UNCP went over a few last-minute details in preparation for Saturday’s first-round game against Lincoln Memorial.
The Braves' offense, a transition-heavy attack averaging 93 points per contest over its last five games, is ready for a steady diet of zone defense this weekend, a scheme that’s given the Braves trouble this season. Led by league freshman of the year Quamain Rose, all-conference veteran Shahmel Brackett and an all-region big man, UNCP (22-9) rarely bleeds the clock before setting up for a shot and relies on taking the first available clean look at the offensive end.
“People have a hard time dealing with George (Blakeney) one-on-one in the post, so the solution for a lot of teams has been playing a lot of zone against us,” UNCP coach Ben Miller said. “We’ve worked this week on attacking the zone since teams have struggled in the last month guarding us man-to-man.
“Montevallo played a ton of zone and we didn’t do a good job of attacking.”
The Falcons, a No. 6 seed in this weekend’s Southeast Regional, are the only team that’s beaten the Braves over the last month, shooting a sizzling 63 percent from the floor to down UNCP in last week’s Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinal.
The setback, coupled with a regular-season road loss to the Falcons, likely dropped the Braves down a spot as far as seedings go for the regional. PBC champion USC Aiken earned the region’s No. 1 seed with a 19-win regular season followed by three victories in the conference tournament.
The Braves boosted their at-large resume with an upset of the Pacers in Pembroke on March 2, but if they met during the NCAA Tournament, it would be for a spot in the Elite Eight. USC Aiken is hosting its first-ever Division II regional and is 27-1 at home the past two seasons.
“The seeding (for regionals) was really, really close I thought,” Miller said. “The interesting thing about our regional is that any of those top four teams could’ve been 1s or 2s. If we win a couple more games, we could’ve been a No. 2. A lot of the selections depended on what happened those last few days of the season.
“If you look at all the teams in Aiken this weekend, it shows a lot of parity in our region. There are three great leagues with a lot of good teams in this region.”
Attacking the zone was the focal point in practice Tuesday and Wednesday in preparation for Lincoln Memorial, a program that’s earned three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament and has one of the nation’s stingiest defenses. The 13th-ranked and second-seeded Railsplitters (24-5) have won eight of their last nine games and have been ranked in the NABC/DII Top 25 a South Atlantic Conference record 42 consecutive weeks.
Both teams make their presence felt on the glass as UNCP is the nation’s third-best in rebounding margin (plus 10.6) and Lincoln Memorial ninth (8.7).
“Unless you’re a 1 seed or an 8 seed, seeing is kind of irrelevant,” said Railsplitters coach Josh Schertz. “It’s all about matchups. With Pembroke, they’re a team that’s playing well enough with the confidence that they can roll through and win all three games.
“We’re going to have our hands full, but we’re excited for it. In the Division II tournament, you’ve got to play a high-quality opponent from the opening bell.”
The Braves will have a practice session this afternoon on the floor at the Convocation Center between walk-throughs for the regional’s seven other participants.
USC Aiken is 200 miles south of Robeson County with the quickest route being Interstate 95 to I-20. UNCP and Lincoln Memorial tip-off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday with the winner advancing to play the victor of Barton/Montevallo on Sunday at 5.
Regional tickets for Saturday’s four-game quarterfinals and Sunday’s semifinal doubleheader are $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors. Admission is $10 to Tuesday’s regional final. Tickets will be sold day of event only and no-presale seats are available.
UNCP has met Lincoln Memorial only once in school history, dropping a 64-52 decision to the Railsplitters at home in 2006.