Other than UNC Greensboro’s coaching staff, Steve Forbes probably knows as much about the Spartans’ basketball team as anyone on the planet.
Forbes, an Idaho assistant from 1998-2000, just completed his third season as head coach at East Tennessee State, which has battled UNCG for Southern Conference supremacy the past few years.
The teams collided three times this year with UNCG holding a 2-1 edge after winning the SoCon Tournament championship. ETSU beat the Spartans a year ago in the title game.
Forbes said the 13th-seeded Spartans, who face No. 4 Gonzaga in Boise on Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, aren’t a typical undersized, mid-major program that tends to struggle against bigger, stronger teams.
The Spartans have good size inside with 6-foot-9 Jordy Kuiper, 6-8 Kyrin Galloway and SoCon defensive player of the year James Dickey. They swatted a school-record 14 shots against East Tennessee State in a regular-season game, including eight by the 6-10, 200-pound Dickey.
“They have the length to guard post players and change shots at the rim,” Forbes said. “Where they’re pretty good is if you beat them off the dribble, they can change shots with their length and they do a pretty good job keeping the ball in front of them.
“Gonzaga is going to be different. They didn’t guard our ‘4’ man and (Dickey) kind of played like a spy linebacker. You’re going to have to make the extra pass.”
Forbes had high praise for guard Francis Alonso, who ranks among the national leaders in 3-pointers made and attempted.
“In my 29 years of coaching, he’s as good as anybody I’ve coached against moving without the ball,” Forbes said. “They’re really good at finding him. He’s really good at catch-and-shoot and putting his head down and driving and drawing fouls.”
Defense carries the Spartans, who usually press three-quarter or full-court before falling back into man or zone. UNCG is plus-50 in turnovers, but miscues aren’t the only goal of the extended pressure.
“It’s probably more of a nuisance press than a create turnovers press,” Forbes said. “They want you to use up time. They’ll come out of it if you score on it, but you have to attack it.”
Forbes boiled the matchup down to a few keys.
“UNCG is going to have to make double-digit 3s to win and get to the free-throw line,” he said. “Threes and frees.”