It's time to get ready for the Big Sky season again with some overviews of each team this month, and then eventually we'll get into more detailed looks at everything.
What They Lost: The Bears are losing mainly two guys, but they were arguably the two most important players on last year's team. Derrick Barden is the biggest loss, as he was one of the most athletic and versatile guys in the conference. He was a tenacious rebounder on both ends, with excellent rebound rates. He was extremely efficient, shooting 60% on twos and 37% from downtown. Perhaps most importantly for a team that has struggled defensively, he was their best defensive guy, capable of switching onto guards when need be, or banging down low.
Tate Unruh's reign as perhaps the best shooter in the conference ended with his graduation, and he was a great complementary offensive piece for them. He has a pure stroke, and got better off the bounce throughout his UNC career. Big man Connor Osborne graduated, but he saw his playing time decrease last year. Brendan Keane is also no longer on the roster, but he was a fifth big man with a limited ceiling.
Who Returns: Despite the big losses, there is a lot of talent that will be back for the Bears. Guard Tevin Svihovec has had his ups and downs, but has settled in off the ball, where he was much more effective than when he was forced to be the primary ballhandler. Now a senior, Svihovec is very good at getting into the lane and drawing fouls, and shoots just well enough outside to keep defenses honest. He will likely be the guy getting the ball in crunch time for them.
Tim Huskisson is another four year guy that has had his inconsistencies, but you can't doubt his talent. At his best, he is one of the best dunkers in the conference, a very good outside shooter (42% last year), and an athletic defender. The key will be earning the trust of coach BJ Hill throughout the whole season. Joining him upfront is Dominique Lee, who showcased some talent as a JUCO transfer last year. He is an efficient offensive player that doesn't try to do too much, and can be a very effective rebounder as well. Not many teams could lose a guy like Barden and plug in a guy like Lee. Cody McDavis is also back upfront, and showed he could be a good third big man, giving them some nice minutes last year.
In the backcourt, Jordan Wilson was one of the best freshman in the conference, a 5'7'' sparkplug with a good handle and ability to hit from deep. He needs to cut down the turnovers a bit and up the assists, but he has a bright future. He can also be a pest defensively with his quickness. Corey Spence was something of a disappointment in his first year, but is more than talented enough to make a big impact as a senior. He is fearless on the court, but that can be a good and bad thing, and too often last year that worked against him. He is a tough defender with some quickness off the bounce. Anthony Johnson also played some minutes last year as a freshman, and shows potential as a shooter.
Newcomers: Two transfers will be called on to make an impact right away. One is guard Cameron Michael, who played one season at Air Force before transferring. Though he didn't get a ton of minutes in that year, he was brutally efficent when he did play, with a 69% true shooting percentage. He will make an impact right away and be a key contributor for them the next three seasons. Also in is Dwight Smith, who transferred from Colorado State. The 6'4'' guard does all the little things, and will get plenty of minutes as a glue guy in his senior year.
Riak Bol is a junior college transfer that averaged 13 points and 9 rebounds per game, while finishing 6th in the NJCAA in blocked shots. For a team that is a little thin up front, he should get some minutes and could be a nice player for them. Spencer Mathis is a 6'7'' freshman from Las Vegas that is a solid athlete with a high basketball IQ. He seems to be a redshirt candidate depending on how comfortable Coach Hill is with the depth up front.
General Outlook: UNC looked like they were the favorites early last year before falling off in the second half of the conference season. They recovered to come thisclose to knocking off Weber State in the Big Sky semifinals, but came up just short. This year, they lose some of that talent, but also return a lot of key contributors, and bring in some experienced transfers that will make an immediate impact. I see UNC in kind of the second tier in the Big Sky, but it's not overly difficult to posit a scenario where they could be in position to win it. They will be athletic up front, and talented in the backcourt.
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