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NCAA Tournament Profile: Get to know the UNCG Spartans

Wes Miller’s group is in the tournament for the first time since 2001.

Wes Miller addresses his team in a game earlier this season.
Joseph Rodriguez/Greensboro News and Record

History:

UNC Greensboro will make its third NCAA Tournament appearance since joining Division I in 1993-94 and its second appearance as a Southern Conference member. The Spartans last made the Big Dance in 2001, when David Schuck’s buzzer-beater gave them a thrilling 67-66 win over Chattanooga in the conference title game.

The Spartans joined the Southern Conference prior to the 1997-98 season. In their first season in the conference, they won just nine games, finishing 9-19 with six conference wins under then head coach Randy Peele. It would be just three years later and under the direction of second-year head coach Fran McCaffery that the Spartans cut down the nets in Greenville.

As a 16 seed, the reward for McCaffery’s Spartans was a game with top-seeded Stanford in the opening round of the 2001 NCAA Tournament. The Cardinal won resoundingly, 89-60.

UNCG has been busy developing and advancing its tradition over the past three seasons, making three-straight postseason appearances under current head coach Wes Miller.

In 2016, the Spartans finished 15-19, however, were invited to the College Basketball Invitational. That was the beginning of the transformation of the UNCG basketball program, as the program garnered its first postseason win as an NCAA Division I member, defeating Houston Baptist in the opening round.

In 2016-17, the Spartans broke through to tie both East Tennessee State and Furman for the regular-season Southern Conference title, and due to tiebreakers, were guaranteed at least an invite to the NIT.

That’s what happened, as UNCG lost to ETSU in the title game, relegating the Spartans to a trip to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. UNCG finished with a school-record 25 wins, and it was just the program’s third 20-win campaign in Division I.

Of course, the Spartans have already eclipsed that school-record total of 25 victories last season, entering the NCAA Tournament with a 27-7 mark.

The final nugget of note about the Spartans is the emergence of its head coach, Wes Miller. Miller took over the program on Dec. 13, 2011, as the interim coach following the sudden resignation of Mike Dement.

When Miller took over, the Spartans were 2-8. After losing his first six games as the head coach, Miller’s Spartans reeled off seven-straight wins and went 11-5 in their final 16 games. Miller was named conference Coach of the Year and the administration to removed the interim tag.

Players To Know:

The Spartans are led by a tremendous inside-outside punch, which includes a three-guard system that has been effective all season.

Francis Alonso (15.6 PPG, 2.4 RPG) leads the backcourt and was named the Southern Conference Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. It was his three-pointer with 20 seconds left that helped the Spartans edge Wofford, 56-55, in the semifinals.

Alonso has connected on a single-season school-record 110 triples this season.

Demetrius Troy (7.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG), and UNCG’s best on-the-ball defender, Marvin Smith (12.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG) join Alonso in the backcourt. Smith, 6-6 guard/forward, is a slasher on offense, and can score in a variety of different ways. He was a second-team All-SoCon selection.

The frontcourt is led by one of the best rim protectors in mid-major basketball, in sophomore 6-10 center James Dickey III (8.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 71 blocks). Dickey was the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year, and leads the league with 71 blocks this season.

Freshman Isaiah Miller (8.5 PPG, 3.2 RPG) is electrifying. Miller made the SoCon All-Freshman team and is known for his high-flying dunks as one of the best leapers in the SoCon.

Finally, keep an eye on Jordy Kuiper (7.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG). It was Kuiper who finished with a team-high tying 13 points and had five boards in the win over ETSU. His two clutch threes in the opening moments of the second half for the Spartans were huge in helping them pull away.

Why Will The Spartans Be A Tough Out In the NCAA Tournament:

Quite simply, the Spartans are about as good defensively as anyone in the NCAA Tournament. UNCG enters the postseason ranking sixth nationally in scoring defense (62.4 PPG).