During football season (and for select basketball games) we like to have a guest blogger Q&A here to learn more about our opponents. I was surprised to find that yes, there is indeed a Vermont basketball blog. Lee Trombley runs “The Name’s Vermont”, a UVM basketball blog over on Blogger. I can respect this, because I got my own start on blogger as the “Boilermaker Football Blog” in August 2006 on Blogger.
Lee has seen his Twitter followers (@thenamesvermont) soar since we found him yesterday, and he was happy to do out guest Q&A. My answers to his questions will be up later today, but here are his answers to my questions:
T-Mill: Vermont won 29 games and went unblemished through the America East, which is impressive no matter the conference. What is their strength and how did they get it done?
Lee: It has been an incredible season made possible by Vermont’s balance and depth. This truly is a team where every player in the rotation enters the game ready to fill their role. This depth and balance made it difficult for opponents to scheme to stop a specific player. Whoever an opponent chose to try and stop, another player stepped up to lead the charge. This meant that injuries and foul trouble were less of a concern for Vermont and they were able to play matchups each and every game. This team has also been the most mentally tough team I have ever seen. The disappointment of the title game loss last season stung these guys and as a result they thought about nothing but getting back to and winning the title game.
T-Mill: Vermont's tallest player is 6'8". Purdue appears to have an enormous advantage in the post with Isaac Haas (7'2") and Caleb Swanigan (6'9"). Do the Catamounts double team? How good is the interior defense?
Lee: I think Vermont will throw some wrinkles into their defensive scheme. Their defense is predicated on providing help and recovering and they have been using double teams more this year. Vermont did not face very many teams with big dominant post players so it will be a new challenge. Their interior defense has been good this season by virtue of having several good shot blockers at different positions. The big men underneath will definitely be the deciding factor in the game.
T-Mill: When these teams met in West Lafayette a year ago Purdue hit a school record 18 threes. What is different about this year's Vermont team from last year?
Lee: Last year’s game was tough. It seemed like every shot Purdue put up went in. That game was early in the season and it was a sign of things to come. Last season’s team struggled on defense and particularly struggled to defend the three point line. That was very atypical for Vermont basketball and this season the Catamounts returned to their shutdown defense. Defending the three has been a strength this season so I would expect Purdue’s number of made threes to come down.
T-Mill: When I look at the stats it looks like the Catamounts are extremely balanced offensively. Will they shoot the three and pray they are hot or can they create their own shots?
Lee: Every player on the Vermont team has a role in the offense and they work to get the best shot on every possession. As a result Vermont shot close to 50% from the field this season, which is top 10 in the country. The three pointer is actually not a focus of their offense. They work to get shots at the rim through a variety of cuts and dribble drives. The three usually happens as a result of a kickout or a screen and pop. They can sometimes be unselfish to a fault as they try to get the best shot on each possession. Their offense is very methodical and opposing defenses have to be prepared for any of the five guys on the court to take the shot.
T-Mill: There is a heavy Indiana flavor with four Indiana high school products on your roster. Do you feel that helps? What about the fact that Vermont played Purdue just a year ago?
Lee: I feel like the Indiana connection breeds familiarity and makes the matchup more exciting. We as Vermont fans are very happy to have recruiting ties in the state for sure. Playing Purdue only a year ago I think is big for Vermont as they are a very different team from a year ago and would like to make up for last year’s poor showing. I think Vermont will feel loose and comfortable being the underdog for the first time in almost three months and playing a team they have played somewhat recently can't hurt.
T-Mill: Finally, what can you tell us about Josh Speidel? His story is such an inspiration and it was fantastic what Purdue did to honor him last season. Does he dress during games? If the game gets out of hand is there a chance he gets into the game at the very end at least symbolically?
Lee: Josh Speidel is an incredible person who has had a huge effect on the Vermont community as a whole. He continues to defy the odds and is a symbol of the power of belief and determination. He is redshirting this year with hopes that he will at some point during his career be able to dress for games. On Thursday you will see him on the bench sporting his trademark bow tie and cheering on his teammates.