By Brandon Nimmons
On March 16, 2018, the UMBC Retrievers made history as the first ever 16 seed to defeat a number one seed. The Retrievers look to do the same thing again this year. Led by America East Player of the Year contender Brandon Horvath, UMBC ran through their conference with a 10-4 record, tying the second-place Vermont Catamounts. They’ve beat every team in their conference at least once, including a 66-55 victory in their final game of the season over the afore-mentioned Catamounts.
The UMBC defense is what has led them thus far. Forward Brandon Horvath averages 8.7 rebounds per game, which is good for top in the conference. Guard Darnell Rogers is tied for third in the conference for steals per game with 1.3. The Retrievers rank 124 in the country for Defensive Efficiency, according to KenPom.
Players to Watch:
Out of the America East Conference, there won’t be many player of the year or Wooden Award candidates. But there are some of the funniest storylines in the country, such as UMBC guard Darnell Rogers.
Basketball is a tall man’s game. It always has been. Think of 7’6” Chinese prodigy Yao Ming. Or the 7’5” center for the Boston Celtics, Tacko Fall. This, however, is not the case for the 5’2” Darnell Rogers, also known as the shortest man in Division One. Rogers plays 28.2 minutes and scores 9.6 points per game, which is good for third on his team. He ranks higher than some forwards on his team in terms of rebounds at 1.5 per game, and leads his team in steals per game at 1.3.
Another player to watch out for is the 6’8”, 2020 America East Conference Sixth Man of the Year, Ryan Davis, out of Vermont. Davis is the clear frontrunner for the AEC Player of the Year, averaging 18.9 points per game and has made 43% of his three pointers this season. Davis also plays for the lethal Catamounts, who have the two seed in this tournament.
The Dark Horse:
In these mid-major conferences, it’s true that everybody has a shot. The parity of the leagues is high, and it always results in something funky happening. This year is no different. A team to watch out for is UMASS-Lowell, who beat Vermont earlier this year, and played close with Ohio State, only losing the game by 10 points. They also beat San Francisco, who defeated Virginia early this year, to open the season. They open their tournament play against the seventh-seeded Stony Brook on Saturday. It’ll be very telling to see where the River Hawks are at after that game.
The tournament will begin in two pods, the New Hampshire pod and the Hartford pod, before the winners of those pods go on to play either UMBC or Vermont in the semifinals. In the New Hampshire pod, #6 UMASS-Lowell will take on #7 Stony Brook before the winner of that contest goes on to play #3 New Hampshire. I’ll take UMASS-Lowell to beat Stony Brook, and then carry that momentum on to beat New Hampshire and advance to the semifinals.
For the Hartford pod, #4 Hartford takes on #9 Binghamton in probably the most lopsided matchup of the tournament, and #5 Albany plays #8 NJIT. I’ll take chalk here, advancing Hartford and Albany before Hartford takes their pod and moves onto the semifinals.
In the semifinal round, it’ll be #1 UMBC vs #6 UMASS-Lowell and #2 Vermont vs #4 Hartford. UMBC should be able to end Lowell’s Cinderella run, and Vermont is just too talented offensively to fall to Hartford. This leaves UMBC and Vermont for the America East Championship.
It’s certainly been a tight race between Vermont and UMBC this year, as the two teams stack up very similarly to each other. I’m going to give the slight edge to UMBC in this matchup, however, simply because they have a better defense. Defense wins championships, and defense is what will propel UMBC to their third-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
Edited by Tyler Kading