Another Year, Another Logjam at Guard
Roster preview time. Up first is Vermontâ€™s deepest position group â€“ the boys in the backcourt. Officially the Catâ€™s list 10 players as guards, though I took the liberty of grouping Eric Beckett and Kam Gibson in with Bailey Patella on the wing. Thereâ€™s no doubt that both can be classified as guards and might even spend more time there than on the wing, though I do believe that the Cats will try to utilize Gibson on the wing more to take advantage of his three-point shooting capabilities. The wings will be covered on the next installment of the roster preview series so donâ€™t fret. Anyway, hereâ€™s
Wonderwall a look at the guards.
Ben Shungu | Senior
Shungu returns to the Cats backcourt for a sixth and barring any unforeseen circumstances, final year. Burlingtonâ€™s hometown hero has exceeded all expectations since his initial arrival to the program as a walk-on back in 2016. Shungu has seemingly improved his craft every year, cumulating with America East Defensive Player of Year and All-America East Conference honors these past two years. Now without his backcourt running mate in Stef Smith, Shungu will have to shoulder move of a load on offense than ever before. Is a comprehensive offensive repertoire in the cards for Shungu as he prepares for his last dance in the green and gold?
By all accounts the aforementioned Shungu is predominantly known for his tenacity on the defensive side of the court, yet his scoring has consistently progressed every year, including the abbreviated season a year ago in which he averaged over 10 points a game for the first time in his career. On average Shungu has increased his PPG totals by around 3ppg every year and should he continue this trend heâ€™d find himself around a 14ppg average for this season. However, the X-factor in this scenario is how will the roster size (specifically at guard) impact Shunguâ€™s opportunities? The optimistic approach would suggest that the abundance of talent around Shungu will in turn provide more open looks and favorable matchups, but from a pessimistic view it could be argued that thereâ€™s only one ball and the hungriest dogs eat first.
Projected Role: Starter
>Projected Stats: 29.3 MPG, 12.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 3.8 APG
*Honors: America East First Team All-Conference, America East All-Defense
Justin Mazzulla | Senior
Joining the Cats as a mid-season transfer back in January of 2020, Mazzulla was able to learn enough of Coach Beckers offense as he instantly became a full-time starter for Vermont when he became eligible for the following year. Mazzulla was as steadily and consistent as they come throughout the year, averaging 8.3ppg, 2.7rpg and 1.5apg. Mazzulla isnâ€™t going â€œwowâ€ anyone with insane athleticism or lights-out shooting, but as a reliable veteran presence heâ€™s an ideal fit for exactly what Coach Becker is looking for to operate his offense.
While last season was an outlier in many ways, Mazzulla did enough to solidify his role as a starter or at the very least a significant contributor through and through. Vermont did bring in another veteran guard â€“ Finn Sullivan, who plays in a very similar fashion to Mazzulla. Sullivan provides many of the same qualities as Mazzulla as the initiator on offense and should Mazzulla find himself struggling at times it wouldnâ€™t be a shock to see Coach Becker opt for Sullivan at various stretches. Nonetheless, Mazzulla will be an integral part of the Catâ€™s game plan throughout the year and likely find himself as one of their most unsung heroes.
Project Role: Starter
Projected Stats: 25.7 MPG, 7.7 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.2 APG
Robin Duncan | Senior
Donâ€™t cry because itâ€™s over, smile because it happened â€“ this could be the final year that a Duncan is a member of Vermont basketball team. While Robin has quite lived up to status quo that his older brothers Ernie and Everett set during their tenure in the green and gold, Robin has been a solid yet unspectacular contributor throughout the years. To be fair, Robinâ€™s style of play is almost a polar opposite than that of his brothers, who were both known for their immense shooting capabilities, while Robin operates best as defender and facilitator rather than a microwave scorer. Unfortunately Robin went through a bit of a regression a season ago â€“ weâ€™ll give him a pass because of the all-around wackiness that was 2020, but should he struggle out of the gate this year, our last image of a Duncan in the green and gold could be coming from the end of the pine.
In the perfect world Robin will be able to put last years struggles behind him and Scarlett Johansson will finally return my phone calls. If even one of those two things happen Iâ€™ll be very happy. On team filled to brim with veteran talent, Duncanâ€™s role is without a doubt the murkiest to predict. He has plenty of previous starting experience and could possibly start the year there once again. Or, heâ€™ll come off the bench and provide a stable presence at the point for the second unit. The third scenario would be a demotion even further down the depth chart, but hopefully we wonâ€™t see that happen. For as physical as basketball is, itâ€™s also an incredibly mentally demanding game. Letâ€™s hope that some time away from the game this past summer helped Robin break out of his funk.
Projected Role: Bench (6th â€“ 10th)
Projected Stats: 17.4 MPG, 3.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 3.2 APG
Finn Sullivan | Senior
Sullivan was a relatively late transfer addition to Cats, though thereâ€™s a chance he could end up being their best new addition by the end of the year. The senior guard makes the leap to Vermont after spending the previous three years in sunny San Diego (shoutout to the 619), where he had been a consistent part of SDUâ€™s rotation during the previous two years, averaging over 25mpg and 7.3ppg. On paper it appears that the Kurt Rambis doppelganger will be able to slide into a similar role for the Cats this year. However, finding consistent minutes in Vermontâ€™s backcourt is easier said than done. Sullivan will need to wake up with his piss hot every day and earn the trust of the coaching staff before he even sniffs the 25mpg mark.
If you saw my gambling record youâ€™d know better than to trust any predictions I make, but I do believe that Sullivan will be a solid contributor for the Cats this year and possibly even crack into the starting five before the years over. I alluded to it earlier, but Sullivan plays in a similar style to that of Justin Mazzulla and should Mazzulla struggle Iâ€™d wager that Sullivan would be Coach Beckerâ€™s preferred choice to allocate those minutes. Hereâ€™s hoping the west-coast native brings the heat this year.
Projected Role: Bench (6th-10th)
Projected Stats: 22.1 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 2.7 APG
Aaron Deloney | Junior
Is this a make-or-break year for Deloney? As a freshman Deloney performed admirably well and appeared to be really hitting his stride over the tail end of the season. Optimism and expectations were skyrocketing for the young pint-sized point guard heading into year two, but sadly they never came to fruition as Deloney seemed to regress a bit and slide down the depth chart. Again, it was a totally bizarre season and by all means should not be held against anyone. Chances and opportunities were limited at best and one or two bad games seemingly destroyed all creditability. Now comes Deloneyâ€™s second act. A chance for redemption. Thereâ€™s still quite the logjam ahead of him for playing time, along with two more high-talented incoming guards fighting for minutes as well. If Deloney can get on the court consistently, heâ€™ll have earned every single second of it.
For Deloney to succeed this year heâ€™ll need to play with that confidence and swagger that we saw at the tail end of his freshman campaign. Itâ€™s easy to overlook Deloney (literally), yet the young guard has been able to use that to his advantage before. Most 6â€™9â€ defenders laugh at the idea of Deloney attacking the paint, yet heâ€™ll do it without thinking twice or pull up from deep with a man in his face. Coach Becker might not approve of some of those shots but thatâ€™s the type of style that makes Deloney so effective and electric to watch. Wildcard bitches!
Projected Role: Bench (6th-10th)
Projected Stats: 14.3 MPG, 4.2 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 1.8 APG
Sam Alamutu | Freshman
The hype train for Alamutu appears to be legit. Weâ€™ll get our first look at the young Canadian guard this weekend when the Cats open the doors to the public for their annual preseason scrimmage. Sadly, I will not be able to attend, but my advice to anyone going and hoping to devise a complete scouting report, just remember this is a glorified practice. With that being said, if Alamutu hammers down a 360 dunk I will instantly be updating my America East Player of the Year watchlist with him solely at the top.
If Alamutu is in fact the real deal he should be able to break into the rotation consistently by the time conference play begins. If he doesnâ€™t â€“ oh well, no biggie. This kid has a very bright future ahead of him and thereâ€™s no need to rush him if itâ€™s going to hurt the team right now. Expect plenty of flashes for Alamutu this year and a handful of growing pains.
Projected Role: Bench/Reserve (11th â€“ 15th)
Projected Stats: 10.6 MPG, 3.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.1 APG
*Honors: America East All-Rookie Team
Evan Gulliory | Freshman
Much like the aforementioned Alamutu, Gulliory is another uber-talent guard who will likely become a major foundational piece for the Cats in the years to come. However, donâ€™t expect too much from Gulliory this year. Heâ€™ll pick up some garbage time minutes here and there and likely lead the attack during the annual division three showdown, but outside of that itâ€™s going to be a lot of watching and learning for the young guard. With the abundance of guards ahead of him, there is a chance Gulliory could spend some additional out on the wing or even possibly take a redshirt year.
It wouldnâ€™t be a huge surprise to see Gulliory ultimately take a redshirt year. Minute allocation will be difficult enough as is and with so much roster turnover predicted next year it could be an easy sell for Gulliory to take a wait and watch approach.
Projected Role: Reserve (11th â€“ 15th)
Projected Stats: 6.1 MPG, 2.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.8 APG
Michel Ndayishimiye | Freshman
Folks in the Burlington area likely know the name Ndayishimiye, as he was a standout at Rice Memorial. Ndayishimiye was an absolute electric scorer during his time there and if he was three inches taller he likely would be playing this year on a scholarship rather than having to take the walk-on route. It was already announced that Ndayishimiye is going to take a redshirt year, so this preview is about as cut-and-dry as they come. Dude is fun to watch so check back in a year or two and hopefully Ndayishimiye has found his way onto the floor.