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Hopes Are High On Eve Of College Basketball Season

A UVM-UAlbany basketball game at SEFCU Arena.
Ian Pickus
A UVM-UAlbany basketball game at SEFCU Arena.

No one has won, no one has lost, and March feels like a lifetime away. But, on the eve of another college basketball season, coaches in the Northeast are getting ready.

More than 350 teams will be whittled down to 68 when it’s time for the NCAA tournament selection show March 15th. And Albany’s Times Union Center will be hosting the men’s tourney for the first time in 17 years.

Before all that — the non-conference schedule and then league play.

Just before opening night, the men’s basketball coaches in the America East Conference talked about their rosters and their expectations on a conference call.

Reigning champion Vermont is the unanimous pick to repeat in the preseason coaches’ poll.

One reason for that: star Anthony Lamb is back for his senior season rather than remaining in the NBA draft. And not surprisingly, he was picked for the pre-season all-conference team.

Catamounts coach John Becker says UVM is well aware of the hype around his program.

“Fortunately we’ve become accustomed to the expectations," he said. "A lot of times, the anxiety and the pressure of expectations filters down from the coaches. I think our guys have done a good job of staying humble and level-headed and not really buying into it. And as a coaching staff, with the experience, the continuity that I’m fortunate to have with my staff, we’re able to handle it much better.”

Frequent Vermont rival UAlbany was picked fourth in the preseason poll coming off a 12-20 season. Head coach Will Brown is entering his 19th season, and is eager to get back on the court Nov. 9.

“We’re still young even though those guys gained an awful lot of experience," he said. "It’s the old saying: the best thing about freshmen is that they become sophomores.”

One of those sophomores is guard Cameron Healy, the latest in UAlbany’s long line of Australian imports whose shooting prowess as a freshman wowed the league last year. He is also a pre-season all-conference pick.

The Great Danes also got some good news when Nevada transfer Jojo Anderson, who was expected to miss the entire season, found out he can play this year after all following knee surgery.

“I still think right now if we had to play a game today, six of our top nine guys will be freshmen or sophomores," Brown said. "So, you know, the future is very, very bright for us, but I think we’ll win an awful lot of games this year if we can stay healthy, and if we get JoJo Anderson back, who had surgery on Tuesday, we’ll be very, very good.”

Elsewhere in the league, Hartford is picked to finish tied for sixth. Coach John Gallagher is entering his 10th year and is still looking for his first trip to the NCAA tourney.

“We have a real mix of guys that we’re just trying to figure rotation out. But we’re not one of those teams, I think, come January, February, where you’re going to say, ‘That’s a win,’” Gallagher said.

One unknown for all of Division I college basketball entering the season is the impact of the new, deeper 3-point line. The NCAA moved it back to 22 feet, 1¾ inches – the international distance — this season. It goes into effect next year in Division II and Division III.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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