It’s a first round matchup of the NIT as the America East meets Conference USA in the Volunteer State. The sixth-seeded Vermont Catamounts are on the road as they take on the third-seeded Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Tuesday night. Vermont lost 65-52 in the championship game of the America East Tournament to UMBC Saturday. Middle Tennessee dropped their second straight with a disappointing 71-68 overtime loss to Southern Mississippi in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament Thursday. This marks the first time the teams have met on the hardwood.
Vermont Catamounts Look to Regroup After Last Second Heartbreak
Vermont rolled through the regular season and seemed poised for another trip to March Madness before giving up a game winning three with less than a second to go in the America East tournament championship game. The Catamounts finished the regular season 27-7 overall and 15-1 in the conference even with the loss. Vermont shot 47.4 percent from the field and connected on five of nine three point attempts but turned the ball over 13 times. Free throws kept Vermont in the game as they were 21 of 27 to UMBC’s five of 10. Trae Bell-Haynes led the Catamounts with 18 points in the loss.
The Catamounts are slightly above average on the offensive end of the floor as they are 165th in the nation in scoring offense with 74.2 points per game. Vermont is 281st in rebounding with 33.4 boards per contest and tied for 195th by dishing 13.3 assists per night. The Catamounts are an excellent defensive team, ranking 13th in the country by allowing 64.3 points per game. Trae Bell-Haynes leads the Catamounts with 14.9 points plus four assists per game. Anthony Lamb chips in 14.1 points plus 5.1 boards a night, Payton Henson is good for 12.4 points with 5.6 rebounds a contest while Ernie Duncan (11.2 points) and Drew Urquhart (10.8 points, 5.3 rebounds) are in double figures as well. Everett Duncan, Cam Ward and Stef Smith put up at least 3.8 points a game for Vermont this season. The Catamounts shoot 48.9 percent from the field as a team this season. Vermont connects on 7.6 three pointers a night while shooting 40.5 percent from the field. The Catamounts are solid at the charity stripe, cashing in 75.3 percent of their chances.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Hope to Turn Around Late Season Struggles
Middle Tennessee had their chances to make an impact in March Madness but losing their final regular season game and then falling in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA tournament doomed them. The Blue Raiders finished the year 24-7 overall and 16-2 in the conference with both regular season losses coming to Marshall. Middle Tennessee led Southern Miss by three at the half but needed a three with 18 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. In the extra session, the Blue Raiders scored the first bucket but gave up an 8-1 run to go down five and never recovered. Middle Tennessee shot 49.1 percent from the field and 11 of 20 three point attempts: they were hurt by 17 turnovers in the game. Nick King led the Blue Raiders with 17 points and nine boards in the loss.
The Blue Raiders are 150th in the nation in scoring offense as they score 74.8 points per game. Middle Tennessee is 132nd with 36.2 rebounds per game and 141st with 14.1 assists per contest. The Blue Raiders have been sharp defensively as they are 28th in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 65.8 points a night. Middle Tennessee shoots 46.5 percent from the floor as a team. The Blue Raiders knock down 7.3 threes per game while hitting 36.9 percent from beyond the arc. Middle Tennessee is good at the free throw line as they convert 74.2 percent of their chances this season. Nick King leads the Blue Raiders with 21.1 points plus 8.4 rebounds a game. Brandon Walters (10.5 points, 5.3 rebounds) and Giddy Potts (13 points) are solid secondary options for Middle Tennessee. Antwain Johnson (10.2 points), David Simmons, Karl Gamble and Tyrik Dixon each put up at least 3.9 points a night on the year.
- Catamounts are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games following a straight up loss
- Blue Raiders are 17-5 ATS in their last 22 games vs. a team with a winning % above .600
- Blue Raiders are 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games following a straight up loss
Middle Tennessee is one of those mid-major teams that got burned by not winning their conference tournament. The Blue Raiders, along with Saint Mary’s are the two prime mid-major teams that ended up in the NIT instead of the NCAA Tournament. Vermont is very good on the defensive end of the floor and they have the ability to make life difficult for opposing teams. The difference in this one, besides home court, might be the level of competition: Vermont’s best win was probably over Harvard while Middle Tennessee beat Florida Gulf Coast twice, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss while falling to USC by five, Miami by three and Auburn by six. You have to think that the schedule gives Middle Tennessee the edge here.