UMass-Lowell River Hawks (9-4) at New Hampshire Wildcats (8-5) Saturday, January 6, 12:00 PM ET
Vermont has been the king of America East for a long time, and every year we wonder if this is the year they will be dethroned. This year two of the top challengers to the Catamounts face off in the league opener for both teams. Saturday afternoon in Durham, New Hampshire the UNH Wildcats welcome the UMass-Lowell River Hawks (9-4) to town.
Both teams are coming off what should be considered successful non-conference campaigns. UMass-Lowell has nine which is tied with Vermont for the most wins of any team in the conference. They have wins over UMass and Georgia Tech as well a 71-69 loss to Arizona State. The Wildcats are 8-5 under new head coach Nathan Davis. While they don't have wins as strong as the River Hawks, they do have a win over Rhode Island and in their most recent game, they had a strong showing at Iowa State, falling by 15.
Both of these teams know they'll eventually have to go through Vermont but they each want to make a statement early. Senior Ayinde Hikim has led the way for the River Hawks, leading them in both points with 16.8 and assists with five. He's had to pick up the slack some since big man Abdoul Karim Coulibaly went out with an injury five games into the year. The new-look Wildcats have been led by Player of the Year candidate Clarence Daniels who is one rebound shy of averaging a double-double with 19.8 points and 9.2 rebounds.
UMass-Lowell is the conference leader in the NET ranking at 117 and the Wildcats are at 150 which is 84 spots higher than their best finishing spot over the last three years. (234) Vermont is Vermont but the challengers this year may be better than they have been in years past, and this game highlights two of the league’s best.