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With the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament slated to get underway at 10:30 a.m. Thursday morning, The Jug took some time to speak with Sydney Hunte at the Pickaxe Digest to discuss the first round match up. Here’s what Hunte had to say about Charlotte (and for the second half of the interview, you can view my responses to his questions here):
Who are the standout players for the 49ers coming into 2013-14?
This team begins and ends with point guard Pierria Henry’s play. Not only is he the unquestioned leader of this team, he’s one of the better defensive players in the country. Coming in he’s averaged 17.0 ppg, 4.0 apt and nearly five steals an outing. Shawn Lester, a sophomore who sat out last season after being found academically ineligible, looks like he’s ready for the college game as he’s averaged 17.0 ppg in his first three collegiate contests. Outside of that, I’ve been impressed with the start by Mike Thorne Jr. A redshirt sophomore who played limited minutes last season, he’s burst onto the scene this year (13.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg). Then, there’s Willie Clayton. Clayton is a hard-working grinder that can score (13.0) as well as crash the boards for you (9.7 rpg). He was named one of ESPN.com’s top 50 freshmen last season and looks to continue his development in his sophomore season.
You mentioned the heavy dose of freshman K-State is looking for immediate contributions from, but Charlotte looks pretty young itself. How ready is this team to deal with early-season adversity?
I think that if the aforementioned players play at a high level over the season, then they’ll be good to go. I’m a little concerned about who can pick up the slack if one or a couple of them go down. They have a pair of freshmen (Markie Bryan and Cam Blakley)–the jury’s still out on those two but Bryan has gotten the most minutes out of the first year duo. Junior Terrence Williams does have 14.0 ppg, but a lot of that is from the free throw line (22-30) as he’s only 9-35 from the field; he’s also turned it over 14 times, the most out of any player on the team.
There are a few things that this team truly lacks: consistent free throw shooting (70.5% in the early going) and a legitimate outside threat. Ben Cherry (transfer from Tulane and a 50% three point shooter last season) was supposed to be that, but he has opened the year 0-9 from beyond the arc. Sophomore Denzel Ingram (who has been injured to start the year) may provide that part of the game for Charlotte.
By my count, this is Alan Major’s fourth year in charge of the program. Taking over for Bobby Lutz brings some serious expectations. In one sentence, what direction you believe he has Charlotte going?
In the right general direction, but still a work in progress. To elaborate, this fan base is hungry for an NCAA bid, and Major hasn’t delivered yet despite improving his win total each year. But peel things back and you’ll see that the team, for the most part, has faded down the stretch; they made the NIT last season (so that’ s a plus) but there has to be more. Many didn’t think he deserved the contract extension he received in the offseason, so the onus is on him to win and win now, or the uprising will be that much greater.
I’m picking an eight point victory for the Wildcats. Care to dispute my prediction?
I think it will be a lot closer–in fact, I’ll go as far as to pick Charlotte in single digits. I doubt they’d beat last year’s squad, but this season, they’ve got a solid chance.