Top America East and Ivy League Contenders Clash Friday Night
Game recap time. What do the Vermont Catamounts and a bumbling 17-year-old getting ready for prom have in common? Neither know how to score. My goodness itâ€™s been tough watching the Catâ€™s offense this year. Granted they did manage to find the back of the net in the latter half of the second, finishing with a somewhat respectable 43% from the field, but the Catâ€™s missed some absolute gimmies against the Friars. Sigh.
The offense struggle right out of the gate. Vermont managed just 20 points in the first half â€“ their lowest total of the year. If not for a late bucket the Cats would have very well likely ended with under 20 points in the first half for the first time in (checks notes) a long, long time. The second half proved to be much better, as Vermont and Providence would both finish with 38 points. The resounding theme heading into this game was that Vermont could hang with upper echelon teams like Providence but could never play a perfect 40 minutes. Vermont desperately needed a win to shake the stigma. Alas, it was once again the same old story. The Catâ€™s remained within striking distance and fought hard all game, but by the final horn it was too little, too late.
Ben Shungu and Ryan Davis paced the Cats with 20 and 19 points. Shungu in particular had a one of the weirdest outings of his career. The senior guard reached the 20-point mark on 8-18 shooting but looked absolutely awful early on as he started out 1-9 and missed some easy bunnies at the rim. Then just when it looks like Providence is about to put the nail in Vermontâ€™s coffin, Shungu gets hot and brings the Cats back under ten and suddenly this game isnâ€™t over yet. Davis, who finished with 19 points was very efficient from the field, but only managed to take 8 total shots. Credit to the Friars big men underneath who did at excellent job at limiting Davis in the post. However, considering how efficient Davis was, it was a bit surprising to see Vermont not try to force feed the ball to Davis. The defense underneath and constantly playing from behind also likely played a factor in the limited touches Davis saw. But I digress â€“ on to Brown.
Projected Line-Ups: Vermont
Ben Shungu â€“ Guard
Finn Sullivan â€“ Guard
Justin Mazzulla â€“ Guard
Isaiah Powell â€“ Forward
Ryan Davis â€“ Forward
Despite the offensive sputtering at times against Providence, I highly doubt Coach Becker will make any altercations to the starting unit. Robin Duncan and Kam Gibson were pulled from the starting five just last week and reasserting them back into the line-up would likely do more than harm than good. Gibson in particular appeared lost at times against Providence both offensively and defensively. Would not be surprised to see Bailey Patella or even Aaron Deloney step in for Gibson while he tries to shake off a case of the yips.
Itâ€™ll be interesting to watch how Coach Becker allocates playing time in this one. While Brown is a good team, they are nowhere near the level talent of Providence. Will Coach Becker stick with his typical eight-man rotation or dip into the bench and give some minutes to the younger Cats? Considering that Vermont was awful in the first half against Providence, it wouldnâ€™t be a shock to see Coach Becker stick with his tried-and-true rotation in hopes of building some rhythm and continuity on offense.
What to Watch For: Vermont
How the rotation plays out is obviously going to be one of the key points to the game. Personally, Iâ€™d love to see some of the younger guys get their feet wet. Brown wonâ€™t be a cakewalk, but Vermont should be in control of this game, meaning that if Coach Becker wanted to he could potentially give guys like Deloney, Lefebvre and Guillory court time. Hell, Iâ€™ll even take Duncan Demuth at this point.
Possibly even more crucial than how the rotation shakes out is the outright need for consistent shooting. If this team continues to miss wide-open layups Coach Becker should call timeout and make his players run wind sprints similar to how the Arkansas-Pine Bluff coach did with his players during their game against Iowa State. Iâ€™m also officially putting whoever is teaching this team how to shoot three-pointers on the hot seat. It seems like the majority of shots taken from beyond the perimeter are good looks, yet rarely do they fall for the Cats. Is it a lack of skill or just bad luck? Or maybe even a bit of both? Either way, this should be a priority for the Cats, as they wonâ€™t be anything more than a slightly above average team if they canâ€™t consistently knock down their three-point attempts.
Projected Line-Ups: Brown
David Mitchell â€“ Guard
Paxson Wojcik â€“ Guard
Dan Friday â€“ Guard
Tamenang Choh â€“ Forward
Jaylan Gainey – Forward
The Brown Bears operate out of a very balanced attack, as three players are averaging over double figures a game, while six players average at least seven points a game. The Bears leading scorer, Kino Lilly Jr. has actually been playing in sixthman-esque role and pacing the Bears with 12.3 points a game. Even if Lilly Jr. doesnâ€™t earn the starting nod against the Cats, expect to see the highly talented freshman guard a whole lot in this contest. Elsewhere, Tamenang Choh is quietly putting together a very solid season. The senior forward has done a little bit of everything for the Bears, averaging 9.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game thus far. Forcing the likes Lilly Jr. and Choh out of rhythm will be key for the Vermont defense.
Brown has primarily stuck with an eight-man rotation that is heavily centered around their guards. Even though Vermont is thin up front, donâ€™t expect Brown to alter their game plan to win the size battle underneath. Lilly Jr. will be main point of focus for both teams. For Brown, itâ€™s about getting him into a rhythm offensively and for Vermont itâ€™ll be their job to force the ball away from Lilly Jr. and make someone else beat them.
What to Watch For: Brown
Itâ€™s got to be Kino Lilly Jr. right? The sensational freshman guard is off to fantastic start and has to be considered the consensus Ivy league Freshman of the Year. He might even garner some attention for Ivy League PoY should he and Brown continue to exceed expectations. Vermont can throw a plethora of defenders at Lilly Jr. but his speed and athleticism will make for a very challenging matchup. If I were in Coach Beckerâ€™s shoes, Iâ€™d tell my players to get handsy with Lilly Jr. Play physical, tug at his jersey, poke the bear. Anything to get Lilly Jr. uncomfortable and out of rhythm. If you foul him, so be it. Just donâ€™t let him blow by you for an easy bucket.
While Brown doesnâ€™t shoot the lights out from deep, they do have a respectable 32% clip from the perimeter. The Bearâ€™s offense is often predicated by the three, as they attempt nearly 24 shots from beyond the arc a game. Even though Vermont plays well defensively along the perimeter, donâ€™t expect the Bearâ€™s to shy away from those long-distance heaves. However, if Brown is able to hit their marks from deep, the Catâ€™s may try to counter with a zone-heavy approach to limit their opportunities from outside. Itâ€™ll be a battle between a stifling defense and potent offense. Iâ€™m taking the defense to prevail.
Final Score: Vermont 73 â€“ Brown 59
I like Vermont to bounce back against Brown. Much like the majority of fans, I believe Coach Becker is getting pretty frustrated with his teamâ€™s inability to consistently score. Itâ€™s because of this that I think weâ€™ll see a lot of the starting five throughout the game. With America East conference play looming, Coach Becker will likely use the remaining OOC games to instill a sense of confidence in the Cats shooting. This in turn could lead to a lot of floor time for the starting unit. I predict Davis to record a double-double and the Cats to cover.
Tip-Off: Friday, December 10th, 7:00pm (ESPN+)