Will a Return to Patrick Gym Help the Cats Shooting Woes?
As always we start with a post-game recap. After wrapping up their Florida trip the Cats ventured up the coastal highway for a pit stop in Greensboro, NC to take on the Spartans. The mid-major clash between UNCG and Vermont was a rock fight from the opening tip. Neither team could muster much if anything offensively as both the Spartans and the Catamounts barely broke the 50-point mark by the final whistle. Make no mistake about it, UNCG is a good team, but this should’ve been a win for the Cats. Just how bad were the Cats offensively? The average three-point percentage in college basketball is 34%. Vermont shot 16% from deep. Had Vermont managed to shoot 34% they would’ve won this game by nine. Instead, they lost by three and now have a quick turnaround as they prepare to take on longtime rival, Dartmouth.
Besides the piss poor shooting there was quite a lot that bothered me about this game. Ben Shungu had arguably the worst game of his career, the rotation was trash but most of all, the final timeout was just a terrible, terrible decision. Down three with about eight seconds remaining, the Cats pulled down a rebound and pushed up the court with the chance to tie the game. Instead of pulling up for the shot, Shungu called timeout with three seconds remaining. On the surface you might think this was wise as Vermont could draw up a play to get a better shot. However, UNCG knew that they could simply commit a foul and put Vermont on the line for a one-and-one bonus. Sure enough as soon as Vermont passed the ball in Shungu was fouled before he could even look at the basket, let alone attempt a shot. Shungu then missed his free-throw and the game was over. The lack of awareness in that situation to call a timeout and essentially eliminate any chance you might have at going for the tie was awful. Coach Becker and Shungu both should know better. Granted hindsight is 50/50 but we’ve come to expect better from Coach Becker led teams.
We’re on to Dartmouth.
Projected Line-Ups: Vermont
Ben Shungu – Guard
Kam Gibson – Guard
Robin Duncan – Guard
Isaiah Powell – Forward
Ryan Davis – Forward
Again, no changes here. However, Finn Sullivan has been playing well as of late and it wouldn’t surprise me if Coach Becker swapped out Duncan for Sullivan – especially if the offense continues to sputter. We all know that Ryan Davis is by far the teams best player, yet it’s Sullivan who is quickly emerging as perhaps the teams most important player. Sullivan isn’t the type of player who is going to wow you, but he’s been very consistent for the Cats and his production off the bench has been huge in keeping Vermont in games this year.
Elsewhere, I’d love to see Coach Becker dig deeper into his bench. Aaron Deloney might be a liability defensively but he can provide a much needed shot in the arm on the offensive side. Likewise, as much as I like Nick Fiorillo, he has not looked great – especially from deep which was supposed to his forte. Give Georges Lefebvre some minutes and see what the young big man can do. The current rotation isn’t getting it done. Time to get some new blood in there.
What to Watch For: Vermont
Make a damn shot. Just how bad is Vermont’s perimeter shooting? 51 for 202 for paltry 25.2%. The Cats rank 344 out of 350 in the entire division one landscape. Let that sink in for a moment. 344 out of 350. SHEEEEESH! What’s worse is that most of these attempts are actually decent looks, but they just can’t connect. The game of basketball is now largely predicated on a team’s success from deep – if the Cats continue to struggle from the perimeter they likely won’t even be sniffing the NCAA Tournament berth. Hopefully being back in Patrick Gym helps to right the ship and the Cats can get back to a respectable percentage.
Vermont has been very successful against cross-state rival Dartmouth in years past. Ideally this will be the perfect get right game for the Cats. Curious to see the type of rotation Coach Becker deploys. Will he stick with his tried and true eight-men squad or will he look further down his bench in hopes of finding a spark? Would love to see Cats return to their up-tempo attacking style that we saw in those first few games. The half-court offense is stalling – push the tempo and attack off every missed shot.
Projected Line-Ups: Dartmouth
Brendan Barry – Guard
Taurus Samuels – Guard
Cam Krystkowiak – Forward
Garrison Wade – Forward
Aaryn Rai – Forward
The Big Green are led by star senior point guard, Brendan Barry. Vermont had interest in luring Barry to Burlington a few years when Barry announced he was first transferring away from Dartmouth. Barry ending up transferring to Temple, but his career came full circle as he returned to Dartmouth after one year with the Owls. Flash back to present day and Barry is having a career year for Big Green, as he leads the team with 14.8 points and 2.3 steals a game. He’s also an absolute sniper from deep, leading the team with 39 attempts on the season and a 46.2% hit rate. If Vermont continues to double opponents in the post look for Barry to get plenty of open looks.
Barry’s backcourt running mate, Taurus Samuels, is also off to a fantastic start. The senior guard is averaging a career best 12.8 points (second only to Barry) and his 47.8% clip from deep makes the duo extremely dangerous from the perimeter. Dartmouth has only played four games thus far meaning that their rotation is still a work in progress. The Big Green seem to have a sense on who will be in their core eight-men rotation but so far 17 players have made an appearance on the year. Expect the rotation to remain closer to 8-10 in this one though.
What to Watch For: Dartmouth
While this game is technically a rivalry it’s been incredibly one-side. Dartmouth has only bested Vermont twice in their last 19 matches and has not managed a win against their cross-state foe since 2007. However, this year’s Dartmouth squad certainly passes the eye-test. Despite playing in only four games thus far, Big Green has already knocked off Georgetown and Northeast Conference favorite, Bryant. This won’t just be another cakewalk for a struggling Vermont team. Getting the Vermont monkey off their back would be a huge win for this program.
Vermont boasts an incredibly stifling defense but Big Green might have the perfect perimeter offense to counteract what the Catamounts try to do. The Cats do an excellent job at switching and reacting on the defensive front. One of their staples has been to double the ball whenever teams try to attack the paint. So far the results have been hit or miss (literally). When the Cats trap, it forces the ball back out to the perimeter. Vermont is good about jumping back to prevent a quick shot, but when opposing teams can quickly rotate the ball from one side of the court to the other it typically leaves an open man in the corner. The Cats take a gamble that the lone man in corner won’t make his shot and for the most part that gamble has paid off, but against Dartmouth they won’t be as lucky. Barry and Samuels can both knock down those long-range shots with ease and Dartmouth as whole is shooting 36.7% from deep. Message to Vermont – if you double, it will be trouble. That rhymed so it has to be true.
Final Score: Vermont 73 – Dartmouth 64
I’m hoping (praying) that a return to comfy confines of Patrick Gym will be a cure-all for the Cats offensive woes. Shungu in particular should be able to feed off the Burlington crowd and bounce back nicely. Maybe all the Cats need is boost from Tony Patella to get their ass in gear. Take the over as the Cats offense finally starts to click.
Tip-Off: Wednesday, December 1st, 7:00pm (ESPN+)