With the start of college basketball’s regular season just over a week away, the America East Conference began a special campaign via social media. The #OurHouseRules campaign features each of the nine member schools, with a player (or players, in one instance thus far) from each team making a shot they’d use in a game of HORSE.
The schools are doing this in alphabetical order, so defending tournament champion Albany was first with senior guard Peter Hooley getting things going. Hooley, whose three-pointer in the final seconds of the America East title game sent the Great Danes to the NCAA tournament, successfully drop-kicked a shot in from just beyond half court.
UMBC, UMass-Lowell, New Hampshire, Stony Brook and Vermont are the five teams who have yet to submit their shots, with UMBC now on the clock to do so. This is a pretty cool idea, especially when it comes to getting the fan bases excited for the start of the season. Who doesn’t like a good trick shot?
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.
Cooper will be taking a leave of absence from the school as well, although Hartford’s head coach declined to comment on why the rising junior will be sitting out.
Hartford is coming off of a season in which they finished 10-6 in America East play and put together a second straight winning season for the first time in 16 years.
Cooper, a 6-foot-1 point guard from Texas, started 13 games as a sophomore and averaged 7.5 points. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility remaining if he makes it back to Hartford for the 2015-2016 season.
After averaging just over 15 minutes per game as a sophomore at New Mexico, 6-foot-3 guard Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas made the decision to leave Craig Neal’s program last week. Even with the departures of Cameron Bairstow, Alex Kirk and Kendall Williams, the Baton Rouge, La. product felt he needed to leave in order to reach his full potential as a basketball player.
Thomas is the second reported transfer to join the Hartford program this offseason, with former Eastern Michigan guard Jalen Ross being the other. Thomas started ten of the 34 games in which he played for New Mexico this past season, averaging 3.9 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.
Thomas reached double figures in five games last season, scoring a season-high 12 points in a tight win at Wyoming on January 8. He’ll have two seasons of eligibility at Hartford after sitting out the 2014-15 campaign per NCAA rules. Hartford has three guards who will have exhausted their eligibility when Thomas becomes eligible, with point guard Yolonzo Moore and shooting guards Wes Cole and Corban Wroe all being rising seniors.
Of the three Moore was the most productive last season, as he averaged 9.8 points and 2.8 assists per game. Hartford’s biggest personnel loss from last season is forward Oren Faulk, who made 17 starts but averaged just 3.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game.
For those who attempted to stay up for much (if not all) of Tuesday’s 24-hour college basketball marathon, getting through Wednesday was quite the task. So consider what the Hartford Hawks were confronted with: at 7:00 a.m. Tuesday Hartford’s game at FGCU tipped off, and after holding their own for much of the contest the Hawks fell by the final score of 65-51.
From Fort Myers head coach John Gallagher’s team hopped on a plane, with a game on Wednesday night at Fairfield next on the schedule. A quick turnaround for most teams would represent a near-impossible task but that wasn’t the case for Hartford, who beat the Stags 63-53 with big men Yasin Kolo (20 points, six rebounds) and Mark Nwakamma (17 points, 11 rebounds) leading the way.
A ten-point edge at the foul line (16-6) and their work on the defensive end, limiting Fairfield to 37.0% shooting from the field (37.1% on two-point shots), made the difference for a Hartford team playing its second game in 36 hours. And it’s not like the two locations were in the same neighborhood, with Mapquest calculating the distance from Fort Myers, Fla. to Bridgeport, Conn. to be over 1,300 miles. Sure the Hawks didn’t have to make the trek via bus, but their ability to win in spite of the irregular travel schedule should be commended.
And the Hawks won’t have much time to celebrate Wednesday’s result either, as they host Fairleigh Dickinson in their home opener on Friday.
After getting run out of the sparkling new Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday night, the FGCU Eagles entered Tuesday morning’s game against Hartford in need of a victory to avoid an 0-2 start to the Joe Dooley era. And in the first 20 minutes FGCU looked like a team that yearned for the comfort of their beds, trailing for much of the first half before taking a 27-26 lead into the halftime break.
Whatever was said in the locker room lit a fire under the Eagles, most notably senior forward Chase Fieler. After scoring a team-high ten points in the first half Fieler added 20 more in the second with a solid array of shots (and dunks), finishing with 30 points and 11 rebounds to lead FGCU (1-1) to the 65-51 victory. Fieler made 13 of his 18 shot attempts, bouncing back well after struggling mightily in FGCU’s loss at Nebraska.
As a team FGCU shot nearly 62% from the field in the second half, and their work to find higher-quality looks from the field was enough to offset the 23 points and nine rebounds put up by Hartford’s (0-2) Mark Nwakamma. FGCU’s effort on the defensive end shouldn’t be ignored either, as they forced nine second-half turnovers. Point guard Brett Comer, who turned the ball over six times against Nebraska, tallied eight points without a single turnover.
It’s always difficult to do too much reading into games like this, because the 7:00 a.m. start time is something foreign to all involved. But if FGCU is to win the Atlantic Sun and make another NCAA tournament appearance, the leadership of veterans such as Comer, Fieler and Bernard Thompson will be of high importance. After a sluggish first half, the Eagles “smelled the coffee” and took care of business.