The University of Vermont men’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament, after qualifying Saturday with an 82-43 win over UMBC.
"I’m really excited," said UVM guard Aaron Deloney, a junior, describing his enthusiasm for his first appearance in an NCAA Tournament later this week in Buffalo, New York.
The UVM Catamounts are looking to pounce on Arkansas Thursday night.
"They’re really good, obviously," head UVM men’s basketball coach John Becker said of Arkansas. "But I love this (UVM) team, and we’ll be ready to play."
The Cats head to the dance with experience on their side, the coach acknowledged, because the team has all senior starters.
"I think that’s going to be an advantage for us in the tournament," Becker told NECN & NBC10 Boston Monday.
In South Burlington, 2010 UVM alum Bobby Cunningham has his tickets booked for Buffalo.
"It’s a really exciting time to be a UVM fan," said Cunningham, a season ticket holder who owns a UPS Store franchise in South Burlington.
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Cunningham said he wouldn’t miss the chance to be there in person to see his favorite team play in the tourney.
"It’s the environment, the fans, the feeling you get when you’re there— you can’t experience that at home," Cunningham said.
Based on strong performances earlier in the season, the UVM Bookstore gambled the Cats would qualify for the NCAA tournament and pre-ordered America East championship hats and t-shirts, store personnel said. The merchandise arrived shortly before Saturday morning’s game.
That move paid off, noted Brendan Andrews, the assistant director of the UVM Bookstore.
"There was a lot of enthusiasm after our win on Saturday— we sold lots of shirts and hats," Andrews said. "The university is Vermont’s sports team."
Deloney said as he and his teammates prepare for the brightest spotlight in college basketball, they’re grateful for the passionate support from Vermont fans all season.
"They’re a big reason why we’re here in the first place," Deloney said. "We feed off of them so much, and as a team we thank them so much for everything. And we’re going to go out there and try to get the win for them."
If the Cats do roar to victory in their game Thursday night, as folks around Burlington certainly hope they do, then game two will also be held in Buffalo.