John Becker and Vermont ran table in America East last season, and had league-best plus-21 efficiency margin in process. (Photo by America East Conference)
By Ray Floriani (@rfloriani)
Vermont rolled to a perfect season in America East play, yet finishing the entire task wasn’t as easy as it appeared.
Head coach John Becker’s Catamounts were severely tested in the conference championship game against Albany before ultimately prevailing on their home floor to cap off their unblemished campaign as a dominant team, and also raise another question regarding turnover percentage: Are low rates due to a good, efficient offense that cares for the ball, or lack of defensive pressure?
The numbers, hopefully, will give us insight. Those numbers are courtesy of KenPom, with only conference games are reflected in the tabulation.
1) Vermont (+21, 16-0 conference record)
2) Albany (+12, 10-6)
3) Stony Brook (+7, 12-4)
4) New Hampshire (+7, 10-6)
5) UMBC (+4, 9-7)
6) UMass Lowell (-6, 5-11)
7) Binghamton (-11, 3-13)
8) Maine (-16, 3-13)
9) Hartford (-18, 4-12)
Offensive Efficiency Leaders
1) Vermont (115)
2) Albany (114)
3) UMBC (111)
T-4) UMass Lowell (108)
T-4) New Hampshire (108)
Defensive Efficiency Leaders
1) Vermont (94)
2) Stony Brook (99)
3) New Hampshire (101)
4) Albany (102)
5) Maine (107)
Vermont’s domination was reflected in their outstanding numbers on both the offensive and defensive ends. Defense was not a strong point of the league in general, however, as only two of nine members, Vermont and Stony Brook; the top two in the regular season standings, kept opposing offenses below the century mark.
T-1) UMBC (71 possessions per game)
T-1) UMass Lowell (71)
T-3) Maine (68)
T-3) Hartford (68)
T-5) Stony Brook (66)
T-5) Binghamton (66)
T-7) Vermont (65)
T-7) New Hampshire (65)
9) Albany (63)
Only eight possessions separated the fastest-paced team in the America East from the most deliberate. By and large, though, everyone in the conference was on the same pace page when it came to style of play. The two fastest teams, UMBC and UMass Lowell, barely exceeded 70 possessions per game. The conference was more of a moderate tempo, with a few squads comfortable in literally walking it up the floor.
A Closer Look at Stony Brook
Stony Brook had a successful season under the watch of first-year head coach Jeff Boals. The tempo employed by the Seawolves was very close to that employed by Boals’ predecessor, Steve Pikiell. In his last season before heading to Rutgers, Pikiell’s group averaged 68 possessions per game en route to winning their first-ever conference championship at the Division I level.
The Stony Brook defense was above average, highlighted by an 20 percent defensive turnover rate and allowing only a 49 percent effective field goal mark. Inside the arc, the Seawolves were stingy, with an opposing 46 percent showing, good for second behind pace-setting Vermont. Three-point defense hindered the efficiency from being better, as Stony Brook’s opposition shot 36 percent from long range, a result good enough for sixth-best in the conference.
Stony Brook finished 18-14 overall. After elimination at the hands of Albany in the America East tournament, the Seawolves dropped a first-round CBI contest on the road at Illinois-Chicago.
Turnover Rate Leaders
T-1) New Hampshire (15 percent)
T-1) UMBC (15)
T-1) Stony Brook (15)
4) Albany (16)
5) Vermont (17)
All nine teams in the league managed to keep their turnover rates under 20 percent, with Hartford’s 19.6 percent clip ranking the highest in the conference. Again, this was a case of the defenses in conference not being as sound. The effective field goal marks show only three teams, Vermont (47 percent), New Hampshire and Stony Brook (both 49 percent) holding opponents under 50 percent in that category.
Tempo played another part. The average pace of the conference was 67 possessions per game. That serves a notice that teams did not want to get into uptempo affairs. Very closely related is the fact that slower paces give an indication of less defensive pressure, especially that of the full court variety.
America East Championship: Vermont 56, Albany 53
At the home of the top seed Catamounts, the tempo was a deliberate 60-possession affair, no surprise given the two teams were the conference’s most deliberate and what was at stake. Vermont enjoyed a 95-90 edge in offensive efficiency, largely due to an outstanding nine percent turnover rate. Another number jumping off the stat sheet was the Catamounts forcing Albany into a 2-of-15 three-point shooting performance, which more than offset the Great Danes’ 27-21 percent advantage in offensive rebound rate. Kenpom’s game MVP was Payton Henson of Vermont. The 6-foot-8 junior scored a game-high 17 points, adding four rebounds and two blocked shots.
KenPom’s All-America East Team
Anthony Lamb, Vermont
David Nichols, Albany
Joe Cremo, Albany
Tanner Leissner, New Hampshire
Jaleen Smith, New Hampshire
1) Anthony Lamb, Vermont (31.9 percent of team possessions)
2) Jalen Ross, Hartford (31.8)
3) Jahad Thomas, UMass Lowell (30.2)
4) David Nichols, Albany (29.3)
5) Jairus Lyles, UMBC (26.3)
6) Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont (25.8)
T-7) Tanner Leissner, New Hampshire (25.7)
T-7) Jaleen Smith, New Hampshire (25.7)
9) Tyrell Sturdivant, Stony Brook (25.6)
10) Akwasi Yeboah, Stony Brook (25.2)
If you like close contests coming down to the last few minutes, the America East may not have been your conference of choice. Trends noted in KenPom show the league as having only 15 percent of its games fall into the close game category, which is defined as games decided by four points or less, OR any game that went into overtime. That percentage ranked the America East 29th out of the 32 conferences in that category. Interestingly, only 15 percent of the conference games were considered blowouts by KenPom (games decided by a margin of 20 or more points), a figure that ranked ninth in the conference pecking order.
The average tempo of 67 possessions put the America East 28th among conferences. The pace was moderate to conservative on offense. On defense, much of the same as previously noted, teams did not force a lot of turnovers with pressure. Another number bearing out the theory on pressure, or lack thereof, is steal percentage. The conference average was eight percent, 19th-best among conferences.