Friday, November 1, 2013

Preseason Preview: UNCG

This is the preview I wrote over at Mocsmania.

Push the Reset Button

At this time last year, UNCG was the trendy pick to be the contenders to the long time Davidson-controlled throne of "Best in the SoCon". They returned the SoCon leading scorer, best 6th man and had a manageable schedule. Also they had hired a new, young coach which had excited the fan base. It was going to be the Spartans year. Except that it wasn't. What transpired was an unmitigated disaster. UNCG managed just 2 non-confernce wins (Winston-Salem State & Lees-McRae). At times they seemed disinterested, lost and generally seemed to not like each other very much. Also every break or close game that went the Spartans way in their 11-5 finish to the 2011-2012 season, went the opposite way in 2012-2013. In the months following the end of the season, UNCG's roster (and maybe even the program in general) has really hit the reset button. Gone are heavy volume shooters and scorers Trevis Simpson (18.7 ppg & 15.9 FG attempts per game) and Derrell Armstrong (14.7 ppg & 11.5 FG attempts per game). Simpson decided to turn pro, while Armstrong graduated. Also graduating were "glue" guys Korey Van Dussen and Kelvin McNeil. Junior defensive stopper David Williams (1.6 steals per game) then announced he was leaving the program. Even UNCG alum and assistant coach/DoBO Kevin Oleksiak is no longer with the program. All-in-all, The Spartans lost roughly 73% of their points and 63% of their rebounds from last season. That is a lot to replace and it's easy to see why no one has picked them to finish above 8th.

UNCG does return several players with starting experience, though. Senior Drew Parker (21.9 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 2.5 apg) and sophomore Jordan Potts (16.5 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 1.3 apg) both spent time in the starting lineup. Also back is forward Kayel Locke (9.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and sharpshooter Nicholas Paulos (8 ppg & 40% 3 Pt) . Locke is looking to build off a solid freshman campaign that saw him start over half of UNCG's games. Paulos showed what he could do when he drained 10 shots from behind the arc at the Roundhouse last season. Center RJ White was given a medical redshirt and will still be listed as a freshman. White put up some big numbers when UNCG traveled to Spain this Summer. Against the Aragon Select Club Team, White had a double-double (14 pts & 14 rebs) and looked very comfortable playing with his new front court running mate Kyle Cain.

Cain is a 6'-8" transfer from Arizona State that had to sit out last season due to the transfer rules. He could be the breakout star of the SoCon this coming season. During the trip to Spain, Cain recorded double-doubles in 3 of the 4 games, including and 18 point, 11 rebound performance against the Venezuela National team. Cain, along with White and freshman European big man Jordy Kuiper (6'-9" 238 lbs), figures to shore up the interior defense, which was a glaring weakness for UNCG a season ago. Along with Cain and Kuiper, Spartan fans are going to get to meet a huge group of new players this season. Wes Miller and his staff seemed to really concentrate on getting good in-state talent this season. Clay Byrd, Tyrone Outlaw and Diante Baldwin were all local targets that UNCG managed to pick up. Outlaw (6'-6" 205 lbs) is reminding everyone of Trevis Simpson with his athleticism. The Spartans went north to the Baltimore/DC area to find a highly sought after wing player in Tevon Saddler. They also brought in Allen Baez (Miami, FL) and JUCO transfer Modestas Masilionis. Masilionis was 2nd in NJCAA in 3 point shooting percentage (52%) last year.

In case you lost count, that's 8 new faces that will be trying to work their way into the rotation and develop chemistry with each other. UNCG has scheduled accordingly. The Spartans will face 3 non-D1 teams in its first 9 games. They also get home games with Big South favorite High Point, CIT winner East Carolina and a neutral site match up with NCAA sleeper pick LA Tech. The LA Tech game is the first game of three that Wes Miller's squad will play in Naples, Florida as part of the Gulf Coast Showcase Tournament. The tournament features a lot of mid-major teams that the Spartans should match up well against. As always, UNCG has scheduled 4 ACC teams. The young NC State team is coming to the Greensboro Coliseum, but UNCG will travel to UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. The schedule does seem much more manageable then in seasons past. But I said that last year too and we all know how that turned out.

At this point, it's very hard to make any solid predictions for the 2013-2014 season. I think most realistic UNCG fans would be excited to see the team finish around the 0.500 mark and I think that's an obtainable goal. However, UNCG has struggled for the last 5 years to win out of conference games against D1 teams. It's hard to imagine that they can get to 0.500 without getting some of those wins. With High Point, ECU, Presbyterian and James Madison all making visits to the Greeensboro Coliseum, there are opportunities to get those wins. There is a very real chance that 4 freshmen could be on the floor at the same time for the Spartans. To me, that means no one will see the best of the UNCG basketball team until January and February. But with so many freshmen, the worst case scenario would be to see the young guys start to lose confidence if things don't go well right out of the gate. I wish I could write this article and happily say that UNCG will finish with 17 wins, but I honestly think the total will be in the 12-14 win range. I can see the Spartans finishing in the 6-8 range of the SoCon and if that happens I believe we could call that a success. I am sure some in our fan base would expect more, but with all of the new faces it's just too hard to guess what kind of product we'll see on the court. But I am excited to see this newly "reset" UNCG program on the court again soon