moments. They were never able to break through, and had an exodus of talent each of the past two seasons that probably was too much to handle. Bob Walsh takes over, and there is optimism as is always the case with a new coach. Walsh did a terrific job at Rhode Island College and can recruit, so the hire looks like a very good one.
The quarterfinals didn’t have any competitive games. Vermont opened things up by taking care of New Hampshire by a 77-60 margin behind five players in double figures, then Albany blew out UMBC 86-56, Stony Brook blew out Maine 80-54 and Hartford blew out Binghamton 69-42.
The semifinals were a bit more competitive, although the first one wasn’t for a while. Albany opened up a 35-19 halftime lead and then had to hold off Vermont 67-58. Stony Brook had a little more trouble with Hartford, who led by six in the first half, before opening it up in the second half and then holding on for a 69-64 win.
That led to the championship game, hosted by Stony Brook for the final time at Pritchard Gymnasium as they will move into a new arena next season. The Seawolves started out well, but Albany was never out of the game early. In the second half, Albany first stayed in and then got the lead before the half, and down the stretch they made every big play in pulling out a 69-60 win.
Player of the Year: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
Rookie of the Year: Rodney Elliott, UMBC
Coach of the Year: Steve Pikiell, Stony Brook
Defensive Player of the Year: Brian Voelkel, Vermont
Sixth Man of the Year: Antonio Bivins, UMass-Lowell
Sandro Carissimo, Sr. G, Vermont
Mark Nwakamma, Jr. F, Hartford
Clancy Rugg, Sr. F, Vermont
Brian Voelkel, Sr. F, Vermont
Jameel Warney, So. C, Stony Brook
- Albany won their fourth conference championship, making Will Brown 4-0 in the championship game as he joins Jim Calhoun as the only coaches to win four America East championships.
- Albany also became the first team to win four America East championships without a loss in the title game.
- Three players from Vermont made first team All-America East.
- Not only did Brian Voelkel, a forward, lead the conference in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio, he was the only player in the conference with an assist-to-turnover ratio of more than two.
- Vermont set a conference record with a scoring margin of 20.9 points in conference games.
- Conference newcomer Akeem Williams led the conference in scoring.
What we expected, and it happened: Vermont and Stony Brook were the top two teams. With Boston University gone, there were two clear top teams, and no other team seemed a likely contender. Vermont beat Stony Brook by two games, and the Seawolves were three games up on third-place Hartford.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: UMass-Lowell didn’t find wins hard to come by in their inaugural Division I season. Instead, the River Hawks finished fifth with a .500 conference record, including a 9-7 mark in their last 16 games. Clearly this team got better as the season went along.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: The number four seed won the conference championship. Sure, it happened last year, but prior to that no team lower than a third seed had ever won it. That, plus see earlier comments about how far ahead of everyone else the top two teams were.
Team(s) on the rise: UMBC. The coaching situation is now settled, and the Retrievers also have some nice talent to build around. Challenging for the top next season seems like a long shot, but there’s more hope now than there has been in a few years.
Team(s) on the decline: Vermont. The Catamounts still have some talent and experience coming back, but Carissimo, Voelkel and Rugg were more than just the heart and soul of this team. Losing them hurts far more than mere numbers will ever suggest, and that’s not all they lose.
Next Season Conference Outlook
In one sense, next season should again have a familiar look at the top. Stony Brook will bring back the most talent and experience and thus will be the preseason favorites. They will have Warney, Carson Puriefoy and Ahmad Walker leading the holdovers, and good depth behind them. Hartford will have a senior-laden group that should contend, and if Albany can stay healthy – something they struggled with this past season – they should be right there as well. As long as Will Brown is on the bench, the Great Danes will be dangerous in the conference tournament.
However, Vermont will take a big hit personnel-wise, so the Catamounts will need young players to come through if they are to contend once again. UMBC and Binghamton could make a nice move up in the standings, though both appear to still be at least a year away. UMass-Lowell will be much younger, so the River Hawks may struggle more like many probably figured they would this season. Maine and New Hampshire appear ready to bring up the rear along with the River Hawks.