As we get closer to the halfway point of the America East Conference season, a three-way tussle for the top spot is starting to come together. Bryant, UMass Lowell, and Vermont will get the chance to make a statement on the subject this week. Before we dive into what could be a very interesting week, let’s see where these teams are heading into these matchups.
In the small conference top 25 poll, the three teams are all ranked. Vermont is #4, UMass Lowell is #5, and Bryant College is #14. In the mid-major top 25 poll, Vermont is ranked at #22 while the River Hawks received 18 votes. Bryant did not get notice. In the NET Ranking, UMass Lowell is at #111, Vermont is at #123, and Bryant is at #137. In the Kenpom Service, Vermont is #124, UMass Lowell is #131, and Bryant is #155. Why is this important? Because these teams will start to play each other in the coming days and weeks. Two heavyweight games are on tap for the week ahead. First, on Thursday night at Costello Athletic Center. Vermont and UMass Lowell will meet for the first time since last spring’s championship game won by the Catamounts at home. From there, Vermont will make the trip to Smithfield, RI for a game on Saturday vs the Bulldogs. What a week ahead for America East fans.
The River Hawks (14-4, 5-0) will return home for Thursday night’s game after taking both games on the road last weekend in upstate New York. The wins over UAlbany and Binghamton were by double digits as the River Hawks increased their winning streak to seven games. The 5-0 league start for the River Hawks is the first time they have begun the season doing that. The game on Thursday night will pit the best offense in UMass Lowell (81.4 PPG) vs the best defense in Vermont (64.3 PPG). The flip side to this is the River Hawks have the second-best defense in the league (66.6 PPG), while the Catamounts have the seventh-best offense (73.6 PPG). The River Hawks have the best margin of victory at 14.8, while Vermont is second at 9.3. River Hawks forward Max Brooks is ninth in the country in FG percentage at 63.58%. Both teams have two very good coaches and each team has solid players. A sold-out crowd is expected for this one.
The defending champs are playing well themselves. Their record of 14-5 overall and 4-0 in league play speaks for itself. So does the five-game winning streak they will bring with them to Lowell on Thursday night. Their control of the league shows as they have won their last 19 games vs America East teams. Their last loss came back on Jan. 9th of last year vs Lowell in Lowell. Their best performance came in their last game, a 20-point road win at Binghamton last Thursday night. The Catamounts have been off since. TJ Long is the guy that UMass Lowell will need to pay attention to. He leads the team in scoring at 12.9 a game, FG percentage at .457% (44-of-97), 3-point shooting at 40% (24-of-59), FT shooting at 82% (32-of-39), and minutes played at 27.4 a night. Slowing him down will be a must for UMass Lowell.
Then there is Bryant College (12-7, 4-0). They too have won four in a row and six of their last seven games with three of those league wins coming on the road. The team is being led by Earl Timberlake who for the third time this season is the league’s Player of the Week. In Albany on Saturday night, Timberlake scored a career-high 26 points vs the Great Danes. He had nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks. From the field, he shot 61% (11-for-18). Timberlake is getting help as Sherif Gross-Bullock is averaging 19.6 a game, shooting 75% from the field. Daniel Rivera is giving the team 15.8 PPG, and seven rebounds. He has scored double-figures in the team’s last four games. On Thursday night, the Bulldogs will make a quick trip to NJIT before seeing Vermont at home on Saturday afternoon.
The UNH Wildcats (11-7, 3-2) also won a pair of games on the road last week. It improved their road record to 6-5. They return home this week to face UAlbany and Binghamton. The team is being led by Clarence Daniels who is averaging 20.2 a game, which leads the league. He is second in the league in rebounding at 9.1 a game which is tied for 45th in the nation. He also has seven double-doubles on the year which ties him for second in the league with Timberlake one behind the leader Jonathan Beagle of UAlbany who has eight. Another player to watch is Ahmad Robinson who is sixth in the league in scoring at 16.1 a game. He has five assists a game which is third in the league and tied for 47th in the country.
For the eighth time this year, a player from NJIT is named America East Rookie of the Week. Tariq Francis wins the award for the fifth time himself. He averaged 14 points, 4.5 boards, and three assists off the bench in two games last week. The five awards have come in the last six weeks.
That’s all for this week. We hope you enjoy what should be a great week of hoops in America East.
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