With a 6-7 record, UMBC’s only path to the NCAA tournament entails winning the America East tournament at Stony Brook and capturing the automatic qualifier that accompanies that honor. A loss to Hartford in Thursday’s semifinal or to the Albany-Stony Brook winner from the other semifinal would mean the Retrievers would begin their offseason next week while the NCAA tournament rages on.
The importance of the conference tournament is not lost on coach Don Zimmerman.
“Beginning Thursday, it’s sudden death,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “That makes the tournament that much more significant when you know that only the winners advance. It makes it pretty darn significant.”
UMBC last advanced to the NCAA tournament in 2009, which capped a run of four consecutive appearances. No current player on the roster has played in the NCAA tournament, which begs the question: is there pressure to make the tourney this season?
“I think our guys will be ready to play,” Zimmerman said. “Is the pressure revved up? Absolutely. When you’re in a sudden-death situation and you win, you advance and you survive. If you lose, you’re done. That’s a lot of pressure right there, but I’m confident. Our guys are excited, they’ve worked hard to get ready, and we’re looking forward to a rematch with Hartford.”
The Retrievers have heard the proclamations that No. 10 Albany (11-4) is the prohibitive favorite to win the America East tournament after the Great Danes went 5-0 in the league and outscored their rivals by a combined score of 103-52. Zimmerman did not take offense that analysts have already penciled in Albany.
“I think Albany’s proven that they’re the best team in the conference,” he said. “They’ve beaten everybody pretty significantly. So I think people are certainly justified in saying that.”
UMBC was the Great Danes’ toughest out, limiting them to 16 goals and losing by six. But Zimmerman said he will think about Albany when the time is appropriate.
“We’re not even thinking about Albany right now,” he said. “We’re thinking about Hartford.”