Describing the nonconference portion of the Charlotte 49ers’ men’s basketball season as tumultuous is understating the situation.
The 49ers started the season by underperforming through their first nine games, a stretch that cost former coach Mark Price his job. It was a controversial move by athletics director Judy Rose, who replaced Price with assistant Houston Fancher on an interim basis.
The 49ers split their first two games under Fancher – an emotional road victory against East Carolina and a loss at South Florida.
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Here are five things we know about Charlotte (4-7), which opens its Conference USA season Saturday at Old Dominion (9-3):
The adjustment continues
The 49ers have played just those two games under Fancher, a former Appalachian State coach whose teams won three Southern Conference divisional championships and a school-record 25 games in 2007. By all accounts, the 49ers have responded favorably to Fancher, who brings the experience of a long-time, successful college coach not seen at Charlotte since the Bobby Lutz era (1998-2010).
But the 49ers and Fancher remain in their “honeymoon” period. How long will that last? Although he’s not saying so publicly, Fancher is coaching the remainder of the season for a shot at a permanent gig with the 49ers. And the games that really matter – the 18-game C-USA season - begin Saturday at ODU.
Although he’s leading the team in scoring at 13.0 points per game, junior point guard Jon Davis, a preseason all-conference selection, hasn’t played that way. Davis is shooting just 34.3 percent from the field and has a shaky 1.4 assist-turnover ratio. Some of this might be traced to the lingering effects of an ankle injury he suffered against High Point on Nov. 24. But the 49ers need Davis back playing like his old self – and his 15-point, 9-assist, 2-turnover performance against USF suggests that might be happening.
The other guards
Another consequence of Price’s firing was the departure of senior guard Hudson Price – Mark’s son – from the team. Hudson Price was a key member of Charlotte’s rotation and among the team leaders in scoring, rebounding and 3-point shooting. But shooting guards Andrien White and Austin Ajukwa have stepped up significantly under Fancher. White scored a career-high 30 against East Carolina and followed that with 16 against USF. Ajukwa, whose playing time had diminished under Mark Price, has averaged 14.5 points and 36 minutes in the past two games.
The 49ers aren’t a terrible team on the boards – they have a minus-1.4 margin -- but they need somebody to step up from the rebounding-by-committee approach. That’s what 6-foot-10 junior-college transfer Jailan Haslem was brought in for and, at 3.4 boards per game, it hasn’t happened yet.
The 49ers might have a star in the making – or at the very least a solid front-court player – in 6-9 forward Milos Supica. A freshman from Serbia, Supica has a nose for the ball around the basket – he averages 3.5 rebounds in 17 minutes per game – and can finish (making 61.5 percent of his shots). He had the first double-double (10 points, 10 rebounds) of his career against East Carolina. Supica’s minutes have essentially doubled (26.5 per game) under Fancher.
David Scott: @davidscott14