With summer winding down and the school year inching closer everyday NinerReport has decided to take a look at five issues facing the Charlotte 49ers men's basketball team for the upcoming season. NinerReport Publisher Tim Parker and NinerReport staff writer Josh Carpenter give their takes on five questions facing this team in Five for Friday.
1. What is the most pressing issue for this team heading into the season?
Josh Carpenter: Charlotte has one of the best frontcourts in the A-10 with the starting trio of Chris Braswell, Shamari Spears and An'Juan Wilderness, and also has a solid option at the 2-guard with Derrio Green and incoming freshman Luka Voncina. The point guard position has to be the biggest question mark for Charlotte heading into this season. We all know Jamar Briscoe can score the ball, ranking second among freshman in 2008 in scoring, but we haven't seen or heard a lot about him on the defensive side of the basketball. Green backed up DiJuan Harris at times last year on the point and Voncina can play either guard spot, so Charlotte's best option will be to do it by committee.
The A-10 is very deep at point guard with the likes of Kevin Anderson, Juan Fernandez and Kwamain Mitchell, so if Charlotte wants to compete, they'll have to get some solid play from that position.
Tim Parker: Can the trio of Briscoe, Green and Voncina play at a high level consistently over the course of an entire season? It will be a huge challenge for the relatively inexperienced backcourt. Green is a junior but has only played one season in the Atlantic 10 while Briscoe and Voncina haven't laced up their shoes for an A10 game yet. In order for Charlotte to succeed this season they will have to count on Voncina to effectively spell Briscoe and Green when called upon. Briscoe and Green are used to playing extended minutes but this will be Briscoe's first tour of a difficult Atlantic 10 schedule. Briscoe's scoring ability has been noted numerous times in print but will he be able to set the defense and effectively distribute the ball around the perimeter and through the paint? That will be something to watch as the season unfolds.
2. Which Charlotte player is poised for a breakout season?
JC: It wouldn't be so much of a breakout season, but I think Chris Braswell is primed and ready for an outstanding sophomore campaign. Braswell nearly averaged a double-double last season (8.6 rebounds, 9.5 points), and can only improve. Braswell's play in 2010-11 will depend on the players around him. If Charlotte gets productive play from the other frontcourt players, it will be tough for opponents to keep tabs on Braswell and will more than likely lead to another great season. Braswell does need to tighten up his offensive skill set and dunk the basketball more, but coach Major's focus on fundamentals and post play should help that.
TP: The popular choice is Chris Braswell but I think this is the year that K.J. Sherrill will really show what he can do. Charlotte returns everybody in the front court but Sherrill should get more than eight minutes a game this season. When he got the chance last year he showed flashes of what he could do, especially rebounding the basketball where he grabbed 57 boards (27 offensive) in 252 minutes of play. Sherrill is still raw offensively but he has the necessary skills to contribute. With some coaching he could develop into a nice player by the time he is done at Charlotte.
3. What should Charlotte fans expect from Jamar "Deuce" Briscoe in his first season at Charlotte?
JC: A lot of points. As mentioned earlier, Briscoe was second in freshman scoring in 2008, trailing only Seth Curry and averaged nearly 18 points per game. But it still remains to be seen what Briscoe can do on the defensive end and whether or not he'll be able to fill the shoes of DiJuan Harris as team leader. If Briscoe is a more dynamic player on offense and not just a scorer, Charlotte will be in contention for a conference title in March.
TP: The biggest attribute about Briscoe that will help Charlotte the most is his ability to score. He's proven he can put up big numbers against good competition when given the opportunity. His presence on the court should open up things offensively in a sense that teams will not be able to put all of their defensive focus on Shamari Spears and Derrio Green. Will he average nearly 18 points a game in his first season with Charlotte? Probably not since he has more to work with here than he did at North Carolina Central but if he averages 13 or 14 points and five assists a game Charlotte will be very tough to handle.
4. What will Charlotte's conference record be and in what position will they finish?
JC: Charlotte's conference schedule didn't get any easier when they kept Richmond, Xavier and George Washington as conference partners. Xavier is almost unbeatable at Cintas Center, Charlotte always has a tough time winning at George Washington and Richmond lost only one home contest in 2009-10 (Cha, 71-59). The rest of Charlotte's conference road schedule will also be very tough, having to play an improved Duquesne team, St. Louis, Rhode Island, Temple and St. Bonaventure. To counter that, Charlotte's home schedule sets up nicely for them with games against Fordham, UMass and La Salle. After the dust settles, I see the Niners splitting the series with GW, Xavier and Richmond and finishing with a 10-6/11-5 conference record, finishing fourth or fifth in the A-10.
TP: Charlotte has the most difficult league slate of any team in the Atlantic 10 this season.
Richmond returns the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year in Kevin Anderson, Xavier should never be underestimated even with the losses of Crawford and Love, and George Washington is going to be vastly improved again. As Josh mentioned the home schedule outside of the paired three and Dayton shouldn't be too difficult for Charlotte to handle but the road games are quite challenging. Two things that Charlotte fans must remember is that the Niners have never won at the Cintas Center and Kevin Anderson is 5-1 against Charlotte, including a 3-0 mark at Halton Arena.
With all that being said I think Charlotte will go 11-5 in league play and finish fourth.
5. Can Alan Major guide this team to the NCAA Tournament in his first season as a head coach?
JC: If Charlotte can work their way into the top four of the A-10 by the end of the year and make some noise in the conference tournament, I see them squeaking into the big dance. To do that, they'll have to pick up some tough wins on the road and take care of business at home. Ultimately, I see the Niners' bubble bursting late in the game and getting a nice seed in the National Invitational Tournament.
TP: It isn't like Major is taking over a team that only won five games a season ago. He is taking over a team that won 19, but failed down the stretch. The out of conference schedule isn't complete yet but as of right now it doesn't seem too daunting for Charlotte and going 8-1 with the current slate of games isn't out of the question.
Charlotte will have to have a good showing in the Charleston Classic and finish in the top four of the Atlantic 10 standings for a chance at an automatic bid. Put me on the record of saying that Major guides this team to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005.