Tuesday, February 9, 2010

GAMEDAY: University of Vermont vs. Boston University

Catamounts. Terriers. It's one of the premier rivalries in America East, with each team grabbing signature wins over the other during the past decade.

BU's Agganis Arena era began in 2005 with an instant-classic 61-55 victory over the Catamounts – Taylor Coppenrath had 37 points but was outdone by Terrier stars Rashad Bell and Chaz Carr, who combined for 53 points. Less than a year later, the Terriers and Catamounts were found guilty of ignoring all principles of offensive basketball, with BU winning a 43-41 slugfest where Vermont took just 31 shots the entire game.

That meeting, in 2006, was the Catamounts' last loss in Boston. Vermont's last three trips to Beantown involved one Marqus Blakely, the most dangerous man in America East. As a freshman, Blakely was still a supporting act, but Chris Holm & Co. managed to escape The Roof with a two-point win. The past two years have produced nearly identical results: 70-57 and 70-56, both in favor of the boys from Burlington.

Blakely is a one-man show. More to the point, the 6-foot-5 senior forward presents an enormous challenge, not just to the players tasked with guarding him, but also to the coach charged with cooking up a scheme to control him. Managing to keep Blakely from taking over a game without resorting to double-teams is an enormous feat, but when the double-team – or triple-team – arrives, Blakely displays an uncanny ability to find the open teammate.

Yet BU might have an answer for Blakely. Back in January, Jeff Pelage did an excellent job limiting the Catamounts' best player to 11 points and three rebounds, usually working without the assistance of additional defenders. BU couldn't hit the Charles from a boat, which rendered Pelage's fine defensive work largely irrelevant, but the degree to which the Terriers can replicate last month's corraling of Blakely will be a huge key to tonight's battle for conference position. Other keys:

Easy buckets: The Terriers' abysmal first-half shooting at Patrick Gym came as somewhat of a surprise, but teams of Vermont's caliber are likely to play shutdown defense for at least a portion of any game. Shooters can go cold for a few possessions. BU can afford a slump that lasts two or three minutes. When that slump hits, though, the Terriers need to grab easy points – and on the other end of the court, BU needs to make Vermont work for everything it gets. But where will those easy points come from?

Win the turnover battle: The Catamounts rank just seventh among America East teams in turnover rate, coughing up the ball on more than 22 percent of offensive possessions. Those turnovers lead to high-percentage opportunities going the other way. BU forced just eight turnovers in Burlington last month; without transition chances, the Terrier offense came to a screeching halt. Vermont, too, can use turnovers to fuel its offense – Blakely in transition is a poster waiting to happen. Force turnovers, don't commit them.

Foul trouble: Vermont scores more than a quarter of its points at the free throw line, ranking 4th among all Division-I teams. BU also ranks among the top 50 in its dependence on the charity stripe. There will be fouls. BU can some backcourt depth, but the frontcourt players need to be wary of foul trouble. And, of course, Vermont minus Blakely is in serious need of some water wings; the Catamounts' ability to stay afloat away from home hinges on their star's ability to avoid the wrath of the referee's whistle.

Game time is 7:00 PM. If you can't make it to Agganis, come on back -- the live blog starts about half an hour before tip-off.


No comments: