Top Three Breakout Candidates

Which Catamount is Ready to Take the Next Leap?

Every year teams across the country work towards developing their players to the best of their abilities. John Becker and the rest of the coaching staff at Vermont have found a great deal of success lately, as they’ve taken players such Trae Bell-Haynes, who was considered an afterthought through most of his recruitment process and molded him into a two-time America East Player of the Year. Would TBH have had the same career path if he went elsewhere? Possibly, but unlikely to the same extent. The coaching staff at Vermont helped TBH and many others just like him reach his potential. 

Each player is different. Recent players like Darren Payne or Drew Urquhart took a bit longer to find their footing, while others like Anthony Lamb were able to impact the game straight out of the gate. Last year it was forward Ryan Davis who made the most significant leap. Davis jumped from averaging 3.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game during his freshman season to averages of 9.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg across his sophomore campaign. The new found success helped Davis quickly transform into one of the better big men in the America East conference, while earning the America East Sixth Man of the Year award for his contributions.

The Catamounts will once again be heavily-laden with upperclassmen, including three incoming transfers who will most certainly be part of John Becker’s rotation. For argument’s sake, those three transfers, along with incoming freshmen Georges Lefebvre will be excluded from this list, as we’ll be focused on finding someone who has already spent at least one year playing for Vermont. With Lamb and fellow senior Everrett Duncan set to say farewell to Burlington there’s a big opening for someone to step up. Here are three players who will look to break-through and become the next Catamount star.

1. Aaron Deloney

Aaron Deloney came to Vermont from Portland, Oregon, where he was a star for Grant High School, leading them to a state championship while also finishing as the second all-time leading scorer in school history with 1,823 points. The west coast native would pick up a number of awards and accolades throughout his high school career, including the Oregon Gatorade Player of the Year for 2019

Like most college freshmen, it took some time and adjusting before Deloney became comfortable on the court. The freshman guard for UVM would ultimately finish the 2019-20 season with averages of 3.6 points, 1.1 assists and 1.0 rebounds per game on a 12.2 minutes per game rotation. His 3.6 ppg and 12.2 mpg would lead all freshmen on the team and his total of 33 assists would be the best across the Vermont bench. 

In most games Deloney was typically the fourth or fifth player off the pine for Vermont. Despite never starting a game for the Cats last year, Deloney’s contributions off the bench were a big time factor. The 6’0 point guard was electric with the ball in his hands, using his speed and agility to make highlight level plays on both ends of the court. Naturally there were some growing pains as Deloney adjusted to the curve of playing at the division one college level, but as the year went on you could tell that his comfortability, along with Coach Becker’s trust in him was growing by the second.

Why Deloney Will Make the Leap

There’s no doubt that the coaching staff at Vermont would love to see Deloney become their next point guard of the future. With Stef Smith about to embark on his senior year, Deloney projects to be next in line to take over the reigns come 2021. In fact, the man who currently sits above Deloney on the depth chart, Stef Smith, posted almost identical statistical numbers to that of Deloney’s rookie campaign. Here’s how the two stack up against each other:

Aaron Deloney (2019-20)

  • 3.6 points per game
  • 1.1 assists per game
  • 1.0 rebounds per game
  • 12.1 minutes per game

Stef Smith (2017-18)

  • 3.9 points per game
  • 1.0 assists per game
  • 1.7 rebounds per game
  • 11.0 minutes per game

The following year Smith would see his production skyrocket after being thrusted into a starting role. The Ajax, Ontario native would go on to average 12.4 ppg, 1.5 apg, and 4.2 rpg on a 28.0 mpg basis. Is this type of leap possible for freshman sensation Deloney? While Smith and Deloney are both suited to run the offense with the ball in their hands, their playing styles differentiate. Smith will once again be set to run the show next year. Deloney would be wise to soak up as much as he can from Smith before being handed the keys.

Like most freshmen, Deloney had trouble finding consistency throughout the season. In 10 out of the 31 games he played in, Deloney would end the night without scoring a bucket. On the other end of the spectrum, Deloney broke through the double-digit scoring mark on three separate occasions, including a 17 point performance against Umass-Lowell and a 10 point, 8 assist game against arch-rival Albany.

During the tail end of the season it was clear that Deloney had earned Coach Becker’s trust. Over the last four games of the 2019-20 season, Deloney would average 8.0 ppg, 3.8 apg, and 1.0 rpg on a 22.8 mpg basis. If the Vermont coaching staff is serious about Deloney’s development, these numbers seem like a good indicator of the type of production we should expect at the start of the 2020-21 season.

Why Deloney Won’t Make the Leap

Despite having earned the coaching staff’s trust, there are still a few factors against Deloney that could stunt his growth. Arguably the biggest component would be the current guard depth at Vermont’s disposal. Smith, along with Benny Shungu make up the starting backcourt. Robin Duncan who has averaged 23.3 minutes per game over the course of his two seasons should expect to see more of the same. Likewise, incoming transfer Justin Mazzulla will find his way into the rotation and fellow freshman guard Eric Beckett will be fighting for minutes as well. If Deloney can somehow steal 20 minutes a game out of this group he’ll have to fight tooth and nail to earn it.

Stef Smith was able to jumpstart his career after being anointed the starting role in his sophomore season. Unless there’s an injury up top, it’s highly unlikely that Deloney is going to overthrow Vermont’s senior-laden backcourt duo.

The other facet working against Deloney is his size. Officially listed at 6’0, 165lbs, Deloney might need to bulk up a bit more in order to handle a larger workload. Deloney’s athleticism, speed and scoring abilities help cover his size liabilities, but good teams will find ways to exploit this weakness, ultimately forcing John Becker to alter his gameplan. 

Overall, Deloney should be a valuable asset for the Catamounts for the next three years. While he might not be able to break into the starting rotation, he should make for an electric sixth man off the bench. His up-tempo style of play will help provide the Cats with scoring when the offense gets stagnant. If Deloney can become more consistent expect to see the lightning bug guard average close to the double-digit scoring margin for the upcoming 2020-21 season.

2. Ryan Davis

Wait, didn’t Ryan Davis already make the jump last year, going from rotational big man to sixth man of year? Yes, Davis made significant strides from his freshman to sophomore campaign, but Davis is just scratching the surface on what could be his biggest year yet.

After averaging 3.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game on 10.2 minutes per game during his freshman season, Davis would see a noticeable jump in production over the course of his sophomore year, posting a 9.5 ppg and 4.4 rpg average over a 19.9 mpg rotation. The big man from Hoffman Estates, Illinois has quickly cemented himself as one of the better forwards in the America East. Many talking heads believe Vermont has found their next star after Davis picked up the America East Sixth Man Player of Year award last year. Will Davis find himself on the receiving end of more hardware come 2021?

Why Davis Will Make the Leap

There are quite a few reasons as to why we should be expecting a big year out of Vermont’s young forward. Much like Stef Smith and many others before him, Davis will be entering the year as a full-time starter for the first time in his career. Pretty simple, more minutes equals more production. While there are a few rare instances where this isn’t the case, Coach Becker and the Cats will be leaning on Davis for support in the post, after the departures of both Anthony Lamb and Daniel Giddens. 

Even with his breakout sophomore season, Davis only averaged 19.9 minutes a game and was sixth in terms of total minutes played out of the whole team. With another year of experience under his belt to go along with the typical starter minutes of around 27-28 a game, Davis should easily be able to average double-figure scoring throughout the year. One of the reasons why Davis was able to see an uptick in his game was his ability to finish around the basket. During his freshman year, Davis only managed to shoot 38% from the field and a measly 21% from beyond the arc. But, by the end of his sophomore campaign, Davis had bumped up his shooting to a 53% clip and 30% from deep. 

Over the course of the season, Davis broke the double-digit scoring mark on twelve separate occasions and only missed finding the back of the net in one contest in which he exited after five minutes due to injury. Davis would really find his groove during conference play. Over an eight-game stretch from 1/22/20 through 2/15/20, Davis would reach double figures in seven of the eight games, averaging 14.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg off 23.9 mpg. Davis’s strong play would help the Cats go a perfect 8-0 over these contests, proving he has what it takes to shoulder the workload on both ends of the court.

If Davis can manage to average over 15 and 6 a game at around 28 minutes a game, there’s no doubt he’ll find himself in contention for much more than just the America East Sixth Man of Year award.

Why Davis Won’t Make the Leap

Much like Deloney, there’s always going to be a few what-ifs that could hold a player back. The biggest concern facing Davis is centered around his overall health. In both his freshman and sophomore seasons, Davis dealt with nagging injuries, hampering his ability to stay on the floor for extended periods of time. As much as Davis has earned the trust of John Becker and the rest of the coaching staff, it’s going to make for a difficult decision on whether the big man can handle starter minutes. It’s cliche, but every player and coach will tell you this – the best ability is availability.

One of the biggest improvements that Davis saw year-over-year was his finishing skills around the basket. His field-goal percentage jumped up 15%, but how much of that had to do with opposing defenses double and even triple teaming Lamb? All that extra attention resulted in some pretty easy shots for Davis, including the game-winner against Hartford where he hit a wide-open layup after the entire Hartford team went after Lamb. 

Is Davis best suited as a team’s second or third option, or is he capable of putting the team on his back in a leading scorer-esque role? Ideally Catamount fans would hope for the latter and it would appear that there’s enough supporting evidence to back this claim. The addition of Tomas Murphy should also help Davis as he looks to further his development. Murphy has a phenomenal inside scoring touch that should allow Davis to drift outside on occasion and continue to bury the three-ball, forcing defenses to cover him from beyond the arc. If Davis can stay healthy, expect big things for the young forward from Illinois, as he tries to go 3/3 on America East Title Championships.

3. Duncan Demuth

Here’s my surprise pick of the litter. Now there’s definitely a mix of other solid names to choose from such as Robin Duncan, Bailey Patella or even Nick Fiorillo, but after strong consideration, Demuth should ultimately see the biggest overall progression after a – well, forgettable first year in Burlington. 

Demuth arrived in Vermont last year after spending his freshman season playing for Oklahoma State. The 6’8 forward was previously ranked the 28th best player in the state of Florida according to and received numerous high-end division one offers coming out of high school. The talent and athleticism was never a question for Demuth, but finding the right fit has proven to be a bit tricker.

Vermont was able to obtain a waiver from the NCAA, granting Demuth immediate eligibility upon his transfer from Oklahoma State. The coaching staff at Vermont might have made some promises to Demuth that he wouldn’t redshirt the year, but in hindsight a year of learning and growing within John Becker’s system might have been the right call. Demuth struggled to make much of an impact on the court and quickly slipped further down the bench while battling with inconsistent play, as well as injuries throughout his first year at Vermont.

The 2019-20 season will ultimately be considered a wash for Demuth, but that doesn’t mean Catamount fans should cut the cord on the talented big man just yet. Coach Becker and his staff obviously saw something special in Demuth and will look to give the young man every opportunity to succeed in the upcoming season. Ryan Davis and Tomas Murphy will in all likelihood be entrenched as the starters come November, but the opening for first big off the bench is a wide open battle. Can Demuth prove the doubters wrong?

Why Demuth Will Make the Leap

The case for Demuth is a little different than that of Aaron Deloney or Ryan Davis. He didn’t flash potential like Deloney or go on stretch runs like Davis. In the limited amount of time Demuth spent on the court last season his numbers were pedestrian at best. The 6’8 forward left a lot to be desired, as he would only average 1.6 points and 1.1 rebounds per game over the course of 20 games. But both John Becker and Demuth know that the talented stretch-four can offer so much more.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume Davis and Murphy are the presumed starters. Behind them lies a plethora of unproven options. Demuth, along with Isaiah Powell and incoming freshman Georges Lefebvre make up the depth of Vermont’s big men alternatives. The long and athletic Lefebvre looks promising as a future starter for the Catamounts, but might need a year before he’s ready to be a significant part of the rotation. Powell has shown flashes at times during his two years in Burlington, but has too often found himself in John Beckers doghouse. On paper Demuth has the most talent out of the three of them. Now it’s just a matter of translating that talent onto the court.

During his limited action last year, Demuth looked unsure of himself when out on the court. The best thing John Becker and the rest of the coaching staff can do for him going forward is instill confidence. Having confidence in yourself, along with the trust of the coaching staff goes a long way with the comfortability and even development of these young players. The coaching staff at Vermont has shown that they believe in Demuth. If Demuth can regain his composure, there’s a strong chance that we’ll be seeing a whole new player come November.

Why Demuth Won’t Make the Leap

The good news for Demuth is that in terms of hitting his ceiling or floor, he’s already at his floor. A unspectacular, yet serviceable big man off the bench. The bad news – he might be stuck there. 

If Demuth continues to underperform next year, the coaching staff could ultimately decide they’d rather use his minutes elsewhere. Powell, Lefebvre or even the likes of Bernie Andre and Nick Fiorillo could be in line to steal minutes away from Demuth. The three horse race of Demuth, Powell and Lefebvre could go in any direction. If Lefebvre exhibits star potential the coaching staff will want to capitalize on this by feeding Lefebvre heavy minutes. Likewise, Powell has previously shown flashes, maybe this is the year he finally puts it all together. If Demuth doesn’t progress, he could be looking at another season from the end of the pine.

Besides the lack of confidence and having to look over his shoulder, another factor in the case against Demuth is recurring injuries. During his stay at both Oklahoma State and Vermont, Demuth missed time due to nagging injuries. Unfortunately, there’s reason to believe that these injuries, or at least the one from his time in Stillwater were more psychological than physical. Here’s a quote from Oklahoma State Head Coach Mike Boynton on Demuth battling through injuries: 

“I think it may be a little more psychological now than truly physical, but we’ll continue to monitor him. Obviously, I’m always gonna be mindful of — I can’t tell the kid how he feels, so I don’t wanna try to do that. I do want him to understand there’s a difference between being injured and having to need medical attention, and being sore or having some aches and pains, which is a part of the process through the college basketball season.”

Again, this quote from Coach Boynton reiterates the point that what’s been holding Demuth back from reaching his potential is a lack of confidence in himself. The upcoming 2020-21 season will be crucial for Demuth, as it’s essentially a make or break year for the young man from Seminole, FL. The only one holding back Demuth is himself. If Coach Becker and his staff can find a way to ingrain a new found confidence, we’ll be seeing a whole new Demuth come November.

Share Your Thoughts…

10 Responses

  1. Please ignore my previous comment – I had a brain cramp and thought I’d remembered Stef Smith being included among the top 3. I’ll resend it with a reference to Deloney instead.

  2. Interesting choices. I’m going to pick Ryan Davis. At this point, I have no basis upon which to feel that there’s any “there” there with Demuth. I hope that he proves me wrong. Deloney will be my breakout pick for a year from this fall, after Stef and Benny free up more playing time for him. There’s a very deep rotation of UVM guards, all of whom deserve to get on the floor next season. Ryan, on the other hand, may be the team’s only true post player – Murphy never rebounded much at Northeastern and Lefebvre’s video highlights suggest that he’s more of a long perimeter player or a stretch-four. The dramatic improvement that we saw this season from Davis came from off the bench, playing only half the game. Ryan should probably log 25-30 minutes a game next season (whenever that may be), and he’ll be the go-to guy for in-the-paint scoring to keep opponents from clamping down on all the excellent guards. I’m going to predict 13-17 ppg and strong rebounding stats next year for Ryan, which should get him an all-conference spot.

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