The Assignment: UNCW’s 2012-2013 season was full of greatness from forward Keith Rendleman, who became just one of eight players in CAA history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. Rendleman has graduated but with a new group of coaches and players, UNCW could be positioned for a better finish in the CAA. Explain how experience will work in the Seahawks favor.
If you found yourself thinking Sherrod Wright didn’t get much help last season, imagine what it was like to be Keith Rendleman. UNCW’s bouncy forward put together the best season of his prolific collegiate career to average 17.0 points and 10.5 boards. For the second straight year, Rendleman was a First Team All-CAA player.
Rendleman is the Seahawks’ all-time leading rebounder, and ranks fifth in the CAA with 1,055 caroms. He’s fourth on UNCW’s career scoring chart with 1,516 points. Rendleman also averaged 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks per contest, and was a member of the CAA All-Defensive Team. Rendleman tied with Jerrelle Benimon for the second-most double-doubles in the country (20).
Unfortunately, Rendleman was the only Seahawk to average in double figure scoring, and now he’s gone. But the 2013-2014 UNCW Seahawks will have a much different look than last year’s product. If a revamped coaching staff can help them turn their road woes around, they could actually improve across the board.
You see, the Seahawks were an epically poor road team, and won just one game away from Trask. The Seahawks were 9-5 at home, and came up with notable conference wins against regular season champion Northeastern, perennial contender George Mason, and a Georgia State team was 4-0 on the road against the CAA’s top five teams.
Even so, a 10-20 record, including a 5-13 mark in conference play, is obviously disappointing for a historically successful Wilmington program. As a result, the coaching staff went through a massive transformation. Fourth-year head coach Buzz Peterson chose to part ways with assistants Jamie Kachmarik and Dante Calabria, and brought in two men with D-I head coaching experience to help him on the sideline.
Eddie Biedenbach, formerly the head coach of UNC-Asheville, stepped down from his head coaching position to become the associate head coach at Wilmington. In his 17 years at UNC-Asheville, Biedenbach accumulated 256 victories, and led the Bulldogs to consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances in 2011 and 2012. Biedenbach also compelled UNCA assistant Kevin Easley to become the director of basketball operations at UNCW.
Further experience will be brought by Houston Fancher. Fancher followed Peterson as Appalachian State’s coach, where Fancher coached for nine years. Then, Fancher took another page from Peterson’s book, and served director of basketball operations at Rocky Top, where Peterson previously served as a head coach. Fancher has 181 career wins as a head coach.
The new group of coaches and mainstay Andre Gray will oversee a squad that lost one of the program’s all-time greats in Rendleman. However, they will have the benefit of an experienced group that will be motivated by the fact that it will be eligible for postseason competition in ’13-’14. Add in a pair of SEC transfers, a talented JUCO player, and a lengthy freshman center, and you can see that this roster is largely restocked.
We know the value of senior guards, and the Dubmen have a bunch of those. One of them, Chris Dixon, may be the odds-on favorite to lead the team in scoring. Dixon filled the box score to the tune of 9.8 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists last season.
When Dixon took over as UNCW’s primary point guard, ball-handling vastly improved. Dixon was up to 12.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 4.1 assists in conference play. For much of last season, UNCW’s backcourt was like a game of Russian Roulette, but Dixon emerged as its steadiest contributor.
Craig Ponder, is the same age as some of his senior teammates, but a prep year and a foot injury early in the ’11-’12 season equate to Ponder being just a redshirt sophomore. Ponder averaged 8.5 points as a redshirt frosh, and showed the ability to score in bunches. He’ll be an important player on this team, but he’ll need to improve his shot selection.
Cutting down on turnovers will be crucial for every Seahawk. Buzz Peterson harped that his team needed to “value the basketball,” with which it was often careless. The Seahawks averaged 14.9 turnovers in road games. Aside from Dixon and sharpshooting senior Tanner Milson, every key member of the rotation had more turnovers than assists.
This is another area where seniority can benefit the Seahawks. Early word from Brian Mull indicates that newcomer Ben Eblen might be the pass-first floor general Peterson needs. If you’re wondering why that’s a familiar name, it’s because Eblen was a VCU commit under Anthony Grant, and followed Grant to Alabama.
In his three seasons in Tuscaloosa, Eblen was the point guard backup off the bench. He’s more comfortable as a facilitator than as a scorer, which might be exactly what the Seahawks need. Eblen is also renowned for his defensive abilities. His veteran presence will be huge for a team that averaged 14.3 turnovers per game last season.
The Seahawks went the JUCO route to add talent and experience in shooting guard Addison Spruill. At 6’4” and 220 pounds, Spruill is a burly, physical guard who can make things happen in the lane. He’ll big a big part of this team, and a possible starter.
Another guy who could be in for an uptick in production is junior guard Freddie Jackson. Jackson averaged 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds last year, and scored in double figures in UNCW’s final two home games. Before the additions of Eblen and Spruill, Jackson seemed like a likely starter. That could still be the case, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Earlier in the offseason, Peterson expressed his desire to play four guards and one big on the floor at the same time. Spruill could make that a possibility, as he could potentially guard some undersized fours. At the same time, UNCW’s frontcourt defense must improve, and that’s an area where Rendleman will certainly be missed. The reality is that there’s enough promise in the post that Peterson may stray away from that idea.
No player demonstrated UNCW’s road struggles quite like forward Cedrick Williams. The rising junior averaged 9.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks at Trask, versus 4.3 points, 5.1 boards and 0.8 blocks on the road. As UNCW’s most experienced big man, Williams will have to find a middle ground that will allow him to be a consistent producer on a nightly basis.
Rising sophomores Dylan Sherwood and Luke Hager should see the court significantly more. Each showed promise in limited action last season. Of the two sophomore forwards Hager is more physically ready to play in the post, and Sherwood has a more polished offensive game. Junior Nate Anderson was limited by illness last season, but should fight for minutes as well.
Redshirt freshman CJ Gettys is the biggest player in the CAA (7’0”, 280 pounds). Gettys played in three games last season, and had season-ending shoulder surgery in early December. He’s a bit of a wild card, but could have a huge impact on a game in a part-time role. No team in the CAA has anyone quite like Gettys.
Right now, a big question for UNCW concerns the eligibility of two forwards. Tennessee transfer Yemi Makanjuola (6’9”, 250 pounds) is a strong body who could help in the post. Makanjuola hopes to be granted immediate eligibility for UNCW. Makanjuola has two years of eligibility remaining, and would probably start alongside Williams in the frontcourt.
Another center, incoming freshman Chuck Ogbodo, is currently fighting the shine of the NCAA headlights. Ogbodo is from Nigeria, and the NCAA is concerned about the number of years he attended high school over there. It is possible that Ogbodo would be considered a sophomore, and have three years of eligibility remaining.
Depending on the outcome of Makanjuola’s case, it’s possible that Ogbodo could redshirt and still have three years of eligibility remaining. After all, it’s tough to finish a degree in three years.
Rising senior Shane Reybold was UNCW’s glue guy, and became a solid contributor in conference play. The former walk-on earned a scholarship in his junior season, and is a hardworking role model for the younger players. He’s a solid defender who should find his way onto the court.
Outside of Rendleman, UNCW’s roster was the figurative box of chocolates. It was difficult to know who would bring what to the court each night. But even without Rendleman, we can’t quickly dismiss UNCW. Biedenbach’s and Fancher’s significant coaching experience cannot be denied. It did wonders for Matt Brady and James Madison last season — call it the Mike Deane effect.
If Eblen can bring stability as the primary point guard, the other pieces should fall into place. Dixon, Milson and Ponder would have more success finding open three-point looks playing off the ball. Jackson and Spruill can shoot it from three, and cause trouble in the lane. The guards should be better this year, and that was one of the things that held the Seahawks back last year.
UNCW has the skilled bodies necessary to have a formidable frontcourt. With so many new faces, this team is tough to peg. The Seahawks should have a good chance to defend their home floor, and should definitely improve on the road. A lower-tier finish in the CAA seems likely, but there’s enough talent and experience for this team to surprise and sneak up the standings in the CAA.