By Kevin Sweeney
For the past 5 seasons, the America East has been owned by 3 teams. Stony Brook and Vermont have been in the top 3 of the standings each of the past 5 seasons, while Albany has won 3 out of the past 5 conference tournaments. The other two were split between Stony Brook and Vermont. In fact, only 2 current league members have ever won the America East Tournament other than those 3 powerhouses. However, with Stony Brook and Albany losing significant production from last season, the league looks wide open for this upcoming season.
One team expected to make an impact in this year’s America East is New Hampshire. The Wildcats return over 87% of their scoring from a team that enjoyed its first 20 win season in program history last season. Rising junior Tanner Leisner will be the key to the success of the Wildcats. The versatile forward averaged 15.9 points and 7.3 rebounds last season during a 1st-team All-America East campaign. Combine Leisner with senior guard Jaleen Smith and junior center Ibe Camara, who made huge strides in his game last year, and the Wildcats have a returning core group with the potential of taking the next step and winning the America East.
Traditional power Vermont may be the favorite to win the league. With most of the core of the defending tournament runner-ups returning, the Catamounts seem likely to be in the top 3 once again. After a slow start last season, Vermont really turned it on at the end of the season, with the Catamounts recording wins at Stony Brook and New Hampshire and reaching the CBI semi-finals. With the high-scoring guard duo of Trae Bell-Haynes and Ernie Duncan, expect the Catamounts to be at the top of the America East.
Although they both lose so much from last season, it would be silly to forget about Stony Brook and Albany. Each team loses its top 3 scorers from last season, but will still likely make an impact in the championship race. The success of the Great Danes will be reliant upon the growth of sophomore Joe Cremo and the impact of 6 incoming JUCO transfers. For Stony Brook, versatile guard Ahmad Walker will lead the way, with fellow veterans Bryan Sekunda and Lucas Woodhouse expected to play a bigger role.
Whether it is one of these teams or a potential dark horse who wins the America East, it will certainly be an exciting season.