The NCAA Tournament is Calling Once Again
Many Vermont basketball fans may have hit the panic button this summer when it was announced that scoring leader and America East Rookie of the Year Four McGylnn was transferring to Towson to be closer to home.
Although there was good reason to be concerned, considering that he led the team in scoring, averaging 12 points a game, head coach John Becker has reason optimistic about the 2012-13 season.
In his first season, Becker led Vermont to a 24-12 record and the No. 2 seed in the America East Tournament. After barely escaping the upstart Hartford Hawks in the semifinals, the Catamounts did what they do best, gutting out a defensive slugfest and winning an ugly 51-43 contest against Stony Brook, the conference regular-season champion, to capture their fifth NCAA berth in the last nine years.
That win further cemented Vermont's position as the class of the America East.
And despite the loss of McGlynn and last year's captain Matt Glass, the Catamounts have added quality depth to a roster that already went 11 deep last year, making them the team to beat once again in the America East.
Here are the reasons why.
Trey Blue is a late addition who came shortly after McGlynn's departure.
He had a solid freshmen year at Fordham, averaging 8.2 points a game, including a 24-point performance against Columbia that earned him Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honors. But his minutes and scoring diminished after transferring to Illinois State for his sophomore and junior seasons.
Blue has anywhere-inside-the-gym range and is quick to the ball, making him a good fit for Becker's schemes. And, if he can adjust to the America East after three years playing in tougher conferences, he should play a substantial role for the Catamounts this year.
If there is one thing that Vermonters will come out in droves to witness, it is seeing one of their own take charge at Patrick Gymnasium. Marist transfer and Wilmington, Vt., native Candon Rusin will, along with fellow Vermonters Clancy Rugg, Troy Davine and Harrison Taggert, provide much excitement for Catamount fans this season.
Rusin was one of the few bright spots for Marist the last two seasons, averaging 8.1 points and hitting 105 three-pointers.
With his transfer season behind him, which allowed him to get comfortable with Vermont's veteran-laden squad, Rusin, who can hit a shot from anywhere, may be a prime scoring option this year.
With the depth of the Catamount roster, Rusin will not be keyed on to the degree that McGlynn was last year. That should result in plenty of quality looks for Rusin, looks that, with his silky smooth jumper, he should be able to make teams pay dearly.
There are few players in college basketball as unique as Brian Voelkel. At 6' 6", he looks like a linebacker on the basketball floor.
However, after witnessing his court vision, Dennis Rodman-like rebounding prowess and ability to lock down pretty much any player defensively, it is easy to see why he was named the Reggie Lewis Most Outstanding Player of the 2012 America East tournament despite only taking one shot in the finals (a three-pointer that he made).
Every team needs a glue guy, someone who is willing to do the dirty work. And there is no better player in the America East to fill that role than Voelkel and, in turn, no player more valuable to Vermont.
Stony Brook is the most likely obstacle for Vermont this year, as it returns nine players from a squad that won the America East regular-season title and lost a tough decision to Vermont in front of its home crowd in the America East Finals.
However, it appears that Stony Brook will once again struggle as it did last year in producing points from the perimeter. Last year, it shot a measly 32 percent from three-point land and only 69 percent from the free-throw line.
Although coach Steve Pikiell is best known for his suffocating defense, which only gave up 59 points a game last year, the Seawolves are once again undersized and return only one player in Dave Coley who averaged in double figures from the 2011-2012 season.
Expect Stony Brook to be in the mix, but with Vermont's superior size and shooting ability, don't expect the Seawolves to be favored in their matchups with the Catamounts.
By going 9-0 in conference play at home last year, Vermont proved once again that it is nearly invincible when playing in front of its rowdy fan base at Patrick Gym.
The goal for this year is simple. Win the America East Conference regular-season championship. That feat will earn the Catamounts a coveted home game in the America East tournament finals, assuming they are able to navigate their way through the first two conference tournament games on the road.
If UVM does that, expect their veteran leadership and young talent to provide the winning combination for yet another another America East title.