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!!!

 

 

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!!!

 

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.

A Long Day in Virginia

Three hours apart and two and half hours apart, UNCA played two games in Virginia Friday (11/11) as the men fought hard against VCU in Richmond and the women faced the Hokies of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.  While I could’ve paid for the A10 Conference broadcast of the men’s game, I did not.  However, I followed that game on the ESPN box score and watched the entire women’s game on WatchESPN.  So…

The Bulldogs (Lady Bulldogs seems weird) lost to Virginia Tech 71-52.  UNC Asheville hung tough for three quarters before surrendering a big run to the Hokies and first year head coach, Kenny Brooks.

Solid post play defined the Bulldogs’ first quarter.  Unfortunately, some poor decision making, including settling for three’s, left UNCA down a point at the end of a first quarter when we should’ve been more dominant.

After the first quarter, the themes of the game began to show: poor transition defense, too many turnovers, and trouble with the zone.  In addition to being small in height, Virginia Tech doesn’t have many players either.  Four of their starters played over 32 minutes compared to one of Asheville’s and yet Virginia Tech’s zone wore out UNCA.  Despite multiple timeouts, Coach MKP couldn’t get the Bulldogs to adjust to their zone.  Credit certainly belongs to the Hokies for playing tremendous defense and making it difficult for driving and posting below the free throw line.  UNCA only managed 36% shooting and 17% from beyond the arc.

What started as a hot team ready to win slowly turned into a frigid team who had given up on the “W.”  All in all, if the team can increase point production and improve their transition D, the Bulldogs will be set up for another championship year.  I’m proud of how UNCA played against an ACC opponent even without the win.

Recognitions

KJ Weaver’s still killin’.  Weaver grabbed nine rebounds and scored 15 points, the team’s top scorer.  She also threw a great block in there and played a solid game.

Bronaza Fitzgerald.  Her nine points, two rebounds, and two blocks don’t completely describe how great of a game she played on Friday.  I’m looking to see great things from Fitzgerald this season.

A Few Notes on the Men’s Game

Again, while I couldn’t actually watch the men’s game, I tried to keep up with it using ESPN’s live box score.  Below are a few thoughts from the 80-65 loss to VCU:

  1. Ahmad Thomas has turned into a great scorer as he put up a team high 20 points.
  2. Macio Teague didn’t score much, but I’m confident his low shooting percentage will increase as he adjusts to the college game.
  3. No Jonathan Baehre.  While I’m not sure of the circumstances, I am surprised he didn’t even get time at the end of the game.  I would love to see his talents against Division I competition.
  4. Free throws.  UNCA attempted almost the same as VCU made; not a great place to be.

Exhibition: Montreat

With exactly what you want from an exhibition game, UNC-Asheville dominated Montreat College 101-59, Saturday (11/5) night at Kimmel Arena.

The pregame included everything nice: a sweet windmill dunk from Ahmad Thomas in warm-ups, noticing Montreat’s coach is somewhere in his early twenties, and a head referree I can only describe as Squiggy from Laverne and Shirley (I realize that’s a reach for some people reading this blog, but, you know – Google it).  The familiar starting lineup of four guards (Robertson, Vannatta, Thomas, Teague) and Will Weeks matched up favorably with Montreat’s similarly sized team.

Lineup changes were frequent.  In my opinion, 11 of the 16 players listed on the UNCA program roster could easily be in the rotation.  Most interestingly, Coach McDevitt varied the lineups with a few two-forward combinations.  You read that correctly.  With this team, the bulldogs were able to play two guys 6’6″ or taller often.

The first half met expectations.  UNCA played a great transition game coupled with some silly fouls and turnovers and the man defense forced Montreat to the perimeter and into their own turnovers.  The bulldogs finished the half strong 47-26 before starting the second half poorly.  How poorly?  Around the 17 minute mark, the entire 1st team subbed in for the 2nd team.  A few more minutes was all it took for the bulldogs to firmly establish themselves again.  From that point forward, the only thing that felt weird was the Cheer and Dance team dancing to “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (Some songs aren’t meant to be danced to.)

Recognitions

Kevin Vannatta is Mr. Effort.  As fans, this is no surprise, but Vannatta is still diving for balls, pushing the fastbreak, and giving every drop of sweat to the game.

Alec Wnuk and Malik Smith.  Last year didn’t feature Wnuk often and this is Malik Smith’s first year.  However, if their play Saturday night foreshadows the season, we’ll be seeing some great contributions from these two.

Jonathan Baehre will destroy.  I know it’s early.  I know I’ve now seen Baehre play in one game, an exhibition game at that.  But I’m doing it, I’m putting myself on the line: Jonathan Baehre will make the conference freshman team.  That will probably not happen because of minutes, but he’ll be worthy even if he doesn’t.  His defensive play and jump shot make him an incredible post player.

Raekwon Miller’s handle.  He showed off skills I don’t remember seeing from him.  It will be interesting seeing how Coach McDevitt uses him moving forward.

Foul Trouble.  The game wasn’t all roses.  With 10 minutes remaining in the second half, UNCA had 10 fouls.  Playing that deep roster didn’t put any individual into foul trouble, but I will be concerned if this pattern continues.

Next Game: VCU, this Friday at 7pm.  I think the only way to catch this game will be 570 AM in Asheville.  UNCA won’t return home until Nov. 20 against Siena.

We Talkin’ ‘Bout Practice

For Homecoming, UNC-Asheville opened men’s and women’s basketball practice.  As a die-hard fan and lover of basketball, I attended these practices and took a few notes to share with you.

Women’s Practice

As a former resident of the Winston-Salem area and a graduate of UNC-Asheville, I don’t need any other reason to like former Wake Forest forward and current UNC-Asheville Coach, Brenda Mock Kirkpatrick.  But last year, with her players and system in place, the Bulldogs destroyed the conference by going 16-4.  That gives me pride in Coach MKP.  Watching her run practice showed me the skills, leadership, and rapport necessary for the postseason run the Bulldogs had last year and the one I hope they achieve this year.

The basics of practice were post, guard, and trap drills and set and scrimmage play.  All of which looked very positive for  the coming season.

Seeing the team practice, I noticed many of the returning faces that helped the Bulldogs attain a preseason No.1 spot in the Big South.  I also tried to note the new faces.  Unfortunately, women’s basketball information lacks the availability of men’s basketball, so I haven’t been able to catch up on those recruits.  In the future, I will do my best cover the women’s offseason like the men’s, but the steps may be small.

Men’s Practice

Having done more research on the men’s team, I came in with a set of expectations.  The first of those was met: youth.  Having lost the entire sophomore class, UNCA compensated with a large freshman group.  That inexperience playing at the college level will, as it did in practice, translate to inconsistent play and mistakes at times.  However, I have full faith in Coach McDevitt to get the players prepared and, more importantly, to grow throughout the season.

The practice included some drills, but mostly scrimmage play.  From that scrimmage, I will share the four biggest takeaways.

  1. Ahmad Thomas’s Leadership.  He worked hard to direct his squad, provided some great scoring, and was a vocal leader.
  2. Justin Brown’s Scoring.  For a player I noted as an attacker, I saw him mostly take jump shots, and with a form that the coaching staff regularly adjusted.
  3. Malik Smith’s Body.  He’s a big guy who will be an incredibly important post presence moving forward.
  4. Jonathan Baehre.  A quick apology here.  In my analysis, I thought Jonathan to be a very raw talent.  However, he far exceeded my expectations in scrimmage play and will likely grow quicker than I originally estimated.

Additionally, I noticed Giacomo Zilli wasn’t dressed and practicing, but I’m not sure of the situation.

New in Blue: MaCio Teague

“Caught in a trap,  I can’t walk out because I love you too much baby.”

Inordinate interest, ample offers, and a plethora of talent.  These describe the situation UNC-Asheville finds in MaCio Teague, a 6’3 guard from Ohio. (Check out the last link for a subtle hint for the direction I’m headed here.)

While his highlights showcase great shot technique, I could not find full game footage. However, Teague played at Montverde Academy, a serious prep program where top-tier recruits learn before beginning their collegiate adventures, commonly at Power-5 schools. That fact alone explains the excitement around Teague.

The quote at the top comes from Mark James’s “Suspicious Minds” famously sung by Elvis.  I included that quote because Bulldog fans have felt suspicious before vis-à-vis Dwayne Sutton and Dylan Smith.  Sure, others have left the program, but these two left after only one year – last year.  With offers from solid mid-majors and interest from more recognized programs, I can only see us repeating last season.

Of course, repeating last season also means a conference championship and a tournament appearance.  Therefore, we are indeed “caught in a trap,” but love it too much – baby.

If that happens, I’m incredibly grateful that a player as good as MaCio Teague considers Asheville his stepping stone program.  But I hope I’m wrong and we see multiple seasons of Teague.

I will probably always be bothered by players using mid-majors to lift themselves into bigger programs, but blaming the player for increasing his prospects isn’t right either.  I do hope to examine this issue in a future post, but for now, suffice it to say, MaCio Teague will deliver for the bulldogs.