- Matt Cox
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Anthony Lamb, Jr., Vermont
Coach of the Year: Ryan Odom, UMBC
Newcomer of the Year: Christian Lutete, R Jr., UMass Lowell
Co-Freshmen of the Year: Cameron Healy, Albany / Sam Sessoms, Binghamton
1. Catamounts Keep On Cruisin’
However, you define ‘dynasty’, what John Becker is building in Burlington is approaching that threshold. Three seasons. Three America East championships. The common denominator during this unprecedented run? Anthony Lamb. The 6’6 230 pound freak of nature has blossomed from an off-the-bench secret weapon to a known commodity on the national stage as he now enters the latter days of his junior campaign. Even in a well-balanced, ‘democratic’ offense, Becker has leaned on Lamb to put the Catamounts on his burly shoulders for almost three years now. With his superior size, quick lateral agility and supreme skillset, Lamb is simply unguardable 1-on-1 in the America East. Becker now runs the offense through Lamb as a nominal point forward, which enables Lamb to show off his exceptional vision and precise passing from the mid and low post areas. And with an improved jump shot that now extends well beyond the 3-point line, you have to wonder if there’s anything else Lamb can realistically add to an already robust offensive arsenal.
2. Retrievers Keep On Barkin’
After etching their names into the college basketball record books last March, the Retrievers set out to prove that last season’s fairytale was no fluke. Despite waving goodbye to two offensive catalysts in KJ Maura and Jairus Lyles this summer, the Retrievers nearly matched the bar set by last year’s historic squad. And while their national reputation will always be tied to the win over Virginia, they’re slowly rebranding themselves as the ‘Catamounts’ Kryptonite’ within the America East.
During Vermont’s tear through the America East over the last three seasons, the Catamounts have lost five times – three of those have been at the hands of the Retrievers, including both meetings this season and the memorable Jairus Lyles back-breaking buzzer beater last year.
3. Bill Sings the Blues
On a more somber note, watching Bill Herrion and the Wildcats fade so quickly into America East irrelevancy was a tough sight to see this year. Herrion has been synonymous with the New Hampshire basketball brand name for nearly a decade and a half, a program that was a punching bag before his arrival. Herrion’s two predecessors Jeff Jackson and Phil Rowe combined to win just 26% of their games from 1996 before Herrion took the wheel in 2005. Since then, the Wildcats have eclipsed the .500 mark in conference play five different times, a commendable achievement at a such a tough place to win.
This season, those dark days of despair pre-Herrion resurfaced, mostly due to a complete roster overhaul that left just two players of marginal importance from last season for Herrion to work with. Constrained by a patched up roster with seemingly no playmakers or shooters, the Wildcats’ offense went from bad to pitiful in a hurry – New Hampshire posted an adjusted offensive efficiency of 84.6 points per 100 possessions, good for dead last in the entire country. Here’s to hoping Herrion and the Wildcats bounce back next year and erase the haunting memories of this forgettable season.
Another classic low-major tournament format here with all games being played at the highest seed’s venue. Only the top-8 teams qualify, which leaves New Hampshire out in the cold after a choppy transition year for Bill Herrion in Durham, NH.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
With the national equity Vermont has built up as a perennial mid-major powerhouse, John Becker has been able to go out and schedule a vigorous non-conference slate, paving the way for multiple chances at big wins early in the season. The months of November and December can be unforgiving, with excessive travel demands quickly taking a toll on the body and mind as the days and miles slowly pile up. Yet, that brutal schedule is precisely what positions the Catamounts for a favorable seed in March.
During December, Vermont rattled off consecutive wins against George Mason, Harvard, Northeastern and St. Bonaventure, precisely why most bracketologists project the Catamounts to wind up on the 13-seed line when the brackets are released - that is, assuming they hold serve at home in the tournament.
Dark Horse Team
While the aforementioned Retrievers would be a good bet here, as would the Jeff Boals-coached Stony Brook Seawolves who went gangbusters during the non-conference slate, the Hartford Hawks are my choice to make a deep run. Granted, all roads lead through Vermont and beating the Catamounts in their building is a tall task, but if there’s a team that won’t be fazed by the high stakes, it’s the senior-laden Hawks.
Hartford posted the highest offensive efficiency in the America East this season, fueled by a lights out shooting triumvirate of JR Lynch, Jason Dunne and Travis Weatherington. This perimeter trio plays around and off of a formidable front line tandem of John Carroll and George Blagojevic, a pair of skilled low-post scorers inside. According to kenpom.com, this core 5 plays nearly half of all possible minutes for the Hawks, as coach John Gallagher has opted to put all his chips in with this decorated senior class.
(1) Vermont over (8) Maine
(2) Stony Brook over (7) Binghamton
(3) UMBC over (6) Albany
(4) Hartford over (5) UMass Lowell
(1) Vermont over (4) Hartford
(2) Stony Brook over (2) UMBC
(1) Vermont over (2) Stony Brook