The Gophers will not be participating in the NCAA Tournament this March. But the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the best weekend of the calendar year (this is fact, not an opinion). Dozens of college basketball games with teams and players trying to make themselves a household name, even if for just the weekend. Small schools from smaller conferences get their shot at knocking off schools with more established basketball pedigrees. This is going to be a series where we take a look at 24 conferences and the schools most likely to represent them in the NCAA Tournament. Consider this early bracket research to find that Cinderella team that busts everyone’s bracket...except yours.
Last Year’s NCAA Participant: (13) Vermont
Prior Years Upset Team: Vermont pulled a nifty upset over Syracuse as a 13-seed in 2005, and the Catamounts have a rich history of screwing with major opponents in the NCAA Tournament.
KenPom Rank: 65
Off Efficiency: 115.7 (36)
Def Efficiency: 104.0 (132)
eFG%: 57.0% (17)
Why are they dangerous: Vermont returned almost their entire starting lineup from a 2017 team that won a conference record 29 games last year and gave Purdue fits in the first round of the tournament. They hit a roadblock in late December when their best player, and conference rookie of the year, Anthony Lamb fractured his foot. He’s been out since then but is back for the America East playoffs. His absence didn’t phase the Cats, who went a cool 15-1 in conference play, with a 1-point loss to Hartford as their only blemish. Imagine what they can do with their best player back? Watch out, this is one mean offense.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
Vermont fits the profile of a team that could sneak up on someone in the first round, especially once Lamb gets re-acclimated to the pace of play. They’re projected as a 13-seed for now, but with one of the conference’s better players back in tow they should be a very tough out in March should they lock up the auto-bid. They stand alone as the team to beat in the America East.