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America East Tournament Preview: Powerhouse Vermont has plenty of challengers

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Road teams won half of their conference games this season, which could set up a wild finish.

Vermont v Florida State Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

If you’re not a fan of an America East school, I know exactly what you’re thinking right now. It goes along the lines of “Vermont has that Anthony Lamb kid. How can they not win this league?”

The Catamounts actually tied their worst conference season in four seasons, losing two games, both of which came at home, where they’ll play all their conference tournament games. Along those lines, every team in this league has a piece that could push them into the big one. It is truly more than just a one horse race, and here’s how it sets up.

Bracket

Schedule

Note: Higher seeds host each game. The Semifinals are reseeded

Quarterfinals (Saturday, March 7) - ESPN+

Game 1: No.5 New Hampshire at No.4 UMBC, 1:00 p.m.

Game 2: No.6 UMass Lowell at No.3 Hartford, 5:00 p.m.

Game 3: No.7 Albany at No.2 Stony Brook, 7:00 p.m.

Game 4: No.8 Maine at No.1 Vermont, 7:00 p.m.

Semifinals (Tuesday, March 10) - ESPN+

Game 5: Lowest Remaining Seed at Highest Remaining Seed, TBD

Game 6: 2nd Lowest Remaining Seed at 2nd Highest Remaining Seed, TBD

Finals (Saturday, March 14) - ESPN2

Game 7: Game 6 Winner vs Game 7 Winner, 11 a.m.

The Favorite

Vermont (24-7, 14-2): The Catamounts are quite possibly the biggest powerhouse in any conference in America. They haven’t had a losing season in the America East since 2005-06, and have made the NCAA Tournament four times. Leading Vermont this year is Anthony Lamb. He doesn’t have the stats that people were expecting out of him in the preseason, but he makes everyone better around him. He is one of two Catamounts to average double digit points at 16.5 points per game. Vermont has only one loss outside the KenPom top 190 (UMBC), having a solid 5-6 record against those opponents. UVM can both defend and shoot the close range shot, ranking 77th in the nation in effective field goal percentage and 9th in effective field goal percentage defense. The Catamounts had a signature win in early November when Lamb beat St.John’s at the buzzer.

The Dark Horses

Stony Brook (19-12, 10-6): Stony Brook is one of two teams to beat Vermont this season in conference play. Elijah Olaniyi and one of the nation’s better three-point shooters — Makale Foreman — combined for 51 points in that game. There on out, SBU must have believed it had a fighting chance to win the conference. Leading the Seawolves is aforementioned Olaniyim who averages a stellar 18.2 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Behind him, Andrew Garcia and Foreman each average double digit points too. The bad news for SBU is they’ve lost four of the last seven. The good news is they beat Albany — their quarterfinal opponent — in both season matchups.

Hartford (16-15, 9-7): When Hartford is on its game, watch out. The only problem is, you don’t know what Hawks team you’re getting, night in, night out. Hartford lost all five of its starters from a year ago, but head coach John Gallagher went out and got some big power conference transfers. Leading UH is former Pitt and St. John’s forward, Malik Ellison. He is the only Hawk to average double figure scoring at 18.9 points per game, along with being the only player in the league averaging a double double, with 10.3 rebounds per game. Hartford also has former La Salle and Marquette guard Traci Carter on its roster.

UMBC (15-16, 8-8): You can never count out Ryan Odom’s Retrievers. After a poor 2-6 start to conference play, the Retrievers finished the season 6-2 with their two losses being strangely enough against the bottom two teams in the conference. Leading the Retrievers are guards K.J. Jackson and R.J. Eytle-Rock. After a poor January, Jackson has rebounded, scoring double digits in the last eight games of the regular season. Eytle-Rock has been a key grinder and is always there when they need a big pass or three pointer. Big men Brandon Horvath and Dimitrije Spasojevic are nothing to overlook either. Horvath has five double doubles on the season, and can have a deadly three-point shot when hot. Spasojevic has a smooth hook shot, as can score loads on points in a row. UMBC is also the only team in the conference to beat all top three teams, and all in an impressive fashion.

The Long Shots

UMass Lowell (13-18, 7-9) UMass Lowell is yet to win an America East conference tournament game, but depending on which Hartford team they face on Saturday, they have a chance to pick up history. They beat the Hawks at their place by seven and have two of the best scorers in the league in Obadiah Noel and Christian Lutete.

Albany (14-17, 7-9) Those who wanted to be different in the preseason chose Albany to take home the America East crown. That wasn’t looking too bad in early January, but since their overtime win against New Hampshire on January 15th, UA is 4-9 which included a five-game losing streak to end the regular season, losing all but one by double digits. This is due to injuries, especially one to their star Cam Healy (13.8 PPG). He’s playing, but he’s just not the same. On the bright side, as John Feinstein said on Tuesday night “You can never count out a Will Brown team.”

Players to Watch

  • Anthony Lamb, Vermont (16.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 40.8% FG%)
  • Stef Smith, Vermont (14.2 PPG, 46.4 FG%)
  • Makale Foreman, Stony Brook (15.5 PPG, 36.4% FG%)
  • Elijah Olaniyi, Stony Brook (18.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 44.4% FG%)
  • Malik Ellison, Hartford (18.9 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 51.8% FG%)
  • K.J. Jackson, UMBC (13.9 PPG, 4.3 APG, 44.1% FG%)
  • Dimitrije Spasojevic, UMBC (9.1 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 60.8% FG%)
  • Christian Lutete, UMass Lowell (19.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 51.2% FG%)
  • Obadiah Noel, UMass Lowell (18.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 48.4% FG%)
  • Ahmad Clark, Albany (16.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 4.1 APG, 39.9% FG%)
  • Cam Healy, Albany (13.8 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 37.5% FG%)
  • Sergio El Darwich, Maine (14.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 42.2% FG%)
  • Andrew Fleming, Maine (14.4 PPG, 6.2 RPG, 49.1% FG%)

Prediction

Ready for some madness? UMBC has won six of eight and those two losses were in a fluke week against the bottom two squads in the America East. They’re the only squad to beat both Stony Brook and Vermont. Their offense is clicking on all cylinders. This is just lining up for the Retrievers to upset Vermont in the semifinals and go into Long Island to upset Stony Brook.