By: Kyle Williams
Last Season: 18-14 (12-6 CAA, tied first in CAA)
Losses: G Freddie Jackson, G Addison Spruill, F Cedrick Williams
Newcomers: G Mark Matthews, G C.J. Bryce, F Trey Grundy, F Devontae Cacok
It would be fair to say that no one saw that coming. A year after finishing dead last in the CAA, UNCW looked like they were to suffer the same fate after a disappointing non-conference slate and a loss at Hofstra. Then they went on the road and shocked presumptive favorite Northeastern. They proceeded to beat Drexel and Delaware, and after a four-point loss to W&M, avenged the Hofstra loss by beating them on the road. By the end of the season, they had a share of the regular season title and were legitimate contenders in the conference tournament. They made it to the semifinals, where they lost to eventual champs NU, and made it back to postseason basketball for the first time in eight years via the CIT.
The stunning turnaround starts, first and foremost, with rookie coach Kevin Keatts, a former assistant to Rick Pitino at Louisville. His pedigree was obvious as the season moved along; he had his defense run everything off the three-point line, and proceeded to pack the paint with his big men to force turnovers. It worked, as the Seahawks led the conference in three-point defense, blocks and steals. On offense, he kept it simple and trusted his guards to run the offense. Addison Spruill and Freddie Jackson earned that trust, as they combined to average 27ppg and helped UNCW crack 70ppg as a team. All-CAA rookie point guard Jordan Talley led the team in assists and was second in the conference in steals, and they had two guys average at least one block per game (and another at 0.8).
This year brings changes to the squad, but a certain level of optimism as well. Jackson and Spruill are gone, along with Cedrick Williams, who led the conference in blocked shots. However, the newcomers have impressed in preseason, as the four new recruits have combined for 85 points over two games. Guards Mark Matthews and C.J. Bryce have led the class, with both shooting over 50% from the field. C.J. Gettys, a true seven-footer who averaged a block per game, will take over Williams’s minutes, and Chuck Ogbodo should be a serviceable backup big. If Talley can transition into a starter’s role and be the facilitator he was last year, this team has the talent to beat anyone in the conference, and will be a tough out come tournament time.
Bottom Line: After years of being in the irrelevant, UNCW looks primed to contend as long as Keatts is around. The defense system will be good enough, and there is a lot of potential on this offense. The biggest questions will be how the freshmen handle the transition to the college game, and if Talley is ready to run the offense himself. He’s not on the level of Kory Holden, but he has the skills to be an effective college point guard. The influx of new players will keep the ceiling on this year’s team slightly lower than last year, but they will be finish in the top four and contend for the CAA’s lone bid to the tournament.