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America East Notebook

February 17, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

America East Notebook

by Adam Reich

Green Mountain Showdown

Vermont and Boston University will square off in the Green Mountain State on Sunday with first place in the America East conference up for grabs. The match-up, which is one of the best rivalries in college basketball no one knows about, has everything a hoops junkie could want from a game: You got first place versus second, big city versus small, dogs versus cats. And both teams know that when the ball is thrown up in Patrick Gymnasium everything will be on the line.

These days, Vermont and Boston University are the perennial powers in the America East Conference. Over the course of the past two seasons, these rivals are the only teams to represent the America East in the NCAA Tournament and have been the top two seeds in the conference tournament. Including this season, the two teams have dominated conference play, compiling a combined 74-15 record (an .831 win percentage).

Recently, Vermont’s gotten the best of this growing rivalry. It seems as if the Catamounts’ most celebratory moments have come at the expense of their rivals from Beantown. The Catamounts knocked off the Terriers 59-57 at Case Gymnasium back in January, not to mention the greatest victory in school history, a 56-55 triumph on the same court in last seasons’ America East Championship. In fact, since the 1998-99 season Vermont has won nine of eleven contests against BU.

Both teams enter Sunday’s game red hot. Vermont has won thirteen straight games, while BU has won seven straight and eighteen out of its last nineteen, with the loss to Vermont being the only setback for the Terriers during this stretch. A Vermont win nearly assures them of the top seed in the America East Tournament and the prospect of a conference title game at Patrick Gymnasium where the Catamounts are undefeated this season (7-0) and 29-2 over the last three seasons.

The last two meetings in this rivalry have been intense defensive-minded games. In the January 17th match-up the two teams combined to shoot 41% and only 21% (7-of-31) from three-point range. Both squads are excellent rebounding teams and fundamentally sound, committing few turnovers on the offensive end. The difference in the game very well might be who converts open looks from beyond the arc. Vermont and BU each average nearly twenty three-point attempts per game. Most of BU’s long-range looks come from spreading the court and using dribble penetration to find spot-up shooters. On the other hand, UVM creates open three-point shots when Taylor Coppenrath is able to pass out of double-teams.

And we all know Coppenrath will get double-teamed whenever he touches the ball, right? Not necessarily. BU coach Dennis Wolff has often times in the past played Vermont’s big man straight up. For the most part, the difficult assignment has fallen on the shoulders of Rashad Bell. And although Bell’s athletic ability has made things tough on Coppenrath, Bell has also been prone to foul trouble. Rather than see Bell on Coppenrath, sophomore forward Kevin Gardner might get the call. Gardner, who has played well recently, is not as quick and athletic as Bell, but does offer a more physical body to bump Coppenrath off the block. If this is the case, you might see Coppenrath attempt to face up Gardner and create off the dribble.

Defensively, BU creates match-up problems as well. The Terriers boast a pair of lightning-quick guards in Chazz Carr and Matt Turner. Carr, who has been BU’s most consistent player and go-to-guy this season, can dissect the defense with the dribble-drive and can also knock down the three. Turner, the more of explosive of the two, creates problems with his athleticism. In addition, senior swingman Jason Grochowalski provides a deadly threat on the perimeter. Center Ryan Butt, who can also shoot the three, will require the Catamounts’ big men to extend their defense, thus making them susceptible to offensive rebounds.

Exploiting match-up problems will certainly be a big factor in the outcome of the game. But there are a few other things to watch as well: Can Alex Jensen (6 three-pointers against Northeastern) have another breakout game? What kind of impact will Matt Sheftic have in only his third game back from injury? Will BU’s deep bench wear out the thin Vermont front line? And how well will the Terriers contend with a deafening Vermont crowd?

This game will not be played on Tobacco Road or be played in front of 15,000 fans. Dick Vitale will not be there and neither will ESPN’s cameras. But despite not having these things, this game is what college basketball is all about.

As of right now, the road to the America East Championship goes through Burlington. A Vermont win on Sunday all but wraps up the America East regular season title, but a Boston University win changes everything.


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