Tourney Power!

Women’s Basketball

Oh ye of little faith! I’m talking about me because a few posts back I wrote the following:

If the Bulldogs were able to grab all four victories, they would be in premier position to win the tournament riding such a hot streak. However, I expect the Bulldogs to play well and play hard, but, come tournament time, I don’t expect victory.

While the team didn’t beat Radford that day, they did put three straight wins together entering the tournament. Given the team’s struggles this season, I did not expect a Big South Championship, which was a reasonable position. Unfortunately/fortunately, I was wrong and the women completed the impossible: first team to win the tournament completing four games in four days and first team to win as a 7-seed.

I’m so proud of the Bulldogs to come back after a rough year full of injuries. While they will play in the tournament, the Bulldogs drew a tough seeding at 16 and will play South Carolina in Columbia on Friday.

Men’s Basketball

With the loss to Campbell in the Big South Tournament, UNC Asheville came under some harsh judgment, in my opinion. Despite the tie for the regular season championship, Asheville was passed over by the NIT selection crew and landed with Big South members Liberty and Campbell in the College Insider Tournament. No Big South school was selected for the NIT.

The Bulldogs will play at UT Martin on Thursday at 8pm.

 

Again, congrats to the women and Coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick for completing a remarkable transformation on a team plagued by injury. Best of luck to the women and men as they take on postseason competition.

GO BULLDOGS!

Round 1: Fight!

With Campbell and Charleston Southern winning the first two games of the Big South Tournament, the quarterfinals will begin tomorrow in Rock Hill, SC, home of Winthrop University.

UNC-Asheville’s first game will be against a Campbell team that decisively defeated Presbyterian. The regular season games between these two finished Asheville (H) 72, Campbell 56 and Asheville 66, Campbell (H) 53. While the Bulldogs are 6-3 in Big South Tournament games in Rock Hill, my biggest concern will be how UNCA starts play. Campbell was able to get loose last night, which may put Asheville at a disadvantage since they haven’t played since Saturday. I think Asheville will start cold before heating up and picking up the win: UNCA -11.

If the Bulldogs defeat the Camels, Liberty will likely be the next opponent. While the Flames’ victories over Radford were very close games, including an OT win in Radford (something the Bulldogs couldn’t do), Liberty is the favorite. Given how the Bulldogs and Flames matched up this past Saturday, the game will hinge on defense: how will UNCA respond to the post double-teams, and will Liberty, when pushed the three point line, be able to convert? UNCA -10.

If UNC-Asheville pulls both victories off, it’ll likely be the matchup everyone is waiting for: Winthrop-Asheville, Game 3. Winthrop’s road, while at home, won’t be easy. While Winthrop’s almost a certainty against Charleston Southern, both High Point and Gardner-Webb can give them trouble. High Point won the last matchup in Rock Hill, after falling in High Point by 6. Winthrop’s two victories over Gardner-Webb totaled 8 points. However, I think Winthrop’s home court advantage will prove too much and they will make the championship game.

Pending these two teams meet, I have to take UNC-Asheville. I mean, I literally have to take them. For God’s sake, this is a Bulldog fan blog, so what kind of statement would I be making if I didn’t take them. Plus, I love UNCA. Both teams have one victory by 3 points, so my guess: UNCA -3.

Final Thoughts:

  • Props to Asheville for taking Coach of the Year (including Coach McDevitt’s 75th victory), Defensive Player of the Year for Ahmad Thomas, Freshman of the Year for Macio Teague, and Super Scholar-Athlete with an incredibly high GPA (not the official name) for Giacomo Zilli.
  • Should the tournament hosting go the victor? I’ve argued this many times over the years, but I’ll let it be known here: I don’t like this tournament format. The Big South wants money and fans want to attend so I understand their position, but the home winning percentage of the any Big South team generally is high. Is it worth it to get to a more neutral court? Perhaps something like the team who finishes last in the conference hosts the tournament? Regardless, I thought I would let my greivance be known and may return to this idea in the later post.
  • From now on all Big South games can be viewed through WatchESPN and the championship will be broadcast on ESPN on Sunday at 1pm.

GO BULLDOGS!!!

 

 

Couldn’t Make It Easy

Gardner-Webb 81, UNC-Asheville 76.

My initial reaction to this loss was, “That’s it, we’re done, we will never win a game again, no reason to even have a basketball team anymore!”

Realizing I may have overreacted, I began looking at the stats of the game:

  • Points in the paint were almost even
  • Shooting percentage was even
  • Asheville committed 11 turnovers, compared to GW’s 20, of which we accounted for 13

However,

  • Bulldogs only scored 11 points off GW’s 20 turnovers
  • First half, UNCA had 15 defensive rebounds; second half, 9
  • GW outrebounded by 15
  • 51.7% from the FT line
  • 18.8% from the 3-point line, including David Robertson 0-2

Fellow fans, that is one rough night. I credit Gardner-Webb’s defense for pushing UNCA off the three point line and into driving situations and then covering the attempts to pass back out. I think that knocked Asheville out of rhythm in a game where they were already feeling the stakes. Winning on the road in the Big South is extremely tough.

Hopefully, that stays true today when Liberty arrives. Earlier in the season, Asheville defeated Liberty 70-57, shooting a high 45% from three. We can only hope it’s a similar game, especially after the trouble from three against GW.

A win over Liberty will be incomplete without a win by High Point in the Piedmont.  That game starts at 4pm. Wins by Asheville and High Point mean Asheville gets the #1 seed. Without the High Point win, UNCA will be seeded at #2.

Have faith. One bad game may be best prep for the tournament – whether we’re hosting or not.

Side note for sportsfans: here’s a great piece on Liberty moving to FBS football and what that means for the Big South.

Update: On the #1 Seed

Forget what I said in the last post because the Big South, after my research, released their Weekly Report, which details the procedure for deciding seeding-ties for the Big South Tournament. The rules are complicated.

So, I give full credit to Jeremy Dunlap at Blogging the WU (Winthrop’s Blogger) for his analysis of Winthrop’s chances, and, in that evaluation, UNCA too. Find his piece here.

However, despite those other scenarios, I’m confident UNC-Asheville can win out and secure the #1 seed.

#BeatThoseBaptists

GO BULLDOGS!!!

 

Beatin’ Up Baptists

Men’s Basketball

The Bulldogs are officially alone atop the Big South after a win over Campbell, 66-53, and Winthrop’s win over Liberty. Asheville struggled against the Camels to start the game and Campbell played great defense.  However, without some the Camels’ top scorers, they were unable to keep pace with UNCA.

The hot hand of the day was David Robertson, whose seven 3’s accounted for over one-third of Asheville’s total points. Props to Kevin Vannatta too, whose poor shooting day turned into a great passing day, with nine assists.

The two persons I most want to discuss, though, are Will Weeks and Jonathan Baehre. In a previous post, I wrote of my affinity for Baehre because of his size.  It’s great seeing him grow as he contributed 15 minutes against Campbell, including two offensive rebounds and five points. But his biggest contribution was size, despite some deficiencies in speed. His defensive presence gave Campbell trouble multiple times. Weeks, on the other hand, shined on the offensive side of the court with 18 points. Come tournament time, UNC-Asheville’s opponents will work hard to cover our guards, which is why the post needs to be versatile and ready to score.

The Bulldogs have two critical games left to finish the season.  First, on Thursday in Boiling Springs, Asheville faces off against another Baptist school in Gardner-Webb.  The first meeting went into overtime before UNCA could grab the “W.” I suspect this game will no less thrilling as the Runnin’ Bulldogs of GW have been a tough beat all year for everyone.

Second, UNC-Asheville will end the season against Liberty inside Kimmel Arena. After getting beat-up by Winthrop, Liberty will face an exhausted Longwood squad before coming to Asheville. When they played in early January, the Bulldogs were able to grab victory in Lynchburg  which hasn’t happened for many teams. And, thankfully, the Bulldogs are unbeaten at home in conference play.

So the Big South standings could play out a few different ways:

  1. Bulldogs win out. By winning both games, Asheville takes the regular season crown and hosts the tournament.  Again, we’re unbeaten at home, so hosting the tournament is a huge advantage.
  2. Bulldogs lose at GW, win against Liberty. If UNCA loses to GW, assuming Liberty and Winthrop win, then all three teams will have the same conference record.  Therefore, while, I cannot say this is definitive, I will justify my position as to how the Big South would judge this situation: should Asheville defeat Liberty, the Bulldogs should be the conference winner because they will have the most recent victory over both of the opponents with whom they’re tied.
  3. Bulldogs win at GW, lose to Liberty. Honestly, if this happens, and assuming Winthrop and Liberty win their other games, I have no idea how the Big South will judge this situation. It becomes a rock, paper, scissors-scenario where there is no definitive way to declare a conference champion because each has one up over the other.
  4. Bulldogs drop both games. No-just, no.

Women’s Basketball

After destoying Longwood at home this past Saturday, UNC-Asheville has four games remaining. As I’ve mentioned before, injuries hurt this team in ways they’ve not been able to recover. The Bulldogs are third from the bottom in the standings with games to go against the currently 1st and 4th best teams. If the Bulldogs were able to grab all four victories, they would be in premier position to win the tournament riding such a hot streak. However, I expect the Bulldogs to play well and play hard, but, come tournament time, I don’t expect victory.

Outlast, Outplay

UNCA 104, Winthrop 101.

If you were not there, you missed an electrified Kimmel like I haven’t seen since we hosted the Big South Tournament a few years back. Two bands, packed student sections, and even a large section for Winthrop provided an atmosphere for this game thick with adrenaline, despite some fans simply refusing to stand at the beginning.

Allow me to paint a picture: a narrow loss to Winthrop in Rock Hill, where the teams were almost even on the statline; a chance for an Asheville victory that could place them within reach of the Big South Regular Season Title, and, therefore, tournament hosts; Keon Johnson looking to redeem himself from a terrible 1-11 shooting performance in Rock Hill; MaCio Teague hoping to bounce back from a failed buzzer-beating, game-tying shot in the last matchup; Alec Wnuk, a very important post piece, out for this game, wearing a boot.

When the Bulldogs came out fighting, I knew, perhaps even more than when I arrived, the crowd was in for greatness. A couple quick three’s put UNCA at a 10-4 lead that Winthrop rapidly eliminated thanks to Xavier Cooks and few defensive breakdowns. With about eight minutes remaining, Okeke had to sit with two fouls, an issue for most of the game that helped Asheville in the paint. And props to Vannatta for a buzzer-beater to end the first half.

However, Winthrop struck first in the second half, building a seven point lead off great defense and Asheville’s sloppy effort. The Bulldogs wouldn’t let go though as they hustled back with some rebounds, steals, and drives that threw Winthrop off balance. Unfortunately, that momentum wasn’t to be. For long while, a chill blew through Kimmel where UNCA never could get that tying basket. With four minutes remaining, down six with team fouls in the Eagles’ favor, the UNC-Asheville Bulldogs, led by Ahmad Thomas, made. it. happen.

I could spend another few paragraphs writing about the final events of regulation like Cook fouling out, Robertson’s missed FT, and the ice-cold veins that put MaCio Teague #9 on the SportsCenter Top 10, or the Teague-Thomas connection against the he-Bro-ics of the Broman brothers, or even Keon Johnson’s 41st, 42nd, and 43rd points being blocked by MaCio Teague to seal the 2OT victory, but, instead, I want to break this down into three final points:

  1. Free-Throws. Winthrop outshot UNC-Asheville, but in FT’s, it was the Bulldog’s game. Asheville has shot poorly from the line all season, as I have documented. However, UNCA finished 27-32 from the stripe. Championship-caliber teams are not necessarily defined by stellar play throughout the season, but growth in problem areas, always fine-tuning. Specifically, a season-best 84.4% (not counting 7-7 against Presbyterian), not far removed from an 84.0% outing against Charleston Southern.
  2. Coaching. Coach McDevitt switched defenses well, tried Zilli and Smith, and he trusted the team, allowing the leaders to do what they need to do on the court, including let four starters play over 40 minutes, despite a 48 hour turnaround to play Longwood. And he deserves props for making them practice FT’s too. On the other hand, Coach Kelsey found himself in a difficult position without Cooks, with Okeke quickly getting his fourth foul in the first OT, and he trusted Johnson to be “the guy,” which he almost was several times, especially with his career-best, 40 point game. What fans saw were two dynamite coaches that mean everything to Big South basketball.
  3. The Big South Standings. The road ahead favors the Bulldogs. I do not want to understate how difficult road games are in the Big South, but looking at the schedule, things look positive. Hoping for good rest, the Bulldogs play Longwood (3-10 in conference) in Virginia. After that, we’ve got Presbyterian (1-12) in Asheville, away at Campbell (5-8), and away at Gardner-Webb (7-6), before returning home for the final regular-season game against Liberty (11-2). The final two games will be especially tough ,since GW was an OT victory last time, and Liberty has played well. However, Asheville now owns the tie-breaker against Winthrop. Liberty must play Winthrop in Rock Hill and High Point, and Winthrop must play Liberty and Gardner-Webb. That means, i) Liberty would have to win-out to get the championship (unlikely), ii) even if we lose one, Winthrop can’t jump us in the standings, and iii) we could finish the season 4-1 and win the Big South, especially if we don’t lose to Liberty.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make the Presbyterian game, but rest assured, I will be there when we face Liberty on the 25th.  GO BULLDOGS!!!

 

A Double Header-Double Header

On back to back Satudays, Kimmel Arena hosted a flurry of action with the Men taking on Campbell and Radford and the Women taking on Libety and Radford.

Women’s Basketball

After a loss to High Point, the Bulldogs attempted to make adjustments, but ultimately lost to Gardner-Webb. So coming into the game against Liberty, Asheville needed a win. Liberty, 4-1 in the conference at the time, had only five wins on the season.

The Bulldogs came out like a team yearning for a win. Three and half minutes passed before Liberty scored and the Bulldogs put up 18 points, giving them an 18-8 lead after the 1st quarter. However, the problems of Dengokl’s two fouls and of some offensive stagnation quickly carried into the 2nd quarter when Liberty changed to zone. Worse than Liberty, seven minutes passed before Asheville got a bucket in the 2nd, giving the Flames time to catch up, 21 all at the half. But the halftime speech must have been a great one because the offensive troubles passed for the remainder of the game, with UNCA winning 64-54.

Between that game  and a mid-week win over a middle of the pack Prebyterian team, the Bulldogs gained some important momentum before facing, #1 in the Big South, Radford this past Saturday. The first half against Radford repeated the mistakes of the first half against Liberty: standing around, draining the shot clock, and trouble adjusting to defenses. However, UNCA worked hard, pouring in effort to slowly chip away at Radford’s lead.  The crowd cheered at this game like no Women’s game I had attended before. Props to K.J. Weaver as she scored the tying basket and made the block to secure extra minutes for everyone.

Before I talk about OT, I will say this. When the injury bug bites, it bites hard. Without Brayboy, Webb, and Knuckles, the Bulldogs struggle to find consistency, swinging wildly from excellence to an offensive confusion that leads players to idly stand by, unsure how to proceed. During this time, inexperienced players accrue important minutes. Ali Trani is the poster child for those minutes. Having played in nine games, averaging 6.6 minutes, her freshman year, Trani is looking at 16 minutes or more a game at this point in the season. Her work ethic on the court shines bright despite her offensive struggles.

Back to the OT. With 8.2 second left, down two points, Asheville possession, the Bulldogs drew a play for Chatori Major, who shoots roughly 35% from the field and 38% from long range. Radford, understandbly, made sure she got covered. Major had the ball and traveled: end of game, Radford 64, UNCA 62. Though a potential block or push could’ve been there, my problem is that she missed a wide-open Trani in the corner—for a second time that game. I know that Trani shoots not quite 27% from the field and 18% from three, but the ball has got to go to the person with the shot, and that wasn’t Major. Quickly, I will add I understand Major’s actions. She’s a winner, and winners want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line. But, as a fan, I find it frustrating when the player who doesn’t have anyone even close to her can’t get the ball. She’s got to have a chance.

However, my full faith in Coach Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick leads me to believe Asheville can and will develop the chemistry and trust necessary to make a strong run come the Big South tournament.

Men’s Basketball

While there’s no such thing as a perfect game of basketball, UNCA played as close as to one I’ve ever seen for them against Campbell, winning 72-56. By that I mean, stellar defense and passing ruled the day. The Bulldogs scored 29 baskets with 22 assists, outscored the Camels in the paint, forced 14 turnovers, led basically the entire game, shot 56% from the field, and had 20 points off turnovers. Only two stats made me sad about this game: FT shooting was still poor 53% (66% as a team on the season), and basketball does not keep “hockey-assists” as a stat.* While Campbell sits in the middle of the conference standings, they decisively beat Radford in Virginia, which is no easy task.

Playing Radford in Asheville, the Bulldogs looked to redeem themselves from an overtime loss that began the conference season. In similar fashion, UNCA won this game, 80-69, on defense, solid shooting, and keeping the lead for all but 53 seconds. The first half was incredibly dominant and would have been moreso had Radford not strung four three-pointers in a row as the half closed. Again, defense plays great causing turnovers, offense makes adjustments and finds the strength to score, but my biggest concern for this team is free throws, as they shot only 63% against Radford. Championship-caliber teams have to be able to convert the gimme’s.

Also, in between the two Saturday games, the Bulldogs did grab a win over bottom of the conference Presbyterian, who is seriously struggling at 1-9 in the conference.

Looking at the conference standing, thanks to a High Point win in OT over Winthrop, the Big South is back to a three-way tie for first: Liberty, Winthrop, and UNCA. Over the next week and a half, Asheville fans will need to support their team as they take on Charleston Southern in Kimmel, High Point in the Piedmont, and, finally, shake the house against Winthrop. Grabbing a win over Winthrop at this point in the season will do more to help our chances securing the Big South Tournament than a second victory over Liberty at the end of the season. Obviously, that’s a bit of prediction right now, but I think it’s true.

Come out and supp0rt the Bulldogs this Wedneday and then next Thursday (2/9) at 7pm.

*Hockey-assist defines a type of assist where not only the player (B) who passes to the scorer is given an assist, but also the player (A) who passed to player (B) before passing to the scorer.