Game Preview: Vermont vs UMass-Lowell

A Very Special Thank You to the Senior Class of 2022!

The Vermont Catamounts (23-5) host the UMass-Lowell River Hawks (14-13) in a matinee match-up Saturday afternoon. The Catamounts are coming off a 15-point victory over Binghamton and have won 17 of their last 18 games. Meanwhile, UMass-Lowell fresh off a blowout victory themselves, waxing Stony Brook 67-50 last Wednesday. The River Hawks haven’t had an abundance of success this year, though have managed to play relatively better as of late with a 3-3 record since their last contest against Vermont.

Vermont knocked off UMass-Lowell 78-67 back in early February and are 9-1 against the River Hawks in their last 10 games. The Cats led throughout the entire game, outpacing the River Hawks by as much as 21 points at one point. However, UML would storm back, cutting the deficit to as little as four with just under two minutes to play. From that point on it was Ben Shungu and Ryan Davis who each made huge momentum swinging plays to lock up another victory for the Catamounts.

Vermont Catamounts

Record: 23-5 (15-1) (1st in AE)

Last Game: 66-49 win against Binghamton

Projected Starters: Ben Shungu (Guard), Justin Mazzulla (Guard), Bailey Patella (Guard), Isaiah Powell (Forward), Ryan Davis (Forward)

What to Watch For: It’s funny, the biggest storyline heading into Saturday’s clash with UML has absolutely nothing to do with the game itself. It’s senior day in Burlington and this year in particular holds quite a bit of significance and intrigue. As you my recall, a little virus by the name of Covid shifted the entire NCAA basketball landscape last year, in turn leading to an extra year of eligibility for players across the country. Vermont experienced both sides of the coin this year, as Ben Shungu returned for his super-senior campaign, while former all-conference guard Stef Smith opted to jump ship over to St. Johns for his extra year.

Here’s what we know. Shungu, Justin Mazzulla and Bailey Patella have seemingly all confirmed that this would be their last year at Vermont. Robin Duncan and Finn Sullivan on the other hand have indicated that they will be returning. That leaves Ryan Davis, Isaiah Powell, Kam Gibson and Duncan DeMuth as the remaining question marks. Ideally the pre-game ceremonies will help provide a clearer picture as to who stays and who goes. In the perfect world everyone returns (including Coach Becker) and the Cats run an absolute train on the America East yet again. In the words of Sean McVay, “RUN IT BACK! RUN IT BACK!”.

Now as for the game itself, expect the seniors to play the majority of minutes even if the score becomes rather lopsided. Patella will likely earn the starting nod over Sullivan and might play close to 20 minutes – just a hair more than his season average of 8.6 a game. It wouldn’t be a shock to see either Shungu or Patella drop a new career-high – praying for the latter just to see Tony Patella go full Super Saiyan mode. Fingers-crossed we get to see a Patella windmill dunk in transition.

UMass-Lowell River Hawks

Record: 14-13 (6-9) (8th in AE)

Last Game: 67-50 win against Stony Brook

Projected Starters: Kalil Thomas (Guard), Ayinde Hikim (Guard), Quinton Mincey (Guard), Max Brooks (Forward), Allin Blunt (Forward)

What to Watch For: In theory this game is more consequential for UMass-Lowell than it is for Vermont. Although it’s about as likely as Kendall Jenner answering my DMs, if UML were to win out the rest of their schedule (UVM, UNH, Hartford) they would secure a top four seed and be hosting an America East conference tournament game. Highly improbable? Yes. Impossible? Well, let’s just say my inbox won’t be lighting up anytime soon.

A win or loss won’t have any real effect on Vermont. They’ve locked up the number one seed and will likely prioritize rest than risk a possible injury. However, with it being senior night in Burlington Coach Becker will keep his veteran players in a bit longer, likely giving them one last curtain call around the two-minute mark in the second-half. I expect the River Hawks to play hard as they always do, though much like Binghamton did in the previous game, UML could empty their bench early to give some of their younger players a chance to compete and prepare for next year.

One of those younger players who has already had a breakthrough campaign is rising sophomore forward, Max Brooks. The 6’7” Brooks has started every game that he’s played this year and is currently second on the team in scoring with 10.4 per game – a 6.7 improvement from his 3.4 average as a freshman. Brooks will also likely earn a nod on the America East All-Defensive team this year, as his 2.3 blocks a game lead the AE outright. But what is perhaps the most mind-boggling statistic is the fact that Brooks also leads the AE in field goal percentage with a 63% clip. That’s nearly 5% better than presumed AE PoY favorite, Ryan Davis, who sits at second with 58.5% rate. Expect plenty more accolades for Brooks in the coming years.

Predictions

Moneyline: Vermont (-1400)

Spread: Vermont (+16.5)

Over/Under: (135.5)

Final Score: Vermont 79 – UMass-Lowell 63

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