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!!!

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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: 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.

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.

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.

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.