For the 29th time in school history Purdue is in the NCAA Tournament. This happens more seasons than not. Since 1983 Purdue has only missed the tournament nine times. It is the minimal expectation at the beginning of ever season and before 2015, winning a game was also expected. From 1994 to 2012 Purdue made the tournament 14 times and was a perfect 14-0 in opening round games. We really should be 16-0 in said games since 1994, but complete collapses in the final minutes the last two years have led to overtime losses, as we all know.
Still, Purdue is literally seconds away from a 16 game first round winning streak, so losing that first game has been more the exception than the norm over the last 25 years or so. That normal should continue this year with Vermont.
From: Burlington, Vermont
Date : Thursday, March 16, 2017
Tip Time: 7:27pm ET
Location: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Arena: BMO Harris Bradley Center (18,850)
Online: March Madness On Demand
Radio: Purdue Radio Network
SiriusXM Satellite: XM (Ch. 381); Internet (Ch. 968)
Live Stats: bit.ly/PurdueLiveStats
Odds: Purdue by 9
2015-16 Record: 23-14, 11-5 America East (Lost to Nevada in CBI semifinals)
2016-17 Record: 29-5, 16-0 America East
Opponent Blog: UVM Basketball
Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 1-0
Last Vermont Win: None
Last Purdue Win: 107-79 at Purdue on 11/15/2015
NCAA Tournament History: 6 appearances, defeated Syracuse 60-57 (OT) in 2005 as a 13/4 upset.
Vermont wins games. Period. They haven’t lost at all since December 21st at Butler and they steamrolled their way through the American East Conference with an undefeated record. They have won 29 games this season, but were 0-4 against teams in the top 100. The five losses on their resume were to Providence (80-58), Houston in the Gulf Coast Showcase championship (72-71), South Carolina (68-50), Northeastern (59-57) and Butler (81-69).
Vermont is good enough that they might, just might, have gotten an at large bid had they lost the America East final, though they would have had a better case with a win over Providence, Houston, South Carolina, or Butler. Those were the four best teams they played and they lost all four games, three of them by 12 points or more. They still enter the tourney on a 21 game winning streak, the longest in the country.
In conference play only Albany, who lost by 3 in the conference title game, really challenged them. They won by 7 at Stony Brook and by 8 at home to New Hampshire. Maryland-Baltimore County pushed them to a 3-point game in February, but the Catamounts were far and away the best team in their league for the most part. 13 of their 16 regular season league wins were by double digits. In the conference tournament they beat Maine 86-41 and New Hampshire 74-41 before surviving Albany 56-53 to win the auto bid.
There is a heavy Indiana flavor on the Vermont roster. Ernie Duncan and Everette Duncan are brothers that played at Evansville Harrison and led them to a 22-2 record a few years ago. Dre Wills played at Ben Davis in Indianapolis before taking a prep school year. he was the America east Defensive Player of the Year this year. Then there is, of course, Josh Speidel from Columbus North. Speidel suffered a severe brain injury in a car accident his senior year of high school after he had accepted his scholarship to play at Vermont. The Catamounts honored his scholarship and he was honored at Purdue last season when they played at Mackey Arena. He got a similar ovation at Butler earlier this season. He still practices and travels with the team and is working hard to hopefully play again some day.
Vermont is a strong, fundamentally sound team that does not make a lot of mistakes. They average only 11 turnovers per game and 13 team assists. Anthony Lamb, a 6’6” freshman, averages 12.6 points per game as their leading scorer. Payton Henson, a 6’8” junior, is next at 11.4 points and 5.3 rebounds, is their next leading scorer. Trae Bell-Haynes, a 6’2” guard, is also in double figures at 11.1 per game.
This is a team that spreads its scoring around quite a bit. Seven players average better than 6 points per game and they have a regular rotation of 9 or 10 guys. Ernie Duncan and Lamb both shoot better than 40% from three.
As good as Vermont is, Purdue should have a significant advantage in the post with Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan. Their tallest players are 6’8”, so defending Haas on the offensive end should be very difficult when he is in there. No one has the rebounding prowess of Swanigan, either.
When these teams met over a year ago Purdue bombed away from three. We hit a school record 18 of them on our way to 107 points. We only won the rebounding battle 33-32, but A.J. Hammons did not play, so we had an idea of what this year’s lineup would look like against them. Haas and Swanigan combined for 30 points and 15 rebounds. Swanigan had a 14 and 13, and this was “Second game of college career” Biggie, not “Potential National Player of the Year” Biggie.
Ernie Duncan had 18 against us last year and Bell-Haynes had 17. Really, Vermont struggled defensively as we scored 60 first half points. As far as players Purdue had that they won’t this year, Rapheal Davis had 12 points and 5 assists, Kendall Stephens had 11, and Jacquil Taylor. Will those guys and their 25 points be enough of a difference?
I really respect Vermont. They are a good team that certainly belongs in the tournament. That said, Purdue has an overwhelming advantage up front that it needs to exploit. We can expect them to swarm our post with double teams like Little Rock did last year. They can’t stop has and Swanigan one on one, so the pass out to the open shooter and knocking down said open shot will be key.
If Purdue shoots well from outside I have a hard time seeing a Vermont upset. Be worried if the three is not falling and they are able to swarm the post effectively.