By: Fletcher Keel | WCTV Eyewitness Sports
March 20, 2019
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCTV) -- Florida State is in Hartford, Connecticut as they get set for their first game of the 2019 NCAA Tournament against the 13th-seeded Vermont Catamounts.
To learn more about the Cats, we reached out to Jack Fitzsimmons from our sister station WCAX in Burlington, Vermont to get the inside scoop on the Seminoles' first round opponent.
WCTV: When they’re at their best (like when they’re playing teams not named UMBC in conference play), what is it Vermont does well?
Jack Fitzsimmons: UVM has been able to dominate the rest of the America East over the last several years, and a large part of that has been the emphasis they put on defense. The Cats are 13th in the country in scoring defense, allowing just 62.6 points per game, boast a couple of All-Conference defensive team players in the starting lineup in Anthony Lamb and Sammy Dingba and sophomore guard Ben Shungu has really come on over the last few weeks harassing the ball carrier.
They're not a high turnover-rate team, but they don't give many great shot opportunities and they've done a great job limiting offensive rebounds (against everyone not named UMBC, but even them in the title game). The offense, as you know, runs through Lamb who averages better than 21 points per game, but they've been good about spreading the ball around and generating good looks for the guards as well.
The offense seems to run through Anthony Lamb (who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and in Points Produced). What is it he does well and what should FSU fans be looking for when he’s on the floor?
I think what is truly special about Lamb is his versatility. He's often just as happy to pull up and fire an off-balance three as put the ball on the floor and get to the rack. He traditionally draws most of the attention from the interior defense, and some days the double-teams seem to really limit him and other times they don't. I think the biggest thing about him that could pose problems for FSU is if he gets his jumper working early, it often will fall all day and he's great about finding just enough space to put up a good fade-away.
Outside of Lamb, on the stat sheet, at least, it appears to be Ernie Duncan and Stef Smith who help lead the offense. Where on the floor can they hurt the Seminoles?
Ernie Duncan is a veteran leader on this Vermont team and the program's all-time leader in wins, with 105. He's traditionally a guy who likes to work outside in: If he can hit a couple threes early, then he'll attack a little more off the dribble. Stef Smith is kind of similar in that he has traditionally been primarily a jump shooter for the Cats, and he can get really hot without warning. In the America East Semifinal against Binghamton, he knocked down eight threes, seven in the first half, and five in a matter of about five minutes of game time. Maybe it was that performance that scared UMBC into committing hard on the perimeter, but lately he's shown an ability to slice through the lane pretty well too.
Are there any unsung heroes for the Catamounts?
His name isn't going to jump out just looking at the season stats, but Shungu has become an absolutely vital piece for this team. He's one of the best high school basketball players the state of Vermont has produced in recent memory and started his career at UVM as a walk-on. Over the second half of the season, Shungu has stepped into a starting roll and is probably their best back-court defender. He's not a tremendous scorer yet at the college level, but he's capable of pushing the pace and taking advantage of an unsettled situation probably better than anyone on the team.
For Vermont to win, what are they going to have to do?
When you're a mid-major who only has one semi-regular taller than 6' 6", Florida State obviously is a bit of a scary match-up given their size and athleticism. For UVM to pull off a shocker, they probably need to get good to great games from Smith and Duncan shooting the three, probably even some buckets off the bench from their next biggest three-point threat in Everett Duncan, one of Ernie's two brothers on the team (Robin is the other. First time in NCAA history three brothers slated to play in the same Tournament game).
Florida State obviously is going to get some offensive rebounds, but UVM can't allow second, third and fourth chance opportunities like FSU got against Virginia in the ACC semis last week.
And probably most importantly, they need another transcendent performance from Lamb. He's capable of performing against power conference teams: He had 24 against Kansas and 25 against Louisville earlier this season to go along with a 20-point outing as a true freshman against Purdue in the NCAA Tournament in 2017.
It also probably wouldn't hurt if they attacked Christ Koumadje and Mifondu Kabengele early and got them in foul trouble, because UVM really doesn't have guys who can physically matchup with either of them. On top of that, if Phil Cofer, Terance Mann, M.J. Walker and the rest of the guards have below average days shooting, that could only help.
For FSU to win, what are they going to have to do?
For FSU to win, they have to take advantage of the massive advantages they have from a size and depth perspective. UVM is probably going to have to play Lamb most of the game if they hope to keep up offensively, and it's going to be really hard for anyone to pick up the scoring load if FSU shuts him off or if they can get him in foul trouble.
The Noles don't necessarily need to push the pace, but it would probably help to hit a couple jumpers early on to keep the Vermont defense from packing in tight in the lane to try and offset their size disadvantage. But even if they're not having the best day from the field, as long as they can get second chance opportunities, they'll be in good shape.
Do you have a prediction?
I'll say Ernie Duncan puts on a solid showing in his last game in a Vermont uniform, something like 17 points with four or five threes, while Lamb puts up a solid 18 points and seven rebounds to keep UVM close for a while, but it's hard to envision a scenario where they get enough contributions spread around to beat FSU. I'll take the Noles to pull away late in the second half, something like 77-63. It's going to be hard for Vermont to handle fresh bodies being thrown at them every couple of minutes.