While everyone else is filing a list of their best stories of the last year, here are some of the questions that were answered during the past 365 days.
What conference will NJIT join? The Highlanders, at this point last year, were coming off the high of beating then-ranked Michigan in Ann Arbor. They kept it going and turned in one of the best seasons under head coach Jim Engles, reaching the CIT semifinals. They still needed a home. It turned out not to be the America East, who seemed to be distant towards the Newark-based school. Instead the Highlanders should be sending holiday cards to Northern Kentucky, who left the Atlantic Sun for the Horizon League. The Atlantic Sun added NJIT in June and the Highlanders will be a championship contender in 2016.
Monmouth flying high – While this story might seem to be just two months old, Hawks head coach King Rice was prophetic back in March. “Nobody thought we’d be here, I truly thought, I told our kids we were going to win this game and Iona was the better team, but we’re coming. Pretty soon, we’ll be the older guys and we’ll see how it goes then,” Rice said following their season-ending MAAC semifinal loss to Iona. Rice and his staff made an ambitious schedule, out of the fact that very few teams would play the Hawks: then they started playing it, and winning. Rice will still refer to Iona as the favorite, but Monmouth has proven to be a giant slayer. The Hawks have collected wins over two Pac-12 teams (UCLA and USC), an ACC team (Notre Dame), a Big Ten team (Rutgers), and a Big East team (Georgetown). Their third place finish in the Orlando-based AdvoCare Invitational tied for the best in conference history. Iona in 2012 is the last team to earn an at-large berth from the MAAC, but the Hawks have put together a strong resume to date. Now conference play looms, and the new question in 2016 will be: Can the Hawks finish the job and reach the NCAA tournament?
Changes in the Bronx and Queens, with differing early results – Fordham ended the Tom Pecora era, while St. John’s let go of Steve Lavin after their NCAA tournament exit. The Red Storm took the historical route, hiring Chris Mullin and some of the country’s best recruiters as assistants to try and revive the Big East program, while Fordham searched, and searched, and searched, but found their man in hiring Jeff Neubauer. While Eric Paschall transferred to Villanova, the Rams have found their defensive style and got off to a 9-2 start, with a win over the Johnnies.
Jaspers Repeat, with a chance for more – As Albany hosted their first MAAC tournament since 2010, it became another neutral site for the Iona-Manhattan rivalry. The Jaspers converted that chance into their second straight NCAA tournament berth, with a victory over the Gaels. Steve Masiello’s team reinvented itself in one season and ended up cutting down the nets again. However, this season it appears the Jaspers will be working to chase the top of the conference contenders as they have been hit hard by injuries and departures.
Close Calls, but not there yet – Both Stony Brook and St. Francis Brooklyn reached their conference championship games, but were unable to clinch their first NCAA tournament berths. The Seawolves have yet to make the tournament in their short history, while the Terriers are one of five original NCAA programs yet to make the tournament. And who can forget Yale? The Bulldogs went from nearly clinching the Ivy title, to a tiebreaker game, to out of postseason basketball altogether.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.