On to the America East Playoffs!
Final Score: Vermont 75 – Maine 56
Vermont wrapped up their regular season slate with an emphatic blowout win over conference rival Maine. The Cats built a lead early and never looked back, cruising to a 19-point win. Ryan Davis paced the Cats with 16 points in just 18 minutes, as Coach Becker opted to give some additional rest to his more seasoned players.
Every year it seems that Vermont somehow manages to break another program record and this year was no exception. With the win over Maine, Vermont moved their conference record to 17-1 on the year, surpassing their previous record of 16 wins from the 2016-17 campaign. A truly momentous achievement, but one that will be remembered in vain should the Cats fall short on making and winning in the NCAA Tournament.
As the number one seed though, the road to the America East championship will have to go through Burlington. There’s still one more game between UML and Hartford to determine playoff seeding, but regardless of who Vermont will be matched up with first, we already know that the quarterfinal games will all happen the evening of Sunday, March 6th.
This is March.
Breaking the program record for conference wins in a season (17) is obviously a huge accomplishment and should be rightfully recognized. This is an extraordinary team that has strung together one of the best campaigns in program history – and they’re still not done yet. From this point on though, all those records don’t matter. Every game is win or go home. Time to see if this year’s squad is truly one that we’ll never forget.
Elsewhere, what I specifically loved from Tuesday night’s game was seeing the future of Vermont basketball. Aaron Deloney and Nick Fiorillo each chipped in 14 points off the bench for the Cats and one perfectly timed Patrick-Mahomes-no-look-pass from Deloney to Fiorillo for a dunk was the quintessential icing on top. Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu are leaving behind some pretty big shoes to fill, but Vermont fans can rest a bit easier knowing that the likes of Deloney and Fiorillo appear ready for that challenge.
Hard to find much fault in a blowout win that saw very limited action from Vermont’s big three of Shungu, Davis and Isaiah Powell. With that being said though, let’s nit-pick a little and identify which aspects could use some improvement.
In my eyes (and the majority of the country), Vermont is a very good team right now. Very good, but not great. They were however a great team at times earlier this year. They’re still head and shoulders above the rest of the AE, but to ultimately win a game (or dare I say two?) in the NCAA Tournament they need to become great again.
This is a veteran-laden team and I fully expect that the intensity level is about to be turned up a notch, but there’s one player in particular who really pushes that needle from very good to great for Vermont. Finn Sullivan. Earlier in the year Sullivan was uncanny from deep and routinely made plays all over the floor. Unfortunately an injury to his hand has seemingly set him back a hair, as in his last ten games the senior guard has only surpassed the 5 point mark twice. The west coast native has arguably the most fire and tenacity of anyone on the team and his impact goes well beyond that of just scoring. But for Vermont to move up from a very good team to a great team, Sullivan is going to need a renaissance of sorts and find his hot shooting form once more.
Again, not much worth harping on here. I will say that the turnovers are beginning to give me some concern. Vermont had 11 compared to Maine’s 8 and while that might not seem like a huge deciding factor, the Cat’s are about to play teams considerably better than Maine and cannot afford to be shooting themselves in the foot with silly mistakes. Not quite a red flag, but creeping towards a shade of burgundy.
Next Game: TBD (most likely UML on Sunday)
Game Time: TBD