The America East Conference will help start March Madness a little bit early this year as the A-East has moved their conference tournament up with coronavirus concerns. They'll be one of a few conferences starting their tournament the final week of February but not crowning a champion until the day before Selection Sunday.
For the first in five seasons, the road to the NCAA Tournament in the America East Conference will not go through Burlington, Vermont. By beating the Catamounts in the final matchup of the regular season, the Retrievers earned the top seed.
Ryan Odom is still at the helm of the UMBC program, looking to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since their historic 2018 upset. And aside from their A-East title that season, it's been Vermont's conference for the better part of the past decade. Head coach John Becker has turned them into just short of a mid-major powerhouse.
But this year it could be considered a toss-up between UMBC and Vermont. In the final weekend of the regular season, the two split their head-to-head series. Throughout the year they were the most consistent of all other teams in the conference.
AMERICA EAST TOURNAMENT 2021 INFORMATION:
When is the 2021 America East Tournament?
The America East Tournament is February 27-28, March 6 and 14. Due to concerns with the coronavirus, the tournament has been spread out to three events. The first weekend will feature pod play at two venues. The next weekend will have the two semifinal matchups. The America East Championship Game is on Saturday, March 13th.
Where is the 2021 America East Tournament?
The first weekend is broken up into two pods to determine the two teams that will join UMBC and Vermont in the semifinals. The two pods will be hosted by No. 3 New Hampshire and No. 4 Hartford. Each semifinal matchup will be the weekend after in the higher seed's arena after being reseeded.
The championship game will be hosted by the highest seed remaining in the tournament.
How to watch the 2021 America East Tournament?
Pod play and semifinals of the America East Championship will be streamed on ESPN+ and ESPN3. The Championship game will air on ESPN2.
Who is the defending 2020 America East Champion?
No one won the 2020 America East Tournament as the championship game was canceled with the onset of the pandemic. It was scheduled to be top-seeded Vermont against Hartford.
AMERICA EAST TOURNAMENT 2021 BRACKET:
America East Tournament Pod Play (2/27-28, Times ET)
- No. 6 UMass Lowell d. No. 7 Stony Brook 64-62
- No. 4 Hartford d. No. 9 Binghamton 77-60
- No. 5 Albany vs. No. 8 NJIT, 5:00 p.m. (ESPN3/ESPN+) at Hartford
- No. 6 UMass Lowell at No. 3 UNH, 1:00 p.m. (ESPN3/ESPN+)
- Albany-NJIT winner at No. 4 Hartford, 3:00 p.m. (ESPN3/ESPN+)
America East Tournament Semifinals (3/6, Times ET)
- Lowest remaining seed at No. 1 UMBC, 2:00 p.m. (ESPN3/ESPN+)
- Highest remaining seed at No. 2 Vermont, 4:00 p.m. (ESPN3/ESPN+)
America East Tournament Championship (3/13, Time ET)
- Lowest remaining seed at highest remaining seed, 11:00 am ET (ESPN2)
AMERICA EAST TOURNAMENT 2021 PREVIEW:
Typically this is where we get to celebrate Vermont and layout how if any other team knocks them off it should be considered a massive upset.
This season, not so much.
For once the road to the NCAA Tournament does not run through the Catamounts building; although, that might not mean much this season. Fans, if any are permitted, won't be able to have as big of an impact on the game as years past. Hot tournament teams have to wait a week in-between each of the rounds as well.
UMBC is led by a guard-forward two-headed punch in R.J. Eytle-Rock and Brandon Horvath. Both are expected to be named to the conference's all-first team honorees and have provided problems for opposing defenses all season. They've forced teams to keep the defense spread out and cover all areas of the court.
Their consistency along with their experience has carried them for much of the season. While other teams dealt with COVID-related issues and injuries, the Retrievers have been relatively untouched in conference play.
Analytics, though, point to Vermont being the better team overall. Their offensive is more efficient (and leads the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio) while their defenses are pretty much identical.
That's not to mention their leader Ryan Davis is having a stellar campaign with 18.8 points per game and 6.5 rebounds. He also leads the conference in field-goal shooting (57.8%) and would be the second-best long-ball shooter if he registered a handful more 3-pointers (41.5% on 41 attempts).
Everything points to them meeting for a third time to determine who wins the automatic bid. But both these teams have been beaten by multiple America East opponents this year.
The most likely team to knock one of them off? Albany.
The Great Danes, while they didn't beat either Vermont or UMBC this season, played each of them close, losing by a combined 15 points in four games.
A balanced offensive attack bodes well for a tournament format. They just need to turn on their defensive efforts more frequently, which hopefully in a win-and-go-home game they will do so.
PICK: No. 2 Vermont