After over two months of competitive conference play, the America East (AE) season is almost at an end. On both the men’s and women’s sides, the conference championship games are set, contests that will determine which men’s team and which women’s team will earn the AE’s automatic bid to the Big Dance.
On the men’s side, Vermont advanced to the AE championship game for the fifth straight year after a semifinals home win over UMBC. As the AE regular season title holders, the Catamounts (26-7, 14-2 AE) will host the championship game, which will be played on Saturday, March 14 on their home court. Vermont was the preseason favorite to win the AE title this year, and is viewed as a heavy favorite to emerge victorious in the championship game.
The Catamounts will be led in the championship game by the 2019-20 AE Player of the Year, senior forward Anthony Lamb. Lamb led the team in both scoring and rebounding this season, with 16.7 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game. He also led the team in blocks. Alongside Lamb, junior guard Stef Smith also averaged double figures in scoring this season and led the team in assists.
Vermont’s opponent in the championship game will be Hartford, the three seed, who won on the road at second-ranked Stony Brook in the semifinals to advance to its first AE championship game since 2008. Although the Hawks (18-15, 9-7 AE) lost to Vermont twice this season and will be the clear underdogs in the contest on Saturday, the team is not feeling any additional pressure.
“We’re going to be the loosest team in America,” said Hartford head coach John Gallagher in an interview on ESPN+. “We’re going to be smiling, no pressure on us, the loosest team in America on Saturday.”
In order to have a chance at winning, Hartford will need strong performances from its top players, graduate student forward Malik Ellison and freshman guard Moses Flowers. Despite missing 10 games this season, Ellison leads the Hawks in scoring by a large margin, while Flowers averages 10.4 points per game this season and made the AE All-Rookie Team.
On the women’s side, top-seeded Stony Brook will host two-seeded Maine in the conference championship game on Friday. Stony Brook (28-3, 14-2 AE) had far and away the best record in the AE, both in conference play and overall. The Seawolves led the conference in both total defense and average scoring margin, and at one point in its season amassed a 22-game winning streak.
Junior forward India Pagan and graduate student guard Kaela Hilaire were SBU’s leaders in scoring this season, with 13.4 and 13.3 points per game, respectively. Pagan collected 6.0 rebounds per game on average, while Hilaire dished out nearly five assists per game, by far the leader of her team.
Though Stony Brook went on a 22-game winning streak in the middle of the season, the team that put that winning streak to an end was Maine (18-14, 12-4 AE). After enduring a rocky nonconference schedule when their star player, senior guard Blanca Millan, tore her ACL, the Black Bears rebounded in conference play, winning their last 10 AE contests including the tournament.
“They’re an offensive powerhouse,” said Stony Brook head coach Caroline McCombs, the 2019-20 AE Coach of the Year, in an interview on ESPN+. “Their players can score, they shoot a lot of [3-pointers]. They’re very, very good and they’ve gotten so much better throughout the season, so it’s going to be a great matchup for us.”
In Millan’s absence, four players averaged double digits in scoring, led by freshman guard Anne Simon, the 2019-20 AE Rookie of the Year, with 13.0 points per game. Maine led the AE in both field goal percentage and assists this season, but finished last in rebounding, a category Stony Brook finished first in this year. Given that disparity, an important factor in the game will be whether Maine can knock down its shots, because it might not get many second chances against Stony Brook’s defense.
The women’s conference championship game is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. on Friday, March 13 from Island Federal Credit Union Arena in Stony Brook, New York. The men’s conference championship game will be played the next day at 11 a.m. on Saturday, March 14 from Patrick Gymnasium in Burlington, Vermont.