Figuring Things Out

Men’s Basketball

Riding high off three straight wins, Asheville faced the USC Upstate Spartans, who will be a Big South Conference opponent very soon. While these two teams have played a lot, this game was entirely UNCA.

Never losing the lead, UNCA dominated by shooting 50% for the game, including 56.5% from long range and 72% from the line. Most importantly, the Bulldogs scored 28 baskets on 22 assists, a remarkable 79%. They also forced a majority of the Spartans’ turnovers, scoring 25 points off turnovers. The final: 82-70 Bulldogs.

Notables include 6-8 from 3 for Teague, a double-double for Thomas (24 points and 11 rebounds), and a close, but not quite double-double for Baehre (13 points and 8 rebounds, 6 offensive).

And everything good about that game was the opposite against Clemson. For example, the Bulldogs only shot 34% for the game, 26% from three, and 62.5% from the line with only 8 attempts. Asheville committed 16 turnovers, many unforced.

I’m not suggesting Clemson’s defense wasn’t good, or that they didn’t deserve the win; Clemson dominated paint with 48 points. But even when the Bulldogs had looks, the ball would not pass through the hoop – and when that happens, not much can be done to win. Clemson destroys 83-52.

The quick roadtrip south started at Clemson and ended in Greenville against Furman. This winnable game gave way to the main nemesis of UNC-Asheville: turnovers. Teams shot roughly the same percentages, received support from the bench, and played well in the paint. The differences were 21 turnovers by the Bulldogs to Furman’s 14, 13 FTA’s for the Bulldogs to Furman’s 22, and Furman: 20 assists on 29 baskets, Asheville: 9 assists on 29 baskets.

If I showed someone those numbers without mentioning the score (83-72 Furman), I guarantee they would say that Furman won. Good teams don’t win by committing that many turnovers. Thankfully, UNCA will have another chance to defeat a Southern Conference opponent when they face Western Carolina on the 17th.

Lastly, Division II opponent from just over the mountain, Milligan College, came to Kimmel and it was exactly what you would hope or expect: 97-60 Asheville (and without Ahmad Thomas). The Bulldogs forced turnovers, high assists-to-baskets-made (22-31), and dominated the rebound game. And, yes, a bit of sloppy play in the second half lead to a total of 16 turnovers for UNC-Asheville.

I’ll add that it was great to see former Bulldogs John Williams and Chris Stephenson in attendance.

Women’s Basketball

Unless you’ve missed them completely, you’ve probably heard that the women’s team is struggling to win this year. Absent a win over Division II opponent, Warren Wilson, the Bulldogs have yet to make it happen.

However, in the past two games against D-I opponents, UNC-Asheville has hung tightly, at times having led. At Wofford, the Bulldogs led through three quarters before stagnating in the fourth. While Asheville outrebounded, they also out-turned-over, leading to 20 points for Wofford.

An interesting note for the Wofford game, Zip Scott saw 26 minutes, leading to a start against Mercer and 28 minutes.

With the Wofford game close and  scoring 100 against Warren Wilson despite the team’s scoring struggles thorughout the year, I expected a competitive game against a 7-2 Mercer squad. I expected a team actively growing. I was not disappointed there.

I was disappointed to see Mercer explode in the third quarter despite Ali Trani starting the quarter with 2 three pointers, an assist, a rebound, and a forced turnover; to see some bad calls and cheap fouls that led to 3 Bulldogs fouling out; and to see a few too many turnovers, though Mercer didn’t completely capitalize on those, only 12 points on 14 turnovers.

Despite the margin at the end of the game, Asheville stayed close to Mercer.

I’m hopeful this is Coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick working her magic as the team comes together to present a more formidable squad come conference play.

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Early Season Patterns

Men’s Basketball

After the narrow loss to Vanderbilt, the Bulldogs were hungry for victory against the Austin Peay Governors. The turnover bug that haunted them through the first few games hung around during this one too, but it did not prevent them from grabbing the win.

Asheville suffered 21 turnovers to the Governors’ 12 steals, leading to 26 points off turnovers for Austin Peay. By comparison, Austin Peay committed only 11 turnovers to UNCA’s 6 steals, allowing the Bulldogs only 7 points off turnovers.

While free throw percentage has improved over the season, it dropped in this game to 70%. However, the free throws made were timely as they were last second push to keep Asheville ahead. In truth, that’s more directly attributed to MaCio Teague, an excellent FT shooter.

Monmouth came to Asheville to finish their road trip, previously losing by 20 to UVA. I briefly watched the Hawks play in that game and, for UNCA, I was scared of one thing: size. Monmouth plays 3 big men 6’9″ or bigger, listed at 245 lbs and above. UNCA’s big men top out at 6’9″ (only Baehre) and all list around 200 lbs. Therefore, I expected a few things: Monmouth constantly pushing the ball to the paint where UNCA could collapse the zone and hope for turnovers or poor shooting on the kick-outs from the paint; and UNCA constantly moving their bigs to wear out Monmouth, forcing the Hawks to zone, where UNCA could knock down threes.

What I watched was none of that. What I watched was a smaller team who worked hard at boxing out to make good rebounds, who collected 13 steals, who had 13 assists on 21 made baskets (62%), and who led the entire game. And what I watched was a man possessed, Kevin Vannatta, who played 38 minutes and scored 25 points, including 5-5 from three.

I don’t want to diminish the other contributions, like Thomas’s double-double or Baehre’s 4 offensive rebounds, but having watched Vannatta’s hot and cold career, it was so enjoyable to watch him play like he was shooting into the ocean. This was a great win for UNC-Asheville.

With two straight wins, Asheville faced a Wofford team that posed similar matchup problems. Wofford plays three bigs 6’8″ to 6’11” with 25-50 pounds on UNCA’s post players.

In the first half, both teams played about the same level. But in the second half, Asheville could’ve beaten just about anyone. The half started with a Teague three, then a Rackley three, a Rackley assist, a Rackley almost steal, another Rackley assist, and all before MaCio Teague scored 4 three pointers in a row.  And then Baehre got in on the party (3-4 from long-range)!

The team looked unstoppable, posting 52 for the half. Great defense brought about momentum, great passing pushed into better shooting. UNC-Asheville finished with 55% shooting for the game (70% in the second half), with 22 assists on 31 made baskets (71%), and, of their 9 turnovers, 6 were Wofford steals, meaning the Bulldogs were not making unforced errors.

The whole team contributed, including some great minutes for Grant Townsend, as fouls were an issue in the first half, and they all keep improving.

The streak continues to 3! And we’re looking at you, USC Upstate!

(Two quick notes: Thomas joined the 200 steals club and Vannatta passed the 1,000 career points mark.)

Women’s Basketball

Coming off the loss to the Charlotte 49ers, the Bulldogs faced the Davidson Wildcats (2-2 before this game). Unfortunately, another winnable game was lost to poor shooting and turnovers.

This marked the second consecutive game where the Bulldogs shot 12.5% from long-range and roughly 33% from the game. However, the most interesting pattern is scoring by quarter.

In the second quarter, here are the Bulldogs scoring totals: 9 against Western, 8 against Charlotte, and 4 against Davidson. I did not include 18 scored against NC State as that quarter followed a 7-point first quarter, and the Bulldogs scored a so-far rare 43% for the NCSU game, including 44% from three-point range. The MTSU game followed like the NC State game.

In the end, a 21-point fourth quarter couldn’t save the Bulldogs. Points in the paint, points off turnovers, second chance points, and bench points were all comparable. The 8-point difference really resulted from a few more made threes from the Wildcats and a few more turnovers by the Bulldogs.

As I said in preseason, Middle Tennessee State comes to Asheville as an established post-season presence. The presence of their fans almost outnumbered that of UNCA’s as the doubleheader began.

Knowing that, I expected a more competitive version of the NC State game. Unfortunately, I was right.

In the first quarter, the Bulldogs scored only 8 points. The most indicative stretch was when Asheville collected 3 or 4 offensive rebounds on a single offensive possession before failing to score. The rest of the game UNCA stayed competitive, but the Blue Raiders dominated in the paint. MTSU committed far too many turnovers, but the Bulldogs couldn’t capitalize. Asheville pulled to 10 in the final minutes, but the deficit built in the first quarter was too much to overcome.

The women’s team lost a lot of leadership and scoring from the prior year, so let’s call this a building year (not re-building). Bree Fitzgerald and Khalia Webb are the only Seniors and this creates valuable time for many of the younger players to grow.

That First Week Tho’

Men’s Basketball

One up, one down, and one incredibly tough loss. The Bulldogs faced a tough season opener against Rhode Island before returning home to face a DII squad from just up the mountains in Lees-McRae.

The story of the Rhode Island game can be summed up in a single word: turnovers. The Bulldogs committed 27 turnovers, only 13 were forced by Rhode Island. As a result, the Rams attempted 19 more shots than UNC-Asheville and scored 28 points off turnovers.

While UNCA did struggle shooting in the first half, the most painful shooting was at the free throw (FT) line: 18-32 (56%).

The truth is that Rhode Island is the better team. They dominated the game, never surrendering the lead, and points in the paint (52) and their bench provided ample support (35 points). Yet not everything was bad for the Bulldogs. They scored 18 baskets on 11 assists and were almost even in the rebounding game. With shots not falling and an abundance of turnovers, UNCA lost 84-60.

The trends from the first game carried into the Lees-McRae game, but hardly at those levels. For example, Asheville committed 17 turnovers, but the Bobcats only had 9 steals, meaning equal parts forced and unforced errors. Team FT% went up, but only to 63%.

UNCA’s shooting improved, though they struggled from long range. Raekwon Miller, who struggled against Rhode Island in every way, shot 5-6, including 3-3 from 3, and 4-5 from the line. The Bulldogs also accounted for 15 of the Bobcats’ 18 turnovers.

Similar to the first game, UNC-Asheville is the better team. They destroyed in the paint, rebounding and points, took advantage of turnovers, and never surrendered the lead.

While I wasn’t able to catch the first game on the A10 stream, I took my usual seat for the Lees-McRae game. I was surprised at the talent of L.J. Thorpe, who did not play against Rhode Island, but he can be a little loose. His alley-oop to Jonathan Baehre was incredible, but in the 6 minutes he played, he managed 2 assists and 2 turnovers. Jalen Seegars also had a great game, scoring 10 points in 19 minutes, including 2-3 from 3 and 4-5 from the line.

On the other hand, Thomas looked off on Monday night. And, just as a note of a slight disappointment for myself, Jonathan Baehre looked a bit slow on his feet. UNCA’s domination really couldn’t be felt until the last 7 minutes of the first half; before then, the game felt closer than it was.

Finally, Vandy. Oh, Vandy. While the Bulldogs hung tough, clutch FT shooting at the end of the game by Vanderbilt kept UNCA from winning. Asheville outrebounded, shot close, and forced turnovers, but also committed unforced turnovers. The good news, as far as team growth, UNC-Asheville shot almost 87% from the stripe, a marked improvement.

A poor shooting night by Teague, but an excellent showcase for Wnuk, 2-3 from 3 and 7-11 from the floor. Also, Baehre showed his range with 1-1 from 3 and 2-2 for the game.

Finishing just short, 79-76 Commodores, UNCA played a good game and, if you believe in moral victories, they should be proud of this one.

Women’s Basketball

The women faced no cupcakes to start the season, but unfortunately were treated like ones when they played NC State. So I’ll skip over that one and focus on the very winnable, but ultimately lost, games against Western Carolina and UNC Charlotte.

Against WCU, the bulldogs played well except one area: shooting, 29% in the first half, 34% in the second half, and 17% from 3 for the game. Having lost key 3-point shooters from last year’s team, it’s difficult to see this one struggle. That said, the only quarter with a substantial point difference was the second. Asheville played hard and had the game within reach before Western closed out for the win.

Coming into Kimmel, I felt like the UNC-Charlotte would be a game of equals. I was not disappointed. However, simliar to the Western game, one bad quarter, this time the third, kept the Bulldogs from grabbing a win. While the game finished 51-47 Charlotte, UNCA had chances closing out the game to take the lead. Shooting again doomed the team: 34% for the game, 45.5% from the line, and 12.5% from 3 (this was really Wall, the only Bulldog to score from long range, who shot only 28.6% herself).

Outside of shooting, Bree Fitzgerald fouled out. After she left the game, a signifcant difference could be seen. The backups, Jordan-Brown, Esdah, and Fisher, couldn’t generate the defensive presence that Fitzergald held over the opponent. The 49ers outrebounded the Bulldogs by 8.

Hopefully, being this close to the “W”‘s will help as the women grow through the season.

Around the Big South

A couple things of note for the conference.

First, the Big South will be adding teams next year in USC Upstate, a staple of the Asheville schedule for some time, and Hampton University, an HBCU located near Newport News, VA.

Second, two notes on our men’s basketball competition. Gardner-Webb put up a good fight before losing to Miami, 77-45. Liberty beat Wake Forest 79-66, driving one Deac fan to the brink.

 

Hope to see everyone at Kimmel on the 22nd when the Men face Monmouth.

GO BULLDOGS!

 

New in Blue: Tamiah Lewis

First, the research on this one was easy because Tamiah did the hard work already: tamiahlewis.com

Second, seriously, check that site out. She gives highlights of everything and a full performance of her doing Gymnopédie No.1.

Third, to basketball. From Greater Atlanta Christian, coached by a former WNBA player, and including players who are now at Georgia Tech and Auburn, Tamiah Lewis joins the Bulldogs primarily as a scorer, especially from long range. She averaged around 13 points per game from her Sophomore through Senior years, with some minor production in other categories. Lewis scored over 1,000 points in her prep career. Watching the videos, she shows excellent form.

Outside of shooting, Tamiah exhibits closing speed on defense, a willingness to drive, and good court vision.  Unfortunately, some footage shows her out of position on fast breaks, finishing her drives with wild shots, and questionable passes.

However, the true mold she fits into is the student-athlete.

Her list of awards is a mile long, including academic, scoring, leadership, and music. Certainly from her vocal presence on the court, one can easily discern her leadership skills and intelligence.

I’m looking forward to her development as a player because based on much of what I’ve found, she’s willing to put in the effort to develop. Since she was the last player to sign for this class and she comes from a team that had players going to Power-5 schools, she may be coming in with something to prove. That said, I’m fairly certain Coach Mock Kirkpatrick will be deploying her as a catch and shoot-kind of player, at least for this first year.

For more highlights: click here.

New in Blue: Amaryah Corpening

One of my promises for this blog was to cover our incredible women’s team more like the men’s team, which means I’m covering women’s recruits too.

Amaryah Corpening comes to UNC-Asheville from a high-performing, local program: Freedom High in Morganton, NC. Coached by UNCA alumnus, Amber Reddick, and part of the undefeated state championship group, Amaryah Corpening is a tremendously tough defender. I know because we’ve got video from her Junior year.

In man defense, Corpening shuts down her opponents, either denying the pass or forcing them to get rid of the ball quickly. In zone defense, she shows a great understanding of space. Her toughness turns into fight in a few instances, like at the beginning when she shoves another girl off-ball, but that sort of fight isn’t exactly a bad thing. In the paint, that toughness provides Corpening, 5’7″, with the ability to box out and rebound.

In her final season, Amaryah Corpening averaged 14.6 point per game, 5 rebounds per game, and 4.2 steals. However, she only averaged 3.6 assists per game. For a vocal leader like Corpening, that number feels a little low, but assists can be finicky since good passes aren’t always rewarded by teammates.

Lastly, from the video, Corpening possesses excellent shot form. Anytime she sets her feet she’s making the shot. Her misses were instances of suprise or off-balance shots. Her highlights, obviously, bear that out as well.

Overall, I think UNCA has a great talent, especially on defense, in Amaryah Corpening.

New in Blue: Jalen Seegars

One of the great joys in college basketball is rejoicing when a recruit chooses your school over your rivals. Unfortunately, this gets much less press in the mid-majors like the Big South. However, Jalen Seegars did just that. With offers from High Point and Winthrop, even non-rivals Monmouth and Vermont, Seegars chose the blue and gray of UNCA.

Other schools, like UConn and Wake Forest, gave serious interest, but as the season played out, the offers were mid-majors.

As a 6’4″, 220lbs guard, Jalen Seegars offers great finishing, consistently high scoring, and, based on some reviews, great defense. The term “spark” seems to describes his potential. Also, the term, “hops”…

To put this in perspective, UNCA landed a recruit who intrigued Power 5 schools, but didn’t receive offers. To me, that suggests unrealized potential, potential Coach McDevitt and the staff can hopefully unlock.

To see more highlights of Jalen Seegars, check this.

New in Blue: Leonard Thorpe

A smooth combo guard from Florida, Leonard, L.J., Thorpe comes to UNC-Asheville with lots of potential.

UNCA lists him at 6’4″, 225, which suggests the strength and size to body up when necessary. In an PrepHoops interview in March of 2016, Thorpe suggests he’s known as a shooter. HoopSeen ranked him 33rd in the state of Florida around the same time. And his mix of statistical reports shows solidly double-digit points with greater than five rebounds and five assists, including four triple-doubles in his senior season.

Like many other recruits, I couldn’t find full game footage, but in the highlight reel below (Thorpe’s the one with the hair), he shows some nice finish at the rim and a smooth behind the back pass.

One of the more interesting notes from the video: right hand dominance. The video only provides a small sample, but you can see him finish from the left side twice with the right hand. However, his handles don’t seem to be affected as his dribble penetration occurs with the left hand in a couple of instances. And speaking of handles…

Did you see that? Crossover, between the legs, behind the back, and finishes at the rim.

L.J. Thorpe shows vision in passing and handling. More importantly, in that last video, you can see his smooth, single-motion jump shot, similar to many big time NBA shooters.

Again, as with all highlight videos, the one thing I cannot see is defense. However, I’m sure we will all be able to assess that soon enough.

Regardless, if I rated L.J. Thorpe in a word, you guessed it: smooth.