Chapel Hill, N.C. - Dean E. Smith Center
7:00 p.m., Fox Sports South
Season To Date: First the Vermount doubters ignored the back-to-back America East titles. They ignored the conference Player of the Year award-winners on the team. They even tried to ignore when the Catamounts gave UConn a competitive game in the NCAA opener last season. But with four senior starters back, including superstar Taylor Coppenrath, it's nearly impossible to continue to doubt that they're a low-major powerhouse. And how about this season's opener? Vermont goes into Allen Fieldhouse to face Kansas and gives the Jayhawks a battle before losing, 68-61, despite top gunner T.J. Sorrentine shooting a mere 4-for-22 from the field and steady Coppenrath going 5-12 on free throws. Holding the high-powered Jayhawks to under 40 percent from the field was further evidence of the Vermont team's abilities. Since the opener, the Catamounts have cruised against Iona, Marist and Binghamton, though they were tripped up at American (thanks in part to poor shooting - 35% FG, 29% 3pt), falling 67-64 earlier this month.
King Coppenrath: America East opponents were already well aware of Taylor Coppenrath, but it wasn't until the 6-9, 250-pound power forward put up 43 points on national TV in the conference title game (in his first game back from a broken wrist), that the nation -- and NBA scouts -- took notice. The two-time conference Player of the Year winner can score from inside and out and is once again putting up big numbers this year (26.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg). You can look to the always quotable coach Tom Brennan for a comedic line about Coppenrath's small-town father -- "How about if you're George Coppenrath, and you wake up one day in West Barnet, Vt. and you realize you've sired Seabiscuit?"
More Than A Sidekick: T.J. Sorrentine is no sideshow act -- he's a star in his own right. The senior point guard was the conference player of the year back in 2002, before Coppenrath won the award two-straight years. Sorrentine's 19.8 points per game make him and Coppenrath the top scoring tandem in college hoops. He's averaged shooting nearly 10 three-pointers per game, though connecting on only 35 percent of them (freshman reserve Ryan Schneider has helped with his 41% off the bench on three-pointers). Though scoring isn't his only skill, as he's got a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Mayor: Tom Brennan is far more than a basketball coach in Burlington -- he's an insitution. After all, there aren't many coaches in their 19th year at one school who have a losing record (242-271). Brennan, 55, has got the highest-rated morning talk show in the city and is quite the celebrity, and will take on that status full time after this season, as he's announced he'll retire from coaching. But what a way to go out -- with the best four-year run in school history.
Background Location: Burlington, Vt. Enrollment: 7,900 Conference: America East Nickname: Catamounts Colors: Green & Gold Head Coach: Tom Brennan Record at UV: 242-271
Projected Starters: 11 T.J. Sorrentine (5-11, G, Sr.) – 19.8 ppg, 4.2 apg 24 David Hehn (6-5, G, Sr.) – 4.2 ppg, 4.8 reb 32 Germain Njila (6-4, F, Sr.) - 5.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.2 spg 20 Martin Klimes (6-8, F, So.) - 4.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg 22 Taylor Coppenrath (6-9, F, Sr.) – 26.8 ppg, 10.4 rpg Key Reserves: 44 Ryan Schneider (6-3, G, Fr.) – 8.0 ppg, 3.2 apg 11 Josh Duell (6-7, F, Fr.) – 3.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg 21 Alex Jensen (6-8, F, Jr.) – 1.8 ppg, 1.0 rpg
Njila ... Sorrentine
Brennan ... Hehn