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Vermont could prove serious March contenders in first-round matchup

Going 17-1 in American East Conference play, the Catamounts have all the pieces to be a real issue for Arkansas

Syndication: The Burlington Free Press
Ben Shungu added 19 points in Vermont’s 82-43 win over UMBC to win the American East crown.
BRIAN JENKINS/For the FREE PRESS via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Where to Watch

Location: KeyBank Center, Buffalo, N.Y.

Tip Time: 9:20 p.m. EST

Television/Streaming: TNT/March Madness Live

DraftKings Line: Arkansas -5, O/U 139.5

Catamounts Preview

After cruising through American East play and the conferences tournament, Vermont is looking to be serious upset contenders in the West region while Arkansas has been plagued by upsets all season long including a loss to Hofstra before starting conference play 0-3 with losses to Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, and Texas A&M.

Led by a senior class that includes Ben Shungu, Ryan Davis, Isaiah Powell, Justin Mazzulla and Finn Sullivan, the Catamounts are very experienced with some of the current roster appearing for Vermont during the program's 2019 NCAA Tournament first-round exit. Davis, who sits first in the American East in PPG, will need to combine with Shungu to get the Vermont offense going. It's defense allowed only 60.3 PPG and needs to find a way to limit the Razorbacks and players like JD Notae.

Veteran leadership is where the Catamounts can really take advantage is by maintaining the tempo offensively, working within the team's passing ability and preventing any second chance opportunities for Arkansas. But without much height outside of Davis who stands 6-foot-8-inches, Vermont has struggled in the rebounding category for portions of this season and will need to keep Jaylin Williams in check. He averages the SEC’s second-most rebounds per game with 9.6.

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, while no team in the nation gets to the free-throw line quite like Arkansas, the Catamounts do extremely well is not foul. For a Razorbacks team that will bank on getting to the free-throw line, it could have a tough and frustrating time. It’ll be key for Vermont to stay focused and limit the fouls as they’ve done well throughout this season.

Predictions

This is a Vermont program that under John Becker is top-10 in the nation for both field goal percentage (fifth) and scoring defense (10th) but coming out of the American East, hasn’t played the toughest competition. That being said, this is a great matchup for an underrated Catamounts squad based on the players they have and the style they like to play and therefore should be in with a real chance against Eric Musselman’s Razorbacks. Arkansas will look to push the tempo and draw fouls, its what they do. But Vermont is excellent at working the ball around and finding the right shot. They’ll need to maintain that measured tempo to get Arkansas out of its comfort zone. With Vermont’s consistency on both the offensive and defensive, I’m picking the Catamounts to match Arkansas’ high-paced offense by scoring almost repetitively and ultimately advancing to the round of 32 with an upset over the No. 4 seeded Razorbacks.