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Profile of a Possible Savior: UNC-Asheville’s Nick McDevitt

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McDevitt is another intriguing option right here in North Carolina.

NCAA Basketball: NC-Asheville at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Nick McDevitt is the 37-year-old head coach at UNC-Asheville who just completed his fourth season.

Important Questions, In Rough Order Of Importance:

1. Has he coached teams that have won a national title, made multiple deep NCAA tournament runs, and/or consistently been highly ranked?

No. Nick McDevitt has up to this point been a UNC-Asheville lifer: he played there, then went straight into coaching on Eddie Biedenbach’s staff after graduating in 2001. He has never coached anywhere else, and while Asheville has made a handful of NCAA appearances over that time, the Bulldogs have never been seeded higher than No. 15, so their runs have not surprisingly been quite short.

Last season, McDevitt, who has been the head coach at Asheville since 2013, led his team to the NCAAs by winning the Big South tournament. The Bulldogs were then smoked by eventual national champion Villanova. Villanova buzzsawed a lot of opponents in that tourney so this is not a mark of shame by any means.

2. Has he built a program from the ground up?

Not really—while UNCA wasn’t very good overall in Eddie Biedenbach’s final season, it did have a winning record in league play. It wasn’t a program that McDevitt had to rescue from the basement of the Big South, though UNCA was a modest 16-16 overall and No. 203 in the Pomeroy Ratings the year before he took over the head gig.

3. Has he substantially improved the program from when he took over?

No question about it. After scuffling during his first two seasons, Asheville has been markedly better over the last two, winning both a league tournament and regular season crown. The latter came this year, as UNCA finished 15-3 in the Big South.

4. Has he succeeded at more than one head coaching job?

UNC-Asheville is his first head coaching gig.

5. Does he have significant high-major experience as either a head coach or an assistant?

None whatsoever. As I mentioned earlier, McDevitt has neither played nor coached anywhere other than UNC-Asheville. He’s from that part of the state, played high school ball there, and has multiple family members who are Asheville alums. The Asheville area has been home to him for a long time.

6. Is his team one of the best in its conference right now?

Yes. In fact, based on UNCA’s performance in league play, it was the best in the Big South: the Bulldogs ranked first in both offensive and defensive efficiency en route to their 15-3 mark. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs season ended abruptly this week when they were upset by Campbell in the first round of the Big South tournament thanks to a 51-point effort from the Camels’ Chris Clemons. Tough way to go out after such a great regular season.

7. Do his teams actually play, what is this thing called, "defense"?

There are encouraging signs but in general this is a complicated matter. The Bulldogs play in one of the country’s worst mid-major conferences, but if we look only at their performance in league play, they’ve never finished worse than fourth in defensive efficiency (out of 11/12 teams) under McDevitt. They finished first in each of the last two seasons.

His last two teams have forced lots of turnovers (12th both years in turnover percentage) and have done well on the glass despite their lack of size.

The overall numbers aren’t great: 306th in adjusted DE his first season, then 260th his second, 89th his third, and 107th in 2017. Still I think those numbers from the last two seasons are pretty solid when you understand the context within which McDevitt has to work. And, shoot the DE numbers from 2016 and 2017 are a lot better than the numbers Gottfried’s NC State teams posted.

8. So how about offense?

This is a bit complicated as well, simply because at a place like UNC-Asheville, there are added concerns and headaches that coaches at high-profile mid-majors don’t have to worry about nearly as much. Namely, guys leaving for bigger opportunities in the spotlight elsewhere.

Following the Bulldogs, NCAA tournament season last spring, freshmen Dwayne Sutton and Dylan Smith both transferred out. Sutton landed at Louisville and Smith is going to Arizona. During his time as head coach, McDevitt has also lost Keith Hornsby to LSU and Andrew Rowsey to Marquette.

Hornsby was a multi-year starter for the Tigers and Rowsey is averaging 11.3 PPG on 45% shooting from three in his first year with Marquette. Asheville has been absolutely gutted by the power conferences over the last four years.

Still, as I mentioned, UNCA had the best offense in the Big South this season, despite having to deal with those major departures. The Bulldogs rank 121st nationally in offensive efficiency. This is just one of those spots were it’s really tough to evaluate a coach on numbers since he’s lost a handful of very good offensive players to Power Six poachers.

9. Any indication that he can recruit McDonald’s All-American-type players?

No. For a school in the Big South that is pretty much impossible. He obviously has done well in identifying talent, given all the dudes that have transferred out once bigger schools realized that they were overlooked out of high school. That’s a point in his favor.

10. Does he have any connection to NC State, North Carolina, or the ACC?

McDevitt is a born and raised western North Carolinian. He has a tangential connection to the ACC, if you count the fact that he worked under NC State alum Eddie Biedenbach for more than a decade. He knows the region well.

11. Any other random red flags or positives?

None that I could find.

Summary:

Would he be better than Gottfried?

Unknown. If his knack for talent identification translates, there’s a good chance he’d be successful in Raleigh, but to what extent, I don’t know. That’s the hard part with these short-track-record guys, particularly guys at the lower end of the mid-major spectrum.

OK, so what is his ceiling?

McDevitt has been outstanding relative to his peers in the Big South, which suggests he knows what he’s doing. But again the question is how much of his approach and method translates to the ACC, which is a huge jump from the Big South. If I had to guess with a gun to my head, I’d say he’d be better than Mark Gottfried but probably not markedly so.

Would he take the job if offered?

According to the USA Today’s salary database, McDevitt is making around $120k per year, so, um, yes. While I’m sure his long-time association with UNC-Asheville would be a consideration, NC State could/would easily quintuple his salary.

How would I feel if he were hired?

Underwhelmed but willing to keep an open mind. McDevitt has done well despite the obvious challenges associated with coaching at UNC-Asheville, which means he has the potential to excel on a bigger stage, but it’s all potential and speculation at this point. He has a decent resume but compared to other guys in the young gun/brief track record category, his case is not as compelling.

How would the fan base as a whole feel if he were hired?

Probably not super enthused.