As the America East (AE) basketball season enters its final stage, the tournament fields on both the men’s and women’s sides are getting clearer. On the women’s side, the regular season is at an end and the AE quarterfinal matchups are set. On the men’s side, things are settled at the top and bottom of the standings, with Vermont clinching the top seed and Maine clinching the final spot in the tournament, but the middle of the standings is still in flux entering the final round of regular season games. Here’s how the action broke down in AE hoops this week:
On the men’s side, Vermont (23-7, 13-2 AE) didn’t play in Wednesday’s slate of games, but clinched the top spot in the AE tournament while idle because of Stony Brook’s loss to Hartford on Wednesday. Though the Catamounts had nothing more to play for, all of their usual starters got sizable minutes on Saturday at UMass Lowell, a game which Vermont won 94-77 to put an exclamation point on its fourth straight AE regular season title.
At the other end of the standings, the two-team battle for the final spot in the AE tournament had its twists and turns throughout the week, but came to a conclusion on Saturday with Maine (8-21, 4-11 AE) coming out on top. It looked shaky for the Black Bears on Wednesday when they let a second-half home lead against New Hampshire slip away. That loss, plus Binghamton’s victory over UMBC that same day, put the onus on Maine to grab a win in one of its last two games, which the Black Bears did on Senior Day against UMBC (14-16, 7-8 AE) with a 74-48 victory. Four Black Bears reached double figures, led by senior forward Andrew Fleming with 21 points, to aid Maine in its rout of the Retrievers. The win, coupled with Binghamton’s loss to New Hampshire (15-13, 8-7 AE), officially put Maine in the tournament.
“We just hung in there,” said Maine head coach Richard Barron in a postgame interview on ESPN+. “We caught UMBC on the right day, they struggled shooting the ball a little bit. They got some good looks at times, and they made a real push at us in the second half with great energy, [they] were really aggressive attacking the basket, playing faster and we were able to withstand that … We made the right plays and sustained that lead.”
While Vermont and Maine are locked into their current positions, the teams between them are all still vying for positions. Hartford’s victory over Stony Brook (19-11, 10-5 AE) on Wednesday gives it home court in the quarterfinal, and the Hawks (16-14, 9-6 AE) have a chance to overtake the Seawolves if they win and SBU loses in the last slate of AE games on Tuesday. Both have clinched home court advantage in the quarterfinals.
By beating Binghamton (10-19, 4-12 AE), New Hampshire extended its winning streak to four games and have shot into fourth place after falling to seventh not that long ago. Both Albany and UMBC, two teams in the midst of slumps, are in position to potentially overtake UNH and clinch that final top four spot.
On the women’s side, the bracket is all set, as the regular season has reached its completion. Maine, UMass Lowell and Binghamton all won their final two games of the season to clinch home court in the quarterfinals. Maine (16-14, 12-4 AE) finishes the regular season on an eight-game winning streak and will occupy the No. 2 seed in the tournament, an impressive result in the AE regular season given that its star player, senior guard Blanca Millan, tore her ACL toward the beginning of the season. Maine will face Vermont in the quarterfinals.
UMass Lowell (15-14, 11-5 AE) finished a game back of the Black Bears in third place and will host UMBC in the quarterfinals, while Binghamton (21-8, 10-6 AE) finished the regular season on a five-game winning streak to seal a fourth-place finish and quarterfinal matchup with New Hampshire.
Finally, Hartford had been eliminated from AE playoff contention for a long time, but it can take small comfort in the fact that it will not finish the season winless. The last remaining winless Division I men’s or women’s basketball team was playing its final game of the year, and the Hawks (1-28, 1-15 AE) managed to snag a win at home against first-place Stony Brook, who had long since locked up the AE regular season title. The Seawolves (26-3, 14-2 AE) will take on Albany in its first game of the tournament.
AE basketball action continues this week. The men’s teams will finish up their regular season on Tuesday, March 3 with four games, all tipping off at 7 p.m. Maine will travel to Hartford, Stony Brook visits UMBC, UMass Lowell will play at New Hampshire and Vermont hosts Albany. On the women’s side, all four quarterfinal games will be played on Wednesday, March 4. Albany versus Stony Brook will tip off at 6:30 p.m., while the other three matchups, Vermont at Maine, UMBC at Umass Lowell and New Hampshire at Binghamton, are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.