Maryland will host one of its former coaches and the team he now leads tomorrow night at Comcast Center. Coach Mike Lonergan and the Vermont Catamounts are 1-1 this season and would appear to be the Terps' first somewhat legitimate test of the season. Lonergan, who coached at Catholic University from 1992-2004 before joining the Maryland staff as an assistant in 2005, is beginning his fourth season in charge of the Catamounts.
Last season, Vermont went 16-15 and finished in a tie for fourth place in the America East Conference. However, the squad returns four starters -- including junior forward Marqus Blakely, who earned Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors in the America East last year -- and was picked to finish second in the conference in the preseason coaches poll.
I had a chance to speak with Lonergan over the phone Wednesday evening, and the coach frequently mentioned the respect he maintains for Gary Williams and the program at Maryland. Lonergan said his team has two main offenses that it employs. One is named "Maryland" and the other is named "Terps." He also said advance scouting shouldn't be much of an issue for either squad heading into Friday night's match-up.
"If we run our sets, which obviously Gary's going to know everything we do cause, you know, I've borrowed or stole everything from him," Lonergan said. "So if we run our plays, we've been able to get good shots, and that's why I think we've shot a good percentage."
Indeed, Vermont has shot the ball extremely well in its first two games. During an overtime loss to George Mason in the season opener, the Catamounts shot 50.9 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from three-point range. Tuesday night in a win over Yale, Vermont shot 53.8 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from beyond the arc.
Blakely, a 6-foot-5 forward, is the team's most versatile player. He averaged 19 points, 11 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game last season. Against George Mason, Blakely tallied 24 points, eight boards, four blocks and four steals.
Lonergan said the only issue he has with Blakely is that he has a tendency to get into foul trouble. Blakely fouled out just one minute, 30 seconds into the overtime period against George Mason and had to sit out most of the second half against Yale after picking up quick fouls. His stat line against Yale, while still well-rounded, was not as impressive because he played only 20 minutes -- eight points, four rebounds, five steals and two blocks.
"We're disappointed that Marqus is continuing to get in foul trouble," Lonergan said. "He's a little bit of a gambler and takes a lot of risks, but you don't want to discourage him cause he gets a lot of steals and he makes a lot of things happen, too."
One pleasant surprise for Lonergan so far has been the play of 6-foot-8 senior forward Colin McIntosh, who has been plagued by inconsistency throughout his collegiate career. McIntosh scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Yale and tallied 11 points and eight rebounds against George Mason.
"I'm not going to lie, we've felt he hasn't had the career we expected with his talent, but I think it took us three years of smarting up and realizing he's not a three-man and stopped playing him there cause he can handle the ball a little and shoot a little," Lonergan said of McIntosh. "We were trying to make him a three-man and he's not a five-man, either. He's playing the five for us, partly because of injuries and partly because he's been scoring. We lose a lot defensively. We're just trying to keep him close to the basket and not have him have to handle the ball the much. You know, it's been more effective. His turnovers are down, his shooting percentage is up and he takes less bad shots. He's definitely more focused this year."
Focus has been a team-wide issue for Vermont throughout Lonergan's tenure, and this season has been no different. The Catamounts have averaged 21.5 turnovers in their first two games, a fact that concerns Lonergan heading into a match-up against a team with an effective full-court press.
"Our biggest weakness that scares me going into this Maryland game is, and it's been going on really for the last couple of years, are turnovers," Lonergan said. "And a lot of them are unforced turnovers. And when you play a team like Maryland, it kind of forces you to have turnovers because of their pressing style and their athleticism. And it's all really silly turnovers. Our turnovers are really not forced by the opponent. If we're getting 21 (against Yale) and now we're going against a team with a really good press, it's something we'll really focus on in these next few days. We're going to turn the ball over cause we're facing a real tough team, but we can't have these unforced errors to be competitive."
I'll have more on Vermont, Lonergan and tomorrow night's match-up this evening and tomorrow, but until then, how do you all think the Catamounts will fare against the Terps on Friday night? Anyone see any chance of an upset?
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