Basketball

Vermont leads the America East

Vermont leads the America East

Which conference is responsible for the only No. 16 seed to win a game in NCAA Tournament history? That would be East America, of course. That accomplishment came in 2018 when the UMBC Retrievers eliminated the Virginia Cavaliers, who entered the tournament as the top seed.

However, if things go as planned in the America East tournament, his representative will not be a 16 seed this time around. The Vermont Catamounts are one of the most intriguing teams in the mid-major conferences and are sure to be a popular pick when people fill their brackets in mid-March. However, to get there, Vermont will have to avoid getting tripped up in the conference tournament.

Ranking and structure for the America East tournament

The America East tournament begins Sunday with four first-round matchups. It’s a traditional group of eight teams with no bye. Eastern America likes to live dangerously. Each team will need to win three games to win the title.

Two conference teams will not participate in the tournament. Maine will be shut out due to their last-place finish while Stony Brook was banned from the tournament as he leaves the conference next season.

All matches will be played on the campus of the higher ranked team, which means that home court advantage is a factor when handicapping these matches. Here are the expected seeds for the tournament:

  1. Vermont (17-1 in conference)

  2. UMBC (11-7)

  3. Hartford (10-8)*

  4. New Hampshire (10-8)*

  5. Albany (9-9)

  6. Binghamton (8-10)

  7. INJI (6-12)*

  8. UMass-Lowell (6-12)*

* This ranking assumes Hartford defeats UMass-Lowell in Thursday’s regular season finale. If UMass-Lowell wins, flip Hartford and New Hampshire along with NJIT and UMass-Lowell. Hartford is a 1.5 point favorite on Thursday.

Vermont is a big favorite

No team is a bigger favorite to win their conference tournament than Vermont. According to TeamRankings.com, Vermont has a nearly 81% chance of cutting the nets. That’s a higher percentage than even Gonzaga in the WCC tournament. the The Catamounts are massive favoritesand it is deserved.

First and foremost, Vermont is one of the best middle schools in the country. Catamounts rank 68th in NET and 70th in KenPom Adjusted Efficiency. At one point, they won 14 straight games. Their only conference loss came on the road, in overtime and by a single point. In that game, Vermont was without leading scorer Ryan Davis as well as guard Finn Sullivan. Outside of that game, Vermont went 17-0 in conference play with an average winning margin of 17.6 points.

Ryan Davis and Vermont will be a popular pick in the NCAA Tournament if they win the America East Tournament. (Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

In addition to Vermont which is very good, the rest of Eastern America is not very good. While Vermont ranks in the top 70 at KenPom, New Hampshire is KenPom’s second best at 240. KenPom has Vermont 11.3 points better than an average team while New Hampshire is 5 .9 points less than an average team. In other words, there is a 17.2 point gap between Vermont and the next best team.

Somehow, Vermont was not the preseason favorite to win the conference. Instead, it was Stony Brook. While it may have been blatantly untrue in hindsight, Stony Brook is banned from the America East tournament, which means Vermont won’t have to worry about facing one of the best teams in the conference.

Can anyone challenge Vermont?

The chilling reality for teams like Vermont and South Dakota State in the Summit League is that their wonderful seasons can fall apart in an instant. While you could argue they might be deserving, the reality is that these teams don’t get a general offer if they get tripped up in their conference tournament. These conferences will send only one team to the NCAA Tournament and if Vermont is having a bad day, a team can rob them of that opportunity.

One team that might have a chance is Hartford. The Hawks represented America East in the NCAA Tournament in 2021 after defeating Vermont in the conference semifinals. Hartford is the only team to beat the Catamounts in conference play this season. Yes you are willing to bet against VermontHartford looks like a decent pivot.

UMBC has some name recognition after their historic 2018 NCAA Tournament upset against Virginia. He has the No. 2 seed and avoids Vermont until the final. The challenge for UMBC? He lost two games against Vermont this season by a total of 44 points.

As mentioned earlier, New Hampshire has the second-best KenPom rankings in the conference if you want to blindly follow the numbers. Stony Brook does not participate in the tournament, eliminating a potential dark horse. Albany’s program took a step back from three straight NCAA Tournament appearances a few years ago.

America East Tournament History

Here are the last 10 winners of the America East tournament: