- 'No Lamb, No Problem': The Catamounts continued their dominance of the America East, despite their POTY candidate tallying a grand total of 11 minutes in conference action. The bruising sophomore missed the entire America East slate with a fractured foot, which many thought would make the league race a bit more enticing – but John Becker and the well-oiled Catamounts didn’t skip a beat. A stunning home letdown against Hartford – who snuck up on plenty of team this year – was the only hiccup separating Vermont from their 2nd straight undefeated conference season.
- 'Head-scratching Hawks': It was truly a tale of two seasons for Hartford. The 'B.C.' ('Before Christmas') portion of the slate played out as most experts predicted with the Hawks stumbling to a 7-7 record despite playing one of the softest schedules in the country. So if you would've told me that Hartford team - the same team that lost to Bryant at home - would end Vermont's 28-game conference winning streak and finish ahead of Albany, Stony Brook and New Hampshire in the final standings, I would've referred you to the nearest psychiatrist.
- 'Albany Ailing': Ok fine, so that headline is probably a bittt of a stretch - but for a squad that brought back one the better backcourts in the entire country, along with some promising pieces along the frontline, a 4th place finish should be evaluated as 'failing to meet expectations'. The real body blow came when the Great Danes let a double-digit lead slip away at home in the rematch against Vermont, stunting what could've been a real momentum builder during the stretch run of the season. The advanced metrics still see the Danes as the 2nd best team in the league, but the 4th place finish sets them up for an early date with Goliath in the semis - that is, assuming they get by Stony Brook in the opening round.
All games will be played at the higher seeds home court, which puts Vermont in a commanding position to repeat as America East tournament champs.
What to Watch:
- The looming semifinal showdown between Vermont and Albany should be an absolute delight. The Catamounts should be favored by a comfortable margin playing at home, but the Great Danes came just 3 points shy of spoiling Vermont's near-perfect season last year. The health and effectiveness of Anthony Lamb (played 11 minutes in his return to the hardwood last week) and Travis Charles (status remains uncertain) will be major factors for both squads, so keep an eye out for if and how much each plays throughout the tournament.
Who will win:
- Vermont: As much as I drank the Albany kool-aid al year long, derailing the Catamounts on their home floor feels insurmountable - especially now with Lamb getting injected back into the core rotation.
If not them, then...
- Albany or UMBC: What distinguishes the Danes and the Retrievers from the rest of the America East field (excluding Vermont) is their dynamic, veteran backcourts - the only scenario in which I see Vermont losing would be if one of these terrific perimeter tandems has an offensive explosion while also keeping the Catamounts' catalyst Trae Bell-Haynes in check.