America East Conference Tournament Betting Preview: Is it Vermont, UMBC or a Longshot?
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: The America East Conference logo.
The America East Tournament is essentially a two-team race between UMBC and Vermont. The two finished first and second in the conference, respectively, and both earned double-byes.
The conference tournament semifinals will take place Saturday, but the tournament actually started last week with the “Pod Play” rounds last Saturday and Sunday. Six teams played in two different brackets, with the Hartford Hawks and the UMass Lowell River Hawks earning spots in the semifinals.
In this preview, I’ll make a case for both Vermont and UMBC, but also provide an extra pick with long-shot value.
- Vermont -175
- UMBC +220
- Hartford +1400
- UMass Lowell +1800
The Case for Vermont
Vermont is far and away the most talented team in this conference. It’s won two of the last three America East Conference Tournaments.
However, Vermont has a new look this season. After four years of dominating on the back of two-time conference player of the year Anthony Lamb, the Catamounts’ new alpha is junior forward Ryan Davis.
Davis was this season’s conference player of the year, and it’s very well deserved. He’s averaging 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57.8% from the field and 41.5% from 3.
However, there’s a lot of other talent on this team. Vermont finished first in the conference in points per game and second in the conference in points per game allowed. It also finished first in the conference in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency, per KenPom.
If you want a statistic that will force you to bet Vermont: Vermont had the best conference-only adjusted efficiency margin at +15.7. UMBC was second at +4.7.
Vermont is statistically the best team in the conference and has the conference’s best player. Given that, it’s hard to not play the chalk.
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The Case for UMBC
UMBC is a well-rounded team that does everything well.
The Retrievers finished third in the conference in both offensive and defensive efficiency. UMBC plays great interior defense, finishing first in the conference in defensive two-point percentage.
UMBC is good at drawing fouls and not fouling. It finished second in the conference in free-throw attempts and free-throw rate, while finishing first in both free-throw attempts allowed and defensive free-throw rate.
That was on full display when UMBC beat Vermont in its final regular season game. UMBC attempted 32 free throws while Vermont attempted just 19. It also got Davis in foul trouble early, and the Catamounts’ star only played 22 minutes.
The Retrievers are a smart play. They earned the No. 1 seed, so they’re hosting the tournament. Plus, +220 is a great price for a UMBC team that already beat Vermont at home this season.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images
Longshot: UMass Lowell River Hawks
Despite this being a two-team race, UMass Lowell is worth a flyer. The River Hawks pulled off the upset over New Hampshire through efficient shooting (27-for-49 from the field, 6-for-13 from 3) and by running through Obadiah Noel.
Noel, a senior guard, scored 28 points on 10-of-16 shooting in that win. Additionally, he scored 23 points in the River Hawks’ win over Stony Brook.
The River Hawks, while being atrocious defensively, have an explosive offense that finished second in the conference in offensive efficiency and points per game. Additionally, UMass Lowell finished first in the conference in free-throw rate and three-point percentage.
Noel and the River Hawks can shoot themselves past any opponent, including UMBC and Vermont. At +1800, this is a pick that oozes value.
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How I’m Playing the America East Tournament
First, I see Hartford as a non-threat to Vermont. However, I do see UMass Lowell as a threat to UMBC, and therefore believe UMBC has a more difficult road to the championship despite hosting it.
Second, While UMBC did beat Vermont in the second game of the team’s two-game series, Vermont shot just 4-for-22 (18.2%) from 3 in that loss. For a Catamounts team that shot 34.8% from deep this season, it’s hard to imagine them shooting that poorly again.
In Vermont’s win, it shot 10-for-21 from 3 and kept the free-throw differential to a minimum. If the Catamounts stay out of foul trouble and hit 3s at an average rate, they should have zero issues beating UMBC again.
Therefore, I’m playing Vermont -175 while also making a small play on UMass Lowell +1800. If UMass overwhelms UMBC with hot shooting and faces Vermont in the championship, it might even provide a hedging opportunity (given Vermont isn’t too much of a ML favorite).