What UVA Basketball fans need to know about Vermont
Vermont heads to JPJ for a Tuesday matchup with defending national champion UVA. One thing to know about the Catamounts: they know how to win. Vermont was 27-7 in 2018-2019, 27-8 in 2017-2018, 29-6 back in 2016-2017.
You have to go all the way back to 2007-2008 to find a Vermont season that didn’t include at least 20 wins.
They’re not coming to Virginia hoping to play well. As a member of the America East Conference, a one-bid league, they’re looking to get a win that will build their NCAA Tournament resume.
Last March, the Catamounts gave Florida State everything it could handle in a 76-69 first-round NCAA Tournament loss.
We remember that Florida State team: it was the last team to get a win over UVA in 2018-2019, and that win was a week before the narrow win over Vermont in the Big Dance.
We also remember the America East. UMBC upset Vermont in the America East tournament in 2018 to earn its shot at Virginia, and you know the bad thing that happened there.
Enough of the backstory, because I’ve done my job getting your attention.
This year’s Vermont team revolves around 6’6”, 227-pound senior forward Anthony Lamb, who is averaging a team-best 18.2 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, after putting up 21.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game a year ago.
Lamb will get the attention of Virginia’s Mamadi Diakite, with maybe some help from Braxton Key, but the kid is a load in the paint.
Which is usually fine for the way UVA plays defense, the Pack Line designed to take away post offense.
These Catamounts aren’t shooting the three well, which could play into Virginia’s hands. Vermont is shooting just 20.8 percent from long-range through four games, after shooting 35.3 percent from three a year ago, though this year’s numbers could just be small sample size.
6’2” junior guard Stef Smith shot 37 percent from three as a freshman and sophomore, so watch out for him; also keep an eye on 6’6” senior Everett Duncan, a 39.3 percent career shooter from three.
Lamb can also step out and hit the three: he’s a 34.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
Coach John Becker prefers to go small. He is using Lamb at the stretch-four with either 6’8” sophomore Ryan Davis or 6’11” senior Daniel Giddens for 58 percent of his team’s minutes this season, and last year he used Lamb at center for 57.5 percent of Vermont’s minutes.
Going small could force UVA coach Tony Bennett’s hand a bit. UVA’s best lineup has Diakite, at 6’9”, Key, at 6’8”, and Jay Huff, at 7’1”, which has accounted for 27.9 percent of Virginia’s minutes through three games in 2019-2020.
Huff is playing a career-high 24.7 minutes per game this season, scoring 11.7 points and pulling down 8.3 rebounds per game and shooting 72.7 percent from the field, but he’s done all of that coming off the bench, as Bennett has started Diakite at the five, Key at the stretch four, and Kihei Clark, Kody Stattmann and Casey Morsell in his backcourt.
If Vermont is able to get some threes to fall early, that could push Bennett into going smaller to try to counter, and at the same time take one of UVA’s best offensive weapons off the floor.
Just as you can expect Vermont to get better with the threeball, though, you should expect Virginia to eventually get better from beyond the arc as well.
Through three games, UVA is shooting just 20 percent from three, but you can’t expect Morsell (7.1 percent), Stattmann (9.1 percent) and Tomas Woldetensae (20 percent) to continue to shoot as poorly as they have to this point.
They may need to start knocking a few down Tuesday night to help the champs stave off the upset bid.
Story by Chris Graham
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