GAME NOTES: The Vermont Catamounts have qualified for postseason play for the seventh consecutive season and will tip off their stay in the National Invitation Tournament on Wednesday night in first-round action against the Georgia Bulldogs at Stegeman Coliseum.
The winner will move on to the second round where Louisiana Tech or Iona awaits.
Vermont (22-10) has been a staple in the America East Conference for years and continued its prowess with a regular-season league title at 15-1, but its quest for an NCAA Tournament bid fell short in the semifinals of the conference tournament with a 67-58 loss to eventual-champion Albany. The Catamounts have played in the NIT twice before but were bounced in the first round in both 2007 and 2011.
Georgia (19-13) was arguably the SEC's most pleasant surprise this season, finishing third in the league at 12-6, but it lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament to Kentucky (70-58), and ultimately its non-conference resume was not strong enough for NCAA Tournament consideration. The Bulldogs are in the NIT field for the 12th time, including a semifinal run in 1998.
The Bulldogs won the only previous meeting between the squads, downing the Catamounts 88-55 in December of 1973.
The Catamounts fell flat from the opening tip in the America East semifinals, as they trailed Albany by 16 at the half, and a strong second stanza was not enough to mount a comeback. They shot only 38.2 percent from the field and 53.8 percent at the free-throw line, with Clancy Rugg and Luke Apfeld the only players in double figures with 13 points apiece.
Despite a poor performance its last time out, Vermont as has been stellar on both ends of the court this season, boasting impressive percentages from the field (.469), 3-point range (.399) and the foul line (.731) for 71.2 ppg while allowing a mere 60.5 ppg on 39.3 percent shooting. Rugg shoots 55.2 percent from the field and 80.3 percent at the stripe for 13.2 ppg to go with 6.1 rpg and more than a block per contest. Sandro Carissimo brings 12.6 ppg to the table, while Brian Voelkel (6.7 ppg) has a rare multi-faceted skill set with 8.2 rpg, 5.8 apg and 1.4 spg.
The Bulldogs battled tight with Kentucky for most of their latest game with a trip to the SEC title game on the line and trailed by just three with 13 minutes to play, but the Wildcats put the game out of reach with 22-9 run. The squad made a respectable 44.7 percent of its field goal tries but had only three 3-pointers and lost several possessions by getting outrebounded, 36-21. Kenny Gaines led the losing effort with 13 points, while Charles Mann was right on his heels with 12 points.
Georgia's offense has been far from potent this season, as it shoots less than 44 percent from the field for 69.0 ppg, but luckily it has been able to fall on the positive end of several close games thanks to an impressive defense (.399, 66.8 ppg). Its strong rebounding margin also helps (+4.2), but it has also been hindered by a -2.4 turnover margin. Mann (13.4 ppg) and Gaines (13.3 ppg) are neck-and-neck for the scoring lead, but while Gaines shoots 44.5 percent from the floor, Mann sits at just 39.6 percent shooting. Marcus Thornton (8.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is a defensive mainstay up front with 1.3 bpg.
Although Vermont's all-around numbers this season have been spectacular, the competition in the America East is much inferior to the SEC, so it will be put to the test against superior athletes in this one. With Georgia's outstanding showing at home this season (14-2), figure for it to have a leg up to advance.
Game Date and Time