In 2005, the Vermont Catamounts burst onto the national stage by defeating the Syracuse Orange 60-57 in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It has been nearly a decade since the Catamounts were considered a legitimate Cinderella in the NCAA tournament, but they have quietly been one of the more successful New England basketball programs since 2006 with 158 wins.
Under third-year head coach John Becker, Vermont has been okay. He has led them to the American East championship in their previous two seasons, and the team has made both the NCAA tournament and the CBI tournament.
This season has been a bit of a down year for the Catamounts, stumbling out of the blocks with a 1-4 record. Vermont’s woes have come as of late, losing three games in a row in a five-day span. The struggles for the Catamounts have come on the offensive side of the floor as they’re averaging a mere 63 points per game.
Vermont had the chance to try and snap their three-game skid streak against the Duke Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. A non-conference opponent has not walked away with a victory in Cameron Indoor Stadium since Boosty Thornton buried an 18-foot jumper with 13 seconds left for St. John’s on February 26, 2000.
The Blue Devils have looked phenomenal this season, but were exposed on Tuesday evening by the East Carolina Pirates. The scoreboard does not necessarily reflect East Carolina’s success (83-74 loss), but the Pirates found the chink in Duke’s armor and kept striking. East Carolina pulled within one before the Blue Devils put the game on ice.
How did the Pirates almost beat one of the most talented teams in the country? Penetration. Their backcourt was able to find success by attacking the basket because of the Blue Devils lacking a shot-blocking presence that they have had in years past.
Vermont followed the blueprint flawlessly in their contest against Duke. The Catamounts had their way inside especially in the first half, shooting 67 percent from the floor. Vermont came into the contest shooting a hair under 40 percent on the season. Even with limiting the Blue Devils to 49 percent and only having four first-half turnovers, the Catamounts still found themselves trailing by eight at halftime.
Vermont senior point guard Sandro Carissimo was the catalyst in the team’s success against Duke. As a fourth-year starter for Vermont, Carissimo is one of only six starters at the point guard position at Vermont since 1988. His experience allowed him to maintain composure throughout the contest and put his teammates in a position to score off his penetration. His 16 points and nine assists were a key component that allowed the Catamounts to have a late second-half lead against the Blue Devils.
However, Carissimo’s surgeon-like precision was not enough for the Catamounts to pull off the upset victory in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Much like the East Carolina game, the Catamounts outplayed the Blue Devils in every facet of the game. The only person that Vermont could not account for was Jabari Parker. Even with a double-team, the Catamounts could not keep Parker off the glass.
The 91-90 defeat puts the Catamounts in a 1-5 hole to start the season. Vermont cannot feel too badly about taking a top-tier team like Duke to the wire on their home floor. This game should prove to be a springboard for the Catamounts moving forward, and could be the blueprint for a team like the Connecticut Huskies to use in the NCAA tournament this season. Vermont proved that superior point guard play is the Achilles’ heel of the Duke Blue Devils.