There were many reasons why UNC-Greensboro decided to have its men's basketball teamm move its home games into Greensboro Coliseum this season. The plan was for the Spartans to increase ticket sales and attendance numbers, while attracting the attention of a wider range of recruits. So far, UNC-Greensboro has succeeded in those respects, even if it has meant taking considerable lumps on the court.
Come Sunday, when the Spartans will host Maryland, UNC-Greensboro will have played half of the ACC this season. Four ACC squads will have visited Greensboro Coliseum, which is proving to be mutually beneficial, even if some of the scores would indicate otherwise.
The Spartans are 2-10 and have been defeated at home by Clemson, Wake Forest and N.C. State (they also lost to Duke and Virginia Tech on the road). The ACC teams that have played at UNC-Greensboro have had the chance to develop a sense of familiarity with Greensboro Coliseum (capacity: 23,000), where this season's conference tournament will be held in March. For the Spartans, the benefits have come in the forms of experience and exposure.
"Our chancellor wants to raise the level of basketball and use basketball, because we don't have football, to raise the level of the athletic department, so going over to the Coliseum is a big deal," UNC-Greensboro Coach Mike Dement said Friday in a phone interview.
Dement, who is in the fifth season of his second stint as head coach at UNC-Greensboro, noted that one by-product of the move has been the interest of regional television stations in broadcasting the Spartans' match-ups against higher profile opponets. UNC-Greensboro already has played on television three times (at Duke on Nov. 13, vs. Clemson on Nov. 20 and vs. N.C. State on Thursday) this season and will do so a fourth time when Maryland visits on Sunday.
"We've already had more TV exposure than we've ever had," Dement said. "So all of those things can help us in recruiting and building our fan base to another level. In the meantime, of course, we're playing some really good teams. We don't have that talent. We don't have that size. We don't have that speed. But we're battling guys pretty good for periods of time. You know, certain periods of games we're battling pretty good, but we just can't sustain it. I think overall, though, it's helping us become a tougher team."
Despite dealing with a significant size disadvantage, UNC-Greensboro has out-rebounded four of the five ACC teams it has faced this season. To combat their lack of size, the Spartans have employed a match-up zone defense, as well as a more conventional zone defensive scheme. This, as Dement pointed out, helped keep more bodies near the basket for rebounding purposes. It also leaves the perimeter open, which is a problem if an opposing team is adept at three-point shooting.
UNC-Greensboro opponents are shooting 49.9 percent from the field and 36.2 percent from three-point range this season. The Spartans own a +2.1 rebounding margin.
Specifically against the ACC teams it has played, UNC-Greensboro has followed a fairly consistent pattern this season. The Spartans start slow, then surge back into contention before fading in the second half as they wear down. UNC-Greensboro trailed N.C. State by four at halftime Friday before the Wolfpack went on a 20-4 run to pull away in the second half. One of the reasons UNC-Greensboro out-rebounded N.C. State, 38-27, Dement said, is that the Wolfpack shot 67.9 percent from the field in the second half. "There weren't a whole lot of rebounds for them to go get," Dement said.
Dement acknowledged that wearing down is an issue for his team, with the exception of senior forward Ben Stywall. Listed at 6-foot-5, 210 lbs., Stywall is UNC-Greensboro's best and most well-rounded talent. Despite having to play the power forward position, Stywall is averaging 12.3 points and 9.5 rebounds per game. He has tallied 20 steals and is shooting 49.6 percent from the field.
"He's being a little bit more aggressive, offensively, which we need him to be," Dement said of Stywall. "He's a pretty good mid-range jump shooter and face-up, and so if he's getting guarded by a bigger guy, he can face up sometimes and make a move and hit a jump shot. If anybody on our team has the ability to play hard for a lot of minutes it's him."
Pairing up with Stywall in the post is freshman forward Brian Cole (6-foot-8, 220 lbs.), who is averaging 5.3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.
In the backcourt, the Spartans offer a lot of youth and not a lot of size. UNC-Greensboro's primary ball-handlers are true freshmen. Kyle Randall (5-foot-11, 165 lbs.) is averaging 8.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game, while Korey Van Dussen (6-foot-2, 175 lbs.) is averaging 6.6 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. Neither Randall nor Van Dussen consistently has taken good care of the ball. Randall owns an assist-to-turnover ratio of 0.7, and Van Dussen's assist-to-turnover ratio is 0.9. The Spartans average 16.8 turnovers per game and own a -3.2 turnover margin.
"They've had some inconsistencies taking care of the ball," Dement said. "We had 21 turnovers (Thursday) and NC State played pretty much man-to-man. Against Wake Forest we only had 13 turnovers. We know Maryland will press. They've got big bodies and they'll trap, so we're going to have to handle all of that. The thing about Randall, go back and look at the schedule and the guards he's played against. He's had (Wake Forest guard) Ishmael Smith this week, he had (N.C. State guard Javier) Gonzalez (Thursday) night and now he's got (Greivis) Vasquez on Sunday. That's quite a challenge for a freshman guard. Hopefully, what's going to happen is he's going to grow up quick. He certainly has an opportunity to do that."
Redshirt junior guard Brandon Evans (listed at 6-foot-2, 210 lbs.) plays the swingman position for the Spartans. Despite Evans's listed size, Dement said Evans stood "only 5-11, maybe 6-foot on a good day." Regardless, Evans is averaging 12.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game. He is shooting 40.2 percent from the field and 35.5 percent from three-point range.
"Brandon's probably the best guy we have putting it to the floor, so he creates some things for himself by going hard to the hole," Dement said. "We play him at the three spot, but he's only 6-foot and he might not even be 6-foot. But he's strong, so he gets to the hole pretty well. He's our best driver, so he can create some things. He's been pretty consistent here as of late. He's also shot the ball pretty decently from outside, which we need him to do."
UNC-Greensboro's bench has been a bit depleted by illness during the past week. Senior forward Pete Brown (6-foot-6, 242 lbs.) and senior guard Mikko Koivisto (6-foot-4, 195 lbs.) both have missed time due to stomach viruses. Koivisto has missed the past two games, while Brown sat out Thursday night's loss to N.C. State. Dement said both players tried to practice Friday, but still were questionable in terms of whether they would play against the Terrapins.
"They haven't been able to get much food down and keep it down, so they're pretty weak right now," Dement said. "They got in there a little bit, but you could tell that they ran out of gas pretty quickly. Hopefully (Saturday) they'll be stronger, and if that's the case, they should play on Sunday."
Koivisto is averaging 5.0 points and 1.7 rebounds per game, while Brown is averaging 4.1 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. Brown is the team's leader in blocks (10).
Currently, UNC-Greensboro's top option off the bench is senior guard Kendall Toney (6-foot-3, 203 lbs.). He is averaging 5.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. The Spartans also bring in sophomore forward Elhanan Bone (6-foot-8, 220 lbs.) and senior guard Montel Smith (5-foot-10, 182 lbs.) in reserve. Bone is averaging 2.2 points and 2.1 rebounds per game, while Smith is averaging 1.6 points and 0.7 rebounds per game.
As a team, the Spartans shoot 38.9 percent from the field, 30.9 percent from three-point range and 70.5 percent from the free throw line.
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