Don’t Sleep on the America East
While the Catamounts (and many others) are still on hiatus and won’t officially commence their season till mid-December (fingers-crossed), there were a small handful of America East teams that began their non-conference schedule this past week. UMBC, Hartford, UMass-Lowell and UNH all tipped off their seasons and in typical college basketball fashion, chaos ensued.
Preseason favorites and top contenders Kentucky, Villanova and Virginia all ate L’s to unranked opponents. Outside of Gonzaga, every top team appears vulnerable and without a significant home-court advantage these opening week upsets could be just the tip of the iceberg.
For Vermont, it’s undoubtedly got to be tough to sit and watch their conference rivals compete against these top programs. John Becker and the Cats do have a scouting advantage of now being able to view tape of their conference foes. However, the ability to get your legs underneath you and square up against strong non-conference opponents far outweighs the cost of giving up game film.
Here’s a closer look at the America East teams that were able to play this past week. Spoiler – Vermont might not be an automatic lock of the America East this year.
UMBC kicked off their season with games against Georgetown and St. Francis. Georgetown is obviously the bigger name of the two, but St. Francis also sent shockwaves through college basketball as they upset Pitt in their first game of the season. UMBC would split these two affairs, but look very good in both.
UMBC vs. Georgetown (62-70) Loss
UMBC vs. St. Francis (80-65) Win
Forward Brandon Horvath showcased his skills, recording a double-double in both contests. 13 points, 10 rebounds against GTown and 18 points, 13 rebounds against St. Francis. He paced the Retrievers in both games and appears to have taken that next step after averaging 11 ppg a season ago.
Of course it’s impossible to talk about UMBC without mentioning 5’2” sensation Darnell Rodgers. After missing the majority of last year with an injury, Rodgers provides a huge spark for the Retrievers. His 14 ppg trails only Horvath thus far and currently leads the team in steals (2.5 spg) and three-point field goal percentage (40%).
The Retrievers take on Delaware (12/3) and Towson (12/5) this week and could easily walk away with two more wins.
The Hawks squared up against UConn and while it was their only game of the week, they looked good against a potentially dangerous Huskies team. These two in-state rivals rarely match-up, but that could change soon considering the strides Hartford has made in recent years.
Hartford vs. UConn (57-69) Loss
A 12 point loss might seem pretty accurate in terms of betting lines, but those who watched the game know that it was much closer than the final score indicates. Hartford stuck with the Huskies throughout the game, but a final push from UConn in the closing minutes was just enough separation to comfortably close out the game.
The emergence of Moses Flowers might have stolen the show. He led all scorers with 24 points while also pulling down 7 boards. With the departure of Malik Ellison, Hartford was in desperate need of a true scorer to replace Ellison’s production. So far, Flowers is proving he can be that type of player.
Hunter Marks had a solid game as well (14 points, 9 rebounds), but Traci Carter had one of the worst performances of his career, shooting an abysmal 1-12 from the field and potentially costing the Hawks a huge win over the Huskies.
If Flowers can parlay this performance over the course of the season he’ll be on the shortlist for America East Player of the Year. It’s a small sample size, but the Hawks look like true contenders out of the America East this year. Hartford plays Villanova (12/1) and Fairfield (12/2) this week.
New Hampshire Wildcats
The Wildcats took on D3 in-state rival Keene State this past week. As expected, UNH throttled them. As of this moment UNH does not have plans to face any other non-conference opponent and this game against Keene State was essentially a glorified scrimmage.
UNH vs. Keene State (93-54) Win
No disrespect to Keene State, but they had no business playing this game. Say something nice about Keene State – I went to Pumpkin Fest at Keene State one year and it was one of the craziest parties of my life…
UMass-Lowell River Hawks
The River Hawks provided the country with one of the first real upsets of the year when they took down San Francisco in their season opener. Incredibly enough, UMass-Lowell’s win over San Francisco was their first victory over a top 100 ranked Ken-Pom team (84). Their previous mark was 151 against Vermont back in the 2015-16 season. And as a reminder as to how crazy college basketball is, after being upset by the River Hawks, San Francisco turned around and took down #4 Virginia. Does this mean UMass-Lowell is better than Virginia?
UML vs. San Francisco (76-68) Win
UML vs. Illinois State (72-82) Loss
UML vs. #23 Ohio State (64-74) Loss
Although UMass-Lowell couldn’t quite manage to put Illinois State and Ohio State on upset alert, they played both incredibly well – especially OSU. UML even led OSU late into the second half, but the Buckeyes talent was too strong for the River Hawks and eventually they were able to pull away.
Obadiah Noel picked up right where he left off a season ago, as he paced the River Hawks in all three affairs. Noel is averaging 24 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists a game thus far. Noel was an America East first-team all-conference selection a year ago and is already looking like a lock to repeat those honors once again.
It’s still early, but the River Hawks look much improved from a year ago. Are they a top-three team in the America East? Possibly. Noel is a tremendous player, but his supporting cast will need to continue to rise to the occasion. UML currently does not have any more non-conference opponents scheduled, though there has already been a plethora of games shuffled so don’t be surprised if they look to add another before it’s all said and done.