Similar to the women’s squad, the Men’s Basketball team will be playing their first game of the season against crosstown university, Greensboro College. Taking place this Saturday at Fleming Gym, the men’s game starts at 5pm. But, unlike the Women’s team, Wes Miller’s squad will be facing the Pride in a regular season game, not just an exhibition. However, a season which arguably could had been one of promise, is likely to match the Women’s Basketball team in terms of record and standing. And if you had been following the Women’s program, this is an unfortunate sign. A late exit by a talented starter will have Wes Miller scrambling to find a replacement on a roster filled with youth and inexperience. A black horse shot in the Southern Conference (SoCon) will now likely mean another season in the cellar for UNCG Basketball.
The Chattanooga Mocs were selected as preseason favorites in the conference by coaches in the conference. Spearheaded by reigning Southern Conference (SoCon) Player of the Year, Casey Jones the Mocs return a veteran heavy squad that won 22 games. And if Chattanooga were to slip, other top contenders in the conference include: Wofford (who won a game in the NCAA Tournament last March) and Mercer who fell in the conference championship. With a number of tough teams scattered throughout the conference, it will be difficult for the Spartans to make a deep-run in the conference’s postseason.
Fortunately, it looked as if the Spartans were only losing one starter heading into this new season, sharper shooter Nicholas Paulos. However, a late scratch, (announced this past Saturday) will cause Wes Miller to replace two dynamic guards on his roster. As a starting five, the Spartans looked to have one of the strongest in the conference, however, the lost of Tevon Saddler drastically changes things for UNCG.
In the backcourt, a skilled duo of Saddler and Diante Baldwin is now left solely on Baldwin. A member of the SoCon Preseason team and last year’s leading scoring and assists, Saddler left the team Saturday evening for an undisclosed reason. In a release from the school on Saturday, Saddler will be leaving a team which was going to rely on him to improve their 11-22 campaign last year.
In the backcourt, Baldwin will now be sharing the load with likely starter, Clay Byrd. Like his former running mate, Baldwin missed time due to injury. And similar to Saddler, when he was healthy, the point guard was a solid starter, finishing fifth on the team in points per game (10.2) and fourth on the team with 4.4 boards per game.
However, the lost of Saddler will be a lost UNCG may not overcome. While Byrd and the other returning guards are better after the offseason, Saddler was set to be the primary offensive threat from the guard position. Now scrambling the rotation after losing their best scoring guard, the time of Saddler’s leave and the talent on the bench will hurt Wes Miller and the Men’s team.
In the frontcourt, the team features arguably the strongest power forward-center combination in the conference. Between 6’5 Kayel Locke and 6’8 R.J. White, the Spartans will be the most deadly in the paint. Locke, who was a member of the Preseason SoCon team, was second on the team in points per game (12.6) and second on the team with 5.7 rebounds per game. R.J. White should also create problems for opponents this season. The redshirt junior, who was third in the conference with 6.9 rebounds per game, played in all 33 games for the Blue and Gold a year ago. Rather off the bench as a sixth man, which he came off of in the final 12 games of the season, White is a threat in the post as well as beyond the arc, where he shot with an average of 40 percent last season.
Even without Saddler, the Spartans will compete, if based strictly on their starting five. However, a team is as strong as its bench, and this will be the group which may hold UNCG from being considered one of the top teams in the conference. The team finished in the middle of the pack in most of the conference’s offensive statistics, and that was with Saddler and Paulos.
Players like Byrd and Marvin Smith will do their best to make up for this hole, however, the recent news already thins a bench which had a lot of questions heading into the year. Because of this, it would be surprising to see a deep run in the postseason this year for Men’s Basketball.