Even without Tommy Brenton, Stony Brook's chances of finally breaking through in America East remain strong as ever before. (Photo courtesy of Newsday)
The 2013 edition of "32 In 32" stopped at its third conference last night, when we took our shot at making sense of the Patriot League, which welcomes Boston University and Loyola into the fold this year. Today, the center of attention is another Northeast-based league; in fact, it is the conference that Boston University departed in favor of the Patriot League. Without any further ado, here is our look at the America East Conference:
1) Stony Brook - All-time program great Tommy Brenton has graduated and is now playing professionally in Japan, but the chances of this finally being the year for Steve Pikiell and the Seawolves could not be any stronger as the rising stars on the east end of Long Island seek their fourth regular season championship in the last five years, with aspirations of the first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history being the ultimate goal. Brenton may be gone, but all four other starters are back for the Seawolves, led by reigning America East Rookie of the Year Jameel Warney, a forward who could play at any level and still be one of the most dominant forces in his league. In the backcourt, seniors Anthony Jackson and Dave Coley remain the anchors of a guard stable that will see even greater production from sophomore Carson "Tre" Puriefoy. Up front, senior Eric McAlister will help fill some of the void left by Brenton, as will Scott King, while newcomers Ray McGrew and Ahmad Walker will prove Pikiell's proclamation of having several good players in every class to be a valid one in what will be Stony Brook's final season at Pritchard Gym before their on-campus arena's renovations are finished in time for the 2014-15 season.
2) Vermont - John Becker and the Catamounts may be the trendy pick to win their second America East crown in three years, and anyone who does pick Vermont is definitely on the right track considering all but two players return for the Green Mountain Boys this season. Forwards Clancy Rugg and Luke Apfeld return to pick up the lion's share of scoring opportunities inside, while senior glue guy Brian Voelkel will be for Vermont what the aforementioned Tommy Brenton was to Stony Brook. Voelkel's high school teammate Sandro Carissimo will be one of the better guards in the America East this season, and will be an underrated backcourt complement for Marist expatriate Candon Rusin.
3) Albany - The reigning conference champion Great Danes may be taking a step back in the absence of Mike Black and Jacob Iati, but head coach Will Brown has reloaded and kept Albany in the thick of the America East picture. Australians Peter Hooley and Sam Rowley will be the focal points for the Danes this year, with Rowley's younger brother Michael arriving stateside for his freshman season to give Brown a fourth option from Down Under, along with senior forward Luke Devlin. Incoming freshman Stephan Jiggetts should also see significant minutes in the backcourt after spurning archrival Siena to sign with Albany.
4) Hartford - Two years ago, John Gallagher faced a monumental rebuilding job with a young Hawks team. Two years later, Hartford is a serious contender that could sneak into the top three, as only John Peterson departs from Gallagher's rotation. Juniors Mark Nwakamma and Yolonzo Moore form a potent inside/outside scoring tandem, while Nate Sikma continues to carve out his own niche to go along with his NBA lineage as the son of former Milwaukee Bucks great Jack Sikma. Remember this name, though: Evan Cooper. The sophomore guard from Houston averaged just under eight points per game off the bench, and shot 37 percent from three-point range last year, numbers that are almost certain to increase.
5) Maine - The Black Bears may have gone 11-19 last season, but seven of Ted Woodward's top eight scorers return, including four of last season's starters. Junior Scotsman Alasdair Fraser becomes the face of the team as Maine prepares for life after Justin Edwards, while point guard Xavier Pollard will build off a freshman season that saw the Bronx product average more than four assists per game. Keep an eye on European wings Zarko Valjarevic and Jon Mesghna, who combined for 89 of the Black Bears' 156 three-pointers last season.
6) New Hampshire - With Ferg Myrick having graduated, senior forward Patrick Konan becomes the primary option for Bill Herrion and the Wildcats this year after averafing nearly twelve points and over five rebounds per game. Scott Morris will be in line for a breakout senior season in the backcourt, while 6-10 senior Chris Pelcher will be expected to approach averages of a double-double per night with all the right breaks.
7) UMBC - Senior forward Chase Plummer returns for one more year, and that is the best possible news for the Retrievers as they enter the season. In addition to Plummer, 6-10 senior Brett Roseboro could be a double-double waiting to happen if he is able to penetrate the lane and create size mismatches in his favor. In the backcourt for Aki Thomas, junior Joey Getz transitions into the starting lineup after limited action off the bench last season, while 5-11 sophomore Aaron Morgan will enter the season as the primary point guard option after leading UMBC in assists last season.
8) Binghamton - Tommy Dempsey was largely criticized for leaving Rider to take over a rebuilding situation, but the Bearcats have already made great strides as Dempsey prepares for year two at the helm. Philadelphia natives Jordan Reed and Robert Mansell, the latter of whom is back from a medical redshirt, will anchor the Binghamton backcourt while Fordham castoff Rayner Moquete is a quiet and deceptively strong outside shooter. Up front, senior forward Roland Brown faces a challenge in being one of the few consistent big men in the Bearcat rotation.
9) UMass-Lowell - The newcomer to Division I has a new head coach in former Northeastern assistant Pat Duquette, who replaced Greg Herenda after he was hired at Fairleigh Dickinson. Fortunately for the River Hawks, Herenda left Duquette with a solid roster to make the transition into the America East, including all of UMass-Lowell's three leading scorers, the backcourt trio of seniors Akeem Williams and Antonio Bivins, as well as junior Chad Holley. Sophomore center James McDonnell will be challenged early and often, especially considering he is the only player in the River Hawk frontcourt over 6-7.