When he meticulously put together his nonconference schedule this summer, Will Wade went looking for opponents who would present early-season challenges for his young team.
He found them in Southeastern Louisiana, which won the Southland Conference regular-season title, and UNC Greensboro, the Southern Conference champion who came close to knocking off Gonzaga, a No. 3 seed, in the NCAA tournament.
So immediately after LSU polished off SLU 94-63 in its opener Tuesday night, it didn’t take Wade long to start talking about what to expect from UNCG in their 7 p.m. Friday matchup in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
Actually, Wade has been talking about it since getting the contract signed this summer with the Spartans, whom he faced twice a year when he was the head coach at Chattanooga from 2013-15.
“I started watching film on these guys a long time ago,” Wade said Thursday. “We put a lot of time into preparing for this game because this is a good game for us. They’re a very, very veteran team.”
Wade quickly pointed out that UNCG, which opened its season with a 74-66 victory over North Carolina A&T on Tuesday, has the nucleus of last season’s 27-8 team back.
That includes the reigning SoCon defensive player of the year in James Dickey, a 6-foot-10 forward who got his junior season off to a rousing start with seven points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks in just 25 minutes against North Carolina A&T.
“The big kid, Dickey, is phenomenal,” Wade said. “He’s a big-time shot-blocker, an elite level shot-blocker.”
Other key players for UNCG, the preseason favorite to repeat as SoCon champs, are guards Francis Alonso, a first-team all-conference selection a year ago, and Demetrius Troy.
“It’s a big game … they’re very, very good,” Wade said. “This is going to be a big test for us moving forward here. They’re an elite offensive rebounding team. They were 35th in the country last year in offensive rebounds.”
That’s one of the main concerns for Wade, whose team will counter Dickey with a frontline that features freshmen forwards Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams — a pair of five-star recruits.
The 6-10 Reid piled up 17 points and six rebounds in his LSU debut, while the 6-7 Williams muscled his way inside for 12 points and 10 rebounds as the Tigers outrebounded the Lions 43-32.
Wade said they’ll get a much tougher test from UNCG than Southeastern, which came up with 12 offensive rebounds — much to his dismay.
“If we don’t get a little more physical and hit bodies and block out better than we did on Tuesday night, we’re going to get bludgeoned on the glass,” he said. “Rebounding is going to be a huge challenge for us.”
Making sure his team doesn’t underestimate UNCG will be another important part of the game plan.
Last season, the Spartans upset North Carolina State 81-76. Trailing by 15 at halftime, UNCG went on an 18-2 run to start the second half and never relinquished the lead in pulling off the stunning win.
“They’re not going to get rattled,” Wade said.
In the NCAA tournament, UNCG had Gonzaga squarely on the ropes when it led 64-62 with 1:49 left and had a chance to regain the lead with 41 seconds to play before falling 68-64.
Wade’s players have certainly heard about it throughout the summer.
“They gave Gonzaga all they could handle. … We’ve talked about them,” he said. “Our team is well aware of what a good program they have, what a good team they have, what good players they have.”
WHAT: UNC Greensboro at LSU
WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Pete Maravich Assembly Center
ONLINE: SEC Network+ (Watch ESPN)
RADIO: WTGE-FM, 100.7; WWWL-AM, 1350; KLWB-FM, 103.7
UP NEXT: vs. Memphis, 6 p.m. Tuesday
• Six LSU players scored in double digits in its win over SLU, the first time that’s happened since 2011.
• UNCG’s James Dickey had seven blocks in the season opener, which has him tied for the national lead.
• Since joining the Division I ranks, UNCG is 0-8 against Southeastern Conference schools.
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Demetrius Troy 6-0 Sr. 0.0 4.0*
G Francis Alonso 6-3 Sr. 23.0 6.0
G Malik Massey 6-3 Jr. 2.0 3.0
F Kyrin Galloway 6-8 Jr. 9.0 9.0
F James Dickey 6-10 Jr. 7.0 10.0
G Isaiah Miller 6-0 So. 16.0 3.0*
F Eric Hamilton 6-9 Jr. 6.0 2.0
G Kaleb Hunter 6-4 Fr. 11.0 1.0
Pos. Name Ht. Cl. Pts. Rebs.
G Tremont Waters 5-11 So. 9.0 2.0*
G Skylar Mays 6-4 Jr. 11.0 2.0*
G Ja’vonte Smart 6-4 Fr. 10.0 5.0
F Emmitt Williams 6-7 Fr. 12.0 10.0
F Naz Reid 6-10 Fr. 17.0 6.0
G Marlon Taylor 6-5 Jr. 15.0 2.0
F Darius Days 6-7 Fr. 11.0 5.0
G Daryl Edwards 6-3 Sr. 0.0 2.0