As we near conference play, the picture in the America East is finally starting to sort itself out as teams play on a regular basis. Every AE team played at least two games this past week. Vermont and Albany are the top contenders, but Stony Brook, UMBC and Binghamton all look like worthy challengers (and a tough out on any given night).
There’s still a few more weeks for UMass Lowell and New Hampshire to get back into form before conference play begins, but both teams had a tough week. And then there is Hartford and Maine, which have occasionally shown some fight, but no consistency during their non-conference schedules.
1. Vermont (6-4) — The Catamounts haven’t played at home since Nov. 22. Lately the defense hasn’t looked very good in falling to three solid opponents (Bucknell, Marquette and Northeastern). Trae-Bell Haynes suffered a concussion against Marquette and didn’t play in Sunday’s loss in Boston.
2. Albany (10-1) — The Great Danes easily dispatched of Bryant on Wednesday behind 24 points from Joe Cremo. Then on Saturday they went to the Times Union Center and defeated cross-town rival Siena, 74-69. Travis Charles led the way with 19 points and Cremo added 16. UA has won the Albany Cup in five of the past six seasons.
4. Binghamton (7-4) — The Bearcats have now won six games in a row after starting the season 1-4. They’ve risen from 252 to 202 in KenPom’s rankings during that run. JC Show scored 16 points and Thomas Bruce had 11 points and eight rebounds in the win over Army. Willie Rodriguez scored 22 points, Show had 17, and Bruce added eight points and nine boards in the win at Loyola. Binghamton was 7-4 last season, but the foundation seems much stronger for Tommy Dempsey’s squad in 2017-18.
5. UMBC (6-5) — UMBC split a pair of road games at Delaware State (81-60 win) and Towson (78-65 loss) this week. The loss to the Tigers is certainly nothing to worry about. They’re 10-1 with the only loss coming on opening night to Old Dominion. UMBC led by three with 11:42 remaining, but Towson closed had for the victory. Jairus Lyles scored 21 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the loss. UMBC has scored under 1 point per possession in each of their last two losses (Army and Towson). Can the defense improve enough to carry the Retrievers on nights when the shots aren’t falling?
6. UMass Lowell (5-5) — Life on the road has not been good for the River Hawks. They fell at Wagner and Brown this week and are now on a 4-game losing streak. Jahad Thomas returned to action this week he had 19 points and seven rebounds against Wagner, but also committed seven turnovers. Thomas had a better all-around game against Brown, scoring 15 points, grabbing nine rebounds, along with three assists and three steals. Ryan Jones lead UML with 20 points in that loss. The defense was atrocious in both games. Wagner scored 1.25 points per possession and Brown 1.24. Neither are exactly offensive powerhouses either.
7. New Hampshire (2-8) — UNH continues to be one of the bigger disappointments of non-conference play with a home loss to Niagara and a road loss at Holy Cross this week. Tanner Leissner scored 24 in the loss to the Purple Eagles and Elijah Jordan chipped in 19. Leissner and Jordan Reed each scored 16 points in the loss at Holy Cross (Leissner also had 15 boards). The Wildcats shot just 9-33 from distance in the 4-point loss in Worchester, MA.
8. Hartford (4-6) — The Hawks trailed Boston College by just one at halftime in their own gym, but ultimately lost by 12. (Of course BC went and beat Duke on Saturday.) John Carroll led Hartford with 20 points in the loss, but he also committed seven turnovers. Hartford then came back to beat Quinnipiac. The Hawks trailed by three with a minute remaining, but Jason Dunne hit a layup and then Carroll’s and-one gave Hartford the lead for good. Dunne scored 20 points and Travis Weatherington added 22 in the victory.
9. Maine (2-8) — The Black Bears defeated local non-Division I rival Maine Presque Isle 75-55 on Tuesday. Maine battled with Dartmouth at home, but ultimately fell 73-66. Aaron Calixte and Vernon Lowndes each scored 13 in the loss. The difference in that one was Maine shot 6-20 from 3, while Dartmouth made 10-21.
Player of the Week: Jairus Lyles (UMBC) — There were a number of outstanding performance by America East players during the week, but Lyles had the best all-around games as his team went 1-1. The senior guard returned after missing three games to post 21 points in back-to-back performances along with 12 rebounds, nine assists and six steals on the week. Also considered: Tanner Leissner (New Hampshire), Joe Cremo (Albany), Anthony Lamb (Vermont), Akwasi Yeboah (Stony Brook), Jahad Thomas (UMass Lowell)
Freshman of the Week: Elijah Jordan (New Hampshire) — The freshman point guard came off the bench and had one of the best games of his career in New Hampshire’s home loss to Niagara with 19 points, two rebounds and five assists. He was back in the starting lineup at Holy Cross, but scored three points. He did have four assists to just one turnover. Also considered: Stef Smith (Vermont), Tyler Stewart (Binghamton)
Running Seawolves: Every game Stony Brook has played this season has had at least 70 possessions. Jeff Boals slowed the tempo down and tried to grind out victories last season, but now the Seawolves are running quite a bit more. They’ve gone from 281st to 132nd in adjusted tempo, adding nearly five possessions per game. What’s interesting is that the change in pace may be hiding slight improvements in SBU’s defensive performance. It’s also interesting that Boals has decided to push the pace despite having two point guards that are adjusting to Division I basketball. Boals is going deep into his bench, playing nine or 10 players on a regular basis. Stony Brook is 34th nationally in bench minutes at 39 percent.
Will UMBC defense be able to get key stops in conference?: Once again UMBC’s offense under Ryan Odom appears to be deadly. The Retrievers are right around 110th overall in adjusted offensive efficiency. The problem is on the other end of the floor. The undersized UMBC lineup is struggling to defend the paint (opponents are shooting 57 percent on twos) and rebound (opponents are grabbing 33 percent of their misses). Yes, part of that was opening with SMU and Arizona, but even Colgate (59 percent) and Army (63 percent) have shot well in the paint. Ideally one of Odom’s freshman big men would step up as the season continues. Brandon Horvath, Max Portmann, and Daniel Akin have all received some minutes this season. Horvath has had the most success rebounding the ball, but he played just two minutes in the loss at Towson. Will Odom’s squad be able to get those stops and rebounds in order to be competitive in America East play?
Coming up this week:
Vermont finally returns home on Monday to take on Siena and dedicate Tom Brennan court. The Catamounts also play an interesting game against St. Bonaventure on Saturday. … Albany plays at Memphis and then hosts Canisius. … The Battle of Long Island takes place on Tuesday night as Stony Brook hosts Hofstra. SBU also travels to Providence on Sunday. … UMBC hosts Coppin St. and Horizon League title contender Northern Kentucky. … Binghamton will sit on its 6-game winning streak until Sunday when the Bearcats go to Sacred Heart. … New Hampshire gets a tune up against Lyndon State. … UMass Lowell hosts Boston U. and Central Connecticut. … Hartford hosts Sacred Heart on Monday and then doesn’t play for eight days. … Maine plays at Saint Joseph’s on Sunday.