But before we dive into the questions notice in the the game notes for Mason-UNCW
on gomason.com, they list Isaiah Tate as a probable starter for tomorrow. Interesting to say the least.
The Patriots being historically awful at the Trask, and Tate being one of the few veterans on this squad with road game experience, leads me to see why this move is made, but why not Hancock? Anyway, on to the questions:
Q: UNCW seems to be exceeding expectations so far this season. They certainly don't look like a team picked to finish last in the CAA to me. What can you attribute to this early season success so far?
A: A number of factors. There are four new faces in the nine-man rotation and each is making a significant impact, none bigger than John Fields, the 6-foot-9 center who transferred from East Carolina.
He gives UNCW a true defensive presence in the paint and is scoring and rebounding consistently. He's on track to easily break the single-season record for blocked shots.
Also the emergence of fellow big men, redshirt freshman Will O'Huaregbe and true freshman Keith Rendleman (who also starts) has allowed Dominique Lacy to move to the small forward where he's much more effective.
The junior college transfer, guard Ahmad Grant, is growing more comfortable every game and is developing into a nice spark off the bench as the first perimeter sub.
I can understand why the Seahawks were picked 12th (I picked them ninth), but this is a completely different team than the one most fans remember from last season. It's the deepest, most athletic and perhaps most talented in Benny Moss' four years at UNCW.
Q: What do you think of Chad Tomko's progression so far? Is he on his way to becoming that Blizzard/Goldsberry guy we have seen in the past for the Seahawks?
A: Tomko isn't cut out of the Blizzard / Goldsberry mold. He's smaller and quicker than either and not as solid defensively. He's a scorer first, who is still learning how to play point guard and is most productive in the open floor.
After an impressive freshman year, during which he delivered in several big games, Tomko struggled last season. His shot selection was questionable at times and his overall decision making suffered.
But he and Fields developed a good rapport in practice last season and that has carried over to games. Moss likes to say that Tomko is playing like an upperclassman now, and it's hard to argue.
Perhaps most important, Tomko is a fearless competitor and the Seahawks seem to feed off his attitude.
Q: What do you think are the team's biggest strengths and weaknesses this season?
A: Having personnel that fits Moss' style is one of the strengths. Statistically, the Seahawks have done an excellent job guarding the 3-point line (opponents shooting 24.5 percent) and simply playing hard each night, with emotion and confidence.
Stopping dribble penetration has been a weakness. Too many opposing guards have driven into the heart of the UNCW defense.
And on offense, turnovers, especially those that lead directly to points have been a killer. Also, only one player, Johnny Wolf the senior transfer from Xavier, has any postseason experience.
Q: How would you describe the tempo/style of play of UNCW so far this season?
A: They are uptempo. According to the most recent stats, the Seahawks are leading the CAA in possessions per game (75). Of course, playing VMI skews those numbers somewhat.
Still, Moss wants his team to play opportunity or advantage basketball and encourages Tomko to push the ball in transition and create open looks either at the rim or via kickouts to 3-point shooters.
But we know those opportunities tend to dry up as the season progresses. That's the next step this team needs to take: knowing when to run and when to set up a halfcourt set.
Q: Tell us something about this team we can't find on any stat sheet or box score.
A: They like each other. They have genuinely good chemistry and one goal: to bounce back strong from last season.
Going through that 7-win experience was difficult for everyone in the program and from what I've gathered, the players simply want to erase those disappointing memories and have little concern for individual accolades.
Q: The Patriots have not looked good on the road so far and historically struggle when they travel to the Trask. What will they have to do well in this game Saturday to come out with a win?
A: Win the battle in the paint. I think both teams will emphasize guarding the perimeter and limiting transition opportunities. The Mason frontcourt will be as good as any UNCW has faced this season.
Handling the defensive glass and converting scoring chances around the basket will give the Patriots an excellent chance to claim a CAA road win. I'm also interested in seeing the Cornelius-Tomko matchup, among others.