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Game Preview: Vermont vs Northeastern

The Cats are Shipping Up to Boston

It’s been a hot minute since Vermont and Brown squared off but here’s a quick game recap to refresh your memory. The first half was a mixed bag for the Catamounts. At times they looked aggressive, making their way to the hoop and finally finishing for the score. However, at other times the offense appeared stagnant, struggling mightily to get anything to fall. By the end of the first the Cats had put up 29 points – not great, but overall an improvement from what we’ve seen from them lately. The other bright spot? Vermont held Brown to 23 points in the first half which is a season low for the Bears. Honestly Brown might have had better luck offensively if they sent out a team of actual bears, but I’d still Vermont’s chances with Ben Shungu putting the clamps on.

By the end of the first my over bet was looking like a pipe dream at best – that was until both teams decided to shoot the lights out, as Vermont and Brown each scored 40+ in the second half alone. The game, as it so often does, came down to free-throws. With Vermont nursing a slim lead late in the game, Brown was forced to foul and send Vermont to the line. Earlier this year we’ve seen Vermont lose games in large due to their impotence from the line. This would not be the case tonight. The Cats went perfect from the line, finishing 6-6 in the final thirty seconds, sealing the win and sending the Cats to 7-4 on the season. However, the real story is falls directly on the shoulders of Isaiah Powell who is perfect from the charity stripe on the season, connecting on all 11 of his attempts. If this ends up jinxing Powell and he goes 0-6 against Northeast I sincerely apologize.

A few notable stats – Ryan Davis paced the Cats with 18 points, followed by Shungu with 16 and Powell with 15. Local celebrity Justin Mazzulla chipped in another 11 for the Cats. Paxon Wojcik lead the way for the Bears with 13 points and uber-talented freshman, Kino Lily Jr. added another 13 himself. Brown saw their four-game win streak snapped by Vermont, but still remain a strong contender to win the Ivy League title.

On to Northeastern….

Projected Line-Ups: Vermont

Ben Shungu – Guard
Finn Sullivan – Guard
Justin Mazzulla – Guard
Isaiah Powell – Forward
Ryan Davis – Forward

Barring any injuries or other potential setbacks, we can go ahead and pencil in this line-up the rest of the way. Former starter Kam Gibson appears to be battling a minor injury as he sat out the game against Brown. Even if Gibson is healthy enough to return to action against Northeastern it seems like a long shot that he’ll find his back into Coach Becker’s starting unit. At times Gibson has looked great, but more often than not he still looks lost and uncertain at times. Vermont has options to replace Gibson’s minutes, such as Aaron Deloney and Evan Guillory so the coaching staff will certainly be evaluating his role moving forward should he continue to struggle.

Speaking of Deloney, Vermont’s short king finally saw some floor time against Brown. Granted, he was only on the court for about two minutes and his impact was rather meaningless, but it was nice to see Coach Becker opt for a different look after watching his offense come to screeching halt once again. Unfortunately for Deloney, during the brief time he spent on the floor Vermont did not score and Brown hit back-to-back three-pointers. Neither of those were directly Deloney’s fault but the PER is most definitely not doing him any favors. If Gibson is still unavailable I’ll be curious to see if Coach Becker opts to deploy Deloney again or perhaps look deeper down the bench in hopes of finding a spark offensively while still maintaining their defensive prowess.

What to Watch For: Vermont

Much like the United States, Vermont has a shooting problem. But unlike the U.S., Vermont is at least trying to fix this problem. Now keep in mind that the Cats offense is still far from perfect, but credit to Coach Becker and Vermont for making the needed adjustments to reach a more respectable showing. The Cats offensive woes seem to stem primarily in the first half, as in eight straight games they’ve been unable to eclipse the 30-point mark by halftime. It’s unclear why the Cats have come out flat in nearly every contest as of late, though the fact that they’ve managed to finish 5-3 in those contests indicates that the team is more than capable of making the correct adjustments needed to ultimately win.

I for one am sick and tired of watching the Cats sleepwalk through the first half. Granted their defense has been as stout as ever, but if this team hopes to make waves come conference tournament time they’re going to need to find a way to turn up the intensity. Northeastern has a bruising forward in Chris Doherty who’s close to averaging a double-double on the season (11.5 PPG, 9.6 RPG), however, Ryan Davis and his Michael Jackson-esque footwork should be able to dance all over Doherty. The Cats need to make their presence felt early and often and the best way to do that is to feed the reining America East PoY.

Projected Line-Ups: Northeastern

Nikola Djogo – Guard
Shaquille Walters – Guard
Tyreek Scott-Grayson – Guard
Jason Strong – Forward
Chris Doherty – Forward

At first glance the Huskies roster is all over the place. Ten different players have an average of 10+ minutes a game, but only 3 of the 13 Huskies to have played this year have managed to compete in all 11 of their games thus far. The point being that this projected starting unit and team as a whole for that matter could look entirely different come Sunday afternoon. And while there have been indications that neither Vermont nor Northeastern are dealing with Covid related issues, the sudden resurgence around nearly every sports landscape could have a domino effect on which players will be active for this game.

Should everyone get the green light for this contest, there will be two Huskies that Vermont will need to keep close tabs on. Walters and Djogo both average over 11 points a game and lead the Huskies in three-point shooting, with a 42.1% (Walters) and 44.1% (Djogo) clip. The duo of Walters and Djogo combine for almost seven attempts from deep a game and with both shooting over 40%, the Cats will need to stay persistent in their perimeter defense. Elsewhere, Doherty can clean up the glass like no other. Davis, Powell and even Mazzulla will have a battle on their hands all game as they try to limit the dirty work of Doherty underneath.

What to Watch For: Northeastern

Despite sitting at 6-5 with all of conference play still ahead of them, Northeastern is likely going to be on the outside looking in come NCAA Tournament time. The Huskies are currently tied for 6th in the CAA. Their best win came against a mediocre Boston University team – a 49-48 snooze-fest. The point being that this is not your fathers Huskies team. Bill Coen is by all accounts a good coach, but his 15-year tenure at NU has only seen the Huskies reach the NCAA Tournament just twice (14-15 and 18-19). Beating a team like Vermont who routinely surpasses the 20-win mark every season and is continuously mentioned as one of the best mid-major programs in the country would a massive win for a very complacent Huskies team.

In order for Northeastern to pull off the upset* (NU might actually be favored which is mind-blowing) they’ll need to rely heavily on their big three of Walters, Djogo and Doherty. The Huskies have a very short rotation, often only deploying six to seven players a game. This puts an insurmountable amount of pressure on their starting unit to perform up to par. Walters and Djogo have to hit their threes and Doherty has to secure the boards. Jerry tells the jokes. Dean sings the songs and gets the girls.

Predictions

Final Score: Vermont 74 – Northeastern 61

These two teams have squared off six times within the last ten years with the Huskies coming away victorious in four of those contests. Northeastern is a very solid team, but they won’t be making it 5 out of 7 after this one. Look for the Cats to feed Davis from the get-go, as he sets a new career-high with a 30+ point performance. Lastly, special shoutout to every Catamount fan who makes the trip to Boston this weekend. The Vermont constituents always travel well and it’s an absolute joy to seem an opposing team’s arena filled with the green and gold.

Tip-Off: Sunday, December 19th, 1:00pm (ESPN+)

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