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America East preview: Can UMBC rekindle some of that ‘18 magic?

Vermont and UMBC will meet for the third time in five seasons in the America East Championship

Jerome Kersey Classic Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

How To Watch

Location: Patrick Gymnasium, Burlington, Virginia

Tip Time: 11 a.m. EST

Television/Streaming: ESPN2/ESPN App

DraftKings Betting Line: Vermont -15.5, O/U 142.5

This is exactly what the America East wanted when the bracket was released, right? The top two teams who have become bitter rivals over the past four seasons will face off in the championship game for the third time in five seasons. Who will win the rubber match?

If anything goes like the regular-season sweep from Vermont, expect the Catamounts to clinch its third bid since 2017. If some Jairus Lyles-type voodoo stuff happens in Burlington again, expect to hear about the Retrievers and 5”2’ Darnell Rogers all week.

They do say it’s hard to beat a good team three times, especially in the month of March. John Becker and his team will put that to the test on Saturday morning.

UMBC

After a 1-4 start to America East play, the UMBC Retrievers have rallied off five in a row and 12 of its last 15 to make the America East title game. The Retrievers had no easy path doing so, either.

Last season, UMBC won a share of the America East title, falling in the semifinals to UMass Lowell. Those same Riverhawks would look to stun the Retrievers in this season’s quarterfinals and gave them one hell of a fight.

After falling down thirteen, UMass Lowell fought back and forced overtime with the Retrievers. Last season, UMBC led by sixteen in the second half, and blew it in regulation. Luckily for the Retrievers this season, they would outscore Lowell by eight in overtime, led by 5’2” Darnell Rogers’ 23 points. They have looked like a completely different basketball team since.

“People always just talk about his size but since I’ve been around him, I don’t recognize his size. Because he’s got toughness, he’s got speed, he’s a competitor and he really dug out in there and made plays,” Jim Ferry said about Darnell Rogers.

UMBC would yet again face a team that has given them troubles in the tournament, Hartford, in the semifinals. It was never close as Szymon Wojcik scored 19 points while making plays all over the court. The defense helped as well, shooting 37.5% from the field.

Now, UMBC will look to not only avoid the three-game season sweep against Vermont but take the championship game series against the Catamounts.

Earlier this season, UMBC was dominated in both games against Vermont the Catamounts, losing the most recent by 27.

“We have to play better than we did last time,” Ferry said on Wednesday, “We are going to have to focus on ourselves and everyone will have to be really connected.”

Vermont

This season was business per usual for the Vermont Catamounts. After not being picked first in the league’s preseason poll, Vermont rallied off a 17-1 conference record and two blowout tournament wins en route to yet another conference tournament title.

Defending its home court, a place the Catamounts are 15-0 this season, Vermont won its conference tournament games by 39 and 32.

It all starts in the frontcourt with its America East Player of the Year, Ryan Davis. He scored 32 points and picked up 10 rebounds in 41 minutes of the tournament.

Next to him, guard Ben Shungu dropped 38 points in two games and has been an outstanding cog to the Catamounts offense.

They’ll look to continue their blowout victories with another against the Retrievers on Saturday.

Prediction

This game has the recipe to be yet another Saturday morning thriller. They say it’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, but I think that won’t come into play. Both games were blowouts as UMBC was never really in it. If they pull off the upset, I’d be more shocked than during the Jairus Lyles shot. I say 88-70 Vermont, but don’t attack me if they pull off the upset, UMBC fans.