Last year didn’t finish quite how the UNC Bears wanted it to. The season itself wasn’t ideal for any college basketball team in 2020/2021 as the Covid Pandemic derailed pretty much everything. It was especially tricky for new Bears head Coach Steve Smiley, who took over after Jeff Linder accepted the Wyoming job. Starting your first Division I head coaching job off with virtual recruiting visits, practice and game cancelations and the overall uncertainty of what the next day might bring was no doubt difficult to navigate through. However, UNC managed to win 11 of their 22 games including a first round victory in the Big Sky Tournament. Smiley’s crew lost in the second round to Southern Utah but in the end, I think most fans were simply relieved to have a season and one that yielded a .500 record and movement in the conference tourney. Now year two for Steve Smiley, the expectations are a bit higher than simply completing a season. Although the Big Sky media and coaches preseason poll has UNC picked to finish 5th in the conference, I fully expect the Bears to be in the running for a top 3 seed when tournament time rolls around. If they want to take the next step this year they’ll need their leaders to step up and be consistent with what they do best; shoot the basketball. I have a few key features to watch for that should impact how the 21’/22′ season will go down.
Bodie Hume needs to be one of THE best in the conference: It’s hard to believe the kid from Sterling is already a senior and a clear cut team leader. Bodie was the Big Sky Freshman of the year in 2018 and has been a solid player throughout his career at UNC. But this season, they’ll need him to be great if they want to have any shot at winning a Big Sky title. Last year he averaged 15.9 points per game which led the team but I’d like to see more of the Bodie that scored 30 points in both Big Sky Tournament games to end the season. He has the ability to take over a game and score in bunches but there were times last season where he couldn’t find his shot and struggled from the free throw line. Much depends on Bodie, certainly but he’s not alone.
Daylen Kountz could not only be one of the best, he could be THE best in the Big Sky: Like Bodie, the Bears will rely heavily on the transfer from Colorado. He was just named the Big Sky player of the week in the first week of the season and appears to feel very comfortable in his second season with UNC.
“He’s really made a leap now that we’ve had time to really work with him.” Coach Smiley said on the Hull Show recently. “He had a great tournament. He’s been locked in.”
Kountz averaged 17.3 PPG in the 3 games of the Outrigger classic and the Colorado College contest and looks to be a strong candidate for MVP of the conference. Along with Bodie, I am expecting big things from the senior from Denver.
Kur Jongkuch’s presence on both sides of the floor: Jongkuch has been a steady player for the Bears over the past few seasons but this year they’ll need him to flat out dominate in the rebound category as he’s surrounded by a guard heavy lineup. He averaged 8 RPG last season but I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s finds a way to stay in double digits this year. Second chance opportunities could be huge for UNC and if Kur can up his numbers on the offensive glass, the Bears could win a lot of games. He averaged a little over 2 offensive rebounds per game last season. That’s a number I think he can improve upon this season. Through 4 games he’s already up about an offensive rebound per game at 3.5. With 12 boards against Pacific to start the season, he’s already shown what he’s capable of. I love the play makers on this team as noted above, but they must have a strong, consistent big man to round this roster out if they wish to prove the doubters wrong.
Matt Johnson’s 3 point shooting: Johnson made 48.0% of his 3-point attempts last season, averaging 2.09 per game to rank fourth in the conference and 179th in the NCAA. This team will win a lot of games if they are firing from 3 and at Johnson’s best, he can be lethal from deep. After just 4 games for the Bears, he’s shooting just under 35% from 3. As the schedule gets tougher, that % must increase.
I’m loving this roster. With the above mentioned and key contributors like Dru Kuxhausen, the transfer from McNeese State, JUCO transfer Dalton Knecht and Tre’Shon Smoots, I like the Bears chances of making some serious noise in the Big Sky.