While most UNF students were enjoying their holiday break, the UNF men’s basketball team was traveling the country playing a series of tough games. UNF has now moved into the season-within-the-season as they start Atlantic-Sun Conference play. Over the past month, a few themes have emerged that will determine the success of UNF against A-sun competition.
Free throw shooting
This season the team is making the freebies. UNF is shooting a combined 69 percent from the free-throw line, which is nine percentage points higher than last season. Four out of the five starters are shooting over 70 percent, with Parker Smith leading the team at 88 percent.
Starting lineup shuffle
The current starting lineup is not the starting five that head coach Matthew Driscoll envisioned when he started the season. This season was supposed to be the year of the seniors, with all five projected starters in their final year of eligibility, but things have changed. Senior Jerron Granberry took a leave of absence from the team after the death of his father, and it’s doubtful that he will return. True freshman Beau Beech has stepped in to take Granberry’s place and has played well, averaging 14.8 points and 4.7 rebounds over the last four games. Senior Andy Diaz missed five games with a knee injury, and his replacement junior Travis Wallace played so well during Diaz’s absence that Driscoll chose to keep him in the starting lineup even after Diaz returned to 100 percent health. Wallace has been the most consistent player for UNF over the last seven games averaging 20 points and 6.7 rebounds during that stretch.
Lack of Bench Scoring
Diaz is settling into his new role as a bench player, scoring double digits in three out of the last four games, but the rest of the second unit has been lackluster at best. Junior Charles McRoy, who started 19 games as a sophomore last season, has been spotty from behind the three-point line, shooting 29 percent for the season. The drop-off at the point-guard position is perhaps the most significant. Will Wilson is having a career year as the starter, averaging 6.5 assists per game, but his backup, true freshman Ray Rodriguez, has struggled to produce at the college level. Rodriguez is averaging 0.6 points and 0.8 assists over the last five games.
Emergence of Beech
UNF has started to develop balanced inside-outside scoring with the inside scoring of Wallace and the long range ability of Parker Smith, but freshman Beau Beech has started to become a viable third scoring option. Beech is shooting 40 percent from the three-point line and his 6-foot-8 frame has helped amass 22 steals for the season, which is second on the team. The team and coach Driscoll trust in Beech enough to the point of electing him to attempt the last shot in a close loss to FGCU on Jan. 7.
UNF has suffered two early conference losses, both due to cold shooting and poor defense. If the team can plug up the holes in their play, they can easily finish in the top three in the A-sun, but it won’t be easy.
UNF continues conference play with a home game against Mercer, Thurs. Jan. 10.