America East

America East Basketball: An Early Look at the Championship Game

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It was a year ago that the UMass Lowell River Hawks (22-9) met the Vermont Catamounts (27-6) for the America East championship at Patrick Gym in Burlington, VT. The Catamounts were victorious on that day and went on to play in the NCAA Men’s basketball tournament. One year later, it’s the same two teams, same location, and the same thing is at stake. The River Hawks and the Catamounts will play for the America East postseason title and the automatic bid to the field of 68 this morning.

The two teams met twice during the regular season. Vermont came away with both wins. The first one was an overtime victory in Lowell on January 25 by a score of 72-65. Ayo-Faley had a great outing as he went for a double-double of 15 points and 10 rebounds. He also added five blocks. Shamir Bogues had 19 points, eight boards, and three steals The second meeting took place on March 2 in Burlington, VT. It was senior day for Vermont, and Aaron Deloney took full advantage of the occasion. He scored a career-best 33 points as the Catamounts cruised to a 74-62 win over the River Hawks. Vermont led by as many as 26 points in this one.

For Vermont, this will be their eighth championship game appearance in the last nine years. This will mark the 17th all time. In Patrick Gym, Vermont has hosted the title game nine times and their record is 7-2. They have won eight straight regular season championships, the longest streak in the nation. They are the top defensive team in the league holding teams to 63 points per game which puts them as the 10th best defense in the country. They will come into this morning’s game having won nine straight and 18 of their last 19 games.

The UMass Lowell River Hawks have been knocking on the door. This morning will mark the third title game in the last four years (0-2). They have won six of their last eight games. This is their second straight season with 20+ wins. They are the top-scoring team in the conference averaging 80.6 points per game. They are the best offensive-rebounding team in the league at 11.5. Their rebounding margin of +7.5 is also the best. They are also tops in the league in scoring margin at +9.8. UMass Lowell is led by a trio of players. Senior forward Max Brooks shoots at 63% and averages 12.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game. Graduate guard Ayinde Hikim leads the team in scoring at 14.7 a game and hands out 5.1 assists per contest. Sixth Man of the League, Quinton Mincy is averaging 14.3 points off the River Hawks bench.

The River Hawks are trying to become the 14th different school to win the America East title. This is the second time since 2001 that the same two teams will meet in the same venue. The 49 combined wins between these two teams are the most in the championship game since 2018 (Vermont vs UMBC-50 wins). Teams that are defending their titles have returned to the championship game 73% of the time. This will be the 19th time the top two seeds will meet. The #1 seed has a 13-5 record. Patrick Gym has hosted nearly 25% of the title games in the conference’s history.

It will take at least two hours to find out which one will punch their tickets to the Big Dance. Will the River Hawks make history and go for the very first time? Or will Vermont take advantage of the home cooking and make another trip to the tournament? By Saturday afternoon we will know the answer.

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