Here we go again…

If you haven’t seen this, you’re about to be disappointed.

Coach McDevitt was tremendous. With his local ties, history and success with UNCA, I thought we might always have good hold, but it’s natural to ascend in a sport like college basketball.

From the MTSU website, “We had a thorough, national search and Coach McDevitt kept rising to the top,” said Massaro. “People all across the country have commented on his ability to coach at a high level while recognizing how well he has recruited. He is the total package and I think our community will embrace him because he is a great fit for Middle Tennessee.”

From that same article, McDevitt earns praise from Rick Barnes and Seth Greenberg to name a few.

Now, a thorough coaching search will begin.

Another important Big South concern is Xavier’s coach, Chris Mack, interviewing for Louisville. Pat Kelsey, the current Winthrop Men’s Basketball coach, played for Xavier. If Mack leaves, it could add some hype to someone who chose not to leave Winthrop last season two days after accepting a job at UMass. Those would be rough waters to tread for Coach Kelsey.

 

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Big South Tournament

UNC-Asheville hosts four games tomorrow, beginning at 1PM.

1PM #2 Radford v. #10 Longwood

Longwood, fresh off their Tuesday upset over High Point, faces a Radford squad it has yet to beat. While Longwood was able to break a losing streak that stretched back to mid-January, they did so with High Point’s help. High Point committed 17 turnovers and shot poorly, especially from the FT line. Radford, on the other hand, is riding a four game win streak, most recently defeating this Longwood team.

3PM #3 Winthrop v. #6 Gardner-Webb

After finishing the season with a victory over an Ahmad Thomas-less Asheville team, Gardner-Webb will face a Winthrop team that dropped its last two games of the regular season. GW finished the season with two road victories so Winthrop will have their hands full against a team that they split against in the regular season: 90-67 in Rock Hill, 71-90 in Boiling Springs.

7PM #1 UNCA v. #8 Charleston Southern

CSU will walk into Kimmel with a load of confidence. They easily put away Presbyterian on Tuesday to add a third win to their streak. The last time CSU lost: UNCA – and in OT! All I’m saying is, the Buccaneers can do it. UNCA will need to be prepared and Ahmad Thomas healthy to fend off this team.

9PM #5 Liberty v. #4 Campbell

Last year’s tournament could’ve been called the Chris Clemons Tournament after his tremendous performance (Sorry to bring it up again Bulldog fans). Add to that, Campbell has already beaten the Flames twice this year, and Campbell should feel pretty confident. Then again, beating any team three times in a season is a tough job.

 

I should be around all day so I hope to see you. GO BULLDOGS!!!

Mid-Season Patterns

Wow, with the end of December and breaking through the holidays, it’s taken some effort finding time to get back to this. So without further delay…

Men’s Basketball

After finishing 7-6 in nonconference play, the Bulldogs are 3-2 in conference play, with losses to High Point and Radford (both away) and wins over Campbell, Longwood, and Presbyterian.

As UNCA has moved forward, the turnover numbers have come down, but still not entirely under control. Free-throw percentage is up, except for the Presbyterian game. Asheville’s steals per game are steady and opponent’s are committing double-digit turnovers. On average, the Bulldogs win the rebound game.

On the other hand, with the exception of Presbyterian, most teams of late have shot at least 46% from the floor. And UNC-Asheville’s assists-to-turnovers ratio is too close to 1:1.

Of course, play in the Big South is as usual: teams win at home, lose on the road:

Radford: 2-0 at home, 2-1 on road. The two road wins were the two teams at the bottom of the conference.

Gardner-Webb: 4-0 at home, 1-1 on road. The road win a 2-point victory over Campbell.

Liberty: 2-1 at home, 1-1 on road. Honestly, the home loss to Longwood was pretty outrageous because they only scored 51 points. The road win was a 3-point victory over Winthrop.

Then UNCA, fourth in the conference: 2-0 at home, 1-2 on road. The road win was over Presbyterian, second to last in the conference.

I could keep going, but you get the picture. All but one Big South team is at least .500 at home. Three teams are undefeated at home, including UNCA. On the other hand, and as you would expect if a team plays a challenging non-conference schedule, no Big South team has a winning road record.

Women’s Basketball

Field goal percentage is trending upward and they’re winning the rebound game. Unfortunately, turnovers remain high, much higher than assists on the season. And assist-to-baskets is less than 50%.

After a tough start to the season, UNCA has won 5 of the last 7, with both losses coming at home against High Point (currently on top of the conference standings) and Furman.

The Bulldogs are second in the conference at 3-1.

As I had hoped, this team seems to be coming together.

 

Hope to see everyone tonight at Kimmel against Charleston Southern.

GO BULLDOGS!!!

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.

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.