Game Preview: Vermont at Maine

How Much Meaning Does A Meaningless Game Mean?

This is March.

Kinda.

Vermont (24-5) makes the long, harrowing trek up to Orono, Maine to take on the Black Bears (6-22) Tuesday night as they close out the America East regular season. Admittedly, this game is rather pointless – a win or loss won’t affect Vermont’s America East seeding (number one), nor will it do the same for Maine (eliminated). Both teams are merely playing for pride at this point.

In the early 2000’s the Maine-Vermont rivalry was one of the best in the America East, yet that flame has all but burnt out now. Not since 2013 has Maine managed to topple Vermont – a record that likely won’t be falling anytime soon. If nothing else, this game should at least provide a peak into what some of the younger players on both teams can offer. Vermont is set to lose a large contingency of veteran leaders, so giving a little extra run to the next generation seems like the logical move come Tuesday night.

Vermont Catamounts

Record: 24-5 (16-1) (1st in AE)

Last Game: 62-61 win against UMass-Lowell

Projected Starters: Ben Shungu (Guard), Robin Duncan (Guard), Finn Sullivan (Guard), Isaiah Powell (Forward), Ryan Davis (Forward)

What to Watch For: Still no word on the status of Mazzulla who had to exit last Saturday’s contest against UML with an apparent hamstring injury. Now, I’m no hoity-toity doctor but I have browsed through a few Reddit forums and my official diagnostic report is that Mazzulla will not be suiting up for Vermont as they close out the regular season finale against Maine. Pencil in Duncan as Mazzulla’s replacement, but don’t be surprised if there’s at least one or two more scratches before the game.

Saturday’s clash with UML turned into an absolute grinder. Whole lotta physicality from UML who refused to go gentle into that good night. Some might argue that the River Hawks were a bit too excessive, but can you really fault an underdog team who is playing with nothing to lose? In fact, this has often been Vermont’s mentality everytime they go up against a Power Five school. Personally, I don’t care for Pat Duquette but he helped will his team back from a double-digit deficit late in the second-half and nearly had Vermont on the ropes. Hate the player, respect the game. 

Now this type of scenario is exactly what Coach Becker and the Cats are hoping to avoid. There is absolutely nothing to gain by keeping the starters on the court for 30+ minutes – especially if the game starts getting chippy. In fact, I’d be shocked if any of the starters (excluding Duncan) eclipse more than 25-28 minutes. Expect plenty of playing time for some of the younger Cats such as Nick Fiorillo, Evan Guillory and even Georges Lefebvre who will presumably be tasked with much larger roles next year.

Maine Black Bears

Record: 6-22 (3-14) (10th in AE)

Last Game: 93-79 loss against UMBC

Projected Starters: Vukasin Masic (Guard), Jashonte Wright-Mcleish (Guard), Maks Klanjscek (Guard), Stephane Ingo (Forward), Ata Turgut (Forward)

What to Watch For: Another year, another losing record for the Maine Black Bears. Not since 2009-10 has Maine finished above the .500 mark. It has certainly been a long, dark winter in Orono, though with a new arena on the horizon there might actually be a glimmer of light in the Black Bears future. But alas for now Maine will continue to toil away in mediocrity, as they conclude their eighth straight season (excluding the Covid year) of 22+ losses in a year.

Tuesday night’s contest between Maine and Vermont features two of the most polar opposite teams you’ll ever find. Yet despite the stark differences between the two, the gist of the game itself is shared by both. The reality of it is that this game is rather meaningless and in-essence nothing more than a glorified exhibition. Maine has already been eliminated from postseason qualifications, while Vermont on the other hand has the number one seed squarely locked away and will likely advocate for rest over stat-padding.

Now does this mean that both teams will essentially just roll-over? Of course not. Pride has to be taken into consideration. Maine has succumbed to Vermont 23 straight times and a win against the Cats (even against their back-ups) would be a monumental victory for the program as a whole. Should Vermont opt to pull their veterans, Maine could arguably have their best chance at finally snapping that 23 game losing streak. My opinion? Maine beats the cover, but by that final horn the losing streak moves to 24 straight.

Predictions

Moneyline: Vermont (-3700)

Spread: Vermont (-18.5)

Over/Under: 135.5

Final Score: Vermont 73 – Maine 59

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