VMI (5-10, 0-4 SoCon) at UNC Greensboro (5-12, 1-3 SoCon)
Jan. 17, 2016, 1 p.m.
Greensboro, N.C./Greensboro Coliseum (12,000)
ESPN3/Scott Pryzwansky (Play-by-Play)/Dave Odom (Color)
GREENSBORO, N.C.--The most crucial game in Southern Conference play probably wasn't the two that featured the top four teams in the SoCon this weekend, but rather the one that features two teams trying to fight their way out of the bottom half of the league.
Most people expected the Keydets to have a tough time in Dan Earl's first season as the head coach in Lexington, but that was not the case as far as the line of thought for the UNCG Spartans coming into the season, as many figured the Spartans to be a dark horse for the Southern Conference crown. Things haven't gone right from the outset of the season for head coach Wes Miller's bunch, who posted their only win of the season in Southern Conference play against Furman, as the Spartans posted a 67-66 win in that contest.
The Keydets have lost three of their four Southern Conference games by 19 or more points, with the only game that was remotely close coming against defending champion Wofford, as the Keydets dropped a 65-61 decision to the defending champions.
The Spartans and Keydets will be meeting for the 18th time on Sunday with the Spartans holding the narrow 10-7 all-time series edge, however, UNCG has won nine of the past 11 meetings between the two, including seeing UNCG claim a pair of double-digit wins over the Keydets last season, including a 29-point win by the Spartans (85-56) in Lexington last season.
A win by the Keydets on Sunday afternoon would mark the first road win by VMI over UNCG in the Greensboro Coliseum since the 1998-99 season. UNCG has won nine of the past 11 between the two. UNCG won 75-63 in Greensboro last season.
What To Watch For UNCG:
UNCG comes into Sunday's matchup looking to put an end to a two-game losing skid, with both losses coming on the road and in heartbreaking fashion, with the Spartans dropping an 86-83 game at ETSU and also an 83-77 game in overtime at Western Carolina.
The good news is UNCG are back at home, where all five wins have come this season. The Spartans finally look like a team starting to adjust to the shocking news of Tevon Saddler's departure just prior to the season.
The Spartans present big matchup problems for the Keydets in the paint, as Dan Earl's club is one of the smaller units underneath in the league, while UNCG brings one of the biggest frontcourts in the league into the matchup.
Kayel Locke (11.4 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and R.J. White (12.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG) power the frontcourt for the Spartans, and it was Locke that had a pair of big games for the Spatans against VMI last season, averaging 14.0 and 8.5 RPG last season.
White has been one of the most reliable player in the SoCon since the start of December, as he has posted 10 out of 11 games since the start of the final month of 2015 in double figures. During the past 11 games, White has averaged 13.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG, while connecting on 69.1% (65-of-94) from the field during that timespan. White enters the game with the Keydets ranking second in the SoCon in both field goal percentage (62.2%) and rebounding (7.3 RPG).
The redshirt junior center has been especially good since the start of Southern Conference play, scoring in double figures in each of the four SoCon games this season, including his first double-double of the season, with 17 points and 13 boards in the win over the Paladins.
Locke had one of his worst games of the season offensively the last time out, as he posted just two points in the loss to the Catamounts.
In the backcourt, the Spartans have begun to show some continuity, with Marvin Smith (9.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG), talented freshman Francis Alonso (11.6 PPG, 1.4 RPG) and Diante Baldwin (10.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG) comprising the spine of the team. Collectively, the trio has started to find some cinergy of late, and last time out, it was Smith leading the way for the Spartans, posting 21 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field, and 4-for-7 from three-point range.
Alonso and Demetrius Troy (7.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG) are two of the most dynamic freshman guards in the Southern Conference this season, and it's been Troy, who was one of the top incoming recruits in the SoCon coming into the season, that has come alive of late and looked every bit as good as that lofty praise he received coming into the season. He posted 16 points for the Spartans the last time out for UNCG.
In fact, both Troy and Alonso have been among the league's most efficient outside shooters this season, with Troy ranking fifth in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage (43.8%) from long range this season, connecting on 14-of-21 from long range. Alonso also ranks in the top 15 in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage (40.6%), while ranking sixth in the SoCon this season in three-point field goals made (41 triples).
Alonso has been near the top or at the top of the freshman scoring list in the SoCon for most of the season, and is a lethal outside shooter. His 11.6 PPG currently leads all freshmen in the SoCon in scoring, averaging 11.6 PPG.
Baldwin and Smith have started all 17 previous games for the Spartans coming into Sunday's contest, with Baldwin, a junior, having enjoyed a strong campaign so far, as he is one of four Spartans averaging in double figures, while ranking third in the SoCon in assists -per-game (4.5 APG) and third in the league in steals (1.8 SPG).
What To Watch For VMI:
VMI continues to have the top scoring threat in the Southern Conference this season, in Q.J. Peterson (17.7 PPG, 6.2 RPG), and he teams with Julian Eleby (14.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG) to form one of the top scoring backcourts in the SoCon. The duo both rank in the top 10 in the SoCon in scoring so far this season, with the duo averaging 38 of the team's 66.5 PPG this season.
Both Peterson and Eleby are the two lone players in the Keydet lineup averaging in double figures this season. The problem at times for Earl is getting his guards to settle down and play a different style of game than they did last season under Baucom, which saw the run-and-gun basketball style of VMI much more freedom and both players had the green light to shoot at all times. Peterson ranks third in the SoCon in three-pointers made this season, having connected on 38 shots from long-range this season.
Austin Vereen (2.8 PPG, ) has found his way into the lineup due his strong play on both ends of the floor, and has been one of the top freshman guards in the SoCon this season. Vereen has been the Keydets' best defensive presence in the backcourt this season, and the recent switch was made to a three-guard offense for Earl, who had been playing three underneath the basket for much of the season.
The other problem for Earl has been getting his team to dedicate itself on the defensive end of the floor, which was something that was not attended to much last season, as the Keydets' defense was their press. Earl has kept the press intact for the most part this season, but it's been more calculated.
After ranking worst in the league in field goal percentage defense last season, allowing opponents to connect on 48% of their shots from the field, there has been a distinct shift defensively this season for VMI under Earl, which has seen opponents' field goal percentages fall by over five percent, as the Keydets rank thid in the but rank third in the league in field goal percentage defense, at 42.9% this season.
The front court for the Keydets has been a combination of Phillip Anglade (6.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG), who is one of the best shot-blockers in the SoCon, currently ranking third in the SoCon in blocks, averaging 1.5 BPG this season. Anglade had an outstanding contest in a recent SoCon game against Wofford, posting 13 points and three blocks in a four-point home loss.
Trey Chapman (8.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG) is a good athlete and the Keydets are at their best when he takes intiative on the offensive end, and he posted one of his better performances of the season in a win over Gardner-Webb earlier this season, with 13 points in the win.
Who Wins: While both backcourts are quick and athletic, the distinct advantage in this contest goes to UNCG because of RJ White and Kayel Locke under the basket, and that's why the Spartans get back on the winning track today, while the Keydets' losing streak extends to five.
UNCG 78, VMI 70