Paydirt Pete and Norm the Niner should have some fun should they ever meet on the football or basketball sidelines. One of the more interesting and exciting additions to C-USA from a basketball standpoint is Charlotte. The 49ers have a pretty good basketball tradition, are located in a major city in a basketball crazy state, and are coming off a trip to the NIT. Here's a closer look at one of UTEP's newest conference foes:
11 NCAA Tournament appearances
7-12 NCAA Tournament record
1 Final Four
1977 was Charlotte's Final Four year. They joined in-state juggernaut UNC in the '77 semifinals along with UNLV and Marquette. They lost to eventual champion Marquette by only 2 points in the National Semifinal.
Last Tournament Victory:
In 2001, the 49ers mildly upset Tennessee as a 9 seed. They lost in the next round to regional #1 seed Illinois.
Last Tournament Appearance:
2005. Bobby Lutz's team earned a 7 seed in the '05 tourney but was upset in the first round by North Carolina State.
90's-early 2000's. During the 13 year period from 1992 to 2005, the 49ers made an excellent 9 tournament appearances.
Eddie Basden (02-05), Byron Dinkins (85-89), Charles Hayward (97-99), DeMarco Johnson (94-98), Jarvis Lang (90-95), Cedric Maxwell (73-77), Melvin Watkins (73-77), Henry Williams (88-92)
Dale Halton Arena, capacity 9,105
2012-2013 Average attendance = 6,001
Head Coach: Alan Major
Coach Major is entering his 4th year as head man at Charlotte. Before landing the head coach position, he was a long-time assistant under Ohio State's Thad Matta. His teams have steadily improved in his first 3 years as he tries to build the program to its glory days. He went 10-20 his first year, 13-16 his second year, and then 21-12 last year making the NIT.
21-12 Overall, 8-8 in Atlantic 10 play
The 49ers stormed out of the gate going 9-0 to begin the year. They had key wins against East Carolina, Xavier and NCAA Tourney teams La Salle and Butler. Their notable losses include Miami, Florida State, VCU, and Temple and Saint Louis twice.
Charlotte loses a few key players but retains a double digit scorer in Pierria Henry. Henry is a 6'4 wing who does a little bit of everything for his team (10.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.5 spg). The 49ers were a solid rebounding team in 2012-2013 (45th in the nation) without a dominant rebounder. They rebounded from every position and players like Henry, Williams, and Clayton are capable of nabbing 5-7 rebounds per game each. This team will still be young and adjusting to a new conference will be a challenge. Ivan Benkovic is a 40% 3-point shooter, although he saw scarce minutes off the bench. Mike Thorne is a relatively untested sophomore center who may or may not receive an expanded role this year. If not Thorne, then perhaps true freshman Cameron Blakely will get significant minutes.
ECU fans should be excited to have an in-state rival (even if it is for just one year) and one that is very much on their level as a basketball program on the rise. Alan Major and his program made great strides a year ago, but how much of their 21 wins were padded by an easy early schedule? The Niners lost 10 of their last 16 games down the stretch, even though that stretch included wins against Butler, Xavier, and UMass. Having a backcourt core that has played together for a year certainly helps. We'll see soon enough how Charlotte adjusts to their new conference.