What: America East championship.
When: March 8, 9, 15.
Where: Quarters and semis at SEFCU Arena (Albany, N.Y.), title game at site of higher seed.
Bracket: View tournament field here.
TV: Championship game on ESPN2 (March 15, 11:30 a.m.). Quarterfinals and semifinals on ESPN3.
Last year's champ: Albany (24-8, No. 15 seed)
What matters: This small-league setup almost gets it right. The neutral-site quarters and semifinals is a good touch, contrasted against the home-court-advantage situation for the higher seed come the title game. That's a good balance of both worlds. But the six-day layoff (for TV purposes, mostly) between the semis and the title game is too much, and the 11:30 a.m. tip (again, TV) is also a bit early, right?
Anyway, Vermont is the team to beat, clearly. The Catamounts went 15-1, something that hasn't been done since 2007 -- when UVM did it then, too. But that team was beat by second-seeded Albany. This time, Stony Brook is the No. 2. It's a distant No. 2. Though we never really know what to expect with these small-league brackets, it does seem like the top two seeds should march toward yet another title-game meeting (which Stony Brook has never won). Albany at No. 4 could give Vermont a game in the semis.
Who matters: Vermont's so good because it has three of the best players in the league. Brian Voelkel, Sandro Carissimo and Clancy Rugg (what a name; like he's a boxer from the '30s) all are capable of carrying the team, yet none of them ever have to. The group is riding a 10-game win streak, its only loss since Christmas coming at Stony Brook by three points on Jan. 24. Stony Brook boasts Jameel Warney, an aggressive power forward who set up shop near the rim. Best player on a team with a faint chance of winning it: Binghamton's Jordan Reed, who will probably be a First Team selection next preseason.
Fun fact: 101. That's how many spots in the KenPom.com rankings separate Vermont (62) and Stony Brook (163), among the great distances of any league between first and second team. (The WAC's New Mexico State/Utah Valley 132 spots is the greatest.)
Also, last year's tournament outcome was the exception. Over the past 12 seasons, the only time one of the top two seeds didn't earn the auto bid: 2013, when Albany made its charge as the No. 5. So with Vermont in the top spot and Stony Brook right behind, you know where we're going with this.
Prediction: Going with the Cats. John Becker's Vermont team gave Duke a real scare back in November, remember. UVM fell 91-90 at Cameron Indoor, but really -- really -- should have won that game. No team is nearly as good on defense in the league as Vermont, and no team quite matches the offense, either. Heavy favorite.