Schedule Your Schedules (17-18)

Men’s Basketball

Whoever strung together this schedule made it a veritable who’s who of the mid-major basketball world.

The boys start off against Rhode Island. In the late 90’s, URI was a consistent tournament team, most notably in 1998 when they defeated #1 Kansas on the way to the Elite 8.

In late November, Monmouth comes to town. You may remember Monmouth from this.

And just before Christmas, the men’s team heads out to California to visit the Gaels of Saint Mary’s. Saint Mary’s has been the main competition of Gonzaga in the WCC, with three NCAA apperances since 2010.

They’ve also got some great Power-5 matchups with Clemson (ACC) and Vanderbilt (SEC). Finally, the non-conference schedule is filled in with area standbys like Wofford, Furman, and USC Upstate, and a new Big South/SoCon festivity at the Cellular Center against Western, which includes a High Point v. Wofford matchup.

The conference schedule begins with Campbell at home and ends at Gardner-Webb. Senior night is Thursday, February 22nd against Winthrop.

Women’s Basketball

Oddly enough, every non-conference game for the women’s team is in the area. Fresh from their second straight NCAA tournament appearance, you have the chance to see these girls in action for every game.

They start off against Western, followed by #17 NC State, both on the road. Every year NC State has a killer team that is, unfortunately, often overshadowed by its bigger named rivals.

But the Wolfpack aren’t the only big team the Bulldogs face. The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders have made the NCAA Tournament every year since the 2008-09 season, except one, and haven’t missed the postseason since 2003-04. More importantly, MTSU is coming to Asheville.

Like the men’s schedule, the women’s non-conference is littered with area competition, including Mercer, Furman, App St., Davidson, and UNC-Charlotte.

Inverse from the men’s schedule, the conference schedule begins with Campbell away and ends with Gardner-Webb in Asheville.

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New in Blue: Jeremy Peck

For the second year in a row, Asheville has accepted a transfer. Jeremy Peck averaged 6.4 minutes per game in his lone season at Drexel, scoring 1.6 points per game with 1.6 rebounds per game.

Based on his high school stats, and even his low play-time at Drexel, Peck plays the agile big man. At 6’8″, 230lbs, Peck brings depth to a team lacking in post presence. While you already know my thoughts about highlights, whoever packaged his covered it all: excellent passer, likes to take the three, not a tremendous driver, but has a good turnaround in the paint, and runs the floor well.

However, because of NCAA transfer rules, he will be sitting out this season, which shifts my focus for this “New in Blue.”

Let’s talk transfers.

UNCA has obviously been a part of this so-called “epidemic.” Keith Hornsby to LSU (SEC), Andrew Rowsey to Marquette (Big East), Dylan Smith to Arizona (Pac-12), and Dwayne Sutton to Louisville (ACC); all these transferred to bigger and better teams. However, we’ve also had players transfer for other reasons, like Trae Bryant and Isaiah White, and now have been the beneficiary of transfers like Donovan Gilmore from College of Charleston (CAA) and, of course, Jeremy Peck (Drexel is CAA too).

The general rule is that transfers must sacrifice a year of NCAA eligibility to move to a different team, though there are many exceptions. In the past few years, the number of transfers has surged. Two camps formed in response to this: mid-major fans, who, obviously upset about their school losing a player, react with “This is ruining the game!;” and everyone else, who sees this as simple business, “If you had a better opportunity, wouldn’t you take it?”

Asheville’s story isn’t too different from other successful mid-majors. Good players overlooked by Power-5 scouts for whatever reason see a program that can provide them with some needed coverage and coaching to elevate their platform and abilities setting them up for the next stage. For that reason, while watching players leave is difficult, I also see it as a compliment to the program. And seeing players transfer in, well, that’s added value. These guys know UNCA can help them to at least achieve a conference championship and an NCAA birth and they’re willing to sacrifice a year for that.

New in Blue: Tajion Jones

To quote Anthony Crispino, “You hear about this thing?”

Tajion Jones, a finalist for Mr. Basketball 3A in Tennessee, has come to Asheville. Hailing from Oak Ridge (also home of The Boys), Jones averaged 18.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.1 steals per game. While Jones will have to adjust to the new level of play, those stats offer a lot of promise.

To compare, last year, Ahmad Thomas averaged 18.0, 6.6, 2.3, and 3.0, respectively. A difference between the two: Jones has two inches on Thomas. As a 6’5″ guard, Tajion Jones is the Bulldogs tallest guard and fits the sort of wing role that Thomas has played at times, which is good since this is Thomas’s last season (sorry, didn’t mean to remind you).

Additionally, Tajion Jones hit 199 three’s at 43.2%, meaning 460 attempts. That’s an awful lot of attempts, even at a such a good percentage. On one hand, to continue at that high a percentage would put Jones in the Top 15 in Division I. On the other hand, the current highest number of three point attempts belongs to a Junior at Central Michigan, Marcus Keene; he is not on track to reach 460 attempts.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find much in the way of film. However, here is the highlight reel:

Anyone who fits the style of play of Ahmad Thomas is an incredibly valuable asset. Hopefully, Tajion Jones will develop even more into that kind of player.

But what do I know? I heard all that from my basketball insider, Noah DeGame.

What We’ve Missed

As Asheville creeps toward basketball season, I thought it best to quickly recap everything that happened outside of Kimmel Arena.

  • With the Wolfpack firing Coach Mark Gottfried, NC State took to the coaching carousel. The bloggers at Backing the Pack evaluated our very own Nick McDevitt. While the reviews for Coach McDevitt weren’t glowing (admittedly, there isn’t much to go on), the Wolfpack fans praised McDevitt for his high success under the circumstances. Namely, the circumstances of being of a Big South Conference coach.
  • Former Bulldog big man, Jaleel Roberts, signed a deal with the Washington Wizards a second time for the NBA Summer League. Unfortunately, this second go-round with Washington didn’t add up to much. Checking the film and noting its length helps to understand why. Previous to the deal, Roberts played for the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G-League, the NBA’s development league. (He was also picked 2nd overall by the Warriors in the G-League’s draft.)
  • Some really weird stuff went on with Winthrop coach, Pat Kelsey. For a moment there, Kelsey was to become the University of Massachusetts head coach. However, he pulled out at the very, very last second to say enthusiastically, “I mean, nah, I’m good. I’ll stay.”* UMass fans, as one might imagine, did not care for this news, prompting someone to clarify, and you’ll need to scroll down a bit for the nickname, this.
  • And speaking of Winthrop, fellow Big South Blogger, Jeremy Dunlap, gave an excellent analysis of the Liberty University-Big South Athletics situation, including explaining the situation.
  • One person now outside Kimmel and Asheville: Malik Smith. While I don’t know the circumstances surrounding the decision, he has taken off to Bryant University. Smith showed potential during the playing time he received, but he’s off to Rhode Island and we wish him well.
  • Most importantly, even though this isn’t outside of Kimmel, and I’m incredibly happy to eat my words: Macio Teague didn’t leave! Some may attribute that to not making the big dance, but either way, I’m happy to see him returning.

Prepare yourselves in the coming weeks for more hoop updates covering new recruits, revisiting returning players, and evaluating the official schedules.

GO BULLDOGS!

 

*Not an actual quote. I sincerely hope you already knew that.

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.