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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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!!!

New in Blue: Amaryah Corpening

One of my promises for this blog was to cover our incredible women’s team more like the men’s team, which means I’m covering women’s recruits too.

Amaryah Corpening comes to UNC-Asheville from a high-performing, local program: Freedom High in Morganton, NC. Coached by UNCA alumnus, Amber Reddick, and part of the undefeated state championship group, Amaryah Corpening is a tremendously tough defender. I know because we’ve got video from her Junior year.

In man defense, Corpening shuts down her opponents, either denying the pass or forcing them to get rid of the ball quickly. In zone defense, she shows a great understanding of space. Her toughness turns into fight in a few instances, like at the beginning when she shoves another girl off-ball, but that sort of fight isn’t exactly a bad thing. In the paint, that toughness provides Corpening, 5’7″, with the ability to box out and rebound.

In her final season, Amaryah Corpening averaged 14.6 point per game, 5 rebounds per game, and 4.2 steals. However, she only averaged 3.6 assists per game. For a vocal leader like Corpening, that number feels a little low, but assists can be finicky since good passes aren’t always rewarded by teammates.

Lastly, from the video, Corpening possesses excellent shot form. Anytime she sets her feet she’s making the shot. Her misses were instances of suprise or off-balance shots. Her highlights, obviously, bear that out as well.

Overall, I think UNCA has a great talent, especially on defense, in Amaryah Corpening.

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.

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.