A solid start to the Big South Conference season has the UNC Asheville men’s basketball team in second place in the league standings, one game behind Radford.
But for the immediate future, it is a pair of teams just below the Bulldogs (11-8, 4-2) that has coach Nick McDevitt’s attention.
As usual, the BSC standings are packed near the top, with five teams tied for fourth at 3-3.
Among those are Asheville’s next two opponents as the team looks to improve on a three-game winning streak on an important road trip.
The Bulldogs play at Winthrop (9-8, 3-3) on Thursday night, a 9 p.m. start televised nationally on ESPNU.
Then Asheville travels to Liberty (12-7, 3-3) for a 2 p.m. tipoff on Sunday.
“Our next two games are against preseason favorites, difficult teams in difficult environments,” said McDevitt, whose Bulldogs shared the BSC regular-season title last year with Winthrop, both finishing 15-3 in league play.
Asheville vs. Winthrop has long been a strong rivalry between the BSC’s two most successful teams. The programs have combined to win or share 15 of the last 21 regular-season championships and one or the other has been the league’s representative in the NCAA tournament in 14 of the last 19 seasons.
Under McDevitt, the Bulldogs are 4-5 vs. the Eagles, and four of those games have been decided by three points or less.
“I’m sure it’s going to be loud, a great environment and a difficult place to try and win a game.” McDevitt said of Rock Hill Coliseum.
“We try to approach all games the same, but our guys recognize it’s a little different when we play Winthrop,” he said.
“This is the third straight Winthrop game on ESPNU, and someone named it one of the top five mid-major rivalries in college basketball. These are the games our guys enjoy playing.”
The Bulldogs’ two main offensive weapons continue to play well – sophomore guard MaCio Teague is averaging 18.8 points per game against BSC opponents, coming off a 27-point effort against Charleston Southern that included a 23-point first half.
Senior Ahmad Thomas continues to set records as he averages 17.3 points an outing in conference play.
Thomas recently became the second player in the history of the BSC to surpass 1,000 points, 600 rebounds, 200 steals and 200 assists in a career.
Joe Spinks of Campbell (1990-94) is the other.
After the road games, Asheville comes home to Kimmel Arena next week for BSC battles against Gardner-Webb, tied for second with Asheville, and High Point, part of the five-team logjam in fourth place.
But first things first – trying to get elusive road wins.
“In order to win the league, you have to win your home games and find a way to steal some on the road,” said McDevitt.
“And we have two tough ones coming up.”