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2016-17 America East Post-Mortem

June 27, 2017 Columns, Conference Notes No Comments

In 2016-17, not much changed in America East at the top. The same three programs that have dominated the conference in recent years were right there once again, even though one looked especially vulnerable this year. The fourth-place team was the same as the past two seasons as well. Meanwhile, the bottom teams haven’t really moved, and there was a big gap between fifth and sixth place.

However, there was one thing that was very different about this year: the degree to which the champion, Vermont, dominated the conference.

Vermont became the first team in America East history to go undefeated in conference play in the regular season. This conference has been around for a while, and while it has seen better days as a whole, being the first team to do something like that is still remarkable. Indeed, the conference being top-heavy is reason alone to figure surely a team would get clipped by another top team along the way. It didn’t happen this time, though.

Vermont did more than just run the table in the regular season, though. They swept the conference awards, the first time in America East history that has happened. Then they won the conference tournament, which was even more important since an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament would not be forthcoming had they lost along the way.

One of the three other postseason teams was UMBC, a pleasant surprise in Ryan Odom’s first season at the helm. The Retrievers had struggled in recent years, a far cry from the 2008 conference champions that came after a steady building process aided by transfers that fit well. They started the season with four straight wins and were 7-1 before losing at Richmond and at home to Towson. They exited non-conference play with a 9-4 mark, and the confidence they built along the way carried over to a 9-7 America East mark.

UMBC joins UMass-Lowell, which has finished its transition period and will now be eligible for the conference and NCAA Tournament, as a team that could be a threat to crack the top four, and maybe the top three that are entrenched atop the conference. The River Hawks had a slump year, but Pat Duquette has dutifully steered the ship to this point in preparing them for next year and beyond. They also have one of the conference’s best players in Jahad Thomas.

Inertia is not the problem at the bottom of the conference; transfers are a big part of it. Maine has watched several talented players transfer up, while Hartford watched their star guard from a year earlier graduate and transfer late in the summer. That makes moving up a lot harder to do. It also makes the job of coaching much harder, and from that standpoint, it is good to know that the coaches at Hartford, Binghamton and Maine do not appear to be on the hot seat. There is reason to believe they are getting a lot of leeway.

For now, inertia in the standings is still ruling the day in the conference. But this season, Vermont dominated in grand fashion, and that was a bigger story than anything else that happened.


Final Standings

America East
Stony Brook
New Hampshire

Conference Tournament

The conference tournament once again was held entirely at campus sites, and homecourt advantage was ever-present as only one road team won out of the eight games.

The quarterfinals were a split between close games and blowouts. No. 1 Vermont annihilated No. 8 Maine 86-41 and No. 3 Albany ran away from No. 6 Hartford 100-71 behind 40 points from David Nichols, a program record in the Division I era. No. 2 Stony Brook ran out to a big lead and then held off a charge from No. 7 Binghamton 70-60, while No. 4 New Hampshire held on to beat No. 5 UMBC 74-65.

In the semifinals, Albany took over the game around the end of the first half and held off Stony Brook 63-56, while Vermont blew out New Hampshire 74-41 to advance.

The championship game was a back-and-forth affair at Patrick Gym between two programs who have met in this game before. Vermont jumped out early, but Albany built up a nine-point lead with eight minutes left to play. Vermont rallied, then got a big three-point play with 39 seconds left and held on despite a key turnover late to beat Albany 56-53.

Postseason Awards
Player of the Year: Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Lamb, Vermont
Coach of the Year: John Becker, Vermont
Defensive Player of the Year: Dre Wills, Vermont
Sixth Man of the Year: Darren Payen, Vermont

All-America East Team
Trae Bell-Haynes, Jr. G, Vermont
Tanner Leissner, Jr. F, New Hampshire
David Nichols, So. G, Albany
Jahad Thomas, Jr. F, UMass-Lowell
Lucas Woodhouse, Sr. G, Stony Brook

Season Highlights

  • Vermont became the first team in America East history to go undefeated in conference play.
  • Vermont had the nation’s longest winning streak entering the NCAA Tournament at 21 consecutive games.
  • The conference had multiple postseason teams for the ninth year in a row, and placed four in postseason tournaments for the second straight year.
  • UMBC made a run to the CIT semifinals before bowing out against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.
  • UMBC head coach Ryan Odom won the Joe B. Hall National Coach of the Year Award, presented to the top first-year head coach in Division I.

What we expected, and it happened: Vermont was expected to contend once again, and they did just that, leading the conference wire to wire and not losing a game along the way.

What we expected, and it didn’t happen: UMBC figured to be in more of a rebuilding mode in Ryan Odom’s first year, but the Retrievers made a jump to fifth place with a winning conference record, then made a run in the CIT.

What we didn’t expect, and it happened: Stony Brook had basically no drop-off at all. The Seawolves lost a ton from last season’s team and had a coaching change. The cupboard was hardly bare, but the thought was that this team was primed to take a step back for a year. Instead, they were in contention all along, opening conference play with a road win en route to a clear second-place finish.

Team(s) on the rise: UMBC. What the Retrievers did in Ryan Odom’s first year is promising for their future, especially with only one starter gone. That one starter is second-leading scorer Will Darley, but there will be plenty returning next year and the continuity will help.

Team(s) on the decline: With so much inertia in the standings, it’s hard to place any team in this category, so we’ll pass.


2017-18 America East Outlook

Will much change in the standings next year? It’s hard to count on it, but UMBC and UMass-Lowell, the latter now eligible for the NCAA Tournament, will hope to make things interesting. The conference as a whole could be better if there are no late surprise transfers, which has happened in the past, as four of the five first team all-conference selections were underclassmen.

With John Becker staying in Burlington and four starters back, Vermont will be the favorites entering next season. Trae Bell-Haynes, who makes this team go, leads the way, and everyone else has a lot of catching up to do to this team. Stony Brook may be more primed to take a step back after losing some key veterans, but this program has established some winning DNA, and that can’t be underestimated. The same goes for Albany, while New Hampshire will still bring back a good veteran team but also graduates a pair of 1,000-point scorers.

UMBC and UMass-Lowell have the personnel to at least get into the top four and possibly more. UMBC looks to build on a nice first year under Ryan Odom, while UMass-Lowell has been building towards this since Pat Duquette took over for the beginning of their Division I history. The River Hawks, for their part, lose just one player, and while Tyler Livingston was very good for them, he is not irreplaceable alongside Jahad Thomas, Ryan Jones and Matt Harris on an experienced team.

Hartford, Binghamton and Maine will still chase the other six teams. Hartford will have to replace their best player, Jalen Ross, but return everyone else. Binghamton loses even less, and Maine finally brings back a lot after previously being decimated by transfers. Whether any team can see a jump with their holdovers remains to be seen.

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