What is this mysterious thing: Midweek, midafternoon basketball?
Yeah, somehow, it is: Florida takes on Vermont at 3 p.m. in the O'Connell Center on Wednesday, with the game being broadcast on the SEC Network and WatchESPN.
And I could tell you about the Catamounts being prolific at the line and putrid at ball security, and that that translates to a projected 11-point win by the Gators this afternoon. Or I could turn to an expert.
When that expert is A.J. Kanell, the play-by-play voice of the Catamounts and a radio host with 101.3 ESPN in Burlington, I turn to the expert. He reached out and offered to answer some questions; I took him up on the offer. Thanks to A.J. for doing this, and especially doing so on really short notice.
1. Florida fans probably remember Vermont -- if at all -- as the team with Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine that beat Syracuse. What should we know about the Catamounts, generally?
That that group set the tone for consistency over the next decade-plus. Their successors have taken pride in continuing the winning tradition, and representing the blue-collar state of Vermont.
2. The last time Florida played Vermont, Nick Calathes had 21 points and Jai Lucas added 15. Do you think Kasey Hill and Chris Chiozza could have similar success, or is Vermont's backcourt capable of staying in front of them?
I think across the board for the UVM the key is getting back on defense. Florida, as you know, is an explosive team in the fast break. UVM's best perimeter defender, Dre Wills, will be back this afternoon after missing the first five games with a hamstring injury. And he'll be limited, but will help; he and Trae Bell-Haynes have a lot of speed. If UVM can keep Florida in the half court, they'll have some sort of shot, but that's easier said than done.
3. Vermont's had two very successful coaches this century in Tom Brennan and Mike Lonergan, and John Becker appears likely to be the third such coach. What's made them so good at churning out good Catamounts teams?
Consistency. Consistency in the quality of the kids they recruit as players, yeah, but more importantly as people. Consistency in the approach everyone within the program takes on a daily basis. These are cliches, but I think they are true, and they are important because UVM is never going to have the most talent.
4. What are the ballpark expectations for Vermont this year?
High floor, high ceiling in the America East. Talented offensive team, with some size/strength questions. But they've been rebounding well against really big teams like Purdue and Quinnipiac (fun fact: nation's top rebounding team three straight years). Considering rebounding was the biggest question entering the season, you have to like the start even though they are 2-3.
Vermont will, once again, take advantage of one of the worst conferences in the country, and be a top-4 team within the conference at minimum. UVM could easily win the conference tourney and go dancing, though they won't be favored to do so.
5. Prediction time: What happens this afternoon?
Either Florida by 10 or Florida by 30. I doubt anything too far in-between because if it gets ugly, Coach Becker will play the walk-ons late and raise the white flag. UVM is banged up right now, and while they potentially could compete, there's no reason for them to fight to the bitter end and risk the health of players on a team with limited depth, that is just starting to get back healthy.