“We’re not a championship team right now,” said Steve Forbes after watching the Bucs struggle against VMI after blowing out to a 20 point lead. Well, UNCG hasn’t been playing like one either after struggling to get by Western Carolina on the road, being down by 6 points with 5:12 to play. One of those teams will have to stand up and play like one Saturday.
16-3 (7-2 in road games!) UNCG is ranked #115 by Kenpom (to #73 for ETSU), but gets more love in some midmajor polls (11th mid major in College Insider; ahead of ETSU’s 19th). Their schedule is not strong with only 2 high majors, both losses: on the road in a high scoring close one (91-97) at #38 LSU who they matched up with physically much better than Furman did, and on the road at #15 Kentucky, losing 61-78. Their toughest mid major opponent was #40 Wofford who crushed them in Greensboro 43-72, running out to a big early lead and never letting the Spartans in the game. Best wins were over #99 Furman in Greensboro 89-79; #126 Louisiana Tech at a neutral site 80-73; and over #137 Radford in Greensboro 65-58. They struggled mightily on the road at #320 VMI, pulling it out 71-68, but the Bucs struggled just as badly against the Keydets at home last night. Meanwhile UNCG was barely pulling out a road win at Western Carolina.
The Spartans matched up well with the Bucs last year, splitting the regular season and beating us soundly in the tournament.
UNCG’s tempo is faster than last year scoring 4.7 more points and allowing 4.2 more for a similar scoring margin: 11.4 this year to 10.7 last. ETSU has a scoring margin of 14.5.
Turnover margin this year is an excellent 3rd in D1 +6.2 (only +1.3 last year), as they average 8.6 steals per game now, and make only 11.2 turnovers, 29th in D1. Bucs are a weak -0.63 in turnover margin, next to last in the SoCon and 233rd in D1. The Bucs make 15.3 turnovers a game, 303rd in D1.
The Spartans’ rebounding margin is -0.3, much worse than last year’s excellent +6.8. Big advantage to the Bucs’ 14.4 – IF Jeromy Rodriguez is healthy. That’s uncertain after he started the game with a knee brace and sat out much of the second half against VMI. A rebound advantage on paper didn’t help us on the court against Illinois or Wofford.
UNCG’s FG% defense is average (.433, 175th in D1) to the Bucs’ .407 (48th in D1). 3pt % defense is weak .352 (249th in D1) to the Bucs’ .328 (135th in D1). Both those figures improved greatly for the Spartans in the latter part of conference play last year.
6 guys play 23 to 27 minutes: Alonso, Miller, Dickey, Galloway, Troy and Massey. 2 guys get 17 or 18: Rs-Fr Kaleb Hunter and Jr-Tr Eric Hamilton.
Nobody else gets over 2.5 ppg or 1.8 rebounds
6-3 185 Sr Francis Alonso is much the same player stat-wise as last year – great shooter, clever around the basket, tireless off screens, quick to sell a flop. If Tray Boyd was frustrated at getting called for a foul after getting blatantly hooked by Dimitrijevic (most shameless SoCon hooker since Eric Garcia of Wofford), he’d better lace them up tight for this guy. Can’t let a bad call get to you.
6-0 180 So Isaiah Miller has made himself an all-conference player with 14.6 ppg. He is a bigger, stronger Josh Sharkey with unstoppable quickness and athleticism and ball hawking defense (2.7 steals) and has moved into the starting lineup. Still doesn’t have much of a 3 point game though (.314 with 0.6 makes)
6-0 187 Sr PG Demetrius Troy’s production mirrors his regular season stats of last year (7.5 ppg, 4.2 assists), a big step down from his tournament explosion, but very steady, leading a team that does not turn over the ball (11.2 t.o’s, 29th in D1).
Jr James Dickey missed 6 games to ‘lis franc’ injury at Kentucky. He’s a much less efficient offensive player this year, still with no 3 pt game and his 2 pt% down to .425 from .536. He carried them across the finish line against the Catamounts, though, getting all 8 of his points, 4 rebounds and a steal in the final come-from-behind run.
Jr Kyrin Galloway is getting almost 50% more minutes and almost twice the points, having found a fine 3 point game for the first time (.449 with 1.7 makes) while maintaining .650 from 2 with just as many makes. But he snags the same rebounds per game (4.2) in 7.4 more minutes.
6-3 Malik Massey gets 9 more minutes for his chippy, physical play (22.9 minutes) this year, but has the same points per game (3.8) and a much worse FG%, .306 down from .467 than last year. Miller has taken the starting role.
The run of UNCG’s “Hamilton” has not gotten rave reviews so far. 6-9 230 Jr Wichita State transfer Eric Hamilton is a solid player with 18.1 minutes, 8.3 ppg and 4.8 rebounds. He gets 9 fewer minutes than Jody Kuiper and similar per game totals in points and rebounds in fewer minutes. But he has not yet been the possible all conference difference maker that some feared. I’d give this performance 3 stars out of 5 to date.
Much sought after 6-9 255 Nigerian Fr Mohammed Abdulsalam (4 star recruit with offers from UT, Wichita, Providence and Georgia Tech) is not ready to do much yet with 1.1 ppg and 1.7 rebounds. Nor is his high school teammate Angelo Allegri with 2.7 ppg and 1.5 rebounds.
Except for 6-6 swingman Marvin Smith (no one really takes his place, certainly not Allegri) and Jordy Kuiper (replaced partly by 18 minutes to Eric Hamilton and partly by 9 more minutes to Kyrin Galloway), this is much the same team that came on very strong halfway through conference last season to develop a crushing defense, rule the SoCon and beat ETSU in the tournament. Halfway through conference ETSU was 10-0 looking forward to a final 8 game stretch that seemed easier than the first 10, and UNCG was 7-2 with a loss to hapless Chattanooga. Yet the Bucs finished the Conference 4-4, while the Spartans finished 8-1 and ran the table in the tournament. The Spartans at 5-1 seem to be struggling a bit this year, better in some areas (terrific turnover margin) and worse in others (rebounding). But last year they really picked up the toughness and defense and improved their rebounding the last half of conference season.
Last year shows that things don’t always end up the way they seem after early conference play. Both UNCG and ETSU enter this game trying to prove they can get back to a championship level. UNCG is 7-2 in road games. Kenpom predicts the homestanding Bucs to win 70-64. If Jeromy is out, or operating at a low level, it’s hard to favor the Bucs.
#10 6-3 185 Sr Francis Alonso; 27.6 minutes, 17.8 ppg on .376 from 3 (2.8 makes), .899 FT%, 2.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 t.o.’s, 1.0 steals
#01 6-0 180 So Isaiah Miller; 26.1 minutes, 14.6 ppg on .306 from 3 (0.6 makes), 4.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.4 t.o.’s, 2.6 steals,
#11 6-0 187 Sr Demetrius Troy; 27.7 minutes, 7.5 ppg on .305 from 3 (1.0 makes), 2.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.6 t.o.’s, 1.3 steals
#44 6-4 190 Rs-Fr Kaleb Hunter; 17.5 minutes, 6.6 ppg on .370 from 3 (0.6 makes) but .607 from 2 (2.1 makes), 2.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.7 t.o.’s, 0.7 steals
#02 6-3 185 Jr Malik Massey; 22.9 minutes, 3.7 ppg, on .273 from 3 (0.7 makes) and .346 from 2 (0.5 makes), 2.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 t.o.’s, 0.7 steals
#21 6-9 190 Jr James Dickey; 13 games, 23.5 minutes, 6.9 ppg on .167 from 3 (0.1 makes) and .450 from 2, down from .536; .429 FT%, 7.5 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 2.0 t.o.’s, 1.3 steals, 2.0 blocks
#14 6-8 215 Jr Kyrin Galloway; 26.7 minutes, 10.0 ppg on .449 from 3 (1.7 makes), 4.1 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.7 t.o.’s, 0.9 blocks
#35 6-9 225 Jr Eric Hamilton; 18.1 minutes, 8.3 ppg, no 3’s, .667 from 2, 4.8 rebounds, 0.1 assists, 1.1 t.o.’s, 0. 6 blocks
#13 6-7 205 Fr Angelo Allegri; 9.8 minutes, 2.7 ppg on .257 from 3 (0.5 makes), 1.5 rebounds
#04 6-7 255 Fr Mohammed Abdulsalam; 7.0 minutes, 1.1 ppg, no 3’s, 1.7 rebounds, 0.1 blocks