America East men’s preview – Pipe Dream

1. Vermont

At this point, it is not surprising that it falls in the highest place in the preseason rankings of the American East Conference (AE) this year. With 63 poll points, including seven first-place votes, Vermont continues to impress every year, and the defending champion will be the next champion in the 2022-23 season. Despite losing key players from last year’s championship, coach of the year John Becker still seems capable of leading this team to another chip. Forward and two-time AE Player of the Year Ryan Davis, as well as guard Ben Shungu, were the biggest losses for the Catamounts this season. The duo was selected to the AE All-Conference First-Team last year and finished first and third in scoring, respectively. With Davis and Shungu leaving the program, fifth-year guard Finn Sullivan, who was named to the AE All-Championship Team last season, is among the players who will fill their roles. In his first season at Vermont, he averaged 7.2 points and 3.3 rebounds a game, including a 14-point performance in the AE championship win over UMBC. New to UVM’s roster is fifth-year guard Dylan Penn, a transfer who led Bellarmine to the Atlantic Sun Championship (ASUN) and was the tournament MVP. Posting 16.6 points and 5.0 assists per game last year, Penn will be vital in making sure the Catamount offense is as efficient as ever. The eight-time AE champion is the clear favorite based on last year’s race, but only time will tell if they go back and forth.

2. Bryant

With the departure of Hartford and Stony Brook in the AE ranks, Bryant has become the newest addition to the conference. The Bulldogs, despite being newcomers, remained Northeast Conference (NEC) regular season and tournament champions, earning a Division I program-record 22 wins in the 2021-22 season. Coach Jared Grasso has turned the Bulldogs into an established basketball program in the northeast, winning 15 or more games in their past three campaigns, and boasting a 24-2 home record in the past two. This success puts them just behind last season’s champions with 58 poll points, and although they have yet to prove themselves in AE, they have received two first place votes. Junior guard Earl Timberlake and senior guard Charles Pride are the ones to watch on this squad. Proud, going into his fourth year at Bryant, is the most go-go-go guy on this team, playing in every game last year and making the conference and all-district teams. He combined with former Bryant guard Peter Kiss to form the nation’s top scoring duo, contributing 17.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. Kiss’ 25.2 points per game is ranked first in NCAA Division I, a tough pair of shoes to fill for new transfer Timberlake (4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last season in Memphis). Timberlake will look to form a similar partnership with the Pride in hopes of capturing glory in Bryant’s first AE season.

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3. UMass Lowell

Despite finishing seventh in the conference last season, and being eliminated by eventual finalist UMBC in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, UMass Lowell still has a lot to do in the 2022-23 season. The River Hawks, last year, had a new program-best record of 15-16, with coach Pat Duquette setting up a team that prioritized defense over everything. Duquette’s squad leads AE in steals (7.3), blocks (4.2) and rebounds per game (36.1), in addition to holding their opponents to an average of 65.8 points per game, another conference best. Although it has not been lowered as high, gaining 47 poll points, UMass Lowell’s statistics prove it will only improve this year. On the floor, the example was set for the River Hawks by graduate student forward Allin Blunt, who has played nearly every game for his school since he was a freshman. Blunt dropped 33 points in AE’s quarterfinal against UMBC, helping push the game into overtime, but couldn’t find the win. Line up with Blunt will be junior forward Max Brooks, who is coming off a breakout season and an AE All-Defensive Team selection. Brooks almost doubled the previous UMass Lowell record for blocks last year with 67. Moreover, Brooks’ shooting percentage of 63.1 percent, a high AE, proves that he will be a crucial two-way player this season as his team looks to climb the ladder. even further.

4. Binghamton

5. UMBC

As last year’s runner-up in regular season and tournament play, UMBC will have to overcome several setbacks to reach similar heights in the 2022-23 campaign. Leaving the team this season is AE All-Conference First-Team pick Keondre Kennedy, who led the Retrievers with 14.8 points per game, as well as eight points and a game-high eight rebounds in the championship game against UVM. The other big losses are senior guard Darnell Rogers, who scored 10 points in that championship game, and LJ Owens, who played more minutes than his teammates last season – all glaring holes on head coach Jim Ferry’s roster this year. Despite being the second seed in the conference last season, UMBC will have to find a big way to bounce back from its final loss, an 82-43 blowout in the championship game. Senior forward Yaw Obeng-Mensah will be at the center of the Retrievers’ quest for redemption this year, taking a central role on the team by being one of the only returning players on the entire roster. Obeng-Mensah averaged a team-best 5.3 rebounds per game and an additional 6.9 points per game, while clocking in the highest field goal percentage in the squad with 53.5 percent. With most members of their current second-place lineup, it remains to be seen if Ferry will get this new look UMBC back to last year’s heights.

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6. UAlbany

After two decades with Will Brown, UAlbany head coach Dwayne Killings is now in his second season at the helm, still trying to build a team that can match the stature of Brown’s three-peat winning team. Last year’s fifth-place finisher, who languished in AE Conference play with a 9-9 record, had just 25 poll points before this season. The Great Danes fell to Hartford in the quarterfinals last year with an offensive performance to forget, as they struggled to score with a 25.8 percent field goal percentage in the first half. Also, UAlbany lost a key man over the summer, as senior guard and reigning AE Defensive Player of the Year Jamel Horton transferred to Mississippi. One player who will try and fill Horton’s shoes is sophomore forward Justin Neely. The AE Rookie of the Year, as well as the six-time Rookie of the Week, is coming off a very strong first year for Albany. The Miami native is averaging 6.4 points per game and has a second-team best 4.4 rebounds per game. His teammate, sophomore forward Aaron Reddish, made the AE All-Rookie Team with him, rounding out a young and effective frontcourt for the Great Danes. With a team primarily comprised of sophomores like Neely and Reddish, it’s hard to tell if Killings’ team is ready to take the next step or if they’ll remain in the bottom half of AE.

7. New Hampshire

With 23 poll points from the conference, a fourth seed last year and a team that finished 10-8 in Conference AE play, UNH seems to be taking more steps backward than forward in the 2022-23 season. The Wildcats are one of only 37 Division I teams that have ever made the NCAA tournament, and their 72-69 loss against Binghamton in the quarterfinals last year ensured that number remained the same. Veteran head coach Bill Herrion is in his 17th year with UNH, and will try to make up for some key losses in the offseason this year. Forward Jayden Martinez, the team’s scoring and rebounding leader last year (15.1ppg, 5.5rpg), will be by far the biggest miss. The team has named three co-captains for 2022-23, with the hope that they can prevent the Wildcats from falling further in the standings. Graduate students forward Jaxson Baker and guard Matt Herasme have transferred from Central Arkansas and Marist, respectively. Both captains on their previous teams, Herrion looks to them to bring seniority and leadership to his squad. The third and final captain is sophomore guard Nick Johnson. The 2020-21 AE Rookie of the Year is the most experienced Wildcat. Now in his fourth season, he leads the team with 8.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, as well as the team leader in blocks with 16 last year. However, there is no telling whether he and his co-captains will be enough to prevent UNH from going down this season.

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8. NJIT

NJIT has seen some impressive campaigns over the past few years under head coach Brian Kennedy, most notably a 22-13 record in the 2018-19 season. However, the 2021-22 season did not prove fruitful, as the Highlanders finished second to last in the AE with a 6-12 record. The plague of injuries over the course of several seasons has prevented the Highlanders from winning more than a squad that holds second to last place in the preseason predictions with 14 poll points. Leading the line for NJIT this year will be senior forward Miles Coleman. One of the most consistent players for the Highlanders last year, Coleman bounced back from injury in the 2020-21 season and played 20 more games, averaging 15.6 points per game on 41.6 percent shooting and scoring 22 points as his team was eliminated. Vermont in the playoffs. Besides Coleman, one to watch for the Highlanders this year will be sophomore forward Keeshawn Mason, a pick for the AE All-Rookie team last year. While his playtime last year was limited, a 16 point and 6 rebound performance in just 16 minutes against Stony Brook last year proved that Mason has what it takes to be a consistent AE player. It’s hard to see where NJIT has improved before the 2022-23 season, but the competition around it ensures the team can make playoff basketball again this year.

9. Play

It is not surprising that the bookends of this year’s list effectively choose themselves. While the champions remain at the top of our pre-season predictions, last year’s 10th seeds – and the only team not to make the playoffs – remain at the bottom with just 12 poll points ahead of the 2022-23 season. Maine finished with a 3-15 record in AE Conference play last year, 6-23 overall – a record that called for a change in leadership. Richard Barron ended his four-year stint as head coach and has been replaced by Chris Markwood, a former Boston College assistant coach who took over in March. It’s no secret that Markwood has his work cut out for him as the Black Bears have consistently finished in the bottom two of the AE standings over the past few years. Like most of the teams at this end of the standings, Maine has gone through some roster changes. A famous returner, senior guard Lechaun Duhart. Duhart put up 8.5 points per game last year, with a 90 percent free throw percentage to boot. Whether or not Duhart can be a playmaker on an unfamiliar Black Bears roster remains to be seen. Digging this team out of the hole they’ve been in for so long will be a challenge for Markwood and his squad.



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