2008-09 UNC Asheville Preview: #104
UNC Asheville Bulldogs
Overall Rank: #104
Conference Rank: #1 Big South
2007-08: 23-10, 10-4, 1st
2007-08 postseason: NIT
Kenny George needs help. Four starters are gone (George was not a starter) off of a UNC Asheville team that won the Big South regular season title. While the pieces fill in around him, George will have to lead the way. The 7-7 center averaged 12.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per contest last year. When he is on the floor, the game is not the same as it was before. On his own, George forces opponents to stay out of the paint and he can back down anybody on the other side of the floor.
The biggest losses are on the perimeter where Bryan Smithson and K.J. Garland must be replaced. The team’s top two scorers, Smithson and Garland combined to average 29.7 points, 10.1 assists, 8.3 rebounds and 3.2 steals during their senior seasons. George will be far less effective if nobody can get him the ball and shoot from the perimeter. Forwards Vincent James and Garrett Moles started all 33 contests. James was a good scorer and Moles did the dirty work around the basket, but only averaged 16.5 minutes per game despite his starting status.
Ten newcomers will look for important minutes right from the get go. None will be more important than point guard Donovan Jones. Jones played two years ago for the Bulldogs and garnered a couple starts during his rookie campaign. After redshirting last season, Jones has the experience with the team to turn into a leader. Incoming freshmen J.P. Primm, Matt Dickey and Madison Davis can all provide depth at the point. Primm is the likely candidate to emerge from that group and see quality minutes backing up Jones. Chris Stephenson is probably the most talented of the bunch. The 6-4 wing is a great athlete who can shoot like a guard and post up like a forward. The names keep coming as forwards Jeremy Harn, Sean Hobbs, Quinard Jackson, Matt Kittrell and Terrence Turner will battle for minutes off the bench in the frontcourt. At 7-2 Hobbs has size, Kittrell has the most experience and Turner is the most talented. It will be interesting, and very important, to see who can emerge and provide the much, much needed depth in the paint. Outside of finding a new point guard, the development of the reserves up front will be the most important thing to keep an eye on.
Who to Watch:
Fortunately, none of the newcomers have to be ready to start in the frontcourt. Small forward Reid Augst is the only returning starter. After averaging 10.6 points and 4.9 rebounds, the 6-6 senior will become a leader on the floor. Augst can knock down the three-pointer relatively well and he has the versatility to play the two, three or four spot. But he will spend most of his time at the three while John Williams works his way into the starting lineup. Williams is smaller than Augst, but he is a solid rebounder and has the potential to develop into a decent scorer both inside and out. With George starting at the center spot, all the depth will have to come from the newcomers and Jason Ridenhour and Eric Stubbs. Those two averaged less than four minutes per game last year, but Stubbs has the potential to have a breakout sophomore year and be a decent substitute for George.
Not all of the minutes on the perimeter will be eaten up by the new guys. By default Sean Smith is the best shooter on the team. The 6-6 Swede garnered four starts a year ago and could be in for a huge season now that he will be given every opportunity to turn into the main scoring threat in the backcourt. Rashad Gill hardly saw any playing time as a freshman, but he is another big and versatile guard. The backcourt needs to come around quickly if the Bulldogs want another conference title. The talent is there for the unit to be successful, but if the guards cannot hold their own, it will not matter how talented the big guys are.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Donovan Jones, Sophomore, Guard, DNP last season
Sean Smith, Junior, Guard, 5.0 points per game
Reid Augst, Senior, Forward, 10.6 points per game
John Williams, Sophomore, Forward, 6.4 points per game
Kenny George, Senior, Center, 12.4 points per game