Will Vermontâ€™s Frontcourt be a Strength or Weakness this Year?
The 2021-22 roster preview comes to a conclusion with a focus on the big men of Vermont. The Cats are very top-heavy in the frontcourt (no pun intended), as there is a significant drop-off after the likes Ryan Davis and to a lesser extent Isaiah Powell. If he was able to stay healthy Tomas Murphy couldâ€™ve been an excellent complement off the bench for the Cats, but sadly news broke last week that Murphy unfortunately would be stepping away from the team due to lingering health concerns about his ability to compete. Murphy joined the Cats a season ago with the hope that he and Davis would form a tenacious frontcourt duo, but sadly those dreams never came to fruition as Murphy spent the majority of his abbreviated Vermont career in street clothes watching from the bench. While it is incredibly unfortunate that Murphyâ€™s collegiate career has to end on such a sour note, I know that all of Catamount Country wishes Murphy nothing but the best moving forward.
However, for every door being shut a window is opened. It was noted that a former Kansas State forward Montavious Murphy was in attendance over the weekend at Patrick Gym to watch the Cats take on Saint Anslem. Murphy (Montavious not Tomas) is a former four-star recruit out of Spring, Texas who recently transferred out of Kansas State. The 6â€™9â€ forward boast a ton of versatility and would be a huge addition for the Cats with three years of eligibility remaining. Itâ€™s still unclear if Murphy were to join the Cats if heâ€™d be allowed to play this year. Lots of moving parts â€“ stay tuned.
With the preseason in the rear-view mirror the Cats are gearing up to take on Northern Iowa this Thursday. More coverage on that game will be coming soon, but for now hereâ€™s a look at how Vermontâ€™s big man rotation should shake out.
Ryan Davis | Senior
Last year Davis became 13th Vermont Catamount to take home America East Player of the Year honors (fifth straight time a Catamount a has won for those counting at home). The big man out of Illinois elevated his game to a new level, averaging 18.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 1.1 APG and quickly asserted himself as the new centerpiece for the Catamounts. With another dominate season Davis could potentially play his way into NBA draft consideration or at the very least a summer league tryout. He might not have the same ceiling as former Catamount #3, but Davis is exceptionally skilled and if he continues to knock down those long-range shots (41% last year) he will certainly pique the interest of multiple teams. To the surprise of no one, John Becker stated that the Cats will feature a heavy dose of Davis throughout the year and that the offense will be predicated on how far Davis can take them.
If Davis is not only able to replicate but improve upon his success from a season ago the Cats will undoubtably be the perennial favorites out of the America East yet again. Should Davis repeat as AE PoY heâ€™d be joining some elite UVM royalty â€“ Taylor Coppenrath, Marqus Blakely, Trae Bell-Haynes and the aforementioned #3 are the only Catamounts who have ever earned back-to-back AE PoY accolades. Going into the year a season ago it was essentially supposed to be a 1A and 1B option between him and Stef Smith, but a down year from Smith allowed Davis to capitalize. Now, Davis returns as the true number one option. Injuries have hampered Davis in the past, but if he can stay healthy for an entire year expect the AE PoY and road to the conference championship to remain in Burlington.
Projected Role: Starter
Projected Stats: 29.2 MPG, 21.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 1.7 APG
*Honors: America East Player of the Year, America East First-Team All-Conference
Isaiah Powell | Senior
>Give this man his flowers. Seems like just a year ago there were a number of Catamount constituents who were already writing off Powell as a bust â€“ well, Powell certainly proved them wrong didnâ€™t he? After never making a single start in his first two years as a Cat, Powell started every game of the year a season ago while averaging 27.1 MPG, 7.6 PPG and 5.2 RPG. He proved to be the ultimate glue guy for the Cats and bullied his way around the paint on both ends of the floor, providing Vermont with a stable (albeit undersized) stretch-four. While his shot is still a work in progress, it was dramatically improved from what weâ€™ve seen in previous years as Powell shot a respectable 49% from the field and 39% from deep on the year.
Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu will no doubt be the Cats primary options on offense but behind them the door is wide open for anyone else to become that third spoke. If his shot continues to improve, Powell is could become that candidate capable of picking up the slack should either Davis or Shungu have an off night. In previous years weâ€™ve seen Powell light up the scoreboard at times, yet he was never able to consistently put together a string of good shooting performances. A newfound confidence mightâ€™ve been the spark he needed, as now Powell is regarded as a lock to start every game. All indications thus far have been positive for the Albany native, as it appears that Powell will become an even more prominent player for his final year with the green and gold. Patience is a virtue my friends.
Projected Role: Starter
Projected Stats: 28.8 MPG, 8.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 2.1 APG
*Honors: America East Third-Team All-Conference
Georges Lefebvre | Sophomore
>This might come as a surprise to some, but donâ€™t sleep on Lefebvre. The second-year big man looks much improved from a season ago and has added on some additional pounds (read: muscle) which will certainly help him mix it up in the paint. Lefebvre might not begin the season as the first big man alternative off the bench, but I predict that by the end of the year heâ€™ll find himself in that position in large because 1. The continued improvement and development in his game and 2. Heâ€™s Vermontâ€™s future at the 4/5 and will be asked to take on an even larger and more prominent role come next year. Likewise, Vermontâ€™s other big men options donâ€™t possess the type of strength and athleticism that Lefebvre has.
Will there still be growing pains with Lefebvre? Absolutely. After essentially a non-existent freshman year Lefebvre is still plenty green, but the coaching staff knows this and will understandably be prepared to accept that Lefebvre will face adversity at times. How Lefebvre responds to that adversity is what will truly impact his playing time as the year rolls on. As long as Lefebvre handles his assignments and limits his mistakes he should be able to find consistent minutes. And who knows, with the way Vermont big men have been dominating lately it could be Lefebvre on the receiving end of AE PoY honors next year.
Projected Role: Bench (6th â€“ 10th)
Projected Stats: 12.2 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 0.8 APG
Nick Fiorillo | Sophomore
Without Tomas Murphy and a still inexperienced Lefebvre, Fiorillo is the most logical sense to be the primary big off the bench for the Cats this year â€“ at least to begin the season. While Fiorillo is incredibly talented, he doesnâ€™t quite fit the mold of a traditional big. He has the height (6â€™9â€) but Fiorilloâ€™s game is best served as a stretch-four who plays outside the paint. Fiorillo might even be the Cats best pure shooter. However, while Fiorillo can dazzle on the offensive side of the ball, his defense is still a work in progress.
Nonetheless, Fiorillo and the coaching staff have recognized this as an area of improvement for Fiorillo and while the preseason exhibition games arenâ€™t the best indicator, it is clear that Fiorillo has spent plenty of time in the weight room this offseason and will be looking to make massive strides as someone who can spell the likes of Ryan Davis and Isaiah Powell at times. Even in his limited minutes a season ago the former walk-on exceeded expectations by showcasing his ability as a spot-up shooter. Time to see if Fiorillo can become a consistent part of John Beckerâ€™s rotation.
Projected Role: Bench (6th-10th)
Projected Stats: 13.3 MPG, 5.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 1.0 APG
Duncan Demuth | Senior
As a much as weâ€™d all love to see Demuth finally find his footing, itâ€™s not looking good for the once promising big man from Florida. Demuth has seemingly battled injuries throughout his entire career and even he is able to get on the floor he looks lost at times. I do have a tremendous amount of respect for Demuth for his commitment and sacrifice to this team however. Having already transferred to Vermont in 2019, Demuth couldâ€™ve just as easily packed his bags again and tried his luck at another school. But Demuth stuck it out in the cold up in Vermont and while the results have been disappointing, his resiliency should not go unrecognized.
If Demuth was fully healthy thereâ€™d be a chance that he could ultimately compete with Fiorillo and Lefebvre for those back-up minutes, but considering that Demuth didnâ€™t even dress for either the teams preseason contests itâ€™s clear that heâ€™s dealing with yet another injury. However, when Demuth has finally been cleared to play I do believe that heâ€™ll at the very least be able to make it on the floor for a few minutes depending on the game situation. It might not be the collegiate career he had envisioned, but in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, â€œAnd so it goesâ€.