By Luke Coughlan/DFP Staff
After nearly four months of men's college basketball, the 2010-2011 America East regular season is down to one final day of games. On Saturday, eight of the nine teams that make up AE will face off in a final push before the post season. Despite the fact that no two teams adjacent to one another in the AE rankings are more than two games apart, there are only a select few teams that can overcome other teams in the rankings before the season is over. So, without further ado, here is a look at each team heading into the final day of games in the regular season, and an update on the projected AE tournament.
Once again, a quick overview of the America East Tournament's set up:
No. 1 seed vs. winner of play-in game between No. 8 & No. 9 seeds
No. 2 seed vs. No. 7 seed
No. 3 seed vs. No. 6 seed
No. 4 seed vs. No. 5 seed
1/PIG winner vs. 4/5 winner
2/7 winner vs. 3/6 winner
The championship game will be held at the home court of the higher seed. The quarter and semifinals will be held at Chase Family Arena in West Hartford, Conn.
No. 1 University of Vermont
Conference Record: 13-2
Remaining Games: vs. BU
Seed and first-round opponent if season ended today: CLINCHED No. 1 vs. winner of play-in game between No. 8 Binghamton and No. 9 UMBC
Vermont will continue to enjoy the no. 1 seed that they clinched in Orono on February 16 heading into their final contest against Boston University on Saturday. While the game will not influence tournament seeding, Vermont will be looking to bounce back from their first loss since January 18 in the BracketBusters by taking on the second-best team in the conference in what could very well be a preview of the AE tournament championship game. Look for UVM to come out strong to try and build some momentum heading into their quarterfinal match-up against one of the cellar-dwellers, Binghamton or UMBC.
No. 2 Boston University
Conference Record: 11-4
Remaining Games: at Vermont
Seed and first-round opponent if season ended today: CLINCHED No. 2 vs. No. 7 Hartford
The good news for the Terriers: there is no more speculation as to whether they will be overtaken for the third seed by the University of Maine. The bad news: there is no more John Holland.
For the time being, that is.
Holland left Thursday's game with a sprained ankle late in the first half and there is no clear time table for his return. BU put the second seed out of reach of Maine with a 53-51 win over Binghamton University, finishing off the effort without their star senior. While most BU fans probably would have given up the second seed to have a healthy Holland heading into the post season, the Terriers will simply have to await an announcement on the injury and prepare for a tough match-up against Vermont in Burlington.
BU is guaranteed home court advantage in the AE championship game should they advance unless UVM advances to the final as well, in which case the game will be played in Burlington, just like last season. The Terriers' opponent in the first round of the AE tournament is still, as of now, the University of Hartford, but Hartford is one of the few teams that can swap places for a higher seed on Saturday. More on that later.
No. 3 University of Maine
Conference Record: 9-6
Remaining Conference Games: vs. Albany
Seed and first-round opponent if the season ended today: CLINCHED No. 3 vs. No. 6 New Hampshire
Although the Black Bears will be unable to catch BU for the No. 2 seed, they can also rest easy knowing that they will not be bumped below third. Even though they play Albany on Saturday and a loss would even their records at 9-7, Albany still loses the tie-breaker. The first statistic used to break a tie is head to head record. If Albany wins on Saturday, that record will be knotted at 1-1 for both teams. From there, the seeding would be determined based on record against the top seeded team in the conference working its way down to the bottom in the case of more ties. Maine wins that tie-breaker by virtue of their 1-1 record against UVM compared to Albany's 0-2 clip, meaning that Maine is locked in at No. 3.
Maine's first opponent in the tournament would be UNH if the season ended today, but Saturday could shift seeding.
No. 4 University of Albany
Conference Record: 8-7
Remaining Conference Games: at Maine
Seed and first-round opponent if the season ended today: CLINCHED No. 4 vs. No. 5 Stony Brook University
Albany finds itself with the potential for a tie with another team both if they win or if they lose in Orono on Saturday, but either way, they are locked in at no. 4. As explained above, a win over Maine gives them a 9-7 tie in conference play with the Black Bears, but they lose the tie breaker because of Maine's win over UVM. A loss and an SBU win, however, puts them in a tie with the Seawolves at 8-8. The Great Danes win that tie breaker, however, because of a season sweep of the Seawolves. Ironically, there is virtually no difference between the fourth and fifth seed in the AE tournament as all quarterfinal and semifinal rounds are played in Hartford, and no. 4 and no. 5 play each other in the first round.
No. 5 Stony Brook University
Conference Record: 7-8
Remaining Conference Games: vs. Binghamton
Seed and first-round opponent if the season ended today: CLINCHED No. 5 vs. No. 4 Albany
Similar to Albany, SBU can wind up in a tie with the team above them with a win and some help on Saturday, or a tie with the the two teams below them with a loss and some help on Saturday.
Ultimately, those possibilities for ties don't mean a thing, as the Seawolves are locked into the No. 5 seed and will be playing Albany in the first round of the AE tournament. As detailed above, a tie with Albany results in a loss, and a tie with UNH or Hartford (both of which are possible, by the way) both would result in tie breaker wins for the Seawolves because of their season sweeps of the Wildcats and the Hawks. (This time of year, nail-biting-overtime wins like SBU's January 15 64-60 win over UNH and February 24 79-73 win over Hartford come in handy when it comes to breaking ties).
While the Seawolves dodge a bullet in not having to face BU or Maine until the final round and in drawing a close match-up against Albany, they still find themselves on the same side of the bracket as UVM, and may have to take on the Catamounts in the semifinals in Hartford (a job that may be easier than facing them in the championship game in Burlington).
No. 6 University of New Hampshire
Conference Record: 6-9
Remaining Conference Games: at Hartford
Seed and first-round opponent if the season ended today: No. 6 vs. No. 3 Maine
No. 7 University of Hartford
Conference Record: 6-9
Remaining Conference Games: vs. UNH
Seed and first-round opponent if the season ended today: No. 7 vs. No. 2 BU
The Universities of New Hampshire and Hartford provide one of two possibilities for seeding swaps heading into the final game of the season. The teams are tied with a 6-9 record and will be playing head to head on Saturday for, essentially, the right to play Maine over BU in the first round of the AE tournament. As it turns out, UNH and Hartford have performed admirably against Maine and BU in the regular season, posting a 4-4 combined record against the two teams, but it is likely that they will both be vying for the six seed as BU has been on a tear of late compared to the Black Bears' struggles recently (then again, if you take John Holland out of the equation, everything goes topsy-turvy).
This game may be more important for the Terriers and Terrier fans than BU's own match-up on Saturday as it decides the quarterfinals seeding once and for all. The good news for the Terriers: they are guaranteed a quarterfinals opponent playing with at least a two-game losing streak.
No. 8 Binghamton University
Conference Record: 4-11
Remaining Conference Games: at Stony Brook
Seed and first-round opponent if the season ended today: No. 8 vs. No. 9 UMBC for play-in game
No. 9 University of Maryland-Baltimore County
Conference Record: 4-12
Remaining Conference Games: None
Seed and first-round opponent if the season ended today: No. 9 vs. No. 8 Binghamton in play-in game
The other chance at seed swapping that could result from Saturday's games is between these two teams. UMBC is out of games and will be the only team not playing on Saturday, giving them a chance to rest up for their guaranteed opponent in Binghamton on Thursday. However, should Binghamton lose on Saturday to SBU, a tie would result between the cellar-dwellers and, you guessed it, UMBC would come out on top. While both teams are tied in head to head match-ups, 1-1, UMBC owns a win over BU compared to the Bearcats' 0-2 clip that was solidified just last night.
For this reason, UMBC would move into the eighth spot, but would essentially gain nothing. They will still have to face Binghamton in the play-in game on Thursday, and because the game takes place in Hartford, home court advantage is a moot point. At this point, UMBC's strongest strategic advantages are their knowledge of both of their first two opponents in the tournament, Binghamton and UVM, and their extra day off while the remainder of the conference plays on Saturday.
At this point, the Terriers find themselves locked into the second seed but are still waiting patiently with Maine for the outcome of Saturday's game between UNH and Hartford to decide the quarterfinals match-ups once and for all. As has been well-chronicled in past updates, either result has its ups and downs for BU. Regardless, the Terriers will be playing a team on a losing streak of two or more games, which plays into their favor.
Should BU draw UNH in the first round, they would be playing the team that handed them their most recent loss prior to a seven (or eight, depending on Saturday's outcome) game win streak. A game against Hartford in the quarterfinals would be another tough draw for the Terriers, as the Hawks beat BU in Hartford the last time they played there, and they stayed close in Boston as well until the end of the game.
The fact that Hartford will be playing with home court advantage in the quarter and semifinals may tip the scale towards the Wildcats as the team that gives the Terriers the best chance to win, but at this point, either game would be a battle, especially without Holland.
The Terriers find themselves on a tough 'half' of the bracket as each team that they could play en route to the final game of the tournament (Hartford, UNH, or Maine) has at least one win over them during the conference season. The three teams that BU swept in the conference season (SBU, Binghamton, and Albany) all find themselves on the other side of the bracket, along with UVM.
The ultimate result for BU is that the AE tournament will be a battle. Their possible opponents in the first two rounds of the tournament are not as favorable as other match-ups may have been, and if they get to the final game, there is a strong chance that they will have to take on UVM in Burlington. If their recent success has proven anything, though, it is that they have the talent and capability to win close games against tough opponents and have found some consistency on the road.
BU's performance at Vermont on Sunday will be an excellent test regarding how they will perform in a tough environment and under pressure in the AE tournament. Also, if Holland is out on Saturday, the game will allow a young team to prove their maturity in a harsh environment without their top scorer.