The Greensboro Coliseum is big. It's so big that the Coliseum staff utilizes black curtains and tarps to create a better shooting background over the empty seats during UNC-Greensboro basketball games. The building at capacity holds 23,000 people, but typically UNCG utilizes a seating format to fit in about 7,000. The baseline seats, minus temporary sections right behind the baskets are covered with tarps. And the upper level, besides the first few rows, is blocked from view by a curtain. Tonight about 3,000 of those seats were filled, mostly by students. The student section was surprisingly full for an early season game not against a marquee opponent.
These curtains were removed for one UNCG game last year, when the Duke Blue Devils came to play a game in the Coliseum. At that point in the season UNCG was winless at 0-11, and Duke left with an easy win. Duke, and three other Atlantic Coast Conference teams, made the trip to Greensboro Coliseum last year so that each team could have a chance to play in the mammoth complex instead of experiencing the building for the first time in the ACC tournament. Since the Coliseum opened in 1959, it has hosted 74 NCAA Tournament games and 23 ACC tournaments. Like other arenas in North Carolina, the Greensboro Coliseum is a basketball mecca. A convenient place for the ever-expanding ACC to host conference tournaments in the same building that now houses the ACC Hall of Fame, with the league office sitting just a few miles away.
But before the ACC, there was the Southern Conference. Most of the teams that now form the ACC started their collegiate conference affiliation in the SoCon. All of the original SoCon members that still field Division One teams now play in the Southeastern Conference and the ACC. The Citadel, Davidson, and Furman are the old guard of the current members, tracing their affiliation back to 1936. UNCG didn't join until 1997, along with Wofford (and followed the next year by the College of Charleston).
Like many mid-major teams, UNCG started its regular season home schedule against a non-Division One opponent. Taking the court against UNCG were the UNC Pembroke Braves, a Division Two team that competes in the Peach Belt Conference. UNCP was 18-12 last year, and they have a surprisingly big lineup for a Division Two team.
UNCP has one of the more interesting histories of any of the public universities in North Carolina. Pembroke is in Robeson County north of the South Carolina line. Robeson County is the primary home to the as yet to be officially recognized by the United States Government Lumbee Native American Tribe. The Lumbee are a mixed race culture most likely descended from several coastal Native American Tribes in North and South Carolina. They have been seeking federal recognition as a tribe for over a century, but their efforts have blocked by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians Tribe, and hindered by the inability of the Lumbee to successfully trace their roots back to an officially recognized United States Native American Tribe. The North Carolina has recognized the Lumbee as an official tribe for decades, but every attempt seeking official federal recognition has failed. UNCP was founded in 1887 as the Croatan Normal School and changed name several times before eventually becoming UNC-Pembroke in 1996. Unlike most NCAA schools, this Native American heritage has probably allowed UNCP to hold on to their athletics name and symbol, the Braves. Former Washington State Cougars, Oklahoma Sooners, and Indiana Hoosiers head coach Kelvin Sampson is a Lumbee and attended UNCP.
For most of the first half, UNCP had their way with UNCG. The Braves' big men pushed the Spartans around inside creating opportunities for open threes from their guards. The Spartans looked sloppy and unfocused for most of the first half. UNCG had just returned from playing road games against the Tennessee Volunteers and the Georgetown Hoyas. UNCG lost these games by a combined 70 points, and were probably relieved to have "lesser" competition for their home opener. UNCG finished the half with a late run, enabled by some sloppy passing from the Braves, to take a four point lead into halftime. The second half saw UNCG come out slow once again, before the Braves starting missing open shots and turning the ball over. The Spartans pushed the lead to double digits and never really let UNCP sneak back in. About half of the fans filed out of the arena at the under-4 timeout, and UNCG was able to ice the game late by missing a few shots, getting fouled, and getting offensive rebounds from those misses to essentially create a nearly two minute possession.
Besides a few moments that got the crowd excited, the student section treated the game as more of a social gathering rather than creating a traditional college basketball atmosphere. The weather outside had been unseasonably cold for North Carolina all day, and the interior of the Coliseum reflected that. The lack of body heat in the mammoth arena, and lack of enthusiasm from the spectators never really let the building truly warm up. Most of the students surrounding me complained about the low temperature, and kept on talking about other things besides basketball throughout the game. Giving students comfortable chair-back seats seems to create a more relaxed and laid-back atmosphere. This is fine if that's what the UNCG students want the games to be like. But as someone who was used to a tight, uncomfortable, raucous atmosphere as an undergrad student at UNC Wilmington, going to games at UNCG is quite a change. One way of viewing games isn't necessarily "better" than the other, but I am yet to get used to it in my second season of viewing basketball in Greensboro.
Walking out of the cold, and at times lifeless Coliseum, into the frigid night air I walked past the students who didn't leave early to catch the first shuttles back to campus. The line was extending well over a hundred students deep, and they were all discussing the weather and other important matters instead of the game they had just seen. UNCG has had a history of success in its short Division One existence, going to two NCAA tournaments since first becoming eligible for postseason play in 1995. Fran McCaffrey (Currently with the Iowa Hawkeyes after a very successful tenure with the Siena Saints) and Randy Peele (Current head coach at Winthrop) have passed through the UNCG coaching pipeline making an NCAA appearance with the Spartans. But there have been more losses than wins in the last few years, and none of the current crop of undergrads in Greensboro has witnessed a winning season. None of the seasons since the Spartans moved to the Greensboro Coliseum has produced the wins needed to fill seats, and restore pride in the basketball program. It's a strange experience walking past the ACC Hall of Fame into an arena where the students are still waiting for a reason to be excited about basketball.
at NORTH CAROLINA-GREENSBORO 71, UNC PEMBROKE 58 11/17/2011
NORTH CAROLINA-GREENSBORO 1-2 (0-0) -- K. Randall 5-8 0-0 12; T. Simpson 6-19 6-6 22; D. Williams 2-2 0-0 4; K. Van Dussen 1-5 0-0 2; A. Brackett 3-6 0-1 6; A. Henry 2-5 1-3 5; D. Armstrong 2-6 2-2 6; T. Hoffer 2-3 2-2 6; N. Paulos 2-5 2-2 8; D. Parker 0-1 0-0 0; E. Bone 0-0 0-0 0; C. Henegar 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 13-16 71.
Three-point goals: - , UNCG 8-19 (T. Hoffer 0-1; K. Randall 2-4; K. Van Dussen 0-1; T. Simpson 4-8; D. Armstrong 0-1; N. Paulos 2-4); Rebounds: , UNCG 32 (K. Van Dussen 6); Assists: , UNCG 13 (K. Randall 5); Total Fouls -- , UNCG 16; Fouled Out: -; UNCG-None.