Arkansas vs Vermont Preview: The Pro-Catamount Camp Overlooks a Critical Stat

Arkansas basketball

First, some facts: Arkansas basketball is back in the NCAA Tournament as a 4-seed after entering last year’s tournament as a 3-seed. This is the first time the Razorbacks have entered back-to-back NCAA Tournaments as a 4-seed or better since 1994 and 1995. The Razorbacks have won 15 of their last 18 games, including beating 2-seed Auburn, 2-seed Kentucky, and 3-seed Tennessee within the last eight games of their regular season.

And yet all those benchmarks are still not enough for quite a few analysts to keep the Razorbacks off of their upset-alert radar as they face the Vermont Catamounts in the first round of the NCAA Tournament – here’s looking at you, Arch-Clown Todd Fuhrman, Jay Bilas and Fox’s Titus & Tate.

Vermont is a popular upset pick across the board, and there is some sound reasoning behind the trend. The Catamounts have nine players averaging at least 13 minutes per game – seven of the nine are seniors and the other two are juniors, making them one of the most experienced teams in the country. They have shooters all over the court, a useful trait when trying to knock off a high-seeded team in the first round.

While Vermont has quickly become an upset threat, they’re not a physically imposing threat to a team with the size and length of Arkansas. The biggest players in the Catamounts’ regular rotation are Ryan Davis (6-8) and Isaiah Powell (6-6). This lack of length is one reason they rank outside the Top 75 in a metric that heavily favors the Hogs in this matchup. More on that in a minute.

Also, on the whole, these guys are pretty slow and plodding – at least compared to the best SEC teams. Even their hype videos have the pacing of congealed New England maple syrup:

What to Expect When Vermont Has the Ball

The Catamounts boast arguably the best one-two punch in any mid-major league in a pair of seniors: 6-2 guard Ben Shungu and 6-8 forward Ryan Davis. The duo combines to score 33.4 points per game – 42% of Vermont’s total offensive output this season – on 56% from the field and 42% from beyond the arc. Each average at least 3.3 three-point attempts per game as well.

As a team, Vermont is efficient from all levels of the court, but the majority of their damage comes from these two players. JD Notae and Jaylin Williams will likely be tasked with slowing down the star duo, though the defensive prowess of Au’Diese Toney and Trey Wade could go a long way in limiting Shungu who averages 16.2 per game.

Outside of their star duo, the Catamounts have six players averaging at least two made 3-pointers per game. Of these six players, four are shooting 34% or better led junior guard Aaron Deloney at 41% on the season. The entire roster has been a threat from long-range nearly all season. As a team, they average 75 points per game on 49% shooting from the field, 36% from behind the arc, and 75% from the charity stripe.

Achilles Heel for Vermont Basketball in NCAA Tournament?

At least until they play an above-average defensive team.

So far this season, Vermont has faced only three teams inside the top 125 according to KenPom’s Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (ADE). The ADE is basically an average of points allowed per 100 possessions that is then adjusted based on the quality of the opponent. Because it takes into account the disparity in quality between the best and middling conferences, it’s a helpful metric when determining defensive rankings.

In the three games where Vermont played a statistically verified above-average defense, the Catamounts suffered two of their five losses while scoring only 59 points per game and shooting 38% from the field, 25% from long distance and 72% from the free-throw line. When playing against their highest-rated defensive opponent (Providence ranked 81st in ADE), they scored only 58 points on 38% shooting.

Arkansas currently ranks 16th in KenPom’s ADE. The Catamounts are a well-coached team with a ton of experience and efficient shooters, but they have not seen a defense that is anything near the level of the Razorbacks all season long. In fact, exactly 50% of their games have come against teams that rank outside the top 250 in KenPom’s ADE.

The only common opponent between the Vermont and Arkansas basketball teams this season was the Panthers of Northern Iowa. Vermont beat UNI 71-57 on the road in their first game of the season, a 14-point margin of victory. By comparison, Arkansas beat the same UNI squad 93-80 at home just six days later. The similar margin of victory and locations may raise some eyebrows if the owners of those eyebrows aren’t familiar with the Razorbacks’ season.

The Hogs’ victory over UNI came in their first 15 games of the season before they flipped a switch defensively. In that 15-game stretch to open their season, Arkansas’ opponents averaged a NET ranking of 158th but still managed to score 72 points per game on 44% shooting against the Hogs. Since their 16th game, a 44-point victory over Missouri, Arkansas’ opponents have averaged a NET ranking of 62nd but scored only 66 points per game on 39% shooting. The Hogs are not the same team they were when they beat the UNI Panthers by only 13 points early this season.

What to Expect When Arkansas Has the Ball

The Razorbacks laid an Aggie-sized egg in their last game out against Texas A&M, scoring only 64 points and getting beaten by 18. The good news? The Hogs were already firmly in the NCAA Tournament as a 4-seed, rendering the SEC Tournament virtually meaningless aside for an extra piece of hardware, bragging rights and potentially a higher seed line had everything gone the right way.

The Razorbacks’ issue does not come in losing their most recent game, but rather in how they lost it. Arkansas appeared to overlook the Aggies as they faced a potential matchup with Kentucky or Tennessee in the SEC title game. They didn’t play with the defensive intensity or all-around effort that Arkansas basketball fans have grown accustomed to. Combine their lackluster play with early foul trouble for JD Notae and poor scoring performance from Jaylin Williams and it spelled disaster for coach Musselman and his Hogs.

Arkansas has to have production early and often from its own star duo. For the first time this season, JD Notae failed to eclipse the double-digit scoring mark as he tallied only five points to go along with five assists, four rebounds, three turnovers, and three personal fouls.

Critical Key for Arkansas Basketball vs Vermont

Perhaps the most important key for the Hogs against Vermont and whoever else they may face this season is keeping Notae out of early foul trouble. When Musselman is forced to lean on other guards for 10+ minutes in the first half of games, things tend to get ugly. For example, in the Hogs’ most recent loss to Texas A&M, Notae picked up his 3rd foul with seconds left in the first half, causing him to only play 27 minutes despite averaging over 36 MPG in the five previous games. Fortunately, the Hogs’ defensive presence and halftime adjustments have bailed them out of several of these situations this season, but it’s not a sound game plan to rely on.

If Notae can avoid foul trouble early, expect him to play upwards of 37 minutes per game during the tournament. Jaylin Williams will likely carry a similar load as the teams’ biggest interior threat, but the scoring outburst of Au’Diese Toney and Stanley Umude could be the tipping point for the Hogs against Vermont. Toney has combined to score 40 points in his last two outings after missing the regular-season finale with an ankle injury, while Umude is averaging over 15 points per game in his last nine contests. Arkansas will take scoring wherever they can find it alongside Notae and Williams, whether it be from the pair of transfer forwards, the ever-streaky Chris Lykes, or former NCAA Tournament standout Devo Davis.

Vermont allows only 60.3 points per game compared to the Razorbacks’ 76.9 points per game on the season. The Catamounts don’t average a lot of steals or forced turnovers, ranking outside the Top 300 in the nation in both categories. They are a well-disciplined team that will likely force Arkansas into outside shots – something the Hogs have struggled with this season. However, if the Razorback guards (and Jaylin Williams) are able to handle the ball without turning it over, their size and quickness advantage will likely be too much for a less-athletic Vermont defense.

Arkansas vs Vermont: What to Watch For

Most games in the current college basketball landscape can be decided behind a pair of lines: the 3-point line and the free-throw line. We already know Vermont is an efficient shooting team from all areas of the court, but their ability to keep their opponents off of the charity stripe is one of their more impressive qualities. They rank 5th in the country in fewest free-throw attempts allowed at 12.1 per game. For reference, Arkansas averages 23 attempts per game, good for 4th in the country. This senior-heavy squad will likely be well-disciplined against committing charging fouls, somewhat limiting the most potent weapon in Jaylin Williams’ defensive arsenal.

This, much like Vermont’s efficient shooting, can be taken with a grain of salt when looking at the quality of the opponent. While it’s clear the NET Rankings do not have a perfect algorithm in place, they do a decent job of separating good teams from mediocre and bad teams from a high-level perspective. For example, while it’s possible to quibble with the Razorbacks’ No. 20 NET ranking, there’s little doubt they deserve a spot between 15 and 25 based on their body of work.

That being said, Vermont has faced only five teams inside the top 150 in the NET Rankings: Providence (32), Maryland (89), Northern Iowa (100), Colgate (128), and Yale (142). In those games, they allow opponents to score 63 points per game and get to the free-throw line more than 18 times per game, a number much closer to what Arkansas will need to achieve to quiet the upset-hopeful bracket watchers.

Arkansas vs Vermont Prediction

ESPN’s BPI – flawed as it might be – gives Arkansas a 60.4% chance to beat Vermont in the first round of the tournament. Arkansas and Vermont have never met each other on the hardwood before. Only Providence has a lower chance of beating their 13-seed matchup with a 60.2% win probability.

The Catamounts will give the Razorbacks all they can handle for the first part of the game, much like Colgate did to Arkansas in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament when it jumped out to an 18-point halftime lead. In similar fashion, coach Musselman and his team will weather an early storm from Vermont and right the ship with plenty of time to spare. JD Notae will get back on track with a 20-point scoring performance while the Hogs shut down Vermont on the other side of the ball for much of the second half. The Razorbacks will pull away late and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1998 and 1999.

Arkansas wins 74-64.

How to Watch Arkansas vs Vermont

Arkansas Razorbacks (25-8)

Vermont Catamounts (28-5)

Where: KeyBank Center in Buffalo, NY

Date: March 17th, 2022

Time: 8:20 PM CT

TV: TNT (Brad Nessler, Brendan Haywood and Evan Washburn)

Online: NCAA Tournament Central

Live Stats: NCAA Tournament Central

Radio: Learfield Razorback Sports Network (Chuck Barrett and Matt Zimmerman)

Arkansas vs Vermont Notes

  • While this the first meeting between the two programs, Arkansas 0-1 all-time in Buffalo. On Jan. 1, 1944, Arkansas lost to a George Mikan-led DePaul team, 59-30, at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium.
  • The Razorbacks own a 45-33 all-time record in NCAA action.
  • Arkansas is 17-8 in NCAA Tournament first round games.
  • Eric Musselman is 1-0 versus the Catamounts as his Nevada squad beat Vermont in the CBI semifinal in 2016.

More on Arkansas vs Vermont here:

And some insight from the Vermont basketball side:

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