College Basketball Betting Preview for America East: Beyond the Scenes on Which Teams Can Win Conference
Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images
- Vermont is the favorite in the conference -- as they typically -- are entering the season.
- Maine head coach Richard Barron explains why things aren't so set in stone at the top of the league, though.
- Tanner McGrath does a deep dive into the league from top-to-bottom.
I’ve heard the America East described in several ways.
- “This is a fun conference to follow and get behind.”
- “We’re good, we’re serious, we work hard and we coach hard.”
- “There’s something different about eating a McDonald’s burger and going to a local burger shack. We’re the local burger shack, and it’s a better burger.”
All those quotes came from Maine head coach Richard Barron, who was gracious enough to sit down with me and talk some America East basketball.
I am a loyal follower of the conference. I’m a Vermont fan, but I get excited when AE teams and players succeed — like Hartford making its first NCAA Tournament last season, or former Conference Player of the Year Anthony Lamb making an NBA roster.
— UVM Men's Basketball (@UVMmbb) March 9, 2021
Therefore, I’m inclined to agree with Barron, who has as much enthusiasm for the league as I do. So, Coach Barron, what’s the state of the America East entering 2021?
“This is a league that is growing and has some stability,” Barron said. “Everybody is excited because you’re talking about your potential and seeing what’s possible.”
That description is apt. There are a lot of potential star players in the conference this season. And somebody is going to make the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year.
“There are the top four teams that somebody will pick [to win the league],” Barron said.
However, he adds: “I really do think that somebody from that bottom six teams [will] finish in the top three.
“We just don’t know who it is yet. I hope it’s Maine.”
So, in a conference that provides stability, excitement, unpredictability and above all, good basketball, what should we expect from the 2021-22 edition of the America East?
The Top Four
Vermont Catamounts (+170 at BetMGM)
As long as John Becker is at the helm, Vermont will be the team to beat. The Catamounts finished with at least a share of the regular-season title for five straight seasons, making the tournament twice during that time.
Barron describes Vermont as “pretty stable” and speaks highly of what the Catamounts do collectively. While the Catamounts’ attack centers around defending Conference Player of the Year Ryan Davis (18.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, .586 FG), the team around him complements him perfectly.
Robin Duncan with the beautiful pass to Ryan Davis for the lay-in. It’s 62-42 Vermont with 7:22 to go pic.twitter.com/bO60epEpTv
— The Game FM (@TheGameFM) February 15, 2020
“[Davis] is a great team player on a great team,” Barron said. “You can’t acknowledge Ryan Davis without acknowledging all the other guys on the team who do some really good things.”
The perfect example is guard Ben Shungu, who is also a fantastic player.
“He makes the right basketball decision,” Barron said.
Shungu’s selection to the all-conference second team and all-defensive team back up those claims.
Vermont ended the 2020-21 season first in the conference in both KenPom offensive and defensive efficiency. Considering it returns four of its five starters from last season, Vermont is a “team that should be picked first or second in the league,” according to Barron.
The Catamounts are stable, deep, tough and very good. Watch out.
Unfortunately for Hartford, the defending tournament champions have a cloud over their heads. The University of Hartford’s decision to move to Division III disgusts me, especially after the season John Gallagher and Co. had.
However, for now, nothing changes. The Hawks reloaded and are ready to defend their title.
“I think Hartford will be where they were last year,” Barron said. “Maybe a little bit better based on who they brought it.”
Losing Traci Carter is a big loss, especially for his leadership and defensive abilities. However, the team brought in a bunch of new players that, collectively, should help fill the holes left behind.
Look for Coppin State grad transfer DeJuan Clayton (14.9 PPG, 5.1 APG) to play a massive part in the Hawks’ upcoming season. Additionally, La Salle grad transfer Jared Kimbrough and Division II transfer David Shriver will also play big roles.
— Seth Greenberg (@SethOnHoops) September 14, 2021
Austin Williams is the steady hand for the team. After averaging over 15 points per game and being named the America East Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player last season, look for him to see the ball a lot in the upcoming season.
Hartford made the NCAA Tournament last season on a stifling defense, one that allowed only .79 points per possession in the half court (95th percentile, per Synergy).
The hope is the Hawks repeat that success, even with the roster turnover.
When someone thinks of Stony Brook this year, they almost have to think of transfers.
“Stony Brook killed it in the transfer portal,” Barron said.
Predictably, Barron is right. Of course, that comes with a caveat: The portal destroyed Stony Brook the prior two seasons.
But as the transfer portal takes away players, the transfer portal also gives back, including six standouts for the upcoming season.
That includes former Seawolves guard Elijah Olaniyi, who returns after spending a year at Miami.
The fifth-year player averaged 18 points per game in his 2019-20 campaign with Stony Brook. He’s prepared to pick up where he left off — just with more experience at an ACC level (where he averaged double digits in scoring).
Additionally, the Seawolves’ biggest pick-up may be Fairleigh Dickinson grad transfer Jahlil Jenkins. Jenkins averaged 16.8 points per game last season and shot 38% from 3, which is massive for a team severely lacking in perimeter shooting.
Fairleigh Dickinson trailed by 13 in the 2nd half. Enter Jahlil Jenkins!
The sophomore erupted for 20 points after halftime! 🔥 pic.twitter.com/e4OEMg6nyx
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) March 20, 2019
“[Stony Brook] added to a pretty athletic group, and they’ve got at least one good post player already returning,” Barron said.
That one post player is senior Jaden Sayles, who is a very reliable interior option at 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds. Even though he could’ve been more efficient in post-up situations, Sayles averaged 9.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game last season.
That brings us to a larger point about Geno Ford’s team in general: This offense has been as inefficient as it comes.
The additions will significantly help Juan Felix Rodriguez, who shouldered the entire team’s offense last year. But will it be enough to compensate for the team’s 29% 3-point shooting and 13.9 turnovers per game?
The key to that question might be St. Bonaventure addition Anthony Roberts. The 6-foot-4 junior averaged almost 13 points per game with Kent State before becoming a Bonnie.
He could be another dynamic offensive option for Stony Brook. Plus, his ability to play at the 2, 3 or 4 creates a ton of versatility.
Either way, the market is high on Stony Brook. The Seawolves have the second-best odds to win the America East next season behind Vermont.
New Hampshire is pretty much “the same team coming back,” Barron said. “And they probably feel like they let last year get away from them.”
I agree with that sentiment. Bill Herrion’s frontcourt made a ludicrous jump last season, with Jayden Martinez making First Team All-America East and Nick Guadarrama making the second team.
Those two combined for 27 points per game and were the only two Wildcats who finished above the national average in points per game, per Synergy (Martinez 1.04, 88th percentile; Guadarrama .935, 67th percentile).
— #AEHoops (@AEHoopsNews) October 21, 2021
However, Herrion returns both of those guys and most of his roster, including four of five starters in total.
They also added a few players, most importantly former George Washington talent Sloan Seymour, who will be an excellent 3-and-D addition given his 6-foot-9 frame and 38% career 3-point shooting percentage.
New Hampshire ran into a wall last season. It finished its season playing UMass Lowell five straight times before Obadiah Noel finally got the best of them in the conference tournament.
But before that, New Hampshire won 10 games, beating Hartford twice and UMass Lowell twice, as well.
If Seymour meshes with the Wildcats’ frontcourt superstars, this team could make the jump to their first America East title game.
“They probably feel like they didn’t end up where they could have been,” Barron said. “They have a lot of guys back, and I wouldn’t count them out.”
The Next Tier
I put UMBC right outside the top tier of America East teams. The Retrievers lost three starters and their head coach, but you won’t find a better hire for the program than Jim Ferry.
Ferry has 16 seasons of Division I coaching experience, including as the interim head coach for Penn State last season.
While Ryan Odom took UMBC’s top two scorers from last season with him to Utah State, Ferry has other plans for the Retrievers — specifically, former Monmouth and DePaul guard Ray Salnave.
Salnave is a ball-heavy guard who takes a lot of unassisted shots, but he averaged almost 15 points per game with the Hawks two seasons ago.
— SLAM (@SLAMonline) December 11, 2019
He also added Marist transfer Hakim Byrd to bolster a backcourt that should be one of the best in the America East this season.
As Barron says, there are a lot of unknowns with UMBC. But the Retrievers have the coaching, players and program history to compete for another title.
When it comes to unknowns, Maine is the biggest one in the conference. When Barron entered his third season as the Black Bears’ women’s head coach, his team jumped from four wins in 2014-15 to 17 in 2015-16.
Last year was his third season with the men’s program, and it was going to be the campaign they finally started putting things together.
The program was trending up by winning nine games during the 2019-20 season, the Bears’ highest total since 2012-13. But last year was barely a season, as they were shut down due to COVID-19 less than a month in. At one point, Barron had only nine players available and had to start walk-ons.
Barron has made some huge changes this season, though, including a “great new staff,” as he puts it.
“There’s some really good new energy,” he said.
Moreover, Barron dipped into the portal and is ecstatic about the players he was able to add — like ULM grad transfer Chris Efretuei and Hofstra transfer Vukasin Masic.
Barron can talk for hours about the additions he’s made this season.
“I can’t tell you who my 13th player is right now,” Barron said, speaking to the depth of the Black Bears. “Some days, that same guy I say is my 13th player is my fifth-best player.”
However, things will still revolve around Stephane Ingo and LeChaun DuHart, as they combined to average over 21 points per game last season.
The added depth will help shoulder the load and keep those guys fresh throughout the season.
Whatever LeChaun DuHart had for breakfast is what I want for breakfast every day
— Maine Men’s Basketball (@MaineMBB) December 22, 2020
The biggest strength for the Black Bears this upcoming season will be the team’s size.
“I would put our front line against just about anybody in New England,” Barron said. “I don’t care if it’s UConn, UMass, Boston College or anybody in our conference.”
A bold claim, but one that can be backed up. Efretuei is 7-foot-1, Ingo is 6-foot-9, Turkish incomer Ata Turgut is 6-foot-9, freshman Kristians Feierbergs is 6-foot-8 and they even have a 6-foot-10 walk-on in Canadian Milos Nenadic.
Moreover, these are all players “who are skilled, can shoot 3’s and handle the ball,” Barron said.
The 2021-22 Black Bears are as deep and versatile as America East teams come.
“We’ve filled the roster with legitimate, scholarship players,” Barron said. “And many of them are guys that have college experience, so there’s a level of confidence you have in their ability because they’ve proven it already.”
The River Hawks were the Northeast’s most exciting team in March last year.
All-conference scorer Obadiah Noel got hot — along with Connor Withers — to lead UMass Lowell to its first-ever conference title game.
The River Hawks fell to Hartford’s defense in that title game and now Noel is gone, along with backcourt teammate Bryce Daley (due to medical hardship).
But there’s hope for the River Hawks moving forward.
“Lowell lost a great player in Obadiah Noel,” Barron agrees. “But sometimes that means other people step up.”
For that, I’d again look at Withers. But also, sophomore Kalil Thomas, a 6-foot-5 wing who shot an absurd 45% from 3 last season.
Kalil Thomas sinks the Crocea Mors deep into the heart of New Hampshire, giving UMass-Lowell the insurance it needed to continue its furthest-ever run in the #AEHoops Tournament. pic.twitter.com/nRKrx320kf
— Andy Dieckhoff (@andrewdieckhoff) February 28, 2021
In his job to replace the irreplaceable, Pat Duquette dipped into the transfer portal and pulled out some solid players.
Look for La Salle transfer and athletic point guard Ayinde Hikim to run the offense, while USC Upstate transfer Everette Hammond plays off ball in the backcourt.
While Lowell was somewhat dependent on Noel last season, the offense is still electric. If Hikim can duplicate even half of Noel’s production from last season, this is a top-tier America East team.
Teams Not Mentioned
Again, there’s a ton of unpredictability in the America East this season. Barron has some comments on that:
- “Albany has a new staff and a lot of roster turnover.”
- “Binghamton has a new staff but not so much roster turnover.”
- “NJIT had a lot of turnover but did bring in some key transfers.”
As a loyal America East basketball fan, this is one of the more exciting conference seasons I can remember. There’s a lot to look forward to, and it’s worth hopping on someone’s bandwagon.
“Get behind a team and stick behind them,” Barron said. “Stay with them, follow them and get to know the players. You get more bang for your buck at our level as a fan than at any other level.”
I agree, Coach Barron. Let’s get ready for an amazing America East season.