The America East had a very familiar look at the top this season, in more ways than one. The conference championship game was a rematch, with a similar result in more ways than one, while the top three teams in the standings all looked very familiar.
After that, it gets interesting. It is perhaps where we can look for some change in the times to come.
The top three teams – Albany, Vermont and Stony Brook – have been perennial contenders. To find a season in which at least two of those teams were not in the top three, you have to go back to 2008-09 – when Boston University was still in the conference and before everything fell apart at Binghamton during the Kevin Broadus era. Furthermore, this season marked the fourth straight in which the title game matchup consisted of two of those schools, and it was the second straight New York matchup between Albany and Stony Brook.
For the third year in a row, Albany took home the title, marking the fifth time during Will Brown’s tenure. That ties him with Jim Calhoun for the all-time record, and that’s pretty heady company to be in. It all came after a regular season in which the Great Danes nearly ran the table in conference play.
New Hampshire was the pleasant surprise this year. With a lot of production gone from last season’s team, no one expected the Wildcats to be in the middle of the pack, but they were. Now, expectations will be even higher next year since just two seniors are gone from this team, neither of them bit players but neither of whom is even close to irreplaceable. While Hartford will have a hard time replicating this year in the foreseeable future – the Hawks were built around this season with their senior-laden group that took their lumps as freshmen – UMass-Lowell appears to be on the upswing. Like in 2013-14, the young River Hawks didn’t have the struggles many projected, so there’s reason to believe they can be contenders when they are eligible for the conference tournament in a few years.
The bottom three teams all have aspirations of going higher, but each faces a long road. Binghamton has been a slow rebuild, as has UMBC, the latter of who did not end the season well at all. Maine has the longest road to contention of all, though there is reason for hope with a new staff that can recruit New England well and already has a good group coming in next season.
Change at the top of the standings may be possible down the road. How soon that happens remains to be seen, but there is some hope with a few teams that have been a little down in the standings of late.
The conference moved to having the tournament at all campus sites this year, with UMass-Lowell still ineligible as part of their transition into Division I. The quarterfinal round saw all four home teams win, with Albany beating Maine 83-66 and Vermont crushing UMBC 66-39, while Stony Brook had to hold off Binghamton 62-57 and New Hampshire needed overtime to pull out a 67-63 win over Hartford.
The semifinals were a pair of dandies. UNH gamely battled Albany on the road, but the Great Danes managed to hang on 60-58. Stony Brook traveled to Vermont for the other one, and pulled out a 79-77 victory, setting up a championship game rematch.
This time, the game was in Albany, and Stony Brook looked poised to finally win in a game that started off very sluggishly for both teams. The Seawolves led 20-16 at the half, and neither team would shoot better than 37 percent for the game. Stony Brook built a 49-42 lead with 1:43 left, and it looked like they might finally do it. Two missed free throws and a turnover helped Albany draw within 49-48 with 23 seconds left.
After Stony Brook hit one of two free throws to go up 50-48, Albany got off a shot that missed, and the rebound was deflected. It went right into the hands of Peter Hooley, who buried a three-pointer that ripped the hearts right out of the Seawolves with 1.6 seconds left. When Stony Brook couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer, Albany had a 51-50 win and a third straight title.
Player of the Year: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
Rookie of the Year: Tanner Leissner, New Hampshire
Coach of the Year: Will Brown, Albany
Co-Sixth Man of the Year: Justin Graham, Hartford and Cam Ward, Vermont
Defensive Player of the Year: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
Ethan O’Day, Jr. F, Vermont
Carson Puriefoy, Jr. G, Stony Brook
Sam Rowley, Sr. F, Albany
Evan Singletary, Jr. G, Albany
Jameel Warney, Jr. F, Stony Brook
- Four teams competed in postseason tournaments, the second-highest total in conference history (five teams made it in 2013).
- Albany nearly went through the season undefeated, losing only to Stony Brook at home in mid-February.
- Vermont reached the semifinals of the CBI for the first time ever, and won at least 20 games for the seventh straight season.
- New Hampshire went to the CIT, the program’s first postseason appearance.
- Stony Brook went to Washington in December and left handing the Huskies their first loss of the season.
What we expected, and it happened: The first season for Maine under Bob Walsh was a challenging one. Walsh and his staff will need a little time, but as well as they can recruit, in a couple of years Maine could be on their way towards the first division.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Hartford was expected to contend with a senior-laden team that had grown up together over the past three years. Instead, the Hawks managed a fifth-place finish and bowed out in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: While Albany was expected to be good, no one expected they would be the class of the conference by three games, nearly going undefeated. With a new point guard and other newcomers in key roles, the Great Danes acquitted themselves well in their season opener and made that game indicative of their season.
Team(s) on the rise: UMass-Lowell and New Hampshire. The River Hawks won’t be eligible for the conference tournament for three more years, but they’re already showing signs that they could contend when that time comes. New Hampshire, meanwhile, had an unexpectedly good year and brings back much of this cast next season.
Team(s) on the decline: Hartford. It was all about this season with a group that came in as freshmen and took a lot of games in the right-hand column. Next year will be a brand new cast, including the guys helping John Gallagher out as he has shaken up his staff.
2015-16 America East Outlook
A familiar look at the top can be expected once more, as the top three teams plus New Hampshire all return a lot from this season’s team. Stony Brook should be the preseason favorites, along with Vermont. Albany should be there as well, but with several players leaving the program they have taken a slight hit. After this past season, though, that likely doesn’t mean much for this team.
New Hampshire is the interesting team. Bill Herrion may finally have a group he can contend with at the school, so long as they avoid the injury bug that has hit them before. Herrion’s teams have always defended, but offense has been a struggle – until now. Now they have a winning combination.
Among the teams further down the standings, Maine is the one with the best chance to make a jump. Bob Walsh’s first recruiting class is a good one, but it also means the core of the team will be young. Umass-Lowell will remain interesting as their transition to Division I continues as well.