Who’s Ready For Some America East Playoff Basketball?!
The America East playoffs are locked, cocked and ready to go. Quarterfinal action is set to commence this Sunday. UNH vs Binghamton and UMBC vs UML kick things off at 1pm, while UVM vs NJIT and Hartford vs Albany tip-off just an hour later at 2pm. Grab a cold one, lock in those bets and get ready for the best time of the year.
Quarterfinals | Sunday, March 6th
#3 New Hampshire vs #6 Binghamton | 1:00pm ESPN+
The Wildcats swept the regular season series against Binghamton, though both games were fairly close (66-62, 69-60). It’s tough to beat a team three times in a season, but UNH should be able to get the job done at home. However, by no means is this an automatic gimme for the Wildcats. Binghamton has been incredibly streaky all year and despite their current three-game skid, the Bearcats have not lost more than three games in a row all season. If trends are any indication, UNH should be on upset alert.
Unfortunately for the Bearcats, their playoff aspirations aren’t looking great. Jacob Falko, their leading scorer, is likely still out after suffering an injury against Vermont a few weeks ago. If Falko was fully healthy I think the Bearcats could have a legitimate shot at knocking off UNH, but without him the Wildcats will ultimately prevail.
Final Score: New Hampshire 71 – Binghamton 66
#2 UMBC vs #7 UMass-Lowell | 1:00pm ESPN+
This is one of those rare instances where the lower seed has actually swept the higher seed. That’s right, UML beat UMBC not once, but twice already this year and are still considered the underdog. Their first meeting ended with a buzzer beating layup from UML’s Ayinde Hikim, which some might attribute to luck, yet round two saw UML dominate the Retrievers to the tune of a 17-point landslide victory. Can the River Hawks make it three straight over UMBC?
On paper the Retrievers edge out UML from a talent perspective, but UML easily outplays UMBC from a physical standpoint. I see this game turning into a slow-pace, hard-fought, grind-it-out affair. Expect UMBC to be at the charity stripe quite a bit. The deciding factor will ultimately come down to whether the Retrievers can make their free-throws. I think they hit just enough and sneak into the semis.
Final Score: UMBC 65 – UMass-Lowell 61
#1 Vermont vs #8 NJIT | 2:00pm ESPN+
Now, there’s no such thing as a guaranteed win, but Vermont is likely much happier that they’ll be playing NJIT and not UML in round one. The Cat’s swept both teams, but their margin of victory between the two of them is staggering. Against UML that margin was just 6 points, but against NJIT? 24.5 points. You best believe everyone at Vermont was absolutely giddy watching UML beat Hartford in that final regular season game.
Clearly Vermont is the superior team here, but again by no means should they take their foot off the gas. Will this be another 20+ point blowout in the Cats favor? Maybe, but it’s definitely possible that Coach Becker may start pulling his players should the Cats be up 20-30 in the second-half. Justin Mazzulla is likely still questionable to play and even if he suits up it wouldn’t be a shock to see him sit the majority of the game.
Final Score: Vermont 84 – NJIT 62
#4 Hartford vs #5 Albany | 2:00pm ESPN+
Finally we have a game where the regular season series was split. Funny enough, both teams won on the road against each other – does this give the edge to Albany now? Hartford is a strange team, as on paper they have a ton of talent led by two awesome guards in Austin Williams and Moses Flowers. They were also the only team in the AE to beat Vermont this year. Yet, they could only manage a 9-9 conference record on the year and lost to a number of weaker teams such as UML (twice), Binghamton and Albany.
Like most #4 vs #5 match-ups this game is essentially a toss-up. Hartford does have the experience card in their corner which could be the deciding factor, but to me this seems like the perfect opportunity for Coach Killings to get his first signature win with the Great Danes. I see Albany catching fire in the second-half and moving on to the semis.
Final Score: Hartford 65 – Albany 72
Semifinals | Wednesday, March 9th
#1 Vermont vs #5 Albany | TBD, ESPN+
Feels almost nostalgic seeing Vermont and Albany square off in the AE Playoffs. Again, Vermont swept Albany in the regular season but the average margin of victory was much closer than that of NJIT’s – 24.5 (NJIT) to 12.5 (Albany). Should Albany manage to knock off Hartford it’ll be a great foundational win for Coach Killings and the program as they move on from the Wil Brown tenure, but sadly they’ll be heading straight into a buzzsaw against Vermont in their next match-up.
Even after coming off a landslide victory over NJIT in the first round, I see this contest as the true get-right game. They’ll have the momentum from Sunday’s victory over NJIT and I expect most everyone will be fully healed or close to 100% by Wednesday. Bold prediction – Vermont puts on a passing clinic, finishing with 25+ total assists as they prepare to host the AE Championship.
Final Score: Vermont 86 – Albany 71
#2 UMBC vs #3 New Hampshire | TBD, ESPN+
The Retrievers and Wildcats split their regular season match-up, each winning at home which should likely give UMBC the slight edge here. By all accounts UMBC had a solid season, but there really isn’t a significant gap between these two teams. The Retrievers finished just one game ahead of UNH and both teams have questionable losses on their resumes (UNH lost to Maine, UMBC swept by UML). When UMBC did lose to UNH it was only by four, while their win against the Wildcats came by a more resounding 11 points. Advantage UMBC?
However, regular season records mean nothing in March and with both these teams appearing to be relatively equal, the outcome game is far from a given. I’m taking the Wildcats to pull off the upset despite their 4-4 conference road record and UMBC’s 6-2 conference home record. As we’ve seen in previous years, picking straight chalk never works out. It might not seem like a major upset, but it’s an upset nonetheless.
Final Score: UMBC 63 – New Hampshire 68
Championship | Saturday, March 12th
#1 Vermont vs #3 New Hampshire | 11:00am, ESPN2
And here we go. The Twin State rivalry takes on a new form with all the marbles on the line. Not to sound like a broken record, but again Vermont swept the regular season series between these two teams, winning by an average margin of victory of 17.5 points. However, this is the championship and I’d be shocked if we saw another Vermont blowout. Seems only fitting that Vermont began their conference schedule with New Hampshire and now ends the year facing them once more.
Surprise, surprise I’m riding Vermont here. Frankly, even if the playoffs shake out a little differently and the Cats have to face UML, Hartford, UMBC or whoever, they’re just too God damn talented this year. The gap between Vermont and the rest of the America East is so massive that the Cats will likely be 15+ favorites in most if not all of their games. Vermont cuts down the nets and punches their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
Final Score: Vermont 79 – New Hampshire 65