Wes Miller and UNCG are in all too familiar territory
A year and a little bit of change ago, UNCG athletic director Kim Record decided that a 2-8 start for the school’s men’s basketball team was far from acceptable. So head coach Mike Dement was released and Wes Miller was elevated to the position on an interim basis.
To say that Miller, every bit of 28-years old at the time and still better known from his playing days at North Carolina, faced a daunting task was a bit of an understatement. The Spartans responded to him being in the captain’s chair by losing their next six games to fall to 2-14.
But just when you thought the team was in a death spiral, Miller grabbed the wheel and pulled it back. The Spartans posted an 11-5 record coming down the stretch and even finished with a winning record in SoCon play.
That turnaround, along with the return of SoCon scoring leader Trevis Simpson, was motivation enough for many pundits to tab UNCG as the league’s North Division favorite coming into this season. What a far cry that was from those dark days of early 2012.
So that’s why it’s a little perplexing to find UNCG sitting on a 2-9 record following its latest setback, an 89-68 loss at NC State. To add insult to injury, that loss was absorbed without the services of Simpson, who twisted his ankle on the way to the team’s pregame meal. Yes, you read that correctly.
Miller finds himself with another hill to climb, but this time the stakes are a little higher. He’s not the interim guy trying to fix his former boss’s mess; he’s now tasked with fixing a mess of his own making.
That being said, don’t find it all that surprising if Miller engineers another dramatic turnaround. While no team wants to get blown out by 21, the loss to NC State might do more good than harm for the Spartans. With no Simpson (who once again leads the SoCon in scoring) to lean on, UNCG actually led the Wolfpack late in the first half.
In Simpson’s absence, players like freshman Kayel Locke were forced to step up their games. Locke, an undersized forward who showed the uncanny ability to get his shot off against State’s taller frontcourt, tallied 21 points off the bench in the losing effort. Don’t be surprised if he blossoms during SoCon play.
It remains to be seen how much time Simpson will miss, but obviously the best-case scenario is to have him back for UNCG’s trip to Davidson this Saturday. A win against the SoCon’s South Division heavyweight would be a nice spark to kick off Miller’s second dramatic turnaround in as many seasons.
Lorenzo Brown a key for NC State’s ACC hopes
Back on the subject of NC State, things seem a little more at ease in the Wolfpack world right now. A month ago, that wasn’t necessarily the case.
As November came to a close you could make a strong case for NC State being a massive early season underachiever. The Pack stood at 4-2 with losses against the two best squads on the team’s pre-ACC slate, those being Oklahoma State and Michigan.
In those two losses, point guard Lorenzo Brown shot a combined 5-of-19 from the field. Look, it’s no crime for a team’s primary distributor to not contribute much in the scoring column. But you don’t want him shooting 26%, either.
Since that 4-2 start, State has reeled off seven straight wins and Brown’s consistency has been a big reason for the streak. He’s scored double figures in six of those contests and, much more importantly, he’s shot 55% in the process. In the one game he failed to reach double digits he generated a season best 11 assists.
Brown being a more consistent scoring option in ACC play is vitally important for Mark Gottfried’s team. As a 6’5” point guard with better-than-you-realize athletic ability, Brown forces a lot of mismatches. But it’s his wide open looks he has to address: he’s shooting an atrocious 26% from 3-point range.
Don’t look now but Saint Louis has won seven straight. They capped off a nice December run with a New Year’s Eve whipping of New Mexico….Duke freshman guard Rasheed Sulaimon has been a solid defender in his short career, but Santa Clara’s Kevin Foster took him to school. Foster dropped in 29 on the Blue Devils, mostly while matched against Sulaimon. However, Duke laughed last, winning 90-77….You may have missed it during your New Year’s Eve revelry but St. Mary’s notched one heckuva comeback win against Harvard. The Gaels were bombarded by Crimson 3-pointers and fell behind by 18 at one point. But Mitchell Young hit a pair of free throws with 1.1 seconds left to give St. Mary’s its only lead of the game, 70-69.