One Final Tune-Up Before Conference Play Begins
A last second cancelation against Northeastern left a sour taste in a propitious Vermont team that now hopes to wash it away with a scrubbing of Colgate.
No post game recap because well, there was no game. Covid is back (did it ever leave?). Would anyone be shocked if Wednesdayâ€™s game against Colgate gets the axe? Doubtful. But glass half-full. Thereâ€™s been no news of any sudden outbreaks from either Vermont or Colgate and by all accounts when it comes to Covid, no news is good news. Also, according to the internet and its countless years of medical training, now is the best time to get Covid due this being a milder strain. Coincidently itâ€™s also the best time to buy a new Toyota. Glass half-full baby.
Please let there be a gameâ€¦.
Projected Line-Ups: Vermont
Ben Shungu â€“ Guard
Finn Sullivan â€“ Guard
Justin Mazzulla â€“ Guard
Isaiah Powell â€“ Forward
Ryan Davis â€“ Forward
Heading into the Northeastern game there were question marks around Vermontâ€™s bench rotation. Those question still remain. The role of Kam Gibson, who recently was replaced in the starting unit possibly due to performance and/or injury is murky at best. Vermont hasnâ€™t been able to find much success as whole from the perimeter, yet the addition of Gibson was suppose to at the very least help stabilize that to a degree. So far Gibson hasnâ€™t been anything special (31% from deep, 3 attempts a game). So what does Coach Becker do now? If Gibson is healthy should he get his typical run (18.6 mpg) or does Becker look elsewhere down his bench towards Aaron Deloney or Evan Guillory?
There are a few things to keep in mind. First, Colgate is a sub-par team. They do have big time win over Syracuse this year, but this is not NCAA Tournament team. Not saying theyâ€™re going to roll over from the opening tip, but Vermont should be in full control. A nice â€œget rightâ€ game before the holiday break could do wonders for building up a good dose of confidence in Gibsonâ€™s shot. Likewise, it could also serve as a breakthrough game for either Deloney or Gulliory should they be ones who get the nod. After Wednesdayâ€™s game the Catâ€™s take a quick hibernation before returning on January 2nd to host Albany as the conference slate begins. The Great Danes arenâ€™t looking so Great this year, but conference play is where the Cats will need to make their money. Building and then carrying momentum from Colgate through Albany would be an ideal way to end 2021 and ring in 2022.
What to Watch For: Vermont
Against Northeastern I demanded a call-to-arms for the Cats first-half offense. That still stands. Colgate doesnâ€™t present as much of a challenge as Northeastern (though they did beat NU), but the Cats canâ€™t rely on compliancy to win games. This will be back home in the friendly confines of Patrick Gym and even if fans arenâ€™t allowed, Vermont needs to bring the MFing ruckus. Considering the Cats are 7-4, most of their second-half adjustments have worked, but it never looks good when a potential NCAA Tournament team has gone eight straight games without eclipsing the 30-point mark in the first-half. Iâ€™d like to see Vermont play aggressive early and take a double-digit lead into the locker room by halftime.
Colgate loves to live and die by the three-ball both offensively and defensively. Vermontâ€™s defense as a whole has been stifling and their containment around the perimeter is huge reason why. This where the Cats will be tested. Naturally Coach Becker will first and foremost harass the Raiders from beyond the arc from the opening tip. Offensively though, Vermont should aim to besiege Colgate with a barrage of their own three-point looks. The versatility of Ryan Davis being able to step outside the box and draw doubles will play a huge role. Colgate lack real depth up front. Dare I say Nick Fiorillo breakout game?
Projected Line-Ups: Colgate
Jack Ferguson â€“ Guard
Tucker Richardson â€“ Guard
Ryan Moffat â€“ Guard
Nicolas Louis-Jacques – Guard
Keegan Records – Forward
Ferguson, Richardson, Moffat and Records are all pretty much locks to make the Raiders starting unit against Vermont. In any other circumstance that last spot would undoubtably go to star guard Nelly Cummings but after missing the last two contests his status for is still up in the air. Going against a tough Vermont team is a tall enough task as is, but to do so without your leading scorer (Cummings) feel almost cynical. Louis-Jacques gets the starting nod in his place for now. The freshman guard is the future for Colgate and has been solid yet unspectacular during his rookie campaign thus far. Should Colgate opt for seniority over potential then look for senior guard Oliver Lynch-Daniels to slide into that final spot instead.
The lack of depth in the frontcourt could ultimately be the Achilles heel, however. Outside of forward Keegan Records, only one other Raider (Jeff Woodward) has played in more than two games and averages over 10 minutes a contest. If Vermontâ€™s defense continues to suffocate the perimeter (likely) and Colgate canâ€™t stop anything in the paint (also likely) then itâ€™s going to be a very, very, very long day for the Raiders.
What to Watch For: Colgate
I just alluded to it, but the status of senior guard Nelly Cummings is the biggest Colgate storyline here. Cummings has been a double-digit scorer since his sophomore campaign and is currently averaging a career best 17.6 points a contest. Heâ€™s been even more lethal on the road, as that number shoots up to just under 20 points a game. Should Cummings receive the greenlight to play slowing him down will be no easy matter. A deadly sharpshooter from deep, Cummings connects at a 50% clip from beyond the arc and is second on the team in makes (32) despite missing two games. While it could be argued that Cummings is somewhat of a one-trick-pony in that his impact on the game elsewhere is mediocre at best (2.3 RPG, 3.6 APG, 1.7 SPG), his ability to score with such volume cannot be underestimated.
If Cummings canâ€™t go the offense then falls the likes of Ferguson and Richardson to lead the way â€“ a potentially a very bleak outcome for the Raiders. Ferguson and Richardson are both fine players in their own right, but itâ€™s clear that they are best suited as complimentary pieces rather than focal points. Ferguson does average 11.9 PPG, though his 2.6 RPG and 1.6 APG averages make him rather one-dimensional. Richardson on the other hand offers a bit more all-around play making ability with his 9.8 PPG, 5.2 RPB and 4.3 APG averages. Again though, heâ€™s only led the team in scoring once all season and performs best as a second or third option. In order for the Raiders to pull the upset in Burlington theyâ€™ll need one if not both Ferguson and Richardson to have a career-outing.
Final Score: Vermont 79 â€“ Colgate 64
Thereâ€™s going to be a few people who see Colgateâ€™s wins over Syracuse and Northeastern as deciding factors over Vermont. Those people are wrong. Vermont is the better team here and I expect them to pick up a nice win before the holiday break. Two bold predictions â€“ Ryan Davis sets a career-high in assists and Nick Fiorillo hits four three-pointers on his way to finishing with a new career-high as well. Thanks Santa.
Tip-Off: Wednesday, December 22nd, 2:00pm (ESPN3)