Vermont at Binghamton, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

I know that I'm not the only person in Binghamton who doesn't want to see UVM in the playoffs.

2005 and 2006 were both vastly different stories, but both ended the same way: with the Catamounts wiping the floor with us.

The former of those two contests was over, really, before it started, as Binghamton was the first step in UVM's journey to toppling Syracuse in the NCAA tournament. In fact, nobody in the America East really had a shot to bring down those damn Catamounts, a dynasty that featured, probably, the two best players of the past four years in the conference, in Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine. The Bearcats were actually praised for their valiant effort in the loss, even with the pressure beginning on Al Walker to mount a real run deep into the tournament. Everyone in the league knew there was no stopping coach Tom Brennan and his twilight run, and so you can't really blame the Bearcats for the '05 loss.

The following year was quite different. In the playoffs, there should never really be blame pointed toward the refs, but that game was one where the following picture of me appeared on the front page of the Press & Sun-Bulletin, the local newspaper:

I can't really describe the game any better than the face I'm making in that picture. We were already without the man I considered the league MVP that year, Sebastian Hermenier, who was hobbling around on crutches for months after the game.

But there was one call in particular that really, I think, killed us. In fact, it was a non-call:
GOOD! FT SHOT by Heard  03:20  52-58  V 6
GOOD! FT SHOT by Heard 03:20 53-58 V 5
03:14 TURNOVR by Duell, Josh
MISSED 3 PTR by Milne 02:40
REBOUND (OFF) by (TEAM) 02:40
MISSED 3 PTR by Heard 02:25
02:25 REBOUND (DEF) by Trimboli, Mike
FOUL by Heard, Andre 02:01
I wish I had a video of it. The so-called "rebound" by Mike Trimboli was a ball he caught, probably, four or five feet from the basket, stage left, after a UVM defender literally landed on top of Andre Heard. And I'm not typically one to whine about the refs -- read this blog end-to-end if you need proof -- but that was the most memorable missed call in Bearcats history. Heard was a terrific free-throw shooter, and three free throws there would've cut the Vermont lead to just 2. From that point forward, with under two minutes left -- especially when Heard fouled out -- the game was essentially over:

                           02:01              MISSED FT SHOT by Klimes, Martin
02:01 MISSED FT SHOT by Klimes, Martin
REBOUND (DEF) by Milne, 02:01
FOUL by Heard, Andre 01:48
TURNOVR by Heard, Andre 01:48
FOUL by Hailey, Troy 01:35
01:35 53-59 V 6 GOOD! FT SHOT by Trimboli, Mike
01:35 53-60 V 7 GOOD! FT SHOT by Trimboli, Mike
The 2006 UVM team was nowhere near as good as the 2005 team. That was a game we certainly could've won, and another game I could point to as a potential job-saver for Mr. Al Walker.

Last year, of course, we crapped the bed, losing to a bad Boston U. team in front of the weakest "home-court advantage" possible, in Boston. I don't even want to talk about it.

This year, though, things are again vastly different, as much as they are the same. The Bearcats again feature a split personality: either really good, or really bad. UVM has the early pick for Player of the Year, not to mention a tried-and-true Bearcat slayer at point guard.

Say what you will about Mike Gordon -- read tomorrow's Press & Sun-Bulletin for a genuine hometown-hero slobber piece -- but he has not been the same magician he was last year. That may be because teams focus so much on him, but I beg to differ because most teams' gameplans have centered on stopping Laz in the middle.

Mike's been much more reluctant to shoot all year long, save for one record-setting, Jekkyl-and-Hyde performance at Albany. It's almost certainly because Broadus encouraged him to set the table more, move the ball around and milk the shot clock (when the fast break doesn't work), but whatever it is, he's just not the same player he was in '06-'07.

Instead, Laz has broken out to become the Bearcats' best player. And it's time to face the facts: our best player is less than 100% going into Saturday. Broadus said earlier in the week that Laz is 50/50 to play, and although that's obviously a lie, it doesn't bode well that he missed two of the last three games with an injury.

The top few teams each year have that one marquee player, that one guy that you can point to to and lean on in crunch time. The best teams, the champions, have two.

Our top guy is injured. Our other top guy is a shadow of his former self. And we're facing the conference player of the year and a bona fide star point guard with a reputation of destroying us -- in the playoffs -- at the Events Center.

Oh yeah, and if we win? We play the undisputed top team in the conference, with five prospective All-Conference players.

I can't even give us the karma edge here. Kevin Broadus brought a lot of hype and promise to Vestal, but he's also bringing a punk reputation, with two guys kicked off the team mid-season (!!) and a one-game suspension of his own for shoving someone in a handshake line. He's the coach of the immediate future, but the administration won't be upset, considering this is still mostly Al Walker's team, with a first-round loss, as long as it's relatively respectable.

The Events Center still boasts its annual attendance record, but the Bearcats did not really embrace that advantage this year. I simply have to predict a failure -- albeit a respectable one -- for Broadus and his boys.

There's always next year.

Vermont 67, Binghamton 60.

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