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StLouHoo's Preview:

A Dangerous Mid-Major

Vermont Catamounts

Tuesday's visitor may not have a ton of brand recognition, but dig deeper and it's one of the best mid-majors you're going to find. Assigned to us by the Hall of Fame Tipoff bracket, Vermont comes to town not only hungry but also capable of landing a knockout punch. How will the Hoos fare against a true Cinderella threat?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Tuesday, November 19th, 7:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV:RSN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:Virginia -14.5, O/U 114.5, equates to ~65-50 UVA win
Torvik:Ranks Vermont #83, predicts a 59-49 UVA win, 90% confidence
KenPom:Ranks Vermont #75, predicts a 65-50 UVA win, 91% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#0 Stef Smith, 6'1" 185, JR
29.5 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 2.5 apg, 26.3 3P%
SG#21 Everett Duncan, 6'6" 190, SR
33.3 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 1.3 apg, 21.1 3P%
SF#4 Robin Duncan, 6'5" 190, SO
26.3 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 50.0 FG%
PF#3 Anthony Lamb, 6'6" 227, SR
30.5 mpg, 18.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 38.8 FG%
C#2 Daniel Giddens, 6'11" 240, SR
14.0 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 22.2 FG%
Key Reserves
PG#1 Aaron Deloney, 6'0" 165, FR
10.0 mpg, 3.0 ppg, 0.5 apg, 12.5 3P%
G#24 Ben Shungu, 6'2" 200, JR
30.0 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 20.0 3P%
G/F#12 Bailey Patella, 6'5" 185, JR
8.5 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 0.3 apg, 50.0 3P%
F/C#35 Ryan Davis, 6'8" 250, SO
23.0 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 51.7 FG%

 

The ABC's of Vermont:

A) Vermont is hungry to be a giant-killer. This is not some buy-game cupcake. Ranked 75th by KenPom, they're equivalent to middle-tier ACC programs like Clemson and Pitt, probably clearly better than Wake and BC. In other words, they belong on an ACC floor. This past weekend they went into New York and beat St John's. Last year they played both Louisville and FSU (the latter in the NCAAT) to single-digit margins, and fell by just 4 to Kentucky the season prior. Head coach John Becker is in his 9th season at the helm and has never failed to reach the 20-win plateau, winning the America East autobid two of the last three seasons, three straight regular season titles, and 4 America East CoY awards.

And lest you rather dismiss those past successes as irrelevant to this year's team, the Catamounts return 5 of their top 8 from a year ago and add some P5 transfer talent to round it out in Duncan Demuth (Oklahoma State) and Giddens (Alabama).

B) Anthony Lamb may be the best player on our non-conference schedule. As a junior he was voted unanimously as the AE Player of the Year, averaging 21.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.9 blocks a game. The combo forward was everywhere for the Catamounts, and he's picked right up where he left off, averaging 18.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.8 apg, and 1.0 bpg through four contests. At 6'6" 227 lbs, he's strong, quick, smart, and athletic, allowing him to pick and expose mismatches whether he's playing big or small (he'll spend most of his minutes at the 4). The lone weak spot so far this year has been his 3-point shooting (just 3 of 25 so far this season), but he's a career 35% shooter and made 37% last year, so you can't assume it's safe to leave him unguarded on the perimeter. Expect Diakite and Key to get most of the defensive assignments on the senior star.

C) They want the game played inside the perimeter. Vermont games have been almost entirely decided by the 2-point game this season. Both the Catamounts and their opponents are passing on 3-point opportunities at high rates; Vermont's offense take's 3's only 23% of the time (295th nationally), while their defense is driving shooters off the line and seeing opponents take 3's only 20% of the time (334th nationally). And even when their games do see 3's taken, no one's hitting many of them. The Catamounts are making them at just shy of a 21% clip (345th) while their defense is holding teams to only 19% shooting from deep (5th best nationally). Do not expect this to be a game where UVA finally wins one with the long ball.

 

Their Season To Date

Vermont is 4-0 on the year. They opened with respectable road wins over St Bonaventure and Bucknell. After dispatching Boston U at home last week, they went into Queens to "upset" Big East program St John's 70-68 on Saturday afternoon.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Pop out the bigs. I know I said above that this is a game where the 3-ball may have a very small effect, but there's one exception, and that's with our pair of pick-and-pop bigs. None of the Catamounts' first four opponents had a true stretch-big threat. That's meant that rim protectors Daniel Giddens and Ryan Davis have been able to stay at home guarding the paint while the Vermont guards went shut-down on the 3-point line. But UVA has a unique opportunity here to invert the Vermont man defense by utilizing Diakite and particularly Huff as long-ball threats. This will not only force the Vermont bigs to come out to the perimeter, but also have the secondary effect of making the other Catamounts shade closer to the paint in help responsibilities, maybe freeing up our guards a tad as well. (This is N/A if the Catamounts throw out a zone like they did in the 2nd half against St Johns.) Diakite and Huff don't necessarily need to make it rain to make their impact, but at a bare minimum do enough damage to force Becker to tweak his defense in response.

2) Take the supporting cast out of it. Lamb is the show, obviously, and Tony will trust Diakite, Key, and the standard Pack Line rotations to harry him as best possible. But the end result may come down not just to how well Lamb scores, but whether he's able to draw enough defensive attention to let his teammates excel in support. The Catamounts have four players other than Lamb capable of going for double-digit scoring on any given night in guards Smith and Shungu (though the latter's availability is in question after aggravating a hamstring injury last week and missing the St John's game) and forwards Everett Duncan and Davis. These are good players but UVA's defense, if in sync, should be able to check them effectively enough. If two of these guys are allowed to end up in double figures alongside Lamb, similar to the 17 apiece contributed by Duncan and Smith in their St John's win, UVA may see Vermont making this one a game.

3) Go after Anthony Lamb. It's a bold choice to say we should go after a versatile senior who's coming off a conference all-defensive-team season and has a career average of a block-and-a-half a game. But going against the grain here, he's a defensive gambler (hence the shot blocks) who's critical to his team's success and has tallied 4 fouls in three of his four games this year. Virginia, in Diakite and Key, have a pair of highly efficient senior forwards who, in the flow of the offense, can put a lot of pressure on Lamb in the paint and force him to risk foul trouble to prevent the bigger Hoos from scoring over him. Double down on that strategy by aggressively going after offensive boards in his presence, and he's potentially facing the toughest defensive assignment he's seen since FSU in last year's tourney (where he committed four fouls and let Noles forward Kabengele score 21 on just 13 shots). I'll be looking for lots of downhill play from Braxton and Mamadi when they see Lamb matched up on them, preferably off action that tries to catch the Vermont star in recovery.

 

 

Predictions:

I'm really excited for this game, because Vermont is really good and is going to challenge UVA in ways that (with all due respect) JMU and Columbia didn't. UVA was able to sleep-walk at times in its last two games, but beating Vermont will require 40 continuous minutes of high level play.

With all the talk of this being Vermont's best team yet under Becker, I can't help but feel like this team, while still likely the best in the AE, isn't quite at last year's level. (And yes, shush, I understand the dangers of taking an AE champ too lightly.) The win at St John's is legit, but the Johnnies, while talented, lack discipline under a new head coach. Vermont's wins over St Bonaventure and Bucknell (146th and 138th respectively in KenPom) came by a combined five points.

The lone real risk here is this being the game that Vermont finally dials in on its 3-ball, but given their 21% collective 3-point rate so far this year and UVA's 23.5% allowed this year (21st nationally, after finishing 3rd nationally in 3P% defense last season), I'm inclined to bet on the Hoo defense to continue to get the work done.

Should be a good one.

Hoos Win 62-54