Can Vermont Finally Play a Complete Series?
The Catamounts are back in action this weekend, as they head down to Binghamton to take on the Bearcats. The Cats are coming off a so-so performance against their old rivals in the Albany Great Danes. The two teams split that weekend series, but Vermont knows they should’ve walked away from that match-up 2-0. The Catamounts have split every series thus far, but get another crack to break out the brooms as they head to Binghamton and face a team they haven’t lost to in 11 straight games.
Despite being 1-5 in conference play thus far (1-8 overall on the season), the Bearcats cannot be overlooked, as they have shown to be a very tough match-up. The Bearcats upset UMBC a fortnight ago (that’s two weeks and not the game for all you Gen-Z kids out there) and more recently are coming off a heart-breaking loss to Hartford at the buzzer.
Sitting at 1-5 the Bearcats find themselves back in the basement of the America East and will desperately be trying to salvage their season before falling back any further. For the Catamounts, their 3-3 record lands them right in the middle of the pack and is rather underwhelming considering the standard that has been set at Vermont in recent years. Hard to say which team needs this win(s) more, but you best believe John Becker and Tommy Dempsey will have their teams ready to go come Saturday afternoon.
Starting Line-Up Predictions – Vermont Catamounts
Stef Smith – Guard
Ben Shung – Guard
Justin Mazzulla – Guard/Wing
Isaiah Powell – Forward
Ryan Davis – Forward
Barring any unforeseen injuries expect this line-up to remain the same throughout the year. There is a slim chance that when fully healthy Tomas Murphy could upend Powell out his starting spot based on his talent and pedigree, but considering Murphy was spotting in a walking boot last weekend that won’t be happening anytime soon.
Another slim possibility is John Becker starting Robin Duncan or Aaron Deloney over Smith for a game or two. Again, this is highly unlikely for a wide variety of reasons, but should Smith continue to struggle to find his form then John Becker might resort to this strategy. If you recall Smith initially started his sophomore year but faced similar adversity before Coach Becker pulled him from the starting line-up for a few games. It was a bold strategy but it paid off as Smith soon found his footing and was back in the starting line-up terrorizing opposing defenses.
Considering that Smith is a senior captain and we’re already almost to the half-way mark of this abbreviated season, I can’t see Coach Becker resorting to this unless it was an absolute necessity. Likewise, neither Duncan or Deloney have been playing lights out, so it wouldn’t make sense to send them in if the results would essentially be the same.
What to Watch for – Vermont Catamounts
Arguably the biggest issue for the Catamounts thus far has been that they look like two completely different teams at times. Granted you could say that about nearly every team, but in two of the Cats losses (Albany & NJIT) they had built a double-digit in the second-half before falling apart at the seams. Both those games came down to the final shot and if you want to play devil’s advocate you could argue that had the ball bounced in Vermont’s favor at the end of those games they’d be 5-1 and atop the America East standings.
Unfortunately the basketball gods did not shine down on Vermont in those instances as the Cats sit at 3-3 on the year. The real reason for those two losses are that the Cats seem to build these leads, but then fall into a cruise control mood. When this happens players seem to be dragging their feet and the offense becomes incredibly stagnant. In years past when this would happen the Cats could always rely on Anthony Lamb to get a bucket and start the offense back up, but so far without Lamb the team has struggled to find someone who can be that guy for them.
Now for some good news – last Sunday’s match-up against Albany saw the Cats build a similar yet slightly smaller second-half lead over the Danes. Albany did a great job of slowing down the likes of Davis and Smith and constantly kept hitting shots to stay within striking distance of the Cats. Vermont could have easily reverted back to cruise control once they had built that lead or even fallen apart with Davis and Smith unable to find the back of the net. Yet, the Cats remained fully engaged and answered every Albany basket with one of their own. Watching how the Cats respond to even the slightest bit of adversity will be crucial in this weekend’s match-up with Binghamton.
Keys to the Game – Vermont Catamounts
STOP GIVING UP CAREER GAMES – This was on last week’s keys to the game so I apologize if it comes off as redundant, but it’s time to buckle down defensively. What’s worse is that these career games are happening against nobodies – Ron Mitchell, Souleymane Diakite and C.J. Kelly. In Mitchell’s next series against Stony Brook he put up 0 and 5. Before playing Vermont, Kelly had 0 and 10 against UMBC. Diakite put up 8 and 13 in his next match-up, which is respectable but it’s still a far cry from his 20 point outing against Vermont. This ends now.
Defend the perimeter – Vermont’s stout defense has been a staple of every Coach Becker led team, but they’ve struggled to defend the perimeter to begin this season. Binghamton’s top two scorers (Brenton Mills & Tyler Bertram) are each shooting over 42% from beyond the arc and combined average around 11 3PT attempts a game. Eliminating Binghamton’s outside shooting will be a massive test.
Force Binghamton mistakes – The Bearcats rank third in the America East behind only Maine and UMass-Lowell for most turnovers in a game with 15.3. Binghamton has a lot of young and inexperienced players on their roster who could be prone to making rookie mistakes. The Cats need to be constantly pressuring the ball, along with showing different looks defensively to confuse the young Bearcats and force them into making these omissions.
Starting Line-Up Predictions – Binghamton Bearcats
Tyler Bertram – Guard
Brenton Mills – Guard
Dan Petcash – Guard/Wing
George Tinsley – Forward
Bryce Beamer – Forward
Unlike Vermont’s starting line-up, Binghamton’s starting unit is far from being set in stone. So far the Bearcats have experimented with a number of different starting looks and outside of Mills and possibly Tinsley I don’t believe anyone is a lock to start come Saturday. Former Vermont Academy stay Tyler Bertram has been playing very well as of late, so let’s also assume that he’ll get the starting nod. Going up against Vermont most likely has some significance for him so expect Coach Dempsey to give him the green light all game.
Binghamton has some other solid guards to rotate in, but they are paper thin up front. Outside of Tinsley and Beamer the Bearcats have no one they can seriously rely on. Thomas Bruce has been solid when he’s played, but his status for this weekend’s match-up is unclear. Vermont’s frontcourt could be in for a BIG day come Saturday.
What to Watch for – Binghamton Bearcats
The most considerable question mark to watch for with Binghamton is which team is going to show up this weekend? As previously mentioned, the Bearcats upset UMBC earlier, took Stony Brook to overtime and lost at the buzzer to a good Hartford team just last week. On the other end of the spectrum, the Bearcats have suffered losses of 14, 14, 10, and 20 already. That is not the sign of a team that is even remotely ready to compete for a conference title.
In all three of Binghamton’s conference series they’ve played incredibly better in game two than game one. On average, the Bearcats lose their first game by 13.6 points, yet only 6.5 points in game two – along with their one win against UMBC. Will we see a similar performance this weekend?
Finally, who’s going to step up outside of Mills? Bertram seems like the obvious candidate as he’s averaged 15.5 points over the last four games for the Bearcats. The Catamounts are on the wrong side of career-high streaks to start the season and if Bertram gets hot from deep he could be a serious problem for Vermont.
Keys to the Game – Binghamton Bearcats
Feed Bertram – Just mentioned how Bertram has been lighting it up from beyond the arc recently and with Vermont likely to key in on Mills, Bertram will need to have a big game to keep the Bearcats in this one. Add in the fact that the Catamounts have been giving up CAREER-HIGH points to teams second and third options and this has the makings of a big game for the former Vermont Academy standout.
Double Davis in the post – The Bearcats are going to be at a distinct disadvantage with essentially just Tinsley and Beamer in the frontcourt trying to defend Ryan Davis. Luckily for Binghamton the Catamounts don’t have another true post weapon outside of Davis. Nick Fiorillo and Duncan Demuth are better suited along the perimeter, while Isaiah Powell doesn’t have the height to consistently hang in the post either. Forcing the ball out of Davis’s hands will be key.
Let Vermont shoot from deep – This could end up backfiring for Binghamton (fingers-crossed), but the Catamounts have struggled to form any sort of consistency from deep. It’s a gamble, but if the Bearcats can close on Vermont’s driving lanes and double the ball whenever it’s in the post it’ll force the Catamounts to rely heavily on their perimeter shooting to win the game. So far that area has been very hit-or-miss for Vermont.
Game 1 – Vermont 82 – Binghamton 66
Game 2 – Vermont 72 – Binghamton 74
Before you throw your phones/laptops in disgust of me picking Binghamton to upset Vermont let me first say that I don’t actually believe Binghamton will beat Vermont. I’ve picked Vermont to win both games in every series thus far and yet the Cats have split every time. Until Vermont can show that they can win both games I’m going to go with a series split.
Also, I mentioned this briefly before, but in my prediction of game two between Vermont and Albany I had Vermont winning 75-66. The final score was 74-66 and if not for a missed free-throw from Justin Mazzulla in the closing seconds I would have been absolute nails with that prediction. Here’s hoping my game one prediction for this one follows a similar path.
Saturday 2pm ESPN+
Sunday 2pm ESPN+