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Will the Vermont Catamounts be even better next year?

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Vermont went 16-0 in conference play last season and show no signs of slowing down.

Vermont v Purdue Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Vermont didn’t lose a game in the 77 days between Dec. 29th, 2016, and March 16th, 2017. The Catamounts swept the America East regular season, won the conference tournament by a combined score of 216 to 135, and earned a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament before getting bounced in a 10-point loss to 4 seed Purdue.

But can the Catamounts repeat the success from their 2016-17 campaign?

In short, yes.

Here are a few reasons why the Cats can do it again.

They aren’t losing too much talent

Vermont lost only two players from 2015-16 to 2016-17. One was Dylan Sinnickson, a graduate student transfer from Middlebury College, who offered only 1.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per contest. In a more serious departure, they lost Ethan O’Day, a 6’9 co-captain who contributed 11.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as a forward.

All things considered, these were certainly surmountable losses for the Cats.

This season, the Cats once again aren’t suffering too many losses. They will be graduating Dre Willis, Darren Payen and Kurt Steidl — three seniors that represented 21 combined points of their league-third-best 73.5 points per game. Josh Hearlihy will also transfer for his senior season.

But with Anthony Lamb in his second season, and with veterans Trae Bell-Haynes and Payton Henson going into their final years with the program, Vermont should be able to take the hit.

They spread the ball around

Vermont can hurt you in a lot of ways, and they have a handful of players who can lead the team in scoring on a given night. In fact, you have to scroll down to the 15-spot of the 2016-17 America East scoring leaders list before you see a UVM player. Occupying the 15, 16 and 17 spots is the trio of Lamb, Henson and Bell Haynes respectively.

In their 35 games, a total of nine Vermont players led at least one game in scoring. Only Binghamton had as many, and nobody else had more.

This is a strength in the college game. By neglecting to rely on one player too heavily, the Cats can still score even if someone is having an off shooting night.

Defense

In the words of every high school basketball coach making their players finish practice with 45 minutes of defensive slides, “offense wins games, defense wins championships.” Despite the cliché, the old adage rings true for the Cats. Vermont had the No. 1 scoring defense in the America East last year, giving up only 62.1 points per game over their 35 games last season. They had a league-best average scoring margin of +11.3. The next closest was Albany with a +5.6 margin.

Vermont’s conference-leading field goal percentage defense, and a conference-best 4.3 blocked shots to boot (Anthony Lamb is the second best shot blocker in the league) spells success for the Cats.

Strong incoming recruits

In addition to Toronto guard Stefan Smith and 6’9 double-double getter Ra Kpedi, the Cats landed Bailey Patella, a two-star recruit from Vermont Academy who earned offers from UNC Asheville and Winthrop, among others. More notably still, UVM landed highly touted guard Skylar Nash. Nash was in contact with Wisconsin before receiving offers from Albany, Detroit, Maine, Lafayette, and others. The three-star guard eventually chose Vermont, bolstering the Catamounts’ backcourt.

For all of the above reasons, Vermont fans have every reason to believe that their team has the ability to be as good, if not better, than it was last year. Now to see how high they can run up that America East win streak.