UNC Asheville Bulldogs
2016-2017 Overall Rank: #116
Conference Rank: #1 Big South
UNC Asheville is coming off of a huge season. They won the Big South conference tournament and earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament. They did not put up much of a fight against Villanova in the first round, but Coach Nick McDevitt has built a very strong program. The strength of that program will be tested a little bit this year with the loss of some key players, but in the wide open Big South, the Bulldogs remain among the favorites. Junior guard Kevin Vannatta figures to pick up much of the scoring slack. He was one of five players who averaged double digits in the scoring column in 2015-2016. More importantly, he is the player who can stretch out the defense and consistently knock down three-pointers.
2015-16 Record: 22-12, 12-6
2015-16 Postseason: NCAA
Coach: Nick McDevitt
Coach Record: 54-42 at UNC Asheville, 54-42 overall
With Dylan Smith gone, Vannatta will have to look to score more. Smith was the team’s top scorer with 13.5 points per game. He always seemed to knock down the big three-pointer. Dwayne Sutton was second on the team with 12.0 points per contest and was occasionally a dangerous shooter. At 6-5 though, Sutton was much more effective attacking the basket and helping out on the glass. His transfer is a big hit to UNC Asheville and potentially a big get for Louisville as a walk-on. Sam Hughes was a regular starter last year too, averaging 10.9 points, 4.5 rebounds and a team high 1.3 blocks. Also lost are little used John Cannon and Trae Bryant.
Coach McDevitt brings in six freshmen and a junior college transfer to help fill the holes. And once again, it is a pretty good group. MaCio Teague will likely be the most important of the bunch. He is a big time scorer and averaged 26.4 points per game as a senior in high school in Ohio. On a team that needs shooters, the pressure will be on Teague to get the job done. Drew Rackley is another Ohio native who can score in bunches and late signee Justin Brown is another potential scorer. He was a first-team all-state honoree in Florida last year. Malik Smith, another Ohio native, is the one to watch in the frontcourt. The 6-6 forward is a tough rebounder and should at least help in that regard. Jonathan Baehre is bigger at 6-9 and a bit of a wildcard. He had some interest from bigger schools and could see some quality minutes at the power forward spot. Grant Townsend and junior college transfer Asante Monadjemi will add depth in the frontcourt.
Who to Watch:
Depth could be an issue, but there is some experience to go along with all of the freshmen. David Robertson missed more than half of the season with an injury and the senior guard is ready to take on some leadership. Raekwon Miller has had some moments during his collegiate career and he could play a big role if the freshmen are not ready to go. Meanwhile, Ahmad Thomas will look to do more scoring. The 6-3 junior averaged 11.1 points and 6.6 rebounds last year. He is not much of a shooter, which is why the freshmen need to help out by stepping into that role, but Thomas is a tough guard who can do a lot of good around the basket. In a league that is dominated by backcourt play, UNC Asheville has a lot of talent and options as long as they can stay healthy, Vannatta can run the show and knock down shots, Thomas can attack the basket and the freshmen, or at least one of them, will be able to score.
The frontcourt has depth too with Will Weeks and Giacomo Zilli joining the newcomers. Weeks is the experienced option. The 6-6, 220 pound senior averaged nearly 25 minutes per game last season, putting up 6.8 points and 4.3 rebounds. Zilli did not play much last season, but he was a part-time starter as a sophomore. At 6-9 and 255 pounds, Zilli has the size the Bulldogs need in the paint. The frontcourt does not need to do too much scoring, but this is a team that needs some help on the glass with Sutton and Hughes gone. Weeks and Thomas will certainly do their share, but getting five rebounds a game out of Zilli or Smith would make a big difference.
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Kevin Vannatta, Junior, Guard, 11.5 points per game
MaCio Teague, Freshman, Guard, DNP last season
Ahmad Thomas, Junior, Guard, 11.1 points per game
Will Weeks, Senior, Forward, 6.8 points per game
Giacomo Zilli, Senior, Forward, 1.5 points per game
By the Numbers:
Scoring Offense: 75.1 (129th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Scoring Defense: 68.0 (79, 2)
Field-Goal Percentage: 45.5 (93, 3)
Field-Goal Defense: 42.7 (128, 3)
Three-Point Field Goals Per Game: 5.7 (293, 10)
Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage: 32.3 (276, 10)
Free-Throw Percentage: 69.4 (188, 7)
Rebound Margin: 2.2 (108, 4)
Assists Per Game: 12.4 (232, 7)
Turnovers Per Game: 13.1 (213, 6)