Non-conference basketball roundup

by Jan 2, 2024Basketball

Photo credit: Charlotte Athletics

Inconsistently consistent

We’ll jump right into this, Aaron Fearne and his staff are coaching for their jobs at Charlotte. If I had to handicap the situation, right now they are on the outside looking in and I’d put money on the next hire being someone not affiliated with the program at this time. The Niners are currently 6-6, including a non-D1 victory over Greensboro College, and 127th overall at Kenpom. I don’t think that’s the type of resumé that will earn Fearne the permanent reigns. To this point in the season, we’ve seen all too familiar offensive flat lines plague the program. In three of the losses to date, Charlotte at one point in time held a double-figure lead.


Tipping off AAC play tonight

The Mustangs enter tonight at 9-4, 50th overall in Kenpom and have won 3 straight after a 2-point loss at Arizona State. Tip-off tonight to open AAC play is at 9pm on ESPN2 at SMU (CLT is +8.5). I won’t delve too far into tonight’s game, but it’ll certainly be a tough way to get conference play started, with FAU (#17 in AP/Coaches) coming to Halton for Saturday’s home conference opener.

Someone to keep an eye on from SMU? Look no further than Guard #1 Zhuric Phelps. EvanMiya.com has Phelps as the fourth best player in the AAC based on the secret sauce.

I’m not a betting man, but I’ll take the under tonight (currently 134.5). SMU is a top-30 defense for adjusted efficiency, and Charlotte is just outside the top-100.


A deeper look

Charlotte fan Andrew Weatherman created the visualization here that showcases Charlotte’s game-by-game efficiency performance for Charlotte in 2023. Give him a follow if you’re into data analytics for MBB. He just launched CBBdata, a new R package offers access to college basketball data like never before.

As you can see, Charlotte was more successful earlier in the season, is that due to teams not knowing how Fearne’s group would play? Is it due to an easier front third of the schedule? It’s time to find out.

The first thing I noticed when taking a look at this is the disparity in defensive PPP in wins and losses. In Charlotte’s 5 wins (this looks at only D1 vs D1 data) they had a PPP of 83.34, and that ballons up to 116.1333 in losses. Second item, Charlotte is 1-4 in games versus Quads 1 and 2. They are 4-2 in Quad 3 and 4 games. One of the common gripes about Ron Sanchez’s “success” was that he feasted on Q3 & Q4 wins and struggled against Q1 & Q2, and the roster he quit on, is having issues breaking through against better competition again.

To Fearne and his staff’s credit so far, this is Charlotte’s best defense (excluding COVID season) per Bart Torvik since Alan Major led Charlotte to the NIT in 2013.


What can this team do to turn the narrative around and secure a deal for interim Head Coach Aaron Fearne?

I think Charlotte will need to finish in the top 4 of the AAC to cement his spot as the next head coach for the job. This year features an 18-game conference slate and will likely need Charlotte to win around 12 games to do it. It’s an uphill challenge, but I that’s how I felt coming into the season. The defense is solid enough to give Charlotte a chance, even with its inconsistencies. The issues ultimately holding back Charlotte are on the offensive end.

Igor Milicic Jr. has flashed this year and has clearly been CLT’s top player, but he needs to be more consistent in league play for Charlotte to surge to the top third of the table. And he needs help. CLT needs someone to step up and be a legitimate threat from the perimeter. Nik Graves is shooting 33.3% from 3pt but he’s only attempted 24 shots. Lu’Cye Patterson is shooting just 28.6% (10-25) and Jackson Threadgill is at 27.8% (10-36). Basketball has evolved to 3’s and paint points, and if you can’t be threat as a team from the outside, the middle gets even more crowded.

There are a few offensive areas that this team is struggling with: a 30.6% average on 3pt attempts places them at 271st in the country. Currently, the Offensive Rebounding % is currently 321st in the country, which is in-line with what we saw from Sanchez led teams as well, and drastically limits second and third opportunities. One, preferably both, of those need an uptick to position Fearne’s group near the top of the AAC.

With the opening tip just about 2 hours from now, we’ll get our one and only road conference game at SMU. Let’s hope things go better on the hardwood than they did on the gridiron, as Charlotte looks to break a 3-game skid versus D1 competition.

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