Wednesday afternoon it was announced by the Maine basketball program that the team will not be playing its America East opener against Vermont on January 7 at Alfond Arena in Orono. Instead the game is being moved just over two hours south (southwest to be more specific) to Portland, where the game will be played at the Expo Center.
According to the Bangor Daily News it was head coach Bob Walsh who originally came up with the idea, with the program looking to reach out to fans in the southern portion of the state.
That’s definitely a positive for a Maine program that’s looking to rebuild, and connecting with their fan base in other parts of the state can help in that regard. However from a conference schedule standpoint the Black Bears will now play their first three America East games away from Orono.
The Vermont game is sandwiched in between games at Albany (January 3), which won the conference tournament last season, and Binghamton (January 10). Maine’s first conference game in Orono will be played on January 13, when UMass-Lowell visits Alfond Arena.
The major storyline entering the America East in the 2014-2015 season is if Stony Brook can finally get over the hump and make the program’s first NCAA Tournament. After four 20-win seasons in five years and multiple losses in the America East conference tournament title game, the Seawolves are the close favorites in a conference that loses some talented and experienced players.
Stony Brook and head coach Steve Pikiell return reigning conference player of the year Jameel Warney at forward and guard Carson Puriefoy and his 12.9 points and 43 percent three-point shooting to the rotation and gain some talented players as well. Redshirt freshman Roland Nyama is a high-upside athlete from Germany who could see significant minutes and Pikiell is expecting a potentially deep rotation.
Hartford likely poses as the biggest threat to Stony Brook as the Hawks will welcome back their top seven scorers from last season. Senior forward Mark Nwakamma is an all-league talent and Yolonzo Moore II and Wes Cole are an experienced senior back court. If there is one thing Hartford has to improve: rebounding. The Hawks were outglassed by an average of 4.3 rebounds per game last year.
Albany is always stronger as the season goes on under head coach Will Brown, and they’ve won the America East conference tournament title four times — including last season — to only one league regular season title. Junior guard Peter Hooley and senior wing forward Sam Rowley both return for the Great Danes and that should give them a good start to build one.
After winning 22 games a season ago, Vermont loses six seniors and its top four scorers, but the program hasn’t had a losing record in league play since 2005-06 and returns some talent. Junior forward Ethan O’Day and senior forward Hector Harold is the foundation of an experienced front court and Vermont also has a decent recruiting class.
Binghamton and UMBC will compete in the America East thanks to all-league guards. The Bearcats have 6-foot-4 guard Jordan Reed while UMBC returns league Rookie of the Year Rodney Elliot.
PRESEASON AMERICA EAST PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jameel Warney, Stony Brook
The reigning America East Player of the Year is only a junior and the 6-foot-8 forward has shot 61 percent from the field in both of his seasons at Stony Brook. Warney averaged 14.5 points, 8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game last season and is one of the most dominant offensive forces in the conference.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-AMERICA EAST TEAM:
Mark Nwakamma, Hartford – The 6-foot-8 senior forward was a first-team All-America East selection last season after averaging 15.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Peter Hooley, Albany – The 6-foot-4 junior guard averaged 15.5 points per game last season and will be the Great Danes’ key player this season.
Jordan Reed, Binghamton – Another 6-foot-4 junior guard, Reed totaled 15.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game while upping his three-point percentage to 35 percent from 13.
Rodney Elliott, UMBC – The 6-foot sophomore is the reigning America East Rookie of the Year after averaged 15 points, 3.6 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
With guard Xavier Pollard and wing Dmitry Akanda-Coronel having decided to transfer, new Maine head coach Bob Walsh will begin his tenure without two of the Black Bears’ top three scorers from a season ago. The question for Walsh and his staff was whether or not Maine would actually be without three of its top four scorers, with guard Shaun Lawton asking for and receiving a release from his scholarship.
Walsh gave Lawton, who averaged 8.1 points and 4.2 assists per game last season, the time and space he needed to make a decision while doing some work himself to determine whether or not Lawton would be a good fit for the program moving forward.
Thursday it was reported by Pete Warner of the Bangor Daily News that Lawton will indeed return to Orono for his junior season, giving Maine some valuable experience as they look to improve upon last season’s 6-23 campaign. In the story Walsh praised Lawton for keeping on task academically during the period in which he was deciding whether or not to return to the program.
“I talked to his teammates, I talked to the administration and the people in the athletic department, the academic people,” Walsh explained. “I literally talked to anybody who knew him and said, tell me your take on him.”
Walsh said he supported Lawton’s wish to stay but asked him to mull it over before deciding.
“I didn’t want anybody who wasn’t totally committed,” Walsh said. “He thought about it, and he called me and he said, ‘Coach, I want to be a part of the culture that you’re going to build there.’ We’re happy that he’ll be with us.”
Also expected back is forward Zarko Valjarevic, who averaged 11.3 points per game in 2013-14. Maine announced the signing of two recruits last week, with guards Aaron Calixte and Kevin Little signing National Letters of Intent to join the program.