Vermont appears to be hitting their stride at the right time of the season.
The Catamounts have won five in a row and became the only team to beat Stony Brook at Island Federal Credit Union Arena in each of the last two seasons. That win Saturday night gave Vermont the three seed, which pits them against Maine on Wednesday night at 7:30pm at Patrick Gym.
The Catamounts swept the season series from the Black Bears by double-digit margins, but have not faced them since Feb. 3.
“That’s huge that we’ve been able to get that three seed and Maine,” head coach John Becker said. “It’s a tough matchup, they play small and fast, and we’ve handled them.”
In their two meetings, senior Ethan O’Day has averaged 21 ppg, 8 rpg and 4.5 apg, however the Catamounts have had to play small against the Black Bears who like to run and press. Maine plays at an adjusted tempo of 77.4 possessions per game, the third highest in the country according to KenPom.
“I’m doing it now because I have to, we get to the line a lot more when we’re small,” Becker said. “We’ve handled them twice, but Matt O’Brien my former assistant is on that staff, I know Bob Walsh very well. I know they’re going to be ready to play and we just got to keep doing what we’re doing and we’re going to be fine in this tournament.”
What they have done over the last month is go 6-2 in conference play, putting together their best month of the 2015-16 season. Redshirt freshman Ernie Duncan, who led the Catamounts with 23 points in their win Saturday at Stony Brook, has averaged 13.6 ppg in February and in doing so earned a spot on the All-Rookie team.
“It’s a huge win, but i’m just happy we won because we built a lot of momentum heading into Wednesday against Maine and hopefully after that,” Duncan said.
The 6’3” guard has struggled in his only two meetings against the Black Bears, combining in both outings for nine turnovers and just 10 points in limited minutes.
“I personally haven’t played well against Maine,” Duncan said. “I guess it will be a challenge for me and I feel I got to play better.”
It remains to be seen whether junior Dre Wills, who exited on Saturday night with a hip injury, will be available on Wednesday. Though even without him, Vermont proved to have plenty of options to beat the top team in the conference on Saturday and has been able to adjust to the different types of teams in the second half of the season.
“I think we have more answers now for our for the different ways teams in our league play,” Becker said. “I feel much better matching up with different styles.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.