Conference Tournament Primer: America EastPosted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2014
Championship Fortnight continues with yet two more conference tourneys tipping off today, so what better way to get you through the next week-plus of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s postseason events. Today, the America East and the Summit get started.
Dates: March 8, 9, 15
Site: Quarterfinals and Semifinals: SEFCU Arena (Albany, NY); Championship: Campus site (higher-seeded team hosts)
What to expect: After suffering its only conference defeat in late January, Vermont thoroughly dominated the America East over the remaining five weeks of the regular season. Throughout the month of February, the team steamrolled opponents, winning ten straight games by an average of 21.3 points per contest and capturing the league’s top seed in the process. Their KenPom ranking has skyrocketed from 169 to 62 since the New Year, a byproduct of the numerous beatdowns in that span. Stony Brook has talent – 6’8’’ forward Jameel Warney is a load underneath – and should present the most substantial threat in this tournament. There could be some level of drama if they meet up in the title game, but either way, expect the senior-laden Catamounts to go dancing for the third time in five years.
Favorites: Vermont. The Catamounts nearly upset Duke back in November, yet they might be a better team now than they were then. Five of their six top-scorers are seniors, and each of them probably remembers the sting of last year’s home loss to Albany in the conference championship game. Focus will not be an issue for Vermont.
Dark Horse: Albany. The tournament’s quarterfinals and semifinals are held at SEFCU Arena in Albany, which happens to be the Great Danes’ home court. That’s a possibly huge advantage–it certainly was last season during their unexpected run to the title, and it might again prove important this year, considering their 7-1 home record in league play. Although the format is set to change in 2015, Albany has a distinct leg-up this weekend.
Who wins: Vermont. Except for home-court advantage in the non-championship rounds, Vermont has the upper-hand over the rest of the league in nearly every other category. It’s the seventh-most experienced group in the country, it boasts the America East’s most efficient offense and defense, and it simply hasn’t shown much vulnerability – much less beatability – all season long. The Catamounts should roll to the championship game and punch their ticket at home.
Player to Watch: Brian Voelkel – Vermont. Voelkel is a fascinating player, a 6’6’’ forward who ranks second in the conference in rebounding (8.1 per game) and first in assists (5.8 per game). It’s not every day you see a guy who serves as his team’s primary distributor and its grittiest player in the paint.
Bubble Implications: None.