The Vermont Catamounts and Lamar Cardinals will meet in Dayton tonight to take part in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Tournament.
The winner of this matchup between these two 16th-seeded teams will advance to the second round on Friday to tangle with the Midwest Region's top-seed, North Carolina.
Vermont has been on quite a roll lately, notching victories in 14 of its last 15 contests, including the America East Conference Championship Game. The second-seeded Catamounts bested No. 1 seed Stony Brook, 51-43, last Saturday for the league title, securing themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Catamounts own a 23-11 overall ledger, a mark made all the more impressive considering that head coach John Becker is only in his first season at the helm. Becker set a new school record for a first-year head coach with his 16th win in a 73-63 final over Maine back on Feb. 6, and is only the fifth coach in AEC history to earn 20 or more wins in his inaugural campaign.
As for the Cardinals, they rolled over McNeese State, 70-49, last weekend to notch both the Southland Conference Tournament championship, as well as a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 1999-2000 season. Lamar is enjoying one of its best seasons in the past two decades, and comes into this affair with an identical 23-11 tally as Vermont, marking the first time since 1988 that the club reached the 20-win plateau. The Cardinals plowed through the Southland Conference to end the season, rattling off six straight wins and seven of their last 10 overall.
Tonight's bout marks the first-ever meeting between these two schools on the hardwood.
The Catamounts kept Stony Brook in check to the tune of 29.3 percent shooting from the field last Saturday, a mark that included a mere 4-of-19 effort from long range. The Catamounts allowed their adversary access to the charity stripe only six times during the contest, from which Stony Brook came away with a mere five points. The Catamounts shot an underwhelming 41.9 percent from the field themselves, but did manage to drain nearly half of their 15 three-point attempts. Four McGlynn scored 14 points off the bench to pace Vermont in the win, and while Brian Voelkel logged just five points, he led the way on the glass with a game-high 15 rebounds to go with seven assists. The defensive effort against Stony Brook came as a surprise to very few, as Vermont ranks 32nd in the nation in scoring defense with just 60.5 ppg allowed. The last seven games in particular have demonstrated an extremely stifling effort by the Catamounts, with opponents averaging a mere 51.1 ppg. The squad is led on offense by freshman McGlynn, who was named the America East Rookie of the Year. McGlynn is the only player at the Division I level to lead his team in scoring without starting a single contest, although he has appeared in every game this season. The Catamounts average 67.2 ppg, and own a respectable .443 field goal percentage, but they have had the most success at the foul line, where they rank 36th nationally with a 74.2 percent conversion rate. Joining McGlynn in double figures are Matt Glass (11.9 ppg) and Luke Apfeld (10.2 ppg).
Lamar went into the break with a 33-21 advantage over McNeese State and never looked back last Saturday, as the Cardinals hit 48.1 percent of their attempts from the floor over the final 20 minutes en route to a 21-point decision. The squad connected on 47.2 percent of its shots overall, adding 16-of-21 at the foul line in the process. The Cardinals also held McNeese to an underwhelming 31.1 percent shooting effort, and dominated the contest down low to the tune of a 34-20 besting of the Cowboys in the paint. Mike James poured in a game- high 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds to lead the way for Lamar, while Devon Lamb netted 12 points. James earned Southland Tournament MVP honors following his most recent performance, and he currently leads the Cardinals with 17.0 ppg for the year. Miles joins him with a double-digit average of his own, posting 14.5 points to go with a team-best 4.1 assists per outing, while Lamb checks in with a healthy 11.9 ppg. Lamb also leads the way for Lamar on the boards with 7.9 rpg, and he has also managed to log 10 double-doubles this season. The club averages a solid 73.9 ppg, and yields only 65.4 ppg. The Cards connect on 43.5 percent of their total shots, and have had more than enough success at the foul line, hitting 72.1 percent of their opportunities.