Vermont Gets Another Look at a Potential NCAA Tournament Team
Before we dive into the game preview, let’s quickly recap last week’s match up against cross state rival, Dartmouth. Vermont was favored by 13 points heading into their yearly rivalry game with Big Green, but even with the backing of Vegas this line appeared deceiving. The Cat’s were coming off one of their worst shooting performances under Coach John Becker and had been struggling to find any sort of offensive consistency in their last few games. On the flip side, Dartmouth and Brendan Barry had been lighting it up from beyond the arc – this game had major upset in the making vibes written all over it.
Yet, it was Vermont who played the role of the grifter in the end. The Cat’s poor shooting woes seemingly disappeared overnight, as it was an absolute whoopin’ from start to finish. America East PoY candidate Ryan Davis once again paced the Cats in scoring with 16, but in the words of my dear friend Ringo Starr, “I get by with a little help from my friends” – five other Catamounts would eclipse the double-digit scoring mark, as Vermont dominated Big Green 83-65.
Maybe there’s just something about being back in Burlington that helped the Cats find their groove. The recent road stretch was not a pretty showing for the Cats, as they managed just a 2-2 record and were coming off a 41% from the field and ghastly 16% from three-point shooting performance in their last go-round with UNCG. Flashing back to the Dartmouth contest and the Cats looked like a completely different team, finishing with a 56.6% clip from the field and a much improved 40% mark from deep. Granted this Dartmouth team isn’t likely to make an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, but this was a quintessential get-right game. Time to see if the Cat’s can duplicate this performance come Tuesday against a very dangerous Providence team. Speaking of Providence…….
Projected Line-Ups: Vermont
Ben Shungu – Guard
Finn Sullivan – Guard
Justin Mazzulla – Guard
Isaiah Powell – Forward
Ryan Davis – Forward
Well, well, well looks like we did in fact have a line-up change. After the offense struggled mightily to find the back of the net, Coach Becker swapped out Robin Duncan and Kam Gibson for Finn Sullivan and Justin Mazzulla and boy, oh boy did that do the trick. Both Sullivan and Mazzulla each surpassed the double-digit scoring mark, as Sullivan in particular has been playing some of his best basketball as of late. There had been whispers that Duncan, Gibson or potentially both could be headed for the pine in lieu of the likes of Sullivan and Mazzulla, but Coach Becker can be stubborn at times with his rotation so swapping two starters still came as a surprise against Dartmouth.
While it was just one game, you have to imagine that both Sullivan and Mazzulla will remain entrenched in the starting five for at least another go-round against Providence. If they continue to excel that should pretty much lock them in the rest of the way. And if they happen to fall flat? Best to manifest good thoughts only. Maybe Gulliory is the key.
The blowout against Dartmouth meant the Cats got to empty the bench in the closing minutes. Unfortunately, there was no sign of forward Georges Lefebvre. As a big proponent of Lefebvre – arguably the most athletic and physically gifted player on the team, I’d love to see the young big man pick up some more floor time. His moment likely won’t come against a highly talented Providence squad, but hopefully we’ll see what he’s capable of come conference play time. Nick Fiorillo has put in a ton of work this offseason but unfortunately has regressed considerably as a shooter. 3-21 (14%) from deep is not going to cut it. Understandable that Coach Becker would still like to see more from Lefebvre but with the way Fiorillo has been shooting (or lack thereof) it’s time to see what the young Canadian can offer.
What to Watch For: Vermont
Will the road shooting woes persist or have the Cats finally found the right touch? That’ll be the biggest question mark throughout this contest. This is a very tough Providence team (Currently #1 in the Big East) as even consistently finding good looks will be enough of a challenge as is. However, Coach Becker and the Cats do an excellent job at stepping up to the level of play of their competition. Ben Shungu almost single-handily willed the team to an upset over Maryland earlier in the year. Despite cooling off quite a bit since that game, Shungu has slowly begun to find his touch yet again and will have to produce his best game yet should the Cats somehow manage to pull the upset.
Sitting at 8-1 and a top the Big East standings, Providence will likely be the hardest remaining game on the Cats schedule. Every year Vermont manages to schedule a small handful of games against Power Five schools, and yet despite their best efforts to fight tooth and nail, the Cats always seem to fall just short (the 2019 win against St. John’s was nice but not quite the same). Moral victories should mean nothing to this team by now. They know they can run with whoever – now it’s about putting it all together for a full 40 minutes.
Projected Line-Ups: Providence
Al Durham – Guard
A.J. Reeves – Guard
Alyn Breed – Guard
Nate Watson – Forward
Noah Horchler – Forward
By no means is this line-up set in stone. Most recently the Friars starting unit has been these aforementioned five, but don’t sleep on the rest of Providence – this team can beat you in a multitude of ways. Horchler and Watson have been unstoppable early on, as the frontcourt duo is accounting for 26.8 points and 13.1 rebounds a game. Vermont’s depth upfront is thin at best and will certainly have their hands full trying to slow down the likes of Horchler and Watson. While the Friars boast a formidable pair of big men, it’s been senior guard Al Durham who has been quarterbacking the team. With a 36.1 minutes per game average expect to see Durham for damn near every possession as he hopes to lead the Friars to another win at home.
Outside of the starting unit the Friars have managed to find success thanks in large to their production off the bench. Providence tends to stick with an 8-9 man rotation most nights and with an average of 20 points per game coming exclusively off the pine, the Friars have the depth to compete no matter the situation. Despite the depth, the Friars will ideally will not be emptying the bench in this contest.
What to Watch For: Providence
When you start to look at a few of the key team statistics you might think that Vermont and Providence are much closer than they appear. Rebounds – PC (35.8) UVM (34.1), assists – PC (14) UVM (13.1), steals – PC (5.1) UVM (5.2), FG% – PC (45%) UVM (43.1%). However, these stats need to be taken with a grain of salt. Nothing against murders row of opponents Vermont has taken on, but the team that has typically lined up across from Providence has been much better than Vermont’s counterpart. Even with the discrepancy in opponents talent level, Providence is still head and shoulders above Vermont in two very important statistical categories, points and 3PT%. Points – PC (71.6) UVM (63.5), 3PT% – PC (33.7%) UVM (26.6%).
The three-point percentage might not seem all that dramatic but two if not all three of Vermont’s losses can be attributed to poor shooting – especially from deep. With Ryan Davis expected to receive plenty of attention as soon as he touches the ball, the Friars can play aggressive by taking it one-step further and doubling Davis at the point of attack. By forcing Davis to kick it out the Friars will be daring the Cat’s to hit their marks from deep, which if recent history is any indication says that Vermont will struggle. Vermont will always be within striking distance because of their suffocating defense. If they can find the back of the net expect a close game (0-5 point difference) but if they struggle again, that margin is likely double (5-10+ points).
Final Score: Vermont 68 – Providence 75
Can Vermont win this game? Absolutely. Will Vermont win this game? Outlook not so good. I fully expect the Cats to get up for this one and give Providence everything they have, but the Friars are already off to an exception start and should be able to handle a Vermont team that has struggled at times to produce on the offensive end. Outside the likes of the usual suspects in Shungu, Davis and Powell, the Cats are going to need at least one more under-the-radar player to get hot in order to stay with the Friars. Look for Vermont to hit the cover but for Providence to be the ones walking away with the W.
Tip-Off: Tuesday, December 7th, 6:30pm (FS1)