Knowing your enemy, NCAA Tournament edition is with Green Bay Packer and Vermont Catamount insider, Michael Kreutz. He is an Author at Acme Packing Company, SB Nation’s Green Bay Packers blog.
Jacob: Which Vermont player(s) do Hog fans need to know before Thursday’s matchup?
Michael: For Vermont, the players you definitely need to keep an eye on are Ryan Davis and Ben Shungu—but they’re not the only ones to keep an eye on. Still, though, this is their team, and they are the unequivocal leaders of it. Davis’s game is to get close to the hoop before shooting over defenders—but he can also knock shots down from beyond the arc. Shungu, meanwhile, can hit shots from just about anywhere. He has been on the team for a while, which is impressive considering he originally walked on.
J: There haven’t been many upsets for the Catamounts during the regular season. They also had one loss against conference play. What makes them a candidate to make the round of 32?
M: I would say the biggest asset for Vermont is its depth this year. While Davis and Shungu rightly get all the accolades and awards which come to them, this team has shown the ability to win even without them. I mentioned having gone to six games for Vermont this year. One of the six was the game against UMBC in February. In that game, Aaron Deloney knocked down 20 points. Another one of those six games took place on February 12 in Albany. Although Davis sat out with an injury that evening, Vermont won wire-to-wire in that game. So it goes to show that they can win even without their best players on the court.
J: How does Vermont matchup with Arkansas?
M: Vermont matches up very well against Arkansas. The depth they have this season comes into play as the general impression surrounding the team is one where they can play with anyone on any given day. While they did struggle a little down the stretch, including on Senior Day against UMass-Lowell (another one of my six games this year), they regained their shooting touch come the conference tournament.
J: What could give Arkansas the most trouble against Vermont on defense and offense?
M: The biggest issue facing Arkansas is on defense. Come conference play, Vermont established its game plan of pouring shots in from all over, including beyond the arc. This contributed to almost constant blowouts of conference opponents. Generally, the rule of thumb with Vermont is that if they have an open shot, or even one which is partially open, they will take the shot every single time. Now, even with their prowess this year, you don’t get to 17-1 in conference play by luck or chance. Part of this also comes from the defense. Vermont’s defense locked down opponents for long stretches all season. In fact, in conference play, it took until January 31 against Albany at home (yet another one of my personal six games this year) for Vermont to score less than 80 points in conference play.
J: What’s the feeling around the Vermont program during the NCAA Tournament?
M: The general consensus here in Vermont is that this is a team which could shock a lot of people in the Tournament, similar to the 2004-2005 team which beat Syracuse. A parallel they have with that team is that this Vermont team comes into March Madness with a full head of steam. The 2016-2017 team, while undefeated in conference play, took until the last minute of the game to beat Albany on an and-one play. Vermont, in its conference championship this year, beat UMBC by the final score of 82-43. That’s not a misprint. It shattered the record for biggest margin of victory in the conference championship in America East history, and also was—I believe—the biggest margin of victory in ANY conference championship game in ANY conference since 1989. So, there is a lot of optimism and hope that Vermont could win Thursday night. Will they? I have a feeling the game will be very close, and it could come down to the last few minutes before we know who’s moving on to the next round.