Vermont vs. UMBC Odds, Picks & Predictions: Your Guide to Betting the America East Championship (Saturday, March 12)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images. Pictured: Ben Shungu.
- The America East Conference Final is set. The preseason and pre-tournament favorite Vermont Catamounts (26-5) will face the UMBC Retrievers (17-13) on Saturday morning, with the winner punching its ticket to the Big Dance.
- Vermont dominated the America East regular season, boasting a 60% cover rate despite frequent double-digit spreads throughout the year. But can the Catamounts cover a whopping line of 15.5 points in the conference title game?
- College basketball betting analyst Tanner McGrath previews Saturday's America East Championship, including updated odds, plus his picks and predictions for UMBC vs. Vermont.
Vermont vs. UMBC Odds
-110o / -110u
-110o / -110u
A long and tumultuous America East season is ending. Unpredictably, the two teams everyone picked to make the final, made the final. No. 1 Vermont will play No. 2 UMBC for the chance to go dancing.
Vermont roasted the conference this season. The Catamounts finished 17-1 in America East play, with 16 of those wins coming by double-digits. The Cats’ only loss came to Hartford on the road, losing by one point in overtime (which ended up being a six-point ShotQuality win).
Meanwhile, UMBC was solid in its first season under Jim Ferry, the former interim head coach at Penn State. The Retrievers finished second in the conference in offensive efficiency and posted an 11-7 record.
Vermont crushed UMBC in both meetings this year, and the Catamounts are a massive favorite to win this game — especially since it’s being played at Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington.
This game will be aired at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN2, so both teams are getting national attention for the first time this season.
Can UMBC avoid being embarrassed on national TV?
For the sake of full transparency, I am the world’s biggest Vermont Catamount fan. I grew up in southern Vermont, and I have grown close to this team over the years.
But I can unbiasedly say this is the best Vermont team I’ve seen.
Vermont has now snuck up to 63rd in KenPom’s rankings, which is its highest finish underneath John Becker and the highest since Tom Brennan’s team upset Syracuse in the 2004 first round. Vermont opened the season strong with a win over Northern Iowa, which won the Missouri Valley regular-season title.
The Cats led the AE in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But Vermont is particularly deadly offensively. The Catamounts ranked fourth nationally in eFG% (57%), 2-point shooting (58.6%) and half-court PPP (1.022).
Becker’s offense spaces the floor, playing with the two wings way below the break on the baseline, a big under the rim, and two guards up top. It looks like this:
From that set, the Vermont playbook can beat teams every which way, whether it’s:
- A pick-and-roll with a guard and the big
- A two-man pick-and-pop with the two guards and/or the big
- A baseline drive from one of the two wings
- Off-the-ball back-screens between a wing/guard and big
- An isolation drive, drive-and-kick or off-the-dribble 3
- A simple post-up with the big
The list goes on. It gives Vermont options, and each one is deadly.
In conference play, Vermont hit 60% of its 2-point shots and 41% of its 3-point shots, which is almost impossible. The Catamounts made everything, and it has me believing this could be a tournament Cinderella team.
My favorite Vermont stat: the Catamounts finished first nationally in defensive rebounding rate. No team in the country grabbed a higher percentage of defensive rebounds than this team. I think that speaks to Becker’s coaching ability and this team’s discipline.
Everything for Vermont starts with Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu.
Davis repeated as AE Player of the Year, becoming the third Catamount to win the award multiple times (Taylor Coppenrath, Anthony Lamb). He finished the season averaging 17.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game on a whopping 67.7% true shooting percentage.
Davis ranked in the 97th percentile of players in post-up PPP (1.232) while also shooting 42.4% from 3 on 3.4 attempts per game, making him the perfect stretch center. He’s the highest-usage, most-efficient player in the conference, but his numbers rank among the best of any D-I player.
Davis is the Catamounts’ best player. But he’s not the most important player.
Shungu walked on at Vermont six years ago after graduating from Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington. He’s become a hometown hero, known as the Pride of Burlington, Vermont. He’s also scrapped his way to the top of the depth chart.
This season, Shungu has been unstoppable. He’s energetic defensively and lights-out offensively. He’s got everything in his bag and will cook defenders from every area of the floor.
In the semifinal against Binghamton, he scored 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting while snagging two steals. He also scored his 1,000th career point, which brought all the die-hard Catamount fans to their feet.
In the offensive playbook mentioned above, Shungu runs every set.
- He scores 1.035 PPP as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, which ranks in the 94th percentile.
- He scores 1.083 PP in hand-off sets, which ranks in the 84th percentile.
- He scores 1.227 PPP in off-screen sets, which ranks in the 85th percentile.
- He scores 1.284 PPP in spot-up situations, which ranks in the 96th percentile.
- In miscellaneous sets, which encompasses everything Synergy can’t fit into their other categories, he scores 1.00 PPP, which ranks in the 97th percentile.
Play him on the ball, off the ball, or in a two-man set with Davis, and he’ll score.
He also shoots 42.5% from 3, which is just a bonus.
And after Shungu, the Catamounts’ roster fills out perfectly.
Becker has “Huckleberry” Finn Sullivan at his disposal, who’s turned into a sharpshooter. Isaiah Powell is the de-facto big man when Davis is out, and he leads the team in rebounds. Justin Mazzulla is the glue guy who owns a 59% true shooting percentage and is nationally ranked in defensive turnover rate.
I love this Vermont team. The Cats should blow by UMBC in the title game, but I’m ready to believe this is the team that gets Vermont its first tournament win since 2004. The ’22 Cats remind me of the ’04 Cats, but Davis can stretch the floor better than Coppenrath could.
As a result, this team can out-run, out-gun and out-shoot anybody in the country.
And Vermont is playing with confidence. Everyone knows the saying, “Good teams win, great teams cover.” Well, Vermont went 17-12-1 against the spread this season, covering spreads at a 60% rate in conference play even while laying 20 every night.
Whoever pulls 13-seed Vermont in the first round, look out.
The best part of this game is that we’re getting Darnell Rogers on national TV.
At 5-foot-2, Rogers is the shortest person to ever play Division I basketball. And he’s a dangerous scorer, finishing the season averaging 12 points per game.
Like Isaiah Thomas, Rogers knows how to leverage his body to finish at the rim. But he’s also lights-out shooting, finishing the conference season shooting 36% from 3 and 91% from the free-throw line — the latter led the America East.
I've just learned that UMBC has a 5'2" guard named Darnell Rogers, and he's a bucket. Incredible.pic.twitter.com/nwlFTyA0ee
— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) January 29, 2021
He was also the main facilitator, as Ferry gave him the keys to the offense. He found 6-foot-6 wing Keondre Kennedy a lot, as Kennedy averaged 15 points per game with a 59.6% true shooting percentage.
In his third season at UMBC, Kennedy found his stroke. He shot 42% from 3 on 4.7 attempts per game. His 1.089 spot-up PPP ranked above the 80th percentile in D-I and was a big reason why UMBC made its way to this title game.
The X-factor for UMBC is Szymon Wojcik, who is as inconsistent as they come. He generally plays on the interior, and he’s scored double-digits in his last three games. But in a stretch in mid-February, he scored five points or less in five of his seven games.
UMBC’s problem is defense. The Retrievers are small, as their 75-inch average height is third-shortest nationally. Rogers skews that mean, but UMBC isn’t talented or active on that end of the floor anyways — the Retrievers finished dead last in the America East in both block rate and steal rate.
UMBC also finished second-to-last in eFG% allowed and third-to-last in points per game allowed. The Retrievers can’t defend — especially on the interior — and they need to shoot well to win games.
For example, in the semifinal against Hartford, UMBC ran well. The team shot 18-for-31 (58%) from inside the arc and 11-for-21 (52.4%) from beyond the arc. On the contrary, Hartford shot 5-for-26 (19%) from 3 in that game.
Vermont vs. UMBC Betting Pick
UMBC is a good shooting team. But the Retrievers shot 20-for-43 (46.5%) from 3 in their two-game run to the championship game. Their opponents — Hartford and UMass Lowell — combined to shoot just 11-for-46 (23.9%) from beyond the arc.
Don’t expect UMBC to run that well in Burlington.
Rogers is a great point guard, but his size makes him a defensive liability. Shungu and the backcourt will attack him relentlessly in every different set. Meanwhile, Davis and the rest of the Vermont frontcourt will have no problem slicing up the undersized UMBC interior.
Vermont beat UMBC by 17 in Baltimore in mid-January and then beat UMBC by 26 in Burlington in late February. In those two games, Vermont finished with 1.35 ShotQuality PPP finishing at the rim. In the latter game, Davis finished with 1.6 ShotQuality PPP in post-up situations.
It was all Cats and no Retrievers in the paint that day.
Ferry and the Retrievers have no answer on the defensive end for Vermont — especially when Becker has his offense so locked in.
Vermont’s offense is in perfect rhythm and flow, and the points just come easily.
I’m also expecting Becker to be locked in after last year’s tournament disaster when the top-seeded Catamounts were upset by Hartford in the semis. Don’t expect Vermont to take its foot off the gas — it didn’t in the last matchup with UMBC even after Vermont clinched the regular-season title in the prior game.
As for the total, I love the over. Both games between the two this season went well over, and UMBC’s offense has some advantages. However, conference championship games generally go under, and an 11 a.m. ET tip-off time will keep me away.
Instead, lay the points with our Catamounts, as they cover every number anyway. Then, get ready to bet Vermont ATS and ML in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, because a 13-4 upset is coming.