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Meet UNCG, the three-shootin’, ball-hawkin’ SoCon contenders

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Wes Miller has the best team of his tenure.

NCAA Basketball: NC-Greensboro at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

NC State will host UNC-Greensboro on Saturday for what will be the last potential non-conference test left on the schedule. UNCG is coming off a 25-win season and returned three starters from that team, along with some other pieces of its rotation. The Spartans are 7-3 this season with road losses to Virginia, Wake Forest, and, oddly enough, Presbyterian.

It pains me to say it, but Wes Miller appears to be doing a pretty good job. After the Spartans bottomed out at 315th in the Pomeroy Ratings in his third season, he’s had the program on a steady upward trajectory, and they are ranked 114th heading into this weekend. The Spartans are projected to finish 12-6 in league play.

Spartans Offense

UNCG OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
UNCG OFF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2018 103.4 (162) 50.2 (197) 19.9 (201) 31.0 (121) 27.0 (310) 48.7 (11) 47.8 (236) 35.2 (165)
2017 107.7 (113) 52.4 (86) 19.9 (272) 34.3 (33) 30.1 (299) 38.8 (113) 50.4 (126) 37.0 (79)

The Spartans shoot a ton of threes, and unfortunately, they’re hitting a decent amount of them. Their team 3FG% of 35.2 is a smidge above the national average of 35.0. They’re led by junior guard Francis Alonso, who has made 48.6% of his three-point attempts against D-I opponents. (UNCG has played a pair of non-DI schools this season.) Alonso is a career 42.7% three-point shooter.

Two other guys on the roster have already attempted at least 50 three-pointers. They like those outside shots quite a bit, and their willingness to take ‘em is a big part of their threat since one good day from the perimeter can swing an upset in their favor. The Spartans finished 13-26 from three at Wake Forest and nearly picked up a nice road win in the process.

NC State’s defense needs to be smart when defending ball screens, rebound well, and hopefully take advantage of UNCG’s middling ball security.

Early in Miller’s tenure, his Roy Williams influence was apparent in the team’s tempo, but no longer. The Spartans have been playing at a more deliberate pace over the last few seasons and this year they rank 262nd in average possession length. So they are not likely to want to push the pace too much offensively.

Only 15.2% of their offensive possessions have come in transition situations, and they rank 205th nationally in points per transition possession. They aren’t going to make a living there.

Starters

Francis Alonso (6-3, 185) — Alonso shoulders an immense portion of UNCG’s offense, as both the primary distributor and the alpha dog scorer. He averages more than 21 field goal attempts per game despite averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game; the dude wakes up ready to shoot. When he is on the floor, he takes a third of the team’s shots. He much prefers jumpers to anything else, as he’s taken nearly twice as many threes as twos in his career.

Demetrius Troy (6-0, 187) — He’s a career 36.4% three-point shooter but is hitting well under 30% so far this year, so he’s likely to get better from distance as the season progresses. Let’s just hope he doesn’t decide to start on Saturday. He’s also a pretty good passer, though is turnover rate is much higher than Miller would like. Don’t expect him to be shooting many free throws. (11 attempts all year.)

Marvin Smith (6-6, 205) — Smith is the only UNCG player aside from Alonso averaging in double figures, mainly out of sheer determination. Against D-I foes this season, he is shooting 32.1% from two and 33.3% from outside. These numbers are not atypical.

James Dickey (6-10, 200) — The Raleigh native is a tremendous rebounder at both ends of the floor and probably the best overall rebounding big man in the Southern Conference. In league play last season, he finished third among SoCon players in OR% and first in DR%. He is also an excellent shot blocker. These areas comprise the bulk of his value, since he’s not a major part of the scoring and he’s highly turnover-prone.

Jordy Kuiper (6-9, 250) — Likewise, Kuiper is not a significant part of UNCG’s offense, though unlike Dickey, he’s more than willing to shoot it from three. This has not gone well for him, but hey, he keeps plugging away.

Bench

Isaiah Miller (6-0, 180), Kyrin Galloway (6-8, 215), Malik Massey (6-3, 195), Kylia Sykes (6-5, 195). Miller plays assertively out of the off-guard spot, and he’s been effective scoring inside the arc. At this early point in his career, he’s no threat to score from outside. Galloway is an excellent rebounder and is a career 74.4% shooter in the paint, though his attempts are few and far between. Massey will provide some three-point scoring punch but that’s about it.

Spartans Defense

UNCG DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
UNCG DEF_EFF (rank) eFG% TO% OR% FTR 3FGA/FGA 2FG% 3FG%
2018 98.7 (75) 46.8 (58) 23.9 (21) 23.4 (25) 44.1 (316) 38.7 (208) 49.2 (153) 28.8 (18)
2017 104.5 (173) 50.2 (153) 19.4 (122) 30.4 (230) 34.8 (171) 36.9 (203) 47.6 (101) 36.4 (259)

UNCG’s defense is significantly better this season, and if the Spartans have a breakthrough in the SoCon, this will be the reason why. Dickey and Galloway have helped the Spartans shut down second-chance opportunities, while the guards have done an excellent job forcing turnovers—UNG ranks seventh nationally in steal percentage. They keep this up and they’ll be a big problem for everyone else in that league.

The Spartans have also been lucky, though: D-I opponents have made only 28.8% of their three-point attempts. Even teams that play great perimeter defense would have a difficult time sustaining that number over the course of a full season. And the Spartans won’t, but if their current strengths remain at an elite level, it’s not going to prove a crippling change.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes NC State by 7.