University at Albany drew praise for its successful early ticket sales as host of this season’s America East Conference tournament, but the Great Danes got little respect in the preseason coaches’ poll during Monday’s media day at the Fort Orange Club.
The Great Danes, who were tied for second last season and finished 15-15 overall, were picked to finish sixth in the poll. Boston University was chosen to finish first for the second consecutive year, and
received five first-place votes. Vermont was picked to finish second, and earned four first-place votes.
Hartford, last season’s runner-up, and defending champion University of Maryland Baltimore County were third and fourth, respectively, followed by Binghamton.
The poll was taken before the recent announcement that Virginia transfer Will Harris earned a hardship waiver and will be able to play for the Great Danes this season rather than sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules.
“Polls don’t mean anything,” said UAlbany head coach Will Brown. “They were done a month ago, before all the recruiting. The poll was based on all the returning guys each team had. In fact, maybe we were picked too high. I wouldn’t have minded if we were picked eighth or ninth.”
UAlbany won two of the last three America East Conference titles, but lost first-team all-league performer Brian Lillis to graduation. Lillis was one of 10 players in the country to lead his team in scoring, rebounding and assists. Brent Wilson, a solid double-figure scorer and three-point shooter, and three-point specialist Jon Iati also graduated, while several other players either left the team or were asked to leave. That means that there are seven new players on the roster.
Leading returning players include senior forward Brian Connelly, who scored 10.1 points per game and shot .476 from the floor, and shooting guard Tim Ambrose, who averaged 7.6 ppg and made the all-rookie team a year ago. Harris, a 6-foot-6 versatile forward who played two seasons at Virginia, and point guard Anthony Raffa are the key new faces for the Danes.
“The league might be as balanced as it ever has been,” said Brown. “If we stay healthy, we can compete with anybody.”
Brown said this year’s team will run the floor and look for quick shooting opportunities.
“Last year’s team was like sitting in a dentist’s chair without novacaine,” said Brown. “If we didn’t have a shot clock, we would have held the ball forever. This year’s team wants to run and shoot. I’ll have to live with all the quick shots, as long as we rebound and defend.”
The Great Danes already have a pair of preseason injuries to freshman swingman Logan Aronhalt and to Raffa, who will share the point-guard duties with junior transfer Michael Johnson.
“Raffa was on crutches Sunday. He has a high-ankle sprain, and I’m not sure he’ll be ready for our next scrimmage,” said Brown. “I need him to be 100 percent before I put him on the court.”
The same is true for Harris, who is not in game shape yet.
“Will is not in good shape. He thought he was going to miss the entire season, so he is a little
behind, condition-wise. When he’s in top shape, he’ll be as good as any player in the league.”
Brown said UAlbany is thrilled to be this year’s America East Conference tournament host.
“We welcome the responsibility with open arms,” he said. “We are going to put forth a first-class event. In Albany, the America East Conference tournament can thrive. It’s important that we’re successful, though. If we win games, there will be big crowds.”
According to America East Conference commissioner Patrick Nero, more than 1,000 all-session tournament passes have already been sold. This is the earliest that many tickets have been sold in conference tournament history.
Boston University head coach Dennis Wolff said he didn’t care where his team finished in the poll.
“I put zero weight in the preseason poll,” he said. “Every team in the league has good coaches, and there is an increased talent pool this year. I think Vermont, UMBC and Binghamton could be good, and New Hampshire should be very improved.”
UAlbany was shut out of the preseason all-conference team. Junior guard Corey Lowe of Boston University, junior guard Joe Zeglinski of Hartford, junior guard Jay Greene of UMBC, junior forward Marqus Blakely of Vermont and senior guard Mike Trimboli of Vermont made the team. Lowe and Blakely were unanimous selections.
Lowe averaged 18.1 points and 6.2 assists for the Terriers. He was also among NCAA leaders with 3.54 three-pointers a game. His 92 treys tied for third best in league history.
Zeglinski, who averaged 16.2 ppg and sank 103 three-pointers, helped the Hawks set a program record for wins (18). Hartford reached the conference tournament championship game for the first time in 20 seasons.
Greene led UMBC to 24 victories. He was the MVP of the conference tournament, and was fourth in the country in assists (236) and second in assist-to-turnover ratio.
Trimboli averaged 17.9 points and 4.5 assists for the Catamounts. He was also the league’s top free-throw shooter (86.4 percent).
Blakely was both the America East Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. The 6-5 forward averaged 19.9 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots per game.
Boston U (5) 59
Vermont (4) 55
New Hampshire 24
Stony Brook 10
First-place votes in parentheses.
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