ALBANY, N.Y. – The University of Hartford men's basketball team was picked to finish seventh overall in the America East Conference by a vote of the league's head coaches. The preseason poll was announced at the 2012 America East Basketball Media Day on Wednesday at the University at Albany's SEFCU Arena, the site of the 2013 America East Men's and Women's Basketball Championship.
Coming off a season in which it won its fifth America East men's basketball crown since 2003, Vermont is the coaches' preseason choice to top the standings again in 2012-13. The Catamounts received five of eight possible first-place votes (coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams) and 60 points.
Following the Catamounts in the standings is Stony Brook, last year's conference runner-up and regular-season champion. The Seawolves claimed the remaining four first-place votes and finished with 58 points in the poll. With 49 points, Boston University came in third in the poll while Albany took fourth with 49 points. Maine was picked to finish fifth in the league with 35 points and New Hampshire was next with 24 points. Rounding out the preseason poll was Hartford (26), UMBC (15) and Binghamton (9).
Hartford returns seven student-athletes, including three starters, from a team that was the youngest in the league last year, finishing 9-22 in 2011-12. That season, freshmen accounted for more than 60 percent of the team's scoring output.
Highlighting the returners are Mark Nwakamma and Nate Sikma who return as sophomores after becoming the first Hartford duo to each earn America East All-Rookie honors in the same year last season.
Nwakamma emerged as a scorer last year, helping the Hawks conclude the season with a 9-9 mark after averaging 10.9 points per game in the final 18 games of the year, improving his scoring average from the first 13 games of the season by more than four points. Sikma averaged 8.6 points per game in his rookie campaign. He led the team's rebounding efforts with 4.3-per-game and was second on the team in assists with 67.
After playing mostly off the ball as a freshman, Hartford will look to Yolonzo Moore II to run the point in 2012-13. In his rookie campaign, he averaged 6.8 points per game and played in all 31 games, making starts in all but one.
Added to the mix of returners are sophomores Wes Cole, Jamie Schneck and Corban Wroe, who join juniors Glenn Akerland and Oren Faulk.
Cole led the team with 62 made three pointers while Schneck, who struggled through injuries in his freshman campaign, will look to add height and rebounding to the Hawks' frontcourt.
Third-year head coach John Gallagher and his staff welcomed five newcomers to the mix, including one Division I transfer that will be immediately eligible to play. John Peterson (Boca Raton, Fla.), a 6-7 fifth-year senior, spent the last four seasons at Samford University where he saw time in 76 games, averaging 4.0 points per game. Peterson's insertion in the rotation will not only give the team a much needed veteran presence, but will also add perimeter shooting and rebounding on the floor.
Four freshmen – Antoine Burrell (The Colony, Texas), Evan Cooper (Houston Texas), Taylor Dyson (Sassafras, Australia) and Parker U'u (Sacramento, Calif.) join the Hawks for the 2012-13 season as true freshmen. At 6-7 and 6-5 respectively, Burrell and U'u add height and rebounding to the lineup. U'u possesses the ability to knock down the three, an area where the Hawks struggled last year with a three-point shooting percentage of 31.0.
Dyson also has great range from downtown while Cooper is a versatile point guard who has the ability to score and get to the rim.
For the fourth-straight year, the new season will open with the Connecticut 6 Classic, an event that features six Division I men's basketball programs hailing from the Nutmeg State. Hartford, which tips-off against Quinnipiac on Saturday, November 10 against Quinnipiac on opening day, will have the benefit of playing in front of its home crowd as the Reich Family Pavilion has been selected as the host site of the Classic, marking the first time in the four-year history of the Classic that the three-game event has been held on a college campus.
The 2012-13 America East Championship is scheduled for March 8-10 at SEFCU Arena on the campus of the University at Albany. The title game will be played at the home court of the highest remaining seed on March 16.