Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Western Carolina Preview: Rebuild or Reload?

Each Monday through Friday for the next two weeks, one of our regular Scanning the SoCon participants will be previewing their team. Today, Jerry Love from Purple & Gold has a preview of the Western Carolina Catamounts.

Replacing the four seniors that took the Catamounts to the SoCon championship game two times in the last three seasons will be a difficult task for Western Carolina.  “It’s an interesting mix,” said Hunter, speaking about his roster of six upperclassmen (two seniors, four juniors) and five freshmen.  Hunter recently had his contract with WCU extended for three years, and will be in his ninth season as head coach with the Catamounts.

“We’re going to get there,” an optimistic Hunter said.“We graduated over 5,000 career points with those four seniors. I don’t know if there’s anyone in Division I that has to replace that kind of graduation loss." he added. But, “The cupboard is not bare is how I’d respond to that…We have some veterans who have contributed, and they are a hungry group who are anxious to step into more significant roles.”

Returning Players

Returning starter, senior James Sinclair, is a 6-foot-3 guard.  “James has been a good solid player for us the past couple of seasons, and he impacts the game in so many ways,” said Hunter. “I think he’s one of the better players in the league.”  Another returning starter expected to shoulder more of the load is senior forward Kenneth Hall. Players who came off the bench last season include juniors Mike Brown (6-3 guard), Rhett Harrelson (5-10 guard), Justin Browning (6-4 forward) and Torrion Brummit (6-7 forward). This junior group played behind a good group of seniors for the last two seasons and will now have their opportunity to move into either starting positions or more significant roles this season. 

James Sinclair (11.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.7 )  “He’s really having a nice career and had a great off season. He’s improved and he’s a great player for us at that two-guard position.”
Kenneth Hall (2.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg)

Rhett Harrelson (2.7 ppg) , 5-11 point guard
Mike Brown (5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 apg)  6-3 wing
Justin Browning (2.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg) 6-4wing
Torrion Brummitt, 6-7 forward

Harrelson and Brown will be counted upon to help Sinclair shoulder the scoring load this season. “We’ll do it a little more by committee,” Hunter said.  “I don’t know if we have a true Trey Sumler that you can count on for 17, 18 points per ballgame. Hopefully we’ll have four, five or even six guys [scoring] between eight and 13.”  Browning will back at his natural wing position. Brummitt is believed to be the first bona fide back-to-the-basket scorer Hunter's had at Western. Hunter said Brummitt’s size will draw double teams from opposing defenses and open up some things on the offensive end.
New Faces - Freshmen

Devin Peterson, 6-1 guard
Tucker Thompson,  6-9 forward
Ashley Williams, 6-5 forward
Aaron Williams, 6-3 guard
Charlendez Brooks, 6-9 forward

Hunter expects contributions from his four true freshmen and redshirt freshman Charlendez Books, especially 6-9 Tucker Thompson, who could work his way into the starting lineup.  Devin Peterson and Ashley Williams may also have an impact early as well. Peterson, has the ability to score and distribute, and Ashley Williams has been impressive with his skill set and toughness over the summer.

Torrion Brummitt, Charlendez Brooks and Tucker Thompson give the Catamounts plenty of size to work with, size that Hunter's teams at Western have lacked.  Size, even if it is unproven at this point.  Thompson has exceeded Hunter's expectations over the summer. “I think he will be hard to keep out of our starting lineup,” Hunter said. “He’s just so good about taking instruction…His hands and feet are better than I thought they were when I recruited him.” Brooks, a 6-9, 270-pound freshman who redshirted last season, provides the Cats with another wide body. “We’ve got some size with some new people we’ve added, but we’re inexperienced more than anything,”  Hunter said.

While the Catamounts will be bigger overall from past seasons, inexperience at key positions will may make another run toward the SoCon championship game tougher this season.

Once again, the Catamounts will be road warriors to open the season, playing 9 of their first 10 games on the road. Western opens the season at Mississippi State (Nov. 14) and Alabama (Nov. 17), and will play at Vanderbilt and Minnesota in those opening ten games.  This season, the Catamounts play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, meeting Oakland, Georgia State and Chicago State in Rochester, Michigan.  The Cats will open conference play this year in Johnson City meeting the Bucs of ETSU. 

Outlook and predictions

Did the Cats reload or are they rebuilding?  With the task of replacing four seniors that scored over 5,000 career points, the Catamounts, on the surface, seem to have an impossible task ahead of themselves. Depending on how well Hunter can blend his veterans and the inexperience of his new players will answer that question.  Hunter is hoping that at the end of his "road warrior" opening round, the Catamounts will be ready to surprise folks as SoCon play starts. Given what the Cats must replace, a 6th place projection is not unrealistic at this time.

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