Exactly one year after a near-miss against Kentucky, Vermont’s basketball team travels to Kansas on Monday night to once again try to knock off a basketball blueblood.
“I knew they gave Kentucky all they wanted last year,” KU coach Bill Self said of the (1-0) Catamounts, who visit Allen Fieldhouse for an 8 p.m. tipoff.
The mid-major team, which was picked first in the America East Conference preseason poll for a third straight season, returns three starters and five of the nine players who scared Big Blue Nation before falling 73-69 on Nov. 12, 2017 at Rupp Arena.
“I knew they had a great year (27-8, 15-1 America East Conference). I did not realize since coach Becker (John) has been head coach they’ve won second most games in all of the Northeast behind only UConn. They are the second winningest program in the entire region,” Self stated.
Actually, over the past two years, Vermont has led all Division I programs in New England in victories (56). Rhode Island is second with 51 wins and Providence third (41). Since the start of the 2002-03 season, Vermont has the second most wins of all Division I schools in New England. UConn (379) is followed by Vermont (361), Rhode Island (289), Providence (288), Boston University (283), Northeastern (277), UMass (269), Boston College (268), Holy Cross (262) and Harvard (258).
“We’ll cover all those things, show them (KU players) clips how they’ve been really good against really good teams,” said Self. He will mention the fact Vermont erased a 10-point second half deficit to beat Boston University 78-72 in the Catamounts’ season opener on Friday in Boston.
Self believes his players will be fired up for their home opener, which comes nearly a full week after Tuesday’s 92-87 season-opening win over Michigan State at the Champions Classic in Indianapolis.
“I would say that would be more of a struggle if we played Vermont tonight, because it’d be soon after playing Michigan State,” Self said Friday. “Playing them six days later, surely you’ll be excited for the first regular-season home game to run out there.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Charlie Moore said the Jayhawks, who, “go into every game with the same mindset, to give 110 percent and play to the best of our ability,” have not dwelled on their victory over the Spartans.
“Just a lot of smiles,” Moore said of the reaction of freshmen guards Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes. They combined for 37 points, seven assists and four steals against MSU. “Not too much has been said. They were happy for themselves and we were happy for them as well. They weren’t really saying too much about it.”
Self said he plans on once again starting Grimes, a 6-5 combo guard from The Woodlands, Texas, who scored 21 points and dished four assists in Tuesday’s Champions Classic game, as well as Dotson, 6-2 from Charlotte, N.C., who had 16 points and three assists.
“Obviously Quentin and Devon did amazing,” KU junior forward Mitch Lightfoot said. “I thought all our freshmen did a really good job. The new guys did a great job taking a road game and making the most out of it.”
“It’s nice to see those young kids get out and play at a level that they played at when you haven’t seen them in that situation before,” said 16th-year KU coach Self. “It shows me that Devon and Quentin are ‘gamers.’ At least I think they are.”
Now the task is to develop consistency.
“I don’t know I can do that yet,” Self said of deeming Grimes as a consistent player, “because even at practice yesterday I had to get onto him. If we set a ball screen for him, we are not setting a ball screen for him to come off and not to do anything. We are setting it for him to go make a play for himself or somebody else. I still think it will take some time for him to get aggressive like that. Him catching the ball and shooting it off the catch, I thought he looked really good (hitting six threes versus the No. 10-ranked Spartans).”
Vermont is led by 6-3 senior guard Ernie Duncan and 6-6 junior forward Anthony Lamb. They were named to the America East preseason all conference team in a vote of league coaches.
Duncan, 6-3 from Evansville, Ind., scored 18 points and Lamb, 6-6 from Rochester, N.Y., 19 points with 14 rebounds in Friday’s opener against Boston. Stef Smith, a 6-1 sophomore guard from Ajax, Ontario, scored a team-leading 22 points.
“They will run a lot of set plays similar to what Michigan State did,” Self said.
KU’s Lightfoot said the Catamounts, “have a really good team. They shoot the ball really well, play a different style than we do. Their ability to shoot the ball is going to make it an interesting matchup.”
Vermont last season hit 260 threes, just nine shy of the school record of 269 set in 2004-05. Vermont also set the school’s season three-point percentage record (40.1 percent). The 2013-14 Vermont team hit 40 percent of its shots beyond the arc. On Friday, Vermont was 8-of-29 from three at Boston. KU hit 10 of 23 threes against Michigan State.
“It’s always fun,” Lightfoot said of the home opener. “Then again it’s nice to go on the road or a neutral site and see what your team is really made of. To see that as soon as possible is a good thing.”