The UNC Wilmington Seahawks, the high-energy, tempo-pushing, four guards out, one post in, champions from the Colonial Athletic Association are back in the NCAA tournament.
Head coach Kevin Keatts took over the program three years ago after the Seahawks finished last in the CAA. The transformation of Seahawk basketball has been on full display ever since, as UNC Wilmington has shared or won the regular season conference championship each of the last three years.
The Seahawks continue to set school records this season, first with the most wins in a single season, posting a 29-5 record and counting. By virtue of winning this year’s conference tournament, they now have six CAA tournament titles, tied for most all-time.
How They Got Here
This year’s team has grown into a special group with senior guard Denzel Ingram at the helm, versatile Chris Flemmings, active reserves providing depth, and the emergence of their sophomores C.J. Bryce and Devontae Cacok.
Devontae Cacok added another dimension to an offense that was already explosive. Cacok shot 80 percent from the field throughout the year, giving the Seahawks a consistent threat on the interior. He is also the defensive linchpin that protects the paint and allows the wings and guards to be aggressive on the perimeter.
C.J. Bryce, who leads the Seahawks in scoring at 17.6 points per contest, is also having a breakout season. His versatility to attack off the bounce, shoot it from deep, and his in-between game has relieved the pressure from Ingram and Flemmings to generate offense every night.
How They Can Advance
UNC Wilmington thrives off an up-tempo pace and wants 94 feet of pressure as often as possible. The perimeter will need to shoot the ball consistently in order to achieve success, as the Seahawks’ offense is designed for a high rate of jump shots. Their high pick-and-roll offense must have good spacing which will allow for Cacok to be at his best, thus allowing him to be the contributor they need.
Jordan Talley, Ambrose Mosley, and Marcus Bryan will have to play huge minutes off the bench. Talley and Mosley are perimeter defenders who are capable of allowing the Seahawks to continue their full-court pressure. Bryan rebounds the ball well and makes the opposition work to get good looks in the paint. He is vital to the Seahawks’ success, as he can spell Cacok to prevent foul trouble and give him some rest.
Most importantly, UNC Wilmington is a tough out when Ingram and Flemmings are locked in. Flemmings does all the little things that are needed for a team to be successful. He plays defense — at times guarding bigger post players — he rebounds, he is a matchup nightmare for defenses, and gets to the foul line. He’s the glue guy.
Ingram is the heart. When the Seahawks need a play, need some energy, or look out of sync, he’s the one who brings them back. In a tight game, he has the confidence and capability to answer the bell.
How They Can Lose
If the Seahawks are to be beat, the first thing a team must do is take care of the basketball. The Seahawks will come at you possession after possession trying to force you into turnovers and for more opportunities to score. Controlling the tempo is a must as a team must make UNC Wilmington play a half-court style.
The Seahawks are thin in the front court, so a team with size can be detrimental. Having players who can score and be active in the paint need to go right at Cacok, who has been known to get into foul trouble. Look for teams to try to take advantage of the 3/4 spots because the Seahawks are undersized with their four-guard lineup.