Top of the O26 Class: Ivy, MAAC, America East, NEC & Patriot

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 22nd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Northeastern U.S: the America East, Ivy League, Metro Atlantic, Northeast Conference and Patriot League.

Top Units

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-2015. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Harvard is the Ivy League favorite again in 2014-15. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

Ivy League

  • Harvard – 2013-14 record: 27-5 (13-1). After failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for 66 straight years, Harvard suddenly finds itself in position to reach a fourth straight Big Dance. But just as times have changed, so have expectations — not only is Tommy Amaker’s club tabbed to win another Ivy League title, many expect it to do more damage in the postseason. Those lofty expectations can be largely attributed to the return of Siyani Chambers and Wesley Saunders, one of the top backcourt duos in the nation. Chambers is a precocious third-year point guard who has proven himself to be a gifted distributor and quality outside shooter (40.2% 3FG on his career), while Saunders is the team’s top scorer, best perimeter defender and reigning conference Player of the Year. And yet, despite those two, Harvard’s biggest strength might actually be in its frontcourt, which features a deep stable of athletic forwards who should wear down Ivy opponents in the paint. Best among them is Steve Moundou-Missi, a 6’7″ Cameroonian who logged a double-double against Michigan State in the Round of 32 last March. Jonah Travis, Evan Cummins, Kenyatta Smith, Zena Edosomwan — the list of expected contributors seems endless, and if the Crimson can avoid injury to its guards, a sustained presence in the Top 25 is a legitimate possibility.
  • Yale2013-14 record: 19-14 (9-5). Yale was the only Ivy League unit to knock off the Crimson last season, so with the majority of its starting five back, the Bulldogs should present the most serious threat to Harvard’s crown. Most crucial among the returnees is Justin Sears, a 6’8″ junior who was something of a statistical machine last season: The forward averaged nearly 17 points and seven rebounds per game, ranked in the top 100 nationally in block rate and drew over seven fouls per 40 minutes. With Javier Duren (13.6 PPG) pacing things in the backcourt and veteran guys like Armani Cotton and Matt Townsend shoring things up down low, Yale fans can expect another top-three Ivy League finish.

  • Columbia2013-14 record: 21-13 (8-6). The Lions took a hit when news broke over the weekend that senior guard Meiko Lyles was no longer with the team — he was an important contributor for Kyle Smith last year — but that should not diminish expectations entering 2014-15. Forward Alex Rosenberg is back after averaging 16.0 points per game and garnering First Team All-Ivy honors. Guard Maodo Lo made the Second Team, and he’s back too. Center Corey Osetkowski, who flashed impressive versatility for a player his size (6’10”), also returns to the fold. With the majority of production returning, the methodical, three-point heavy Columbia offense that frustrated teams like Michigan State, St. John’s and Harvard last year should be even better this season. Another 20+ win campaign is probably in the cards; whether the Lions can challenge Harvard for the conference title remains to be seen.

Metro Atlantic

  • Iona2013-14 record: 22-11 (17-3). Tim Cluess has turned Iona into a perennial MAAC power since taking over for Kevin Willard in 2011, reeling off four straight 20+ win seasons and twice reaching the NCAA Tournament. And despite losing Sean Armand and Tra Bowman to graduation this year — a pair of guards who accounted for 31.4 points per game and 164 combined threes in 2013-14—the Gaels are again favorites to win the league. That’s due in part to Cluess’ offensive system, which has yielded four straight top-30 finishes in offensive efficiency despite personnel turnover but also because several really good players return. All-MAAC First Team point guard A.J. English is back (17.7 PPG, 4.3 APG) along with the remarkably efficient Isaiah Williams, while skilled forward David Laury might be the conference’s best big man. Add Marshall transfer Kelvin Amayo to the backcourt and Longwood transplant Jeylani Dublin to the frontcourt mix, and Iona should have enough skill and depth to win the league. And if things break right, there is no reason they can’t give someone fits in the NCAA Tournament too.
  • Siena2013-14 record: 20-18 (11-9). Siena made huge strides towards the end of last year, winning its last four MAAC regular season contests, earning a CBI bid, then knocking off Stony Brook, Penn State, Illinois State and Fresno State twice en route to a postseason title. Year one under Jimmy Patsos was a marked success, but year two might be even better. The Saints were one of the youngest teams in the country last season, featuring a pair of true freshman starters and not a single senior, so the entire rotation remains intact entering this fall. Rob Poole, a 6’5″ senior, will again lead the way offensively, while Brett Bisping — who averaged 14.8 points and 7.7 boards per game last February and March — seems well on his way to becoming an All-MAAC-caliber big man. But for a unit that already includes nine players averaging 10+ minutes per game and which only adds contributors to the mix this season, it’s depth that we think will enable Siena to finish ahead of teams like Saint Peter’s and Quinnipiac in the league standings.

America East

Jameel Warney could lead Stony Brook to an America East title this season. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Jameel Warney could lead Stony Brook to an America East title this season. (Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

Stony Brook2013-14 record: 23-11 (13-3). Head coach Steve Pikiell has turned the Seawolves into one of the most successful programs in the America East, but that success has yet to translate into an NCAA Tournament appearance. Whether that changes this season depends on how Stony Brook performs in the league tournament, of course, but the presence of Jameel Warney should help the cause. The 6’8″, 260-pound junior is the conference’s best player, a load underneath who utilizes his wide array of post moves just as well as he does his size and strength — skills which earned him America East Player of the Year honors a year ago. So despite significant losses in the backcourt — Dave Coley and Anthony Jackson graduated (22.9 combined points per game) and freshman Ahmad Walker transferred — Warney and lightning-quick guard Carson Puriefoy are good enough to vault Pikiell’s crew atop the league standings. Hartford could be Stony Brook’s toughest challenger.

Northeast Conference

Saint Francis-Brooklyn2013-14 record: 18-4 (9-7). The NEC is wide open in 2014-15 and there are really four or five teams capable of winning the league, but Saint Francis-Brooklyn is probably the best of the bunch on paper. Numerous top contributors return to a stingy defensive unit that defeated Miami (FL) last season and gave Syracuse all kinds of trouble in the Carrier Dome. Top among them are point guard Brent Jones and All-NEC first team forward Jalen Cannon, a Player of the Year candidate who racked up nine double-doubles last year. Shot-blocking maven Andy Fall could also emerge as a solid contributor in the paint. Despite graduating outside shooter Ben Mockford and losing forward Wayne Martin to transfer, Glenn Braica has a team good enough to win the NEC title.

Patriot League

American 2013-14 record: 20-13 (13-5). The loss of Tony Wroblicky will be huge for Mike Brennan’s club, both literally and figuratively; the 6’11” big man was the defensive centerpiece for one of the best defenses at the mid-major level, boasting a stellar block rate and limiting interior baskets. He was also a major offensive contributor (12.2 PPG) for last season’s Patriot champs, an important reason American ranked eighth in the country in two-point percentage. Still, the rest of the starting five is back, including point guard Darius ‘Pee-Wee’ Gardner and leading scorer Jesse Reed, who shot an incredible 45.8 percent from behind the arc last season. If the Eagles can find a reliable big man to replace Wroblicky (several guys are in the mix, including two transfers), expect Brennan’s tough, well-coached unit to hold off Lafayette and other top challengers.

Top Players

Bryant shooting guard Dyami Starks is a scoring machine. (BryantBulldogs.com)

Bryant shooting guard Dyami Starks is a scoring machine. (BryantBulldogs.com)

  • Wesley SaundersHarvard. Saunders is the complete package, last year averaging 14.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and nearly two steals per contest. He is also a premier defender — in the Crimson’s 61-57 upset over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament, Saunders helped limit first team All-American Sean Kilpatrick to just seven points in the second half.
  • Justin SearsYale. If Saunders does not repeat as Ivy League Player of the Year, it might be because Sears has stolen the crown. He combined for 49 points and 24 rebounds in a pair of games against Harvard last season, just two among many outstanding performances from the physical forward. It’s safe to expect plenty of points, rebounds, free throw attempts and blocked shots from the senior once again in 2014-15.
  • A.J. EnglishIona. English enjoyed a breakout campaign last year, taking over as starting point guard and scoring north of 17 points per game along the way. If he can improve his outside shooting a bit — he took a whopping 237 threes in 2013-14 but only hit 35 percent of them — the junior is in position to become MAAC Player of the Year.
  • Jameel WarneyStony Brook. When Stony Brook played Indiana last November, Warney looked like he belonged, even against guys like Noah Vonleh. That’s because the imposing junior is more than just a large body — he possesses refined low-post skills that make him a difficult match-up for anyone, and virtually unguardable in the America East.
  • Dyami StarksBryant. Jalen Cannon might be the best player in the NEC, but Starks — a prolific scorer — is right up there with him. The shooting guard averaged roughly 19 points per contest last season and scored 30+ five different times. It is almost a foregone conclusion that Starks will lead the conference in scoring in 2014-15.
  • Seth HinrichsLafayette. The Leopards will contend for the Patriot League title this season and Hinrichs is a big reason why. At 6’7″, his ability to shoot from the outside, post up, hit free throws and score just from just about anywhere makes him among the best and most versatile players in the conference.

High-Flyers

  • Chavaughn LewisMarist.  Not only is Lewis his team’s leading scorer and one of the best players in the MACC, he is also capable of throwing down monster jams like this one against Monmouth last season. Keep an eye out for the 6’5″ swingman.
  • Dwaun AndersonWagner. Bashir Mason may have lost a bunch of players to graduation, but he does welcome back Anderson and his ridiculous athleticism. The former Michigan State transfer delivered one of the most thunderous alley-oop dunks in college basketball last season and is sure to be one of the Seahawks’ best players in 2014-15.
  • Malcolm MillerHoly Cross. Miller might be the Patriot League’s most athletic player, so more awesome tip-slams are probably on the horizon for the 6’7″ senior.

Coach on the Rise

Andy Toole will be a coveted head coach if he leads Robert Morris to even more success in 2014-2015. (Charles LeClaire-USA Today Sports)

Andy Toole will be a coveted head coach if he leads Robert Morris to even more success in 2014-2015. (Charles LeClaire-USA Today Sports)

Andy TooleRobert Morris. He’s young, he’s sharp and he wins a lot of basketball games. At just 34 years old, Toole has already racked up two regular season NEC titles, three 20+ win seasons and four postseason victories since taking over as the Colonials’ head coach in 2011. Among the postseason triumphs was the infamous home upset over Kentucky in first round of the 2013 NIT and last year’s win over St. John’s at Carnesecca Arena. Needless to say, the coach has accomplished quite a lot in only a few years. This season, though, Robert Morris loses NEC Player of the Year Karvel Anderson and point guard Anthony Myers-Pate to graduation, so another conference championship — or even 20 wins — is far from guaranteed. If Toole is able to reload, finish atop the league standings and clinch another postseason berth (perhaps this time in the NCAA Tournament), you can bet there will be numerous programs interested in the promising young head man.

Tommy Lemoine (215 Posts)


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