We Got a GCS Recap and Game Preview All In One!
Gulf Coast Showcase Recap – Before diving into Saturday’s marquee matchup between Vermont and UNCG let’s rewind the tape and recap how the Cats fared during their trip down to Florida for the Gulf Coast Showcase tournament. Game one pitted the Cats against Horizon league hopeful, the Oakland Golden Grizzles. Before the game even started, the Cat’s were already behind the eight-ball. Isaiah Powell, Aaron Deloney, Evan Guillory and Eric Beckett were all serving a one-game suspension for missing a team meeting earlier. While the Cat’s fought tooth and nail with Oakland throughout the entire game, the absences of Powell in particular was surely felt. Vermont’s shooting was piss-poor at best, but somehow the Cat’s managed to take the lead late the game and appeared on the brink of starting the Gulf Coast Showcase 1-0. Unfortunately, Vermont choked away the win by missing multiple free-throws that would’ve iced the game – Oakland would capitalize, hit the game-winning shot to steal a win away from the Cats late.
Despite the rough start, Vermont did manage the right the ship, winning their next two games against Evansville (thanks for the Duncan’s) and Appalachian State. Again, Vermont did not shoot well in either of these two contests and needed a step-back buzzer-beating jumper from Ben Shungu to escape App. State with the W. Overall the Cat’s field-goal percentage wasn’t terrible throughout the tournament (42.4% through three games), but what really killed them was their accuracy from the perimeter – a paltry 26.5%. Luckily for the Cat’s, their defense has been rock solid and has kept them in every game thus far. Shungu was even quoted as saying that the team knows that even when their shots aren’t falling that they can rely on their defense to hold steady and keep them within striking distance.
All things consider it was a pretty solid Florida trip for the Cat’s, as they finished 2-1 and fifth in the final standings. One does have to wonder if that fifth-place finish could have just as easily been a first-place finish had the Cat’s held on to beat Oakland. For what it’s worth, the Golden Grizzles ended up winning the tournament, knocking off Delaware in the championship game. Have to imagine that Powell, Deloney, Gulliory and Beckett will all be getting alarm clocks this year for Christmas.
Game preview time –
Projected Line-Ups – Vermont4>
Ben Shungu – Guard
Robin Duncan – Guard
Kam Gibson – Guard
Isaiah Powell – Forward
Ryan Davis – Forward
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Coach Becker likes this line-up and so far it’s been working well. Powell missed the game against Oakland due to his one game suspension, but immediately returned to the starting line-up the follow game and should be in no danger of losing it anytime soon. There could be an argument to be made that Duncan and Gibson could be in jeopardy of losing their spots, as Finn Sullivan and Justin Mazzulla continue to shine off the bench for the Cat’s. It’s definitely possible to see either or both Sullivan and Mazzulla leapfrog into the starting five, but the production they’ve been able to provide off the bench has been a huge reason for the Cat’s early season success. Unless Duncan and/or Gibson really start to slump I doubt Coach Becker will make any line-up changes.
Keep an eye out for how deep Coach Becker goes into his bench for their clash with UNCG. Throughout the Gulf Coast Showcase Coach Becker essentially deployed an eight-man rotation. The biggest indicator for such a short bench is likely that these are the eight guys who Becker trusts the most – especially from a defensive perspective. However, it’s a long season and Coach Becker needs to keep his guys fresh. After a recent three-games-in-three-days excursion, the time might be now to go a bit deeper into the bench to give some players a bit more rest.
What to Watch For – Vermont
How will the Cats respond after their recent Gulf Coast Showcase run? The walk-off buzzer-beater from Shungu to close out the App. State game surely provided plenty of momentum leading into Saturday’s affair with UNCG. Hopefully the poor shooting can at least be partially attributed to those Florida rims, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up. The defense has been stout and should continue to be a huge thorn in their opponents side all year, but the reality is the Cat’s can’t just depend on their defense to escape with wins. The offense and more specifically, their three-point shooting has been atrocious. Look for Coach Becker to draw up some plays to get a few open looks from deep and hopefully get this team back on track with their perimeter shooting.
Although it’s still early, watching the emergence of freshman guard Evan Gulliory has been fascinating. By no means has Guillory blown the roof off or even had a notable highlight level play, but Guillory has slowly been picking up some minutes. As we all know, Vermont is Big Guard U and Guillory fits that mold to a T. His size and strength ooze potential, but it’s been his awareness, especially defensively that has earned him floor time. If Coach Becker expands his bench a bit against UNCG, Guillory could earn some serious floor time.
Projected Line-Ups – UNCG
De’Monte Buckingham – Guard
Kaleb Hunter – Guard
Dante Treacy – Guard
Jalen White – Forward
Mo Abdulsalam – Forward
Slowing down Buckingham will be of the utmost importance for the Catamounts. The Spartans utilize a very balanced attack, though it’s Buckingham who leads the charge as he currently leads UNCG with 12.4 points and 8.6 rebounds a game. The 6’4” senior guard does an excellent job at cleaning up the glass and pinpointing the direction of the ball, meaning Shungu or whoever is guarding Buckingham will have to get a body on him quick when boxing out. Elsewhere, forward Bas Leyte will be a threat no matter if he starts or comes off the bench. Along with Buckingham, Leyte is the only other Spartan to be averaging double-figures to start the year.
Outside of their most recent win over division-three opponent NC Wesleyan, the Spartans have dropped their last two. Both those losses came at home against the likes of UMass and FIU. Three points was the deciding factor in each of those games and while close losses can sometimes be portrayed as a moral victory, I highly doubt any of UNCG players were celebrating after two heart-breaking losses. The Spartans essentially stuck to an eight-man rotation in both of those games, with a few others getting a small handful of minutes here and there. Let’s see if UNCG continues to stick with their core or if they’ll try to widen the bench to provide rest where needed.
What to Watch For – UNCG
UNCG and Vermont are two teams seemingly headed in different directions. While Vermont was able to wrap up their trip to Florida with back-to-back wins (one included a buzzer-beater), UNCG has fallen down a peg with back-to-back losses after starting 4-0 on the year. For UNCG to return to their early season success they’ll need to step it up defensively. In their four wins only once did they surrender more than 60 points (a 70-69 win against NKU), while on the flip side of that coin, they gave up an average of 80.5 points in their two losses. Luckily for the Spartans, Vermont is far from an unstoppable force offensively as they’ve had trouble finding the back of the net consistently thus far.
On paper this seems like a class rock fight game waiting to happen. Both teams thrive when slugging it defensively. Would not be surprised to see things get chippy at times either. In fact, this game could very well likely come down to free-throws. The Spartans practically live at the stripe, as they’ve taken 132 FT attempts thus far – thirty more than the Catamounts (102). However, despite all their attempts, the Spartans are only averaging a 69% clip from the stripe – the Cats on the other hand sit at a bit more respectable 73% clip. Both teams have clearly struggled from the charity stripe so far. Expect both the Spartans and the Catamounts to shoot plenty of free-throws in this contest. Whoever walks away with the higher FT percentage will likely also be walking away with the win.
Final Score: Vermont 68 – UNCG 61
Will I ever bet against Vermont when they go head-to-head with another mid-major? Never – unless they’re playing Gonzaga. This has the makings of a big Justin Mazzulla game in my mind. Look for him to attack the basket and work his way to free-throw line often. His hustle and intensity should also help lead a spark to a Vermont unit that could use some additional firepower. I imagine UNCG is favored here by around 2.5, but if you’re nervous about taking the Cats, lock in the under. The total is likely going to be around 130 and even though my final score is covering by just a hair I don’t see a lot of fireworks happening in this one.
Tipoff: Saturday, November 27th, 5:00pm (ESPN+)