Two Dominant Bigs, One Old, One New. I debated how to break this one down. I thought each man was deserving of his own recognition, but at the same time, there were other positives I want to mention, and there's something poetic about being able to note a veteran big and one who couldn't possibly be more of a rookie in the same section. Devin Thomas was, no doubt about it, an absolute freak of nature. 25 points, 16 rebounds. 10-14 shooting, 5-8 from the free throw line. That's just otherworldly. Freshman John Collins, on the other hand, had 12 points, 5 rebounds, and a domineering 4 blocks. He was 4-6 from the field and a near-perfect 4-5 from the line. Collins really shone as a young big, and I can imagine that Coach Manning is probably very excited to be able to coach a kid like Collins for the next four years. It's also worth noting Devin has noticeably slimmed down, and had far more leaping ability than I've ever seen from him. Not only was he a monster, he was a springy one.
Bryant Crawford. Now hear me out. Yes, he had a team and game high 7 turnovers, but he also had 8 points (largely due to a good 4-6 performance from the line) and 6 assists. Not only that, the long and lanky guard seemed really locked in on defense. From my perspective, he was not only sticking to his man, but also watching the floor when he had spare moments, and I really feel like his long frame is going to make for a lot of opportunities to get into passing lanes. More notably, several of his turnovers were on really nifty passes that, once the team gains a little more chemistry, will probably result in highlight-reel plays. The fact is, Crawford already seems to me to be a more pure passer than Codi Miller-McIntyre, while CMM has an edge driving and finishing at the hoop. Once CMM hopefully gets healthy, I think a backcourt that rotates CMM and Crawford could be extremely fun to watch. If Cornelius Hudson is reinstated at any point, I think between CMM, Crawford, Mitch, and Crab, our backcourt rotation will be extremely solid.
The Defense. Other than some inexcusable rebounding sequences, our defense was really, really good. The Demon Deacons held their opponents to 31% from the field, 24% from three. Combine that with 11 team blocks and you've got yourself a good defensive night. Keep in mind, D-II school or no, Pembroke is known for their ability to fill it up, averaging 80 PPG last season.
Turnovers. 25 team turnovers. 33 UNCP points off said turnovers. That's just ugly. There's no mistaking that that's what had UNCP ahead for much of the first half. If there's good news, it's that 17 of those turnovers came in the first half, so the team tightened it up significantly in the second.
Weird Line-Ups. Granted, you want to experiment during an exhibition, but the line-up with three freshmen and two walk-ons was, frankly speaking, atrocious.
Depth. I hate saying this, because there's no way walk-ons can be held to the same standards, and they are absolutely unsung heroes. Having said that, if this team has to play walk-ons as much as we did on Friday, we might be in some trouble when playing better teams. That being said, even the walk-ons tightened it up in the second half, with Trent VanHorn hitting a nice three in rhythm off an assist from sharpshooter Mitchell Wilbekin.
The Bottom Line
Can't read too much into an exhibition one way or the other, but the fact that the shorthanded Deacs were +23 in the second half is highly encouraging. It's also worth noting that as Division II teams go, UNC-Pembroke is no slouch. We might have a rough start to the season with the toughness of our schedule, but if I'm being honest, even if it brings us sadness in the short term, the fact that Coach Manning prefers tough schedules shows forward thinking and an attutude that winning programs have. Think about the the Kentuckys, the UNCs and the Michigan States of the world. They always have tough OOC schedules, and it pays off in many ways.
This was a good outing that leaves me very intrigued for the rest of the season and, more importantly, the seasons beyond. On to the next. Go Deacs.