Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Marsalis Bids Team Ado

Simeon Marsalis has cut ties with Vermont's basketball team according to the Burlington Free Press' Sports Blog, "On Campus".

While the news is not extremely damaging to the team's outlook next season -- Marsalis' role with the team became more marginal as this past season progressed -- it is disappointing all the same. I actually would be surprised if his decrease in playing time was a deciding factor for Marsalis leaving the team. Marsalis always appeared to be a class act and a team player in the two seasons he played for the Cats. Sometimes kids get tired of being student-athletes, and if that is how they feel, then who can blame them for leaving their team?

It sounds like Marsalis will continue his education at the University of Vermont, which is good to hear.

We wish you the best of luck, Simeon.

You have to wonder what Coach Lonergan is going to do with that extra scholarship.

Panther Pride

I'm about two weeks late on this update, but I meant to congratulate the 2011 Thetford Academy Panthers on a great season. My proud alma mater came up just short, once again, falling to Winooski in the Division 3 state championship game, 49-43. The fourth-seeded Panthers upset two-time defending champion Hazen -- a longtime Barre foe -- in the semifinals.

This season's campaign marked the eighth time in the last ten years that Thetford advanced to the semifinals, a great run for any school. No team in divisions 2-4 ever takes a trip to the Barre Auditorium (the neutral site of Vermont's semifinal and championship rounds) for granted, and Thetford is definitely no different.

The loss is Thetford's third straight loss in a state championship game. On the heels of state championships in 2002 and 2004, the Panthers were state runners-up in 2006, 2007, and now 2011 is added to that list. Being runner-up is obviously hard to swallow, but it is a proud achievement nonetheless. Someone once told me a little secret about sports: if you make it to the championship, you've got a fifty percent chance to win, no matter who you play. I agree. One of these years the Thetford Academy Panthers will be state champs once again, and the team will parade down Route 113 in firetrucks, and it will be made all the sweeter by those three close calls.

So despite this being a Vermont Catamounts blog -- or, perhaps, because of this being a Vermont Catamounts blog -- we pause to congratulate this year's Panthers.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Looking Forward from March (The March Forward)

What fun it is to look forward to the next season. I already discussed the schedule that the Catamounts are putting together in a previous post, but now it's time to look at what type of team they will be putting forth for that schedule. These projections are, of course, barring injuries, transfers, or players leaving school early for the NBA (I'm kidding... but seriously if Brian Voelkel put his name in the draft admit that you would think for a split second: "hmm....". But no, I'm kidding. Okay, 99% kidding). I'm going to deliver this on three different levels:
A) Things that are set in stone. These things are, ostensibly, unarguable facts about Vermont's depth chart in 2011-2012.
B) Potentialities. Nuff said.
C) Wild Ideas. This is my favorite section, where I get to try and predict crazy things about Vermont's team next year.

A) Things That Are Set In Stone.
This is interesting, mostly because what in the world is set in stone about Brian Voelkel's role with the team next year? Okay, a few things are: he will be the most important player for Vermont next season, he will rebound like Dennis Rodman on drugs (so, Dennis Rodman), and will make Bob Cousy look like only a decent passer (I'm probably kidding). Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that Voelkel will hopefully not be asked to play much point guard next season because someone will have stepped into that role, so what position will he play? Maybe it just doesn't matter. But it makes it hard to project who will play the other positions. So more on this in "Potentialities".
Brendan Bald is one player I think we can pin down. Bald will play the 2. He will continue to get better on the offensive side while playing stellar defense as the returning DPOY in America East. Bald was the most dependable 3-point shooter for Vermont this past season at 41% (50-122), though that's not exactly high praise on a team that struggled from distance all season long. I expect huge things from Bald during his junior campaign, like first or second team all-conference honors.

It's sad that I have no more in this section... but instead, let's interpret that as exciting.

B) Potentialities.
This is where it gets fun. Bear with me.
Vermont's point guard spot is Sandro Carissimo's to lose. It's a fact. This is partially due to the fact that Vermont is not bringing in any true point guards a season after struggling to find just that. Coach Lonergan tried to spoon feed the position to Carissimo toward the end of the season, and Sandro took little baby bites. Things that need to change: Sandro needs to feel more comfortable shooting the basketball. He was 17-37 from 3 -- 46% -- but he only attempted 37 threes. He turned the ball over 1.2 times a game and dished out 1.4 assists a game. It doesn't matter what level you're playing, a 1.1 A/TO ratio is not good for a point guard. Third graders get called out for that. Yet, Carissimo came on strong toward the end of the season. He proved he could score, but he needs to prove he can do that, dish out assists and turn the ball over less. Then he will secure a spot as the Cats starting point guard.
Matt Glass. The X Factor. Could the 2011-2012 season hinge on Glass' performance? I don't think that's crazy. Look, Brendan Bald is the only established scorer the Catamounts have returning, and even that could be considered a stretch (I personally don't think it is or I wouldn't have written it). Glass needs to shoot the basketball the way he did in the first half of the season, or at least score the way he did in the first half of the season: He dropped double figures (including 24 against UConn on 9-14 shooting) 9 out of his first 16 games. He sat out against UMBC, and then scored in double figures 2 out of the next 15 games. A split like that makes you wonder if the guy was hurt. Regardless of what may have been going on, Glass did a lot of good things for UVM this year. He adds size, defense, and hopefully can begin to be a key contributor on offense next season. He certainly has that potential (as long as we're talking about potentiality, am I right?).
Four McGlynn. When I first read this kids name I thought I was dreaming. And then I watched his highlights. The kid can shoot. I don't know if he can shoot from Antoine Walker's Land Of Fours, but he can shoot from distance. He has some nice steals on Youtube -- whatever that means. He will definitely compete for playing time with Carissimo at the 1 spot (though I honestly have no idea what kind of a ball handler he is), and will be able to spell Bald at the 2. I look forward to McGlynn's presence in Vermont's rotation.
Chris Santo is another incoming recruit, rated a "78" by ESPN's Insider-Recruiting-Something-Something (McGlynn is an 80 by the way). Do you know what that means? Me neither. He is a 6'4'' Small Forward from Cherry Hill, NJ. Apparently, he won a three point shooting contest in the annual North-South New Jersey All Star Game. He also scored 11 points in the actual game. Hopefully this means both Santo and McGlynn will be able to hit some big 3's for the Catamounts this season. More on this in the final section.
So we haven't discussed big men yet. I'm going to go ahead and say Matt Glass is the most likely candidate to be playing the 4 next season. He has that size. He has not shown that he is entirely comfortable in the post on offense, but he can play down there on defense at 6' 8''. Voelkel will be playing the 3/whatever position it is Brian Voelkel plays. Carissimo/McGlynn/and possibly Simeon Marsalis will see time at the point. Bald has the 2 spot locked up. So who steps in to play the 5?
Pat Bergmann. I would never have dreamed of writing that as my answer before the NIT, but that's the answer. Bergmann showed that he can bang with the big boys down low when Vermont took on Cleveland State, putting up 16 points and 8 rebounds.
Ben Crenca will also compete for the starting 5 position. This is the spot at which Vermont has the most work to do in terms of matching up with good big men, particularly during out of conference match ups.

C) Wild Ideas.
We've arrived.
Here's my first wild idea, and it's wild: There is a reason I haven't mentioned Luke Apfeld yet: because I think Apfeld is going to work his way into the starting lineup, and I think Apfeld is going to be a great player for Vermont by the end of next season. Not good- great. I think the potential starting lineup, by the end of the 2011-2012 America East season could be exactly this:
(And let's forget positions for now, who cares about arbitrary numbers)
Sandro Carissimo
Brendan Bald
Brian Voelkel
Matt Glass
Luke Apfeld

Now, I know I'm not exactly going out on a limb with those predictions: Without looking, I can tell you that those five players averaged the most minutes last year out of the players who will return next season (Okay, I just checked and I'm correct). But can the Catamounts compete in America East with Apfeld and Glass down low? Absolutely. Can they compete in the NCAA tournament, NIT, or CBI with those two down low? Maybe? The point here is that Pat Bergmann and Ben Crenca can come off the bench to spell Glass and Apfeld. We don't need a true center if the latter two can mark their territory in the paint, and I really think they can. That said, we will undoubtedly miss Fjeld's post-up presence that seemed to improve with each season. That is why this team will need to shoot the ball better, which brings us to our next wild idea:

Second wild idea: This team will greatly improve its three point shooting. A lot. While UVM finished fifth in three-point shooting percentage in America East, it made and attempted the fewest 3 pointers in the conference. How about this stat: Maine shot the second fewest three-pointers in America East, 539. Vermont attempted 430. Vermont made 4.9 three-pointers per game. UMBC was the only team worse in the conference at 6.1 per game. That's an issue. In the post game news conference after the NIT loss to Cleveland State, Coach Lonergan was asked what the team struggled with this season. He wasted no time citing the team's lackluster three point shooting.
But there is hope in the long range shooting department. McGlynn and Santo will be useful long range shooters off the bench. Glass will shoot the three less often and at a higher percentage. Bald will continue to shoot somewhere around a 42% clip. Hopefully he will feel free to attempt 150+ threes next year. The key here is Carissimo. I think Sandro Carissimo can match that 42% Bald shoots while shooting a similar amount of threes. There is no reason this team shouldn't attempt 600 threes and make 225 of them (which would be 37.5%). Without a steady scoring presence down low, shooting the three can make or break this team, and I think they have adequate artillery to get that mission accomplished.

The Wildest Idea: Pat Bergmann goes absolutely crazy, Glass or Apfeld is moved to sixth man, and the Catamounts have a big man come out of nowhere a la Chris Holm. Okay, Holm didn't come out of nowhere, but the Rhode Island transfer had a modest college basketball career before having a monster senior campaign for the Cats back in 2007. Regardless of the ill-advised comparisons I might make, Bergmann seems like he could be a reliable scorer and rebounder in America East. Is this all based on one game I saw the kid play? Yes. I promise, ESPN analysts sometimes see guys play fewer than one full game before they project them to be a preseason All-American. I am not predicating Bergmann will be an All-American -- if I was, I hope that someone reading this would check me into a psych ward -- but I am predicating a huge senior season from him. Coach Lonergan has a way of squeezing every ounce of potential out of players, and I see Bergmann as a prototype for Lonergan's miracle work.
So here is another potential starting lineup that might be more practical if you're taking into consideration arbitrary positions:
1-Brian Voelkel
2-Brendan Bald
3-Matt Glass
4-Luke Apfeld
5-Pat Bergmann

That is a lot of size. But it is not a ton of offense, at least the way those five players played last season. But these things can change from season to season. All five of those players could potentially have offensive breakthroughs next season. How about this lineup:
1. Carrisimo
2. Bald
3. Voelkel
4. Apfeld
5. Bergmann

Would there be a better sixth man in the conference than Matt Glass? Absolutely not. I still favor the original five I submitted to be the starters for UVM in 2011-2012 (Carissimo, Bald, Voelkel, Apfeld, Glass), but I see all of those lineups I just broke down as potentially viable.

2011-2012 will be another great year for the Cats. Our friends at Purple and Gold Nation, via America Least, have projected that UVM will finish third next season. I can't blame them. But what self-respecting Vermont fan, especially considering this past season, would pick Vermont to finish any lower than first in the conference? However, considering Vermont's record in the America East tournament when they are the top seed -- the only season they advanced to the NCAA tournament when they were the top seed was 2005 -- maybe it's best if they don't finish first. Except in 2012 they will set the record straight: they will win the regular season and postseason America East crowns, and we will be dancing our booties off in March. Write it down.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Won't You Take Me To DunkyTown

Marqus Blakely (15) waits his turn on the bench Wednesday night.

My friend and I were fortunate enough to go to DunkyTown, USA last night, population: Marqus Blakely. Having followed the stats that Blakely put up all year, I was finally able to see how he had been shooting 70% from the field: dunking the basketball. All the time.

We rolled up to the Cedar Park Event Center just in time for tip off at 7:30 CT. There were about 200 people in attendance (that might be a bit generous) in a stadium that has over 6,000 seats. Naturally, I demanded to my friend that we sit directly behind the Iowa Energy's bench (he's a push-over, it wasn't hard to talk him into it). The first time the music stopped bumping from the PA I jumped at the opportunity to say what up to Marqus, the man of the night.

"What up, Marqus!" I screamed like an asshole. To my surprise, he actually shot me a glance. Unfortunately, the only piece of clothing I wore that had anything to do with Vermont (and this was very poor planning on my part) was a Vermont Lake Monsters hat. I pointed to the hat and said, "VT, baby!". He smiled. I love that dude.

Anyway, Marqus came off the bench about five minutes into the game. I get the impression that's generally his role, sixth man. He certainly plays a lot of minutes for the Energy, a lot more than some of the guys who were starting. The first time he touched the ball, he caught it in full stride at the foul line, took a step or two inside it and threw down a thunderous two handed dunk that got at least one person out of their seat (me). The gym was introduced to the screaming dude who was randomly cheering for the Iowa Energy. It was awesome. Some family members of Kenny Taylor (another Energy player who also played with Blakely in Bakersfield earlier this season) asked me if I was from Iowa. No, I said, and explained how I was from Vermont. To their credit, they didn't have to ask me where that was. They were very friendly for the rest of the game, despite my various outbursts, so thank you Taylor family. But I digress.

That dunk would begin a theme for the night. Blakely ended the game with 22 points on 9-14 shooting -- five of those nine made field goals were dunks. In addition to the aforementioned dunk on the first touch of the game, two dunks were off nice alley-oops, there was a showtime-one-handed dunk on the break just before the end of the first half, and in the second half he drove baseline, rose through traffic and jammed it. With each dunk, my outbursts got more outrageous, and the crowd began to habituate to the shrieks that would come from the general area behind the Energy's bench when Blakely did his thing.

Marqus played a lot. I think he entered about five minutes into each half, and I don't think he sat for the rest of the half each time. I wasn't taking notes or anything, so I can't fill in all those details. I can tell you, as I hope I illustrated, Marqus was absolutely a human highlight reel on the offense end. I can also tell you the things that might keep him from advancing to the next level: he hit one shot outside of 12 feet (and attempted three or four) and had a few defensive lapses on the other end. Two or three times he got caught gambling, leading to open lay ups for the man he was guarding. There was also miscommunication on a switch, causing Blakely to leave a Toros player alone with a clear path to the hoop. As we know, Marqus is a terrific post defender, particularly for his size. But a post defender he will not be at the next level, and his general discomfort guarding the perimeter was clear last night. It may be that I'm working with a small sample size, but he definitely seemed to be lost defending guards. The good thing is that the defensive issues can be improved through experience. The jump shot woes are not as easy a fix. I'm sure he has shot an enormous amount of jumpers during the offseason for a few years running, so how much better can we expect him to get at shooting the basketball? It's hard to tell.

Regardless, Marqus Blakely is a ton of fun to watch play basketball, and that has to count for something. His numbers continue to be mind boggling -- consider: he went 9-14 from the field last night and it lowered his field goal percentage with the Energy. There is definitely hope that he will one day don an NBA jersey that we can all wear replicas of.

Good luck, Marqus.

From The Parking Lot would like to thank former UMass and West Virginia player Luke Bonner and Austin Toros Assistant Coach Alex Lloyd (a fellow Vermonter!) for the free tickets.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More From MB23 (Except now he's number 15)

In my March 12th entry I discussed how our old buddy Marqus Blakely has been faring in the NBDL. He was faring quite well. In that entry, I broke down Blakely's NBDL numbers to date and of late (this rhyme scheme needs to stop), spotlighting the previous three games Marqus had played. Seeing as I'm going to see Marqus play the Austin Toros tomorrow, it's time for another update.

These are the key stats for Marqus in his most recent three games:
vs. Erie: 18 pts, 8-14 FG, 5 Rebs, 0 TO's
This is an AWFUL game for him, as you are about to see.
vs. SXF (which, without looking, I think is Sioux Falls?): 31 pts, 14-18 FG, 13 Rebs (SIX of them ORebs), 4 Blks.
@FWN (which, without looking, I think is... Fort Wayne. Wow, that took me a second): 28 pts, 10-11 FG, 10 Rebs.

So for those three games Marqus averaged 9.3 rebounds and 22.3 points on 32-43 shooting (74.4%). Oh, and his EFF rating jumped from 16.34 to 17.32. Since I didn't mention this in the last post, a player's efficiency rating is calculated like so:
{(Points+Rebounds+Assists+Steals+Blocks) - ((field goals attempted - field goals made) + (free throws attempted-free throws made) + Turnovers))}. Get it? Me neither. But I do know that 17.32 is a good efficiency rating.

Can someone sign this kid to an NBA deal already? I'm trying to wear that customized jersey.

Friday, March 18, 2011

UVM End-of-Season Awards

I saw our friends over at Purple and Gold Nation did some postseason-awards for the 2010-2011 Albany Great Danes. I thought it was a cool idea, so I'm busting out my own version in order to celebrate this past season's Vermont Catamount squad. Enjoy...

The TJ Sorrentine Award:
This year's Sorrentine award, given to a player who exudes guts and senior leadership, goes to Evan Fjeld. It could be a long season without Fjeld next year. He was the backbone of this Vermont team. When he was not 100% in the conference tournament, it was reflected by the team's play. It was not just due to the gaping hole he left in the middle of the floor, but also the leadership he contributed on and off the floor. I hope that mustache is(n't) cut by now, Evan. I really do(n't).

The David Hehn award:
Given to the most integral role player for the Catamounts, this year's winner is Matt Glass. While some have posited that Glass has not lived up to the hype since his transfer from UMass, Glass played his share of effective minutes for the Cats. Glass is the type of player whose contributions don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet, so it is easy for people who don't watch Glass night in and night out to assume he was not as big of a threat as it had been initially imagined. I expect Glass to have a bigger role in the offense next season, as well as continue to defend and do some of the dirty work for the Catamounts.

The Joe Trapani Award:
Keegan Hyland wins the Trapani award, given to the player who wastes no time in transferring away from UVM. You know... this award is going to be called the Keegan Hyland award from now on. Trapani actually stayed an entire season. Hyland? Two weeks? 10 days?

The Marqus Blakely Award:
Joey Accaoui wins this award. It's a joke. Nobody will win the Marqus Blakely award until they serve up facials to every team in the league. And then do it to Syracuse in the tournament.

The Germain Mopa-Njila Award:
Pat Bergmann. See where I'm going with this one? Yeah, this award is for the player who has the "where in the world did that just come from" postseason performance. Bergmann exploded for 16 and 8. His previous season highs were 6 and 4 -- achieved in separate games. His previous career highs were 6 and 5. Say it with me now: Offensive EXPLOSION.

The Taylor Coppenrath Award:
Brian Voelkel wins the team's MVP/MOP award, which could just as easily be called the Eddie Benton Award. Obviously, Fjeld was also in contention for this award. But what Brian Voelkel did this season makes absolutely no sense. Voelkel averaged 9.6 RPG, 4.5 APG, 7 PPG, and 1.6 SPG. And that doesn't sum up what Voelkel meant to this team. Voelkel did actually everything: he defended guards and bigs, he ran the point, he played the 3, sometimes he played the "oh, there are assigned positions in basketball usually?" position. The passes he makes don't translate well into writing or talking -- you really have to seem him pass the basketball to believe it. If this kid doesn't take home the America East POY award at least once in the next three years, it's because Austin Rivers rescinded his commitment to Duke in order to play for the UMBC Retrievers.

And that about does it for From the Parking Lot's first post-season awards.

Enjoy the offseason (I never can, it's always way too sunny in Vermont). November will be here before we know it.

On To The Next One

When you're sitting on the couch for the second day of first round tournament games, it is really difficult to imagine the beginning of the next college basketball season, let alone the next round of the tournament. But that's exactly what I'm trying to do here on From the Parking Lot, because Vermont has beefed up its non-conference schedule for next season. It was announced Wednesday that Vermont will play in the 2011 Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament the week before Thanksgiving. Other entrants include Old Dominion, South Florida, Penn State, Kentucky, Long Island, Marist, and Radford. Four of those teams were part of this year's NCAA tournament (though two of them have already been knocked out).

Before we get too excited about having a shot at Kentucky or Penn State, the tournament works like this: Vermont plays Marist while Long Island plays Radford, and the next day the winners play each other and the losers play each other. The other four teams -- the ones that would do wonders for Vermont's RPI -- play the same format. Then the tournament ends without the teams in Vermont's bracket having a shot at the teams in Kentucky's bracket. However -- and I hope you aren't confused already, because here's the kicker -- ODU, Kentucky, South Florida, and Penn State will each host two additional games on their own campus. Vermont will get to travel to South Florida on on November 12th and to Old Dominion on November 23rd. The games sandwich the tip-off tournament.

The games will be a good early season test for the 2011-2012 Catamounts, who should have a lot of holdover players from this year's squad, but will be without key contributors Evan Fjeld, Joey Accaoui, and Garrett Kissel. Hopefully they can get games with UConn and BYU again, and then we'll really be talking.

Expect to see my own projections of next year's starting lineup for Vermont by the end of the week.

Oh, and if you haven't seen the highlights of Vermont's NIT showdown with Cleveland State, that's a must-see. I listened on the radio. The last two shots from the Catamounts could not be done justice over the radio, even by our great play-by-play man, Rob Ryan.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Vermont Goes Down Swinging

Matt Glass' 3 pointer to force overtime took an eternity to come down. When it did, the Vermont Catamounts season came down with it. The shot barely missed, and Vermont suffered an admirable 60-63 loss at the hands of the Cleveland State Vikings. Vermont fans could not have asked for a better ending to this season (after we were out of the running for the NCAA tournament, of course), nor could they have asked for a better preview of next season.

Tonight's starting lineup for the Catamounts was one we might see for some time to come:
Sandro Carissimo (Freshman)
Brendan Bald (Sophomore)
Ben Crenca (Sophomore)
Brian Voelkel (Freshman)
Luke Apfeld (Freshman)

The biggest game of the night came from Junior Pat Bergmann, who had 16 points in 16 minutes of playing time. Bergmann averaged 1.1 points a game in 3.4 minutes of play this season.

Evan Fjeld was out for tonight's game, presumably due to the injuries he was wrestling with the weekend of the America East tournament. He was unable to complete the game against Stony Brook, and unable to go tonight.

So if tonight marked the beginning of life without Evan Fjeld, that life is not looking as bad as we might have expected. The Cats played the Vikings tight for the entire game -- holding a lead as late as 57-55 inside the last four minutes -- and never seemed to be playing afraid, despite not having their senior leader on the floor.

The future looks bright, and the present does not hurt so much.

When They Kick Out Your Front Door, How You Gonna Come?

It's been a long time since Vermont played a game that impressed this fan. Tomorrow would make it a month. Yes, it was actually February 16th when Vermont clinched the America East regular season championship in Orono, ME -- that title, of course, is the reason Vermont is playing in the first round of the NIT tonight at 7 ET against Cleveland State. Their subsequent slide following that game in Maine is why they are not playing in the NCAA tournament on Thursday. Vermont has lost three of their last four games and their lone victory was against lowly Binghamton.

Tonight is a chance for Vermont to go down swinging. It is sad that seniors Evan Fjeld, Joey Accaoui, and Garrett Kissel won't have the send off they deserve -- an NCAA tournament bid -- but at least they can say they made it last year. This team proved everyone wrong this year by winning the regular season title after losing 4 out of their 5 starters from last year's NCAA tournament team (Fjeld being the only returning starter). After struggling mightily down the stretch, you can bet that the Cats are eager to win a game or two in the NIT, which is no easy feat.

The Cats take on a good Cleveland State team and do-everything-man Norris Cole (21.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 5.6 APG). He averages 6 rebounds a game -- as a 6'1'' guard. Hopefully Brendan Bald's ankle is feeling better than it has been, because the Cats will need his defense.

It's time for these Catamounts to show some resiliency and start playing basketball like we know they can. Because when they kick out your front door, how you gonna come? With your hands on your head, or on the trigger of your gun?

You can make your own sense out of that one.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Vermont Draws Cleveland State

On a day dominated by the NCAA selection show, it is easy to forget that the NIT gets picked shortly afterword. Most teams are probably disappointed to be in the NIT -- it will never be mistaken for the NCAA tournament. Vermont has to feel fortunate that it is playing in any postseason tournament after being picked to finish fifth in America East.

Anyways, Vermont drew a 7 seed in the NIT and got matched up with 2nd seeded Cleveland State. The game will be "broadcast" on ESPN3.com, formerly ESPN360. The reason I have "broadcast" in quotes is because I don't get ESPN3 and I know very few people who do. Regardless, I'll be trying hard to watch the game instead of the alluring First Four that will be shown on TruTV at the same time.

Congratulations to Boston University for getting an invitation to get absolutely shellacked by Kansas on national television. It could have happened to anyone from America East, boys.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

...In Other News: A Marqus Blakely Update

So Boston University won the America East title game in one of the ugliest games that has ever been on television. I woke up from a crazy first night of Austin's annual SXSW festival at 11:30 CT this morning and flicked on the television. To my dismay (or delight, not quite sure how I felt about it), BU had scored 2 points in the first TEN minutes of this morning's championship. 2. Apparently, John Holland lit it up in the second half and the Terriers held on to the nail-biter, 56-54. So I guess Holland and the Terriers had the last laugh, but they were still being laughed at. Congratulations to BU, 2002 was only getting further away.

In other news, Marqus Blakely is coming to Austin on March 23rd. I've had the date on my calendar since he was traded to the Iowa Energy in January. I can't wait to watch Marqus play basketball again. He has had a terrific season in the NBDL so far. His efficiency rating of 16.34 is off the chain and must be attracting the notice of NBA scouts. He is actually shooting -- I'm not making this up -- 68.2% from the field in his 16 games with the Energy this season. 68.2% from the field. His season field goal percentage (from the time he spent with the Bakersfield Jam) is 60%, which is still pretty unbelievable. Nene Hilario is the only NBA player who has a higher field goal percentage than 60%.

This is what Marqus' stats look like in his last three games:
vs. Idaho: 17 points, 5 rebounds, 6-6 FG, 0 TO in 27 minutes.
@Maine: 20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 8-13 FG in 41 minutes.
@Springfield: 23 points, 10 rebounds, 10-11 FG in 43 minutes.

For those scoring at home, that's an average of 20 points and 7.7 rebounds in 37 minutes while shooting 80% from the field.

The knocks on Marqus have always been clear: He's a 6'5'' power forward with a lack of a jump shot. The favorable things about Marqus have always been even more obvious: He has freakish athleticism, a great work ethic, and just finds a way to play good defense and simultaneously put points on the board. You can't tell me an NBA team is not going to use Marqus as a third or fourth guy off the bench in the future. And when they do, look out dunk contest!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Averting My Eyes

I love the America East conference. I can get behind even Vermont's truest foes if it is for the benefit of the conference. I always watch the America East championship, no matter what teams are playing. But there is something about this upcoming Saturday's championship between BU and Ver... I mean, Stony Brook, that I just can't bear to watch.

Stony Brook making the tournament would be a good story: they can overcome all of the injuries and the disappointment of last year to make the tournament as the underdog this year. Hell, BU making the tournament would be a good story for America East -- the team picked to win the conference finally proves people right, finally (yes, that is a potshot). Even this homer can admit that Vermont winning the tournament every year (and that only seems to be the perception, it's certainly not the reality), a la Gonzaga, is not in the best interest of America East. Parity is a good thing, so we are told.

But I took Saturday, March 12th off from work over a month ago in anticipation of seeing UVM play in a rocking Patrick Gym while I get drunk off of life (and alcohol) at 11 am CT. I planned on wearing my foam UVM Catamount paw on one hand, wearing a Magic Hat bottle in the other (there is no Long Trail or Rock Art in Texas), and screaming at the top of my lungs at an unapologetic television. I planned on being perfectly comfortable with tears streaming down my cheeks when Vermont's starters check out of the game with under a minute to go, whether they were headed to the NIT or the Big Dance. I planned on staying up all night Saturday comparing Vermont's resume with other 13-16 seeds, pointlessly convincing myself that Vermont might land a 13 or 14 seed. I planned on being okay with Vermont getting blown out the following Thursday or Friday by the Kansas Jayhawks, or the San Diego State Aztecs, or the Purdue Boilermakers.

I did not plan on watching Stony Brook play Boston University. And I still don't.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NIT: Here We Come

It seems as though the Vermont Catamounts peaked at the wrong time this season. When they put together 10 straight conference wins in January and February, they were one of the hottest teams in the nation. Unfortunately, in the world of mid-majors, NCAA tournament bids are not decided in January of February (see: Why the Conference Tournament System Sucks). They are decided in March. Fortunately, NIT bids are decided in the first two months of the calendar year.

After getting absolutely pummeled by Stony Brook, 69-47, the Cats get their consolation prize of heading to the NIT. It's not the NCAA tournament, but it sure isn't the CBI either (with all due respect to college basketball's newest postseason tournament). Maybe they can even string together a couple of wins in the NIT to make some waves across the country.

That would be unlikely considering how poorly the Cats have played in the last few games, particularly today against Stony Brook (and even more unlikely considering nobody watches or cares about the NIT). Vermont made Stony Brook look like the best team they played all season (aside from maybe BYU). When they cut the game to 34-40 midway through the second half, it felt like it was inevitable that UVM would climb all the way back. Instead, Stony Brook continued to show a great deal of composure, particularly on the defensive end, and was able to build a comfortable lead down the stretch.

There really isn't a lot more to say about the game. The Catamounts got outplayed, plain and simple.

At least we get to see Joey Accaoui, Garrett Kissel, and Evan Fjeld throw the jerseys on for at least one more game. Fjeld dealt with a mysterious but nagging hip injury throughout the game. Hopefully that won't keep him from playing in his last collegiate game(s) in the NIT. I guess Rick Barnes shouldn't be all that worried about getting matched up with Vermont after all.

Worst Half Ever.

After the first half in Hartford, Stony Brook leads Vermont 27-20. And quite frankly, that is the worst half of basketball I've ever seen. The Cats made absolutely no attempt to penetrate into the lane, they were careless with the basketball, and look 100% scared.

6-21 from the field. 6-21. I'm scared.

Fair Warning

As the semifinal game in Hartford tips off, it seems necessary that I share an anecdote about my day today:

I was working at the 24 Diner here in Austin, TX today, minding my own business, when my co-worker came into the kitchen and exclaimed, "Dude, Rick Barnes is here." Rick Barnes, of course, is the head coach of the Texas Longhorns basketball team. He was enjoying a Sunday brunch with his family -- no doubt they were coming straight from church (as if to prove this point, they were talking about God every time I walked by their table. Texas!)

I'm not one to be star struck, but the college hoops world is my Hollywood: I was sweating. Buckets. It didn't take me long to figure out what I was going to say to Mr. Barnes, and I quote:

"Coach, big win last night (at Baylor), but watch out if you get paired with my Vermont Catamounts in the tournament."

He chuckled. It wasn't funny.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Vermont Gets It Done, Moves on to Semis

The Vermont Catamounts will head to the America East Conference Semifinals for the eighth time in the last nine years after beating Binghamton 57-46. Binghamton, the ninth and final seed, did not make things easy for Vermont. With just over 7 minutes remaining in the second half, Vermont led 44-41. Vermont then used a 7-0, driven by seniors Evan Fjeld and Joey Accaoui, to make the game more comfortable for Vermont down the stretch.

Fjeld was able to bounce back from the ankle injury he suffered in the game against Boston University six days before. He was a game-time decision for the Cats, but was able to play and play like his usual self: he finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds in 33 minutes of play. Sophomore Brendan Bald was expected to play, but he was also bouncing back from an ankle injury of his own. He chipped in 9 points and 5 boards despite a poor shooting night, going 4-13 from the field. Bald can definitely be a streaky shooter, so we probably shouldn't read into that too much. He was able to play 30 minutes, and that is what counts. Both of those guys playing at all is a good sign for Vermont heading into tomorrow's semifinal game. Brian Voelkel added 10 points 9 rebounds and 3 asssits, which really shouldn't surprise anyone at this point. Or maybe we should be surprised: he didn't get 10 boards and only had 3 assists.

Vermont will play Stony Brook tomorrow in a game that tips at 5:04 ET. Stony Brook won the morning game against Albany, 67-61, using a season-high 18 points from senior Chris Martin, who averages less than six points a game. Stony Brook must be hungry, having been the top seed in last year's tournament, only to be upset by BU in the semis. It is safe to say they would love to be on the other side of that type of upset this season.

Personally, I love Vermont's chances to host the championship game next Saturday. But you can't look past the Seawolves, and Vermont surely is not.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Vermont Draws Binghamton

BInghamton pounded UMBC 91-65 on Thursday night, meaning the Bearcats move on to play Vermont in the quarterfinals on Saturday. The game should tip off around 2:15 ET in Hartford.

The matchup is slightly scary for the banged-up Cats: they beat Binghamton by 18 on the road earlier in the year, but later in the season, Binghamton played them tight in Burlington before falling 60-51. Brendan Bald is a go for Saturday's game, while Evan Fjeld is a game-time decision. Both players suffered ankle injuries toward the end of last week. Basically, this means that Vermont can't go on cruise control versus BInghamton. They need to show up and play as hard as they have played all year.

Vermont will be hoping that they can defend the perimeter better than UMBC was able to against the Bearcats: Binghamton shot a scorching 17-32 from three-point range. And that's not a typo. Greer Wright had 31 points for Binghamton on 5-10 shooting from distance. Not to be outdone, fellow senior Moussa Camara went 8-14 from deep, totaling 30 points in all. While Bald is probably UVM's best perimeter defender, you wonder how much mobility he will have coming back from the aforementioned ankle injury. Vermont will have to find some way to stymie the hot-hands of Camara and Wright.

If Fjeld is unable to play, freshman Luke Apfeld might step into the starting lineup, or perhaps senior Garrett Kissel. Either way, Vermont is going to need a big night from the big men who are matched up down low with Mahamoud Jabbi. And when you're potentially replacing Evan Fjeld, those are some big shoes to fill.

So it begins, the America East Championship. One game at a time.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Injury Updates

Thanks to the Burlington Free Press sports blog, "On Campus," for giving updates on Fjeld and Bald's ankle injuries. I still can't get over the fact that the official UVM Men's Basketball web page -- a great website in its own right -- somehow failed to mention both of these injuries. A similar thing occurred when Joey Accaoui injured his hand earlier in the year, the website acted as though the injury never happened.

In other news, it's March. Hell yeah.

A little get well-soon gift for Evan and Brendan. The clips you're looking for happen at 1:19 and 1:49. Cheers