By: College Basketball Staff
It’s been a wild college basketball season and it’s about to really heat up as Conference tournaments start this week! We’ll be previewing many of the conferences tourneys this year and including our favorite picks and dark horse teams to win the tournaments! (Page will be updated as odds come out.)
America East Tournament
When: February 27th – March 13th
Where: Top Seed Campus Sites
Fun Fact: The #1 seed has dominated in recent years. The last time this conference did not see a #1 seed in the Championship game was back in 2014 when the #4 seed Albany knocked off #1 Vermont in the Semifinals. Albany went on to defeat Stony Brook that year in the Championship game. Albany and Vermont are regulars at winning the Championship game, accounting for 12 out of the last 17 championships in the America East Tournament.
The Favorite: #1 UMBC Retrievers (14-5, 10-4)
UMBC and Vermont are exponentially better than the rest of the America East Conference this season. Does that mean we should disregard the First Round and Quarterfinals? No way; however, I do not see any other schools getting to the Championship game not named UMBC and Vermont. The two schools split their two-game series last week, with Vermont taking the first and UMBC taking the second. As I mentioned in my preview, UMBC is a talented team, but I still think the Catamounts have a stronger balance on both sides of the ball over UMBC. In their win over Vermont, UMBC held the Catamounts to 34.6% from the field, a notch below their season average of 39.2%. Vermont shot an abysmal 18.2% from beyond the arc in the loss. In the game that Vermont won, the Catamounts shot 54.7% from the field.
In case you missed the preview, I will give you a quick recap of who makes up the UMBC roster and what they have done so far this season. Brandon Horvath, R.J. Eytle-Rock and Darnell Rogers are three key names to know on the Retrievers roster. Horvath is averaging 13.3 points per game and 8.7 rebounds per game this season. Eytle-Rock is averaging 14.1 points per game and 4.8 rebounds per game this season. Rogers is averaging 9.6 points per game and 1.8 assists per game this season. UMBC is not going to overwhelm you with their offensive prowess (69.2 points per game; 206th in Division-I), but they will cause you to play at a slow tempo and work for every possession. The Retrievers are holding their opponent to 64.2 points per game (36th in Division-I), and opposing teams are only shooting 39.2% from the field against the Retrievers (7th in Division-I). UMBC has won four out of its last five games, and they will be ready to match up with the lowest remaining seed left from the Quarterfinals.
The Dark Horse: #2 Vermont Catamounts (10-4, 10-4)
After winning the first of two games against UMBC, it almost felt destined that the Catamounts would take the next game from UMBC. That would have been the fifth consecutive regular season championship for the Catamounts, but they are now looking up at UMBC as the regular season champs. Both teams were 10-4 in conference play, but UMBC won four out of five non-conference games this season, thus giving the Retrievers the higher overall win percentage. What would have happened had there been a full schedule in 2020-21? Who knows, but we are just thankful for basketball. I am sure Vermont too has their eyes set on a tournament championship after not getting the regular season championship. The last time Vermont made the NCAA Tournament not as a #1 seed in the America East Tournament came back in 2012. The seed for the Catamounts that year in the America East Tournament? #2 seed.
In the above-mentioned preview, Vermont has been one of the most consistent programs in the America East Conference. This season will obviously stand as an outlier, but the Catamounts have accumulated 17 seasons of 20+ wins in the last 20 years. Replacing Anthony Lamb’s production was a definite hurdle going into the season for Coach Becker, but he has found three dependable scorers in Ryan Davis, Stef Smith and Ben Shungu. Davis is averaging 18.8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game this season. Smith is averaging 13.8 points per game and 3.2 rebounds per game this season. Shungu is averaging 10.6 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game and 3.4 assists per game. Shooting the ball effectively (46.4% from the field; 52nd in Division-I) and playing stingy defense against the opposition (opposing teams shooting 39.5% from the field; 12th in Division-I) are what makes Vermont such a difficult team to game plan against.
When: February 25th – March 9th
Where: Campus Sites and Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Indianapolis, IN
Fun Fact: Did you know that the #1 seed has only won once in the last seven years? Horizon League Tournaments have grown accustomed to seeing crazy results unfold. Take 2017 for example, we saw the #4 (Northern Kentucky) seed defeat the #10 (Milwaukee) seed in the Championship game. The #2 seed is a lucky number though lately, as the #2 seed has won the Horizon League Tournament in three straight years.
The Favorite: #2 Wright State Raiders (25-6, 15-3)
No disrespect to Cleveland State and the tremendous season that they have had under Coach Gates, but I am confident in saying Wright State will be the team to beat in this year’s tournament. The Raiders come into the Horizon League Tournament winning 10 out of their last 11 contests. Assuming all the favorites win in the First Round, which is by no means a guarantee in this league, Wright State would most likely play the Green Bay Phoenix, a team that they have defeated with ease twice this season. Regardless of the opponent, Coach Nagy’s objective will remain the same throughout the season: run them off the floor. Wright State is a perfect 15-0 this season when they score 76 points or more in a game. The Raiders are one of the best shooting teams in the country, shooting 48.3% from the field this season (19th in Division-I).
As I mentioned in my preview of Wright State back in December, the Raiders bring back three key starters from a year ago to this year’s team. Loudon Love continues to wreak havoc in the paint and on the boards, averaging 16.7 points per game and 10.3 rebounds per game. Grant Basile has stepped up this season to be a force in the post with Love, as the junior forward averaged 14.2 points per game and 6.7 rebounds per game. Tanner Holden continues right where he left off last year, averaging 15.8 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. If there were one knock on Wright State, it would be that the lack of disruption caused in the passing lanes. The Raiders only average 5.8 steals per game (245th in Division-I). Looking past that though, the Raiders are extremely efficient on both offense and defense, which will make them a tough out in the Horizon League Tournament.
The Dark Horse: #5 Detroit Mercy Titans (11-9, 10-6)
After opening the 2020-21 season 1-7, the Detroit Mercy Titans had their backs against the wall. Coach Davis never lost trust in his son, Antoine Davis, to lead the way and right the ship for the Titans. Detroit Mercy closed the season winning 10 out of their last 12 games, and they are going into the tournament with quite a bit of momentum behind them. Assuming the Titans get past Robert Morris, they will most likely be setup for a Quarterfinal match with Northern Kentucky. The Titans have not played the Norse this season, but I feel confident in Detroit Mercy’s ability to pull off the upset. Should they knock off Northern Kentucky; the Titans will then matchup with the Cleveland State Vikings. The Titans have split their two game series this season with the #1 seed Vikings, so certainly anything is possible for the third matchup between the two programs.
Antoine Davis leads the team in scoring this season, averaging 23.3 points per game, 3.1 rebounds per game and 4.8 assists per game. Davis has scored 20+ points in 12 straight games for Detroit Mercy. Bul Kuol, the Cal Baptist transfer, has emerged as a reliable secondary scoring option for the Titans. Kuol is averaging 15.5 points per game and 4.9 rebounds per game this season. Along with Wright State, Detroit Mercy knows how to score at a stellar rate. The Titans are averaging 76.5 points per game this season (50th in Division-I), while shooting 45.7% from the field (66th in Division-I). Detroit Mercy will not overwhelm you with their presence on the glass (33.1 rebounds per game; 261st in Division-I), but if you let them shoot the ball at will from beyond the arc (38.3%; 21st in Division-I) or get to the free-throw line (80.1%; 5th in Division-I), watch out!
– Jack O’Keefe (@jpokeefe1s)