It was only two seasons ago that UNC Wilmington finished 9-23 with no postseason aspirations, after losing 14 straight games. That was before Kevin Keatts took over the program in 2014.
Now the Seahawks are Colonial Athletic Association champions and will enter the NCAA tournament as a No. 13 seed in the West Region. Their opponent will be in-state foe and No. 4 seed Duke (23-10, 11-7 ACC). The two teams will face off at 12:15 p.m. Thursday in Providence, R.I.
It has been 10 years since UNC Wilmington (25-7, 14-4 CAA) last made it to the NCAA tournament.
Keatts said the program’s turnaround has been great for the school and the community.
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“The excitement of hearing your name called is a great thing,” Keatts said, “but once that wears off, you realize that you have a very good Duke team that you have to prepare for, and it will be a challenge for us.”
While they’ll enter the game as underdogs, the Seahawks might be an upset favorite on some brackets as No. 13 seeds have been known to knock off struggling No. 4 seeds. The Seahawks run a up-tempo style offense, and are averaging 79.2 points per game this season, which is 39th best in the country.
But UNC Wilmington didn’t exactly breeze through its conference tournament. The Seahawks’ first two wins, against College of Charleston and Northeastern, were by a combined five points. Then it took overtime to beat Hofstra in the conference championship.
UNC Wilmington’s top two scorers played their high school basketball in the Triangle. Chris Flemmings, a 6-foot-5 junior guard and Cary native, leads the team in points and rebounds per game, with 16.1 and 5.9 respectively. He played basketball at Green Hope
Junior guard Denzel Ingram, a Chapel Hill High graduate, is averaging 12.5 points per game. He hit a clutch 3-pointer in the final few seconds of the game against Hofstra to solidify the conference championship.
Senior guard Craig Ponder is also a contributor on the team. He averages 11.1 points per game.
“We’ll try to do the same things we’ve done all year long,” Keatts said. “Try to play to our strengths.”