A preview of the UNCG men's basketball team, which will open the season Tuesday night:
Wes Miller, 141-117 (.547) in eight-plus seasons at UNCG, 83-56 (.597) in Southern Conference.
29-7 overall, 15-3 Southern; lost in finals of Southern Tournament; top seed in NIT, lost in second round.
G Francis Alonso (17.6 points, 2.3 assists, 37.1 percent 3FG); G Demetrius Troy (8.0 points, 4.0 assists); F Eric Hamilton (6.1 points, 4.4 rebounds); F Lloyd Burgess (0.6 point, 0.9 rebound).
Junior G Isaiah Miller (15.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 2.9 steals, 2.1 assists, 51.4 percent FG); senior C James Dickey (7.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 1.9 blocks); senior F Kyrin Galloway (9.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 37.9 percent 3FG); senior G Malik Massey (3.2 points, 1.5 assists, 80.6 percent FT); sophomore G-F Kaleb Hunter (5.7 points, 2.2 rebounds, 35.8 percent 3FG); sophomore G Angelo Allegri (3.2 points, 31.3 percent 3FG); sophomore F Mohammed Abdulsalam (1.3 rebounds).
Freshman G Keyshaun Langley (13.5 points, 7.2 assists as senior, two-time state champ at Southwest Guilford); freshman G Kobe Langley (11.5 points as senior, two-time state champ and Southwest Guilford); sophomore G Michael Hueitt (transfer, 5.9 points at Old Dominion, 27.9 points and 5.2 assists at high school senior at Northwood Temple Academy); freshman F Khyre Thompson (6-foot-6 forward from Wesleyan, sat out in 2018-19 as redshirt); freshman G Arnas Adomavicius (shooter averaged 9.2 points as prep player in Lithuania); freshman F Bas Leyte (6-10 big man from Netherlands played at New Hampton School in New Hampshire); freshman F Dericko Williams (6-8 power forward from Winston-Salem Prep, pending clearance from NCAA).
The Spartans are coming off a school-record 29 wins, and they won at least 25 games the last three seasons, when they made two NIT and an NCAA Tournament appearance. Francis Alonso, the sharp-shooting guard from Spain, was the face of those teams. He led UNCG in scoring all four years on campus and graduated as the program’s No. 2 all-time scorer behind Kyle Hines. Alonso changed the culture of UNCG’s program, but now he and starting point guard Demetrius Troy are gone.
UNCG should be a contender in the Southern once again, but this team will look and play different than the teams Alonso led. Junior guard Isaiah Miller had a breakout season and is the best player in the league. A slasher with an improved jump shot, now he’ll have the ball in his hands more. He and 6-foot-10 senior James Dickey are the last two Southern defensive players of the year, and defense will once again be the Spartans’ identity. It’s a veteran team with a talented freshman class to integrate into the system.
Five big games
N.C. A&T (Nov. 5), at Kansas (Nov. 8), N.C. State (Dec. 15), East Tennessee State (Jan. 8), Wofford (Feb. 19). Bonus: Furman (Feb. 26).
Improving role player
Kyrin Galloway moved into the “stretch four” role last season and flourished. The 6-foot-8 senior quietly led the Spartans with a 37.9 shooting percentage from the three-point line, and his 53 threes were second only to the prolific Alonso’s 98. A smart player and committed defender, he finished with more blocked shots (38) than turnovers (32).
Defense. UNCG’s success is built upon its defensive intensity, which has evolved along with the 36-year-old Miller’s coaching style. The Spartans often use a three-quarters-court zone press to take time off the shot clock, and their forwards are long and athletic and are capable of defending on the perimeter as well as inside. On nights when the offense struggles, the defense can bail out UNCG.
With its starting backcourt lost to graduation, UNCG must adjust to a new style of play. A lot of the offensive plays designed for Alonso simply don’t translate to this season's group. And the Spartans will be adjusting while playing a much more difficult non-conference schedule, with tough road games at Kansas, Georgetown, Radford and Vermont.
With new guys and new roles, it takes the Spartans a while to work out a rotation and find a second reliable scorer to go along with Isaiah Miller. They lose all four of the difficult non-conference road games, and head into their league schedule with shaken confidence. East Tennessee State or Furman (or both) have dominant seasons, and UNCG gets bounced early from the conference tournament.
The freshmen blend in seamlessly, with the Langley twins in particular flourishing in UNCG’s pressing defense. Dickey, Galloway and Massey earn respect as leaders and take some of the pressure off Isaiah Miller, who plays free and easy on his way to Southern player of the year honors. The Spartans hold their own in the first semester, dominate at home and get the top seed in the conference tournament. They cut down the nets in Asheville and go back to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 12 seed.