Does anyone really stand a chance against Vermont?
For the first time since 2015-16, the Catamounts were not picked as the preseason favorite in the America East, bit they shut those naysayers up with a 17-1 record. The only loss was against last year’s tournament champion, Hartford, and UVM was without conference player of the year Ryan Davis.
In the 17 wins, they won by an average of 17.6 points. The Catamounts, who currently sit 169 spots higher than anyone else in the league on KenPom, hold a six-game lead on the next team in the standings, UMBC.
It seems like Vermont’s tournament to lose.
The thing is, the same was said last season with Vermont and UMBC. Neither made the finals.
Note: All games are at higher seed.
Quarterfinals (Sunday, March 6), ESPN+
Game 1: No. 7 UMass Lowell vs. No. 2 UMBC, 1 p.m. EST
Game 2: No. 6 Binghamton vs. No. 3 New Hampshire, 1 p.m. EST
Game 3: No. 5 Albany vs. No. 4 Hartford, 2 p.m. EST
Game 4: No. 8 NJIT vs. No. 1 Vermont, 2 p.m. EST
Semifinals (Wednesday, March 9), ESPN+
Game 5: Lowest-remaining seed vs. Highest-remaining seed, 7 p.m. EST
Game 6: Second-lowest remaining seed vs. Second-highest remaining seed, 7 p.m. EST
Finals (Saturday, March 12), ESPN2
Game 7: Lowest-remaining seed vs. Highest-remaining seed, 11 a.m. EST
Vermont (25-5, 17-1): John Becker has had a lot of good teams in Burlington but this one could go down as his best yet.
The Catamounts have an adjusted efficiency of 11.24 and are a borderline bubble team, mostly because their only loss outside of the top 175 in NET was against Hartford. Along with that, they have the fourth-best two-point field goal percentage in the country, eighth-best effective field goal ranking, and their defense isn’t too bad either, ranking 88th in KenPom.
Davis is one of two double-digit scorers who shoot over 50% from the field. Ben Shungu is the other as he has scored double-digits in 18 straight games.
The road to the championship goes through Patrick Gymnasium, where Vermont is 13-0 this season.
UMBC (16-13, 11-7): Jim Ferry has come to Catonsville and picked up their winning ways without a hitch! The winningest first-conference season in Retriever history, they enter the tournament on a three-game winning streak in which they scored 78+ points in all. A lot of the scoring is through the three-ball, as UMBC sits 16th in the country in 3-point percentage. They also have not lost a game at home since January 19. UMBC is secured home-court advantage through the semifinals.
The Long Shots:
New Hampshire (15-12, 10-8): New Hampshire can kill its opponents with just how slow they play, ranked 353rd in the country in adjusted tempo. They also are one of the better ball control teams in the country, ranking 14th in offensive turnover percentage.
Hartford (11-19, 9-9): The only team to beat Vermont this season, Hartford will look for another NCAA Tournament bid before dropping down to Division III. Speaking of threes, the Hawks rank 19th in the country in just that.
As I said earlier, this is Vermont’s tournament to lose. I think the Catamounts breeze their way through and pick up their fifth NCAA Tournament bid under John Becker with a win over New Hampshire in the title game.