Perhaps the rise of the UMBC basketball program can be explained best not by its 68-59 win at a veteran New Hampshire squad Sunday afternoon, but by the relative lack of shockwaves such a victory made around the rest of America East.
The Retrievers are in second place now after all, at 9-3, and – with all due apologies to Albany and Hartford – are probably Vermont’s biggest obstacle en route to another NCAA Tournament berth.
The America East has a reputation for being soft at the bottom, and those are not alternative facts or fake news, the bottom three teams that will compete in next week’s conference tournament are 331, 313, and 334 in KenPom, respectively.
The facts also say, however, it was worse last season when the final four seeds in the America East Tournament were 325, 323, 336, and 334. No. 334 and dead last at 3-13 was UMBC, which wasn’t a shock to anyone following the league, the last time they had been above 310 was 2007-08 (a glorious season which saw them 13-3 and in the NCAA Tournament).
This year didn’t portend to be a whole lot better under first-year coach Ryan Odom (who came from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne), but here we were on Saturday afternoon with the Retrievers playing in an actual big game, at 9-6 in America East (and 18-10 overall), proving – at least temporarily – that it was possible to climb out of the depths of the league and make things much more interesting at the top.
Had they been wearing different uniforms, New Hampshire might have been taken a little more seriously this season. The America East coaches knew better, of course, picking the Wildcats second behind Vermont, with three of the eight who were not Bill Herrion putting New Hampshire first.
That, of course, is a long, long way from most of the history of the program, which can’t really be called checkered because there aren’t enough successful data points to offset the 19 (?!?) straight losing seasons from 1995-2014. The Wildcats only had one winning campaign in the previous decade to that as well, so it probably goes without saying they’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament (becoming Division I in 1977).
FAIRFIELD, Conn. – We can debate the relative merits of the CIT and whether it belongs in the current college basketball landscape, but the fact is that Fairfield and New Hampshire had 2015-16 campaigns that deserved some kind of recognition, even though neither could get past their respective conference semifinals.
For the host Stags, it was a 12-win increase not only over last season, but the last two campaigns, and probably served to help save Sydney Johnson’s job as their new up tempo style got them 12 MAAC wins. For the Wildcats, they were chasing a school record 20th win after getting 19 a year ago at one of the most stubborn Division I campuses to win. Like Johnson, Bill Herrion was probably heading toward a pink slip last season before the fairly astounding turnaround.
Vermont head coach John Becker had a feeling when the Patrick Gymnasium crowd erupted inconspicuously on Wednesday night, but New Hampshire head coach Bill Herrion did not know he was facing the Catamounts until after they had secured a 56-51 victory over Binghamton. Continue reading →