March 1st kicks off the Quarterfinals of the American East Conference Tourney, these games will be played at the higher seed’s home arena.
2016 Champion: Stony Brook
8th Seed Maine Black Bears 7-24 (3-13)
Not a good year for the Black Bears and 3rd-year coach Bob Walsh as Maine is back in the cellar of the American East after a finishing 2nd to last a year ago. Wesley Myers, a Niagara transfer, is Maine’s leading scorer, averaging 16.9 ppg. He has missed the Bears last three games and if they have any hope of knocking off top-seeded Vermont, they will Myers firing on all cylinders. The biggest issue for Maine is their inability to score, the Bears rank 327th (!!!) in the country in scoring, yikes. Maine will head to Vermont to take on the Catamounts.
7th Seed Binghamton Bearcats 12-19 (3-13)
7th is the worst finish in conference play since coach Tommy Dempsey’s first season at the helm. The Bearcats really struggle offensively and on the glass, two areas that are pretty important when it comes to winning basketball games. Their leading scorer, Bobby Ahearn, averages just 9.6 ppg, which ranks 23rd in the American East alone. They do, however, have the 3rd best shot blocker in the conference with Thomas Bruce. Binghamton has really struggled of late, losing their last 8 games. They will need to find different ways to score as they take on Stony Brook in the first round.
6th Seed Hartford Hawks 9-22 (4-12)
If there is any silver lining for Hawks fans, it is that their team has been playing their best basketball of the season over the final six games of the regular season going 3-3. Hartford also has the conference’s leading scorer in Jalen Ross who averages just shy of 20 per game at 19.8. The Hawks really struggle on offense despite having the conference’s leader, but of late, they have made up for it on the defensive end hold opponents under 70 in their last four games. The Hawks also boast the conference’s leading shot-blocker, Hassan Attia, who swats 2.4 shots per contest. They will need everything Ross and Attia have got if they want a shot at making a run in the AEC tourney. Hartford opens with Albany.
5th Seed UMBC Retrievers 18-11 (9-7)
The Retrievers under first-year coach Ryan Odom finished 5th in the AEC with a winning record. UMBC stumbled down the stretch losing 4 of their last 6, but get New Hampshire in the first round who they split with in the regular season. UMBC scores the ball really well, they average 82 points per contest which is good for 20th nationally. The Retrievers are led by their two-headed attack of Jarius Lyles and Will Darley. Lyles is an absolute stat-stuffer and Darley is one of the most efficient shooters in the conference. They need a good few games out of those two if they want to make a run and win the tourney, but when you have two effective scorers like UMBC does, anything is possible. The Retrievers are my darkhorse.
4th Seed New Hampshire Wildcats 19-11 (10-6)
New Hampshire is not known for their basketball prowess, they have a phenomenal hockey and football program that steal the spotlight frequently, but this UNH squad is good. The Cats are riding a 5 game winning streak into their first round date with UMBC, a team they beat during that stretch. The Cats are a defensively stout team that rebounds very well, they are top 50 in the country in both categories. Tanner Leissner has quietly been one of the most consistent big men around the country. His offensive efficiency continues to rise as a Junior from his Frosh year and his rebounding has remained great. The defense is where New Hampshire thrives and expect Bill Herrion’s squad to rely on that to spark their offense.
3rd Seed Albany Great Danes 19-12 (10-6)
Despite losing 7 players from last year’s 24-9 team, Will Brown has brought his team back to a very solid 19-12 record in 2016-17. The Great Danes, like the Wildcats before them, also get after defensively allowing just 66 ppg. David Nichols and Joe Cremo are the keys to the offense and are vital if the Great Danes want to make a run and get a shot at Vermont. When those two are good it is tough for this team to be beaten. Albany hosts Hartford in their opening round game.
2nd Seed Stony Brook Seawolves 17-12 (12-4)
Despite losing head coach Steve Pikiell and star Jameel Warney after last season’s NCAA tournament run, the Seawolves played extremely well during the conference schedule and earned the 2nd seed. Stony Brook has a very balanced offensive attack with four players averaging 9 points or more. Team basketball is crucial this time of year, but so is the defensive end and Stony Brook is one of the better teams in the conference on that end of the floor. Stony Brook hosts Binghamton in their first round matchup.
1st Seed Vermont Catamounts 26-5 (16-0)
The Catamounts hold the nation’s longest win streak (after Gonzaga lost to BYU) at 18 games. This is one of the best defensive teams in the country, they allow just 63 ppg. Vermont is a deep team as well, they get production up-and-down the bench with three players averaging over 10 ppg and six averaging over 7 ppg. Anthony Lamb, Payton Henson and Trae Bell-Haynes are the Cats three-headed monster on offense, all three score the both well and efficiently. Vermont is the heavy favorites coming in and will host Maine in the opening round.
Vermont over Maine
UMBC over New Hampshire
Stony Brook over Binghamton
Albany over Hartford
Vermont over UMBC
Albany over Stony Brook
Vermont over Albany