Tonight! #4 Purdue vs. #13 Vermont, 7:27 p.m. TruTV (live from Milwaukee or some shit) 

Last time we checked in with UVM hoops was five days ago, when they were gearing up for the America East championship final at home against Albany. I rather foolishly predicted Vermont to win easily, which was making me feel about as stupid as it should have when they were down 9 in the middle of the second half – a Vermont fan should know better than to think a team coached by Will Brown is just going to let the Catamounts waltz in to the NCAA tournament unchecked.

But thanks to 6’8″ Tulane-transfer Payton Henson’s last-minute heroics – drawing a huge charge and converting a three-point play that was the difference – Vermont finds itself back in the tournament for the first time since 2012, when they won a play-in round game rather easily against Lamar before being throttled by UNC in the (actual) first round.

As I wrote on Saturday, Vermont was all but guaranteed to draw a 13 seed. Nonetheless, there was suspense as CBS revealed its bracket – 4 seed first, 13 seed second. Vermont was the third 13 seed announced, meaning Cats fans hung on the edge of their seats waiting to see the green and gold Vermont below one of those first two 4 seeds, with no luck – Florida and West Virginia were matchups that felt really juicy leading into the selection show.  In fact, of all the teams hovering around the 4-line, Vermont got the one they probably match up with the worst – they drew the Purdue Boilermakers, who have a vicious, tall, and physical front line. That’s especially rough because nobody on Vermont’s team stands larger than 6’8″.

On the other hand, despite their efficiency inside and sixth man Isaac Haas standing at a ridiculous 7’2″ – Vermont should expect to see a whole lot of that dude – Big Ten Player of the Year Caleb Swanigan is 6’9″ and fellow starting front-court mates Vincent Edwards and Ryan Cline are just 6’8″ and 6’4″ respectively. So the height thing might be a little overblown, even if it is still a concern.

The bigger concern for the Catamounts will of course be the athleticism of the Boilermakers – this is likely the most athletic team they will have played, including early season matchups with Providence, South Carolina and Butler, all of which were games they lost by double digits. And really, the results from those three games say something important about this Vermont team: they have a very balanced offensive attack against glorified high school teams, play good defense against those same glorified high school teams, but when it comes to matching up with the likes of a Big Ten competitor who Ken Pom has rated at #15 in the country… I don’t now, man, I think they are about to get fucked.

What Is it Going To Take? 

If Vermont is going to do this, it’s going to take a perfect storm of Catamount three-pointers, Purdue foul trouble, and lots of missed shots. Unfortunately for Vermont, Purdue averages 15.8 fouls per game, which is 15th fewest in the country (Vermont checks in at 17th, actually, with only New Hampshire in between the two schools, which is cute). They also rank 50th in 3-point defense, which isn’t dominant but is still very solid out of 330+ teams in Division I.

And hey, what’s one more kick in the balls at this point? The Boilermakers shoot it at 48% from the field, 25th in the country. So basically, don’t gamble on that perfect storm.

But What About 2005? 

So, a lot of people are pointing to 2005 as a similar situation to this year, largely because this is probably the best UVM team since, and that team was also a #13 seed playing a #4 in the first round. And that’s fair! It’s tough to pretend like that isn’t going through my head, too.

But that Vermont team was actually good, and took Kansas to the limit in the early season in Lawrence (they lost 68-61, but led by four with a little over four minutes to go). They played a really good Nevada team tough in the BracketBusters challenge on the road (Nevada also won a game in the tournament), prior to succumbing.

My point is, the America East used to be a respectable one-bid conference. It is no longer, and Vermont took full advantage this year, beating all takers for 19 straight games, including the conference tournament. So that 21-game win streak, the longest in the nation that everyone keeps whispering about, is great, but it isn’t evidence of anything other than Vermont is good against shitty teams.

When Vermont played Syracuse in 2005, we had the leading scorer in the country, and a point guard who was seasoned, and had balls of steel (as we know). Maybe most importantly, that game was played in Worcester, Mass. and approximately one Syracuse fan seemed to show up that night. He is pictured here:

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As you can see, everyone else was cheering for the Cats.

What’s Your Pick? 

Well, as the one person in Vermont who picked Syracuse in 2005, I promised myself that I’d never pick against UVM again. Unfortunately, this has led to many awful brackets (to be sure, they would have been awful either way) in which I picked Vermont to beat No. 1 seeds and the like. But this year is no different – I do, in fact, have the Cats beating Purdue in my bracket.

But really, this team has no damn chance in hell at winning this game. If they played it 20 times, they would lose 20 of those times – I haven’t even mentioned yet that just last year Purdue blasted Vermont 107-79 in West Lafayette.

Sure, Vermont is a year older, and gained Anthony Lamb, their leading scorer, but Purdue is a year older too.

So let’s enjoy this one, because a #13 seed only comes about once every 12 years. It just turns out that an America East team actually winning another NCAA tournament game might take a whole lot longer than 12 years.