UNCG gearing up for 2009-10 season, play Blue-Gold game on Saturday
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The Southern Conference men's basketball coaches have picked UNC Greensboro to finish fifth in the league's North Division, according to poll results released on Thursday.
Western Carolina, which returns all five starters from last season, was picked to finish first in the North Division, while College of Charleston was picked to win the league's South Division.
The Spartans will play their annual Blue-Gold scrimmage on Saturday afternoon at 12 noon at Fleming Gymnasium. With two closed scrimmages on the preseason calendar, it will be the only opportunity for fans to get a sneak peak at the squad. Admission is free for Saturday's game, which will be followed by the women's basketball exhibition game between UNCG and Catawba. That is also the Spartans' only open exhibition on the women's side.
UNCG opens the 2009-10 regular season at Duke on November 13. The home opener in the Spartans' new home venue - the Greensboro Coliseum - is slated for November 20 at 7 p.m. against Clemson. Duke is ranked No. 9 in the Associated Press preseason poll and No. 8 in the ESPN/USA Today poll. The Tigers are No. 24 in both polls.
Single-game and season tickets for all 15 UNCG home contests are on sale now. Season tickets can be obtained by calling the UNCG athletics' ticket office at 334-3250. Single-game tickets can be purchased through the Greensboro Coliseum ticket office various Ticketmaster outlets, Ticketmaster.com and Charge by Phone. Additional information is available at UNCGSpartans.com.
In the conference coaches' voting, the Catamounts earned 10 first-place votes and finished the balloting with 64 points. Appalachian State earned the remaining two first-place votes in the North Division and finished with 55 points. Samford (44) was chosen third while last season's tournament champion, Chattanooga (39), was slotted fourth. Elon and UNCG tied for fifth place with 22 points apiece.
Behind eight first-place votes, College of Charleston was picked to win the South Division. The Cougars finished 15-5 in league play a season ago and advanced to the tournament championship before falling to the Mocs. Wofford picked up three first-place votes and finished second in the preseason balloting with 54 points. Davidson, which has won the South Division each of the past three years, earned the final first-place vote in the South Division and came in third with 48 points. The Citadel (36) finished fourth, followed by Furman (24) and Georgia Southern (21).
The 2009-2010 edition of UNCG men's basketball embarks on a quest like no other the program has ever seen.
First, the program will move into a new home venue. Last December, UNCG Chancellor Linda Brady announced that the program was moving its home games to the historic Coliseum. Site of numerous NCAA and Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament classics over the years, the Spartans will look to write their own classic moments over the next several years in the venue.
UNCG played Davidson there last February, drawing 11,267 fans for the game - more than 3,500 over the planned reduced capacity configuration for Spartan basketball. The walk-up crowd that night was more than 1,800 - a larger number than UNCG's previous venue - Fleming Gym - could seat.
Secondly, in the midst of announcing the move, Dr. Brady also announced that the program would be moving towards a nonconference schedule like no other. The Spartans will take on six teams from the aforementioned ACC this season - year-in and year-out the toughest basketball conference in the country. For the first time, the Spartans will host home games with ACC squads on a regular basis. This season, five of the Spartans' six match-ups against the ACC begin a home-and-home series, with the sixth (NC State) being the completion of one. In 2009-10, the Spartans will host Clemson, Maryland, Wake Forest and NC State, while traveling to Duke and Virginia Tech. The Spartans will also host East Carolina and Princeton, and visit Richmond and USC Upstate during the nonconference slate, making for one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country.
UNCG is coming off a season of transition. After winning 19 games the year before with one of the most high-scoring senior classes in school history, the Spartans sputtered offensively last season. The graduation of four-year point guard Dwayne Johnson, 1,000-point scorer Kevin Oleksiak and arguably the greatest individual player in school history Kyle Hines (more than 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 300 blocks in his career - the sixth player in college basketball history to do so) was noticeable in the Spartans' struggles last season.
As a result, UNCG finished the year with five wins, four of them coming in conference play. UNCG's average of 62.9 points per game - eight points below the average the year before - was its lowest since 1991-92 when the program was in its first year as a Division I member.
Head coach Mike Dement can clearly see where his challenges are entering this season and thinks the Spartans will be better for their struggles of a year ago. Ten of the players from last year return for this season and five newcomers and two redshirts join the mix.
In the frontcourt, the Spartans welcome back Darrius Sellers, who missed all of last season after suffering a leg injury in September that required season-ending surgery before the season really got underway.
Sellers' return will bring back some of the flexibility they had hoped to have for Ben Stywall last season. Stywall has always been seen as a combination forward, with the ability to hit the mid-range jumper or take the ball to the basket. Without Sellers presence last year, however, Stywall needed to play more on the low block than Dement would have liked.
Last season, Stywall averaged 11.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per season. At just 6-5, enters this year sixth on the school's career rebounding list with 638 and is closing in on 1,000 points for his career.
Senior Pete Brown and redshirt sophomore DeAngelo Jackson return to the line-up, as does a finally healthy Elhanan Bone. Bone never really seemed to get on track in his rookie season, missing nine games due to a foot injury that he first tried to play through, followed by a shoulder problem.
Brown has been a role player for most of his college career, coming off the bench in 76 of his 91 appearances. But he closed out last season with his first two double-figure scoring games and will look to expand on that in his senior year.
Jackson, meanwhile, was still learning by fire to some extent last season. He had redshirted the year before as an understudy behind Hines and Stywall and was in his first game-action last season.
Freshman Brian Cole, a 6-9 native of Dacula, Ga., will also immediately add size to the front court. Cole was rated as one of the Top 40 senior centers in the nation by ESPN.com last season, averaging 19 points per game.
The Spartans had also hoped to count on the services of freshman Taylor Hoffer this year, but he was lost in the first week of practice to season-ending leg surgery.
In the backcourt, the Spartans recruited two standout guards to help boost the offensive end of the floor. Freshmen Kyle Randall and Korey Van Dussen should provide an immediate impact for the Spartans.
Randall was rated as one of the Top 30 guards in the country last season out of Kennedy Catholic in Hermitage, Pa. A native of Canfield, Ohio, Randall was named the Class A Player of the Year in Pennsylvania by the Associated Press. He averaged 26.5 points per contest each of his last two years, leading the state in scoring as a junior. He led the squad to the Pa. Final Four three of his four seasons.
Van Dussen's credentials are nearly as impressive. Finishing third in the Mr. Michigan Basketball voting last year, Van Dussen averaged 20.1 points and 6.1 assists per game at Zeeland East HS. He led Zeeland East to their first regional title in 60 years, earning his second-straight all-state selection.
The two fab freshmen will join the returning nucleus of seniors Kendall Toney, Mikko Koivisto and Montel Smith in the backcourt. Koivisto and Toney are trying to join and elite group that have knocked down 50 or more three-pointers in all four seasons as a Spartan. Only Jay Joseph and Scott Hartzell have ever done so.
Koivisto begins the year third on the school's career three-point field goal list with 211. He knocked down 74 three-pointers last season after connecting on 80 the year before. But the native of Vantaa, Finland and member of the Finnish National Team developed another part of his game last year. An 88 percent free throw shooter for his career, Koivisto went to the foul line nearly twice as much last season as he had in the previous year and also nearly doubled his assist total from what he had in his two previous years combined.
Toney, a native of Charlotte, N.C., had his struggles from three-point range last season. Still he managed to knock down 50 treys last year and average 8.0 points per contest. A career 37-percent shooter from behind the arc, Toney can be lethal when he gets going. He scored in double figures in six of the last eight games in 2008-09, connecting for 23 of his 50 treys on the year in that span.
Along with them, Brandon Evans joins the mix after sitting out last season due to transfer regulations. Evans came to UNCG from East Carolina, where he played as a reserve for two seasons. A year ago, Evans could only practice at home with the squad. Still, the coaching staff remarked on more than one occasion that it didn't matter if Evans was practicing with the Blue squad or the White squad, he made everyone around him that much better and would be an immediate spark for the Spartans this season. The combo guard from Jackson, Tenn. averaged 19.8 points and 6.3 assists per game in high school at Liberty Tech.
Smith and walk-on Sean Spooner shared a great deal of the point guard play down the stretch last season. Both players were in their first season in the program and hadn't had the advantage of learning behind four-year starter Dwayne Johnson the year before. Smith, a native of Greenville, N.C. came in from Brunswick CC, while Spooner earned a spot on the squad in the fall as a walk-on and earned the respect of the coaches enough to give him a chance to start.
With a season under their belts, Smith and Spooner will compete for time with the highly-regarded Randall.
Along with Spooner, the Spartans will also carry two additional walk-ons in local products Brandon Davis and Robby Dilmore. Davis, a Greensboro native who played at Greensboro Day School, transferred to UNCG from UNC Asheville in mid-year last season and will be eligible to play second semester. Dilmore, a Pfafftown native and Calvary Baptist HS product, enrolled at Northern Arizona last year, but returned home after the first semester.
UNCG opens the 2009-10 season with three consecutive games against the ACC, visiting Duke for a televised contest, traveling to Virginia Tech and then coming home to the Coliseum to face Clemson in another televised game.
In addition to the preseason polls, the SoCon coaches selected a preseason all-conference team that was announced on Thursday. Goudelock, who ranked fourth in the league in scoring last season (16.7 ppg), was joined on the preseason team by backcourt mate Tony White, Jr. Western Carolina and Wofford also placed two student-athletes on the preseason all-conference team. The Catamounts were represented by Harouna Mutombo, last season's Freshman of the Year, and Brandon Giles. Noah Dahlman and Junior Salters earned preseason plaudits for the Terriers. Other members of the preseason team included Will Archambault (Davidson), Kellen Brand (Appalachian State), Willie Powers (Georgia Southern) and Cameron Wells (The Citadel).
SoCon Men's Basketball Predicted Order of Finish
Team (1 st Place Votes) Total
1. Western Carolina (10) 64
2. Appalachian State (2) 55
3. Samford 44
4. Chattanooga 39
5. UNCG 22
1. College of Charleston (8) 63
2. Wofford (3) 54
3. Davidson (1) 48
4. The Citadel 36
5. Furman 24
6. Georgia Southern 21
2009-10 Preseason All-Conference Team
Will Archambault, Davidson
Kellen Brand, Appalachian State
Noah Dahlman, Wofford
Brandon Giles, Western Carolina
Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston
Harouna Mutombo, Western Carolina
Willie Powers, Georgia Southern
Junior Salters, Wofford
Cameron Wells, The Citadel
Tony White, Jr., College of Charleston
2009-10 Preseason Player of the Year - Andrew Goudelock, College of Charleston
- UNCG -