Vermont Takes on Binghamton With a Spot in the Conference Championship on the Line
Round two. Fight!
Vermont (26-5) moves on to the America East Semifinals after knocking off NJIT (11-18) in a landslide victory last Sunday. The Catamounts will now host Binghamton (12-16) Wednesday night, as they look to make their awaited return to the conference championship this Saturday. LFG.
As the number one seed in the America East, Vermont host the number sixth seed Binghamton instead of Hartford thanks to the AE reseeding rules. While Binghamton is no pushover, the Cats are likely glad they can postpone a potential clash with Hartford until Saturday, as Vermont swept the Bearcats in the regular season by an average margin of 24 points. However, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is March and as we’ve already seen across the country, anything can happen. Wednesday comes before Saturday and Vermont needs to keep that one game at a time approach.
Record: 26-5 (17-1 AE Conference)
Last Game: 98-59 win against NJIT
Projected Starters: Ben Shungu (Guard), Justin Mazzulla (Guard), Finn Sullivan (Guard), Isaiah Powell (Forward), Ryan Davis (Forward)
What to Watch For: The 39-point domination of NJIT in the opening round was exactly what this team needed. First off, that type of performance sent a message to the rest of the America East that Vermont is still Vermont and when that calendar flips over to March these Cats can take it to a whole ‘nother level. The landslide victory over the Highlanders also provided Coach Becker with the luxury of not forcing his veteran players to stay on the court any longer than what was needed. On the surface that might not seem all that important, but take a trip down the YMCA and see just how your body holds up for 35 minutes compared to just 20.
Vermont is obviously once again the heavy favorite and while Wednesday night’s contest against Binghamton could potentially get out of hand – especially if a certain blonde-haired guard is unable to suit up for the Bearcats – expecting another 39-point drubbing likely isn’t in the cards. But then again, I have been wrong before.
Three-point shooting will be key. The Cats shot 45% from deep against NJIT, but over their last previous three games Vermont averaged only 23% from beyond the arc. Now while Vermont has shown that they can win even when their perimeter shooting is off (they won all three of those games), they certainly don’t want to be in a position where they’re fighting for a bucket on every possession. Here’s how I see it: if Vermont shoots anything over 40% from deep it’ll be a 25+ win, 35-40% is a 16-24 point win and 25-34% is a 10-15 point win. However, Vermont did only manage a 21% clip against Binghamton the last time out and still won by 17, so either Vermont is just too damn talented or my math calculations are off. Probably both.
Record: 12-16 (8-10 AE Conference)
Last Game: 72-69 win against New Hampshire
Projected Starters: Jacob Falko* (Guard), Dan Petcash (Guard), John McGriff (Guard), Christian Hinckson (Guard), Ogheneyole Akuwovo (Forward)
What to Watch For: Easily the biggest question mark is the status and availability of lead guard, Jacob Falko. The First-Team All-Conference guard led all scorers with 21 in Sunday’s quarterfinal contest against UNH. Unfortunately Falko took a hard foul late in the game and appeared to have a noticeable limp in his walk. The timing could not be worse, as Falko was just returning from a previous injury that he coincidently suffered against the Bearcats next opponent, Vermont.
While Binghamton has a solid roster, no one is more important to the Bearcats than Falko. If he’s unable to suit up or is severely limited, the Bearcats are going to be in for one hell of a challenge – as if playing Vermont at full strength wasn’t enough of a challenge as is. What makes it even more of an uphill battle is the fact that while Binghamton has some talented players, their lack of depth at the guard position is a major concern. Outside of the sharpshooting Tyler Bertram, no other Binghamton guard even entered the game against UNH. Considering how strong Vermont is at the guard spot from top to bottom, this could be a rough outing for the Bearcats.
Let’s suppose though that Falko and Binghamton are at full strength for Wednesday night’s contest against Vermont. How can they pull off the upset of the year? The Bearcats upset UNH in the opening round thanks in large to their success from beyond the arc. As a whole Binghamton finished 11-23 (48%) from deep. They’ll need to replicate that once again against Vermont and even then it might not be enough, as NJIT finished with 44% clip and still lost by nearly 40 points. At least Levell Sanders looks like he’s got the program on the right track.
Moneyline: Vermont (-3800)
Spread: Vermont (-20)
Final Score: Vermont 83 – Binghamton 62