Vermont point guard Sandro Carissimo . OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Projected starting lineup:
G – Sandro Carissimo, Sr., 6’2” 170
G – Candon Rusin, R-Sr., 6’4” 190
F – Brian Voelkel, Sr., 6’6” 230
F – Clancy Rugg, Sr., 6’8” 195
F – Luke Apfeld, R-Sr., 6’7” 215
So here we are: The top of the mountain, the cream of the crop, the team to beat, the Alpha dog – or in this case, Alpha Catamount. By process of elimination (or, perhaps, discrimination, depending on who you listen to), we’re left with Vermont as the One-Bid Wonders’ preseason favorite to win the America East.
If you only listen to certain media mouthpieces, or read certain publications, you may be shocked and chagrined – mortified and stupefied – to learn that Vermont has been entrenched as the premier basketball program in the America East for more than a decade – the league’s very best.
It’s not even remotely close.
For the past 11 years, Vermont has flat out dominated the America East. Over that time, the Catamounts have punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament five times — as many times as the other eight current members of the conference combined.
Vermont head coach John Becker and his staff of assistants Kyle Cieplicki, Chris Markwood and Matt O’Brien have established themselves as some of the league’s very best. Plain and simple, they recruit good kids, who excel on the court and in the classroom, leave everything they have on the hardwood and execute.
And all they do is win. And they do so with a pittance of a recruiting budget, a high-school gym and without the hype machine powering much of college basketball (they don’t even have a full-time men’s basketball media contact. International recruiting budget? Sure, if by international you mean beyond Brattleboro).
In his first season, Becker – who eschews the “look at me now” era of modern coaching and sideline antics, opting instead to quietly get the job done – led the Catamounts to the NCAA Tournament, bludgeoning a previously bullet-proof Stony Brook squad on the Seawolves own campus. In front of more than 4,000 partisan fans, Becker was unflappable and his roster and staff followed suit.
Despite losing their top two scorers from the 2012 NCAA team, in his second year at the helm, Becker led the Catamounts to a second place finish, second-straight 20-win season, and a second-straight championship game. Vermont’s offense – inconsistent for much of the year – fired blanks in the championship game and the Catamounts suffered a last second loss on their home court to Albany, but Vermont returns their entire roster from last season with the exception of one-year transfer Trey Blue and looks primed to emerge at the top of the America East.
Like his predecessor before him, Mike Lonergan, Becker loves the flex-offense, which relies on screens, ball movement and ball reversals. He emphasizes patience and puts a premium on taking good shots as opposed to volume shooting.
The Catamounts are extremely deep, experienced and athletic. With six seniors – two of them fifth-year players – two fourth-year juniors, five players who know what it takes to run the America East gauntlet and make the NCAA’s and 12 players who know what it feels like to come up just short of their dreams, Vermont is battle tested, hungry and motivated to get back to the Big Dance.
Becker runs the flex-offense to perfection and seems to be one of the rare America East coaches who loves to run his offense inside-out, pounding the ball into the low-post and dominating the trenches around the hoop to open up the perimeter. And he has the roster to do it.
Brian Voelkel is the engine – along with the heart and soul, the lifeblood, the toughness and the sheer, stubborn, refusal to lose — that makes the Catamounts go.
Perhaps no player in the league looks more out of place – and outright awkward – on the court than Voelkel. Listed at 6’6” and 210 pounds (and likely closer to 6’5” 250), Voelkel is built like a Rhinoceros and runs like a penguin. He isn’t going to wow you with any run-and-jump athleticism. To say his jump shot isn’t pretty or textbook is a massive understatement (to even call his one-hand, chest-heave devoid of any upward lift a “jump” shot at all is questionable).
What Voelkel is, is 77 inches of hustle and muscle, with an motor constantly running on overdrive and an Albert Einstein-like basketball IQ and a preternatural ability to rip rebounds away from a swarm of opponents, drop no-look dimes to cutting teammates, defend the bejesus out of the ball, and generally frustrate and scare the daylights out of opponents.
Voelkel is a straight ‘baller, pure and simple; capable of literally dominating a game without scoring a basket (as evident by the 2012 Championship game).
The league’s premier enforcer, intimidator, rebounder, and glue-guy, Voelkel runs the Catamounts offense as a point-forward while anchoring Vermont’s defense and generally leading the league in floor-burn, hustle-plays and hurt feelings.
While Voelkel still looks to pass first, second and third on offense, he does have the ability to create his own shot and if left unguarded will knock down the occasional three. Defensively, Voelkel uses tremendous angles, physical strength and instincts to bottle up and smother both more athletic players on the perimeter and taller players on the blocks.
Voelkel is neck-and-neck with Jameel Warney as the preseason favorite for Player of the Year honors.
While Voelkel will run the offense and ensure his teammates get the ball in a position to score, he will need someone – or several someones – to finish off his dishes. (more…)