ST. THOMAS — Alfonzo Duncan knows that his University of the Virgin Islands’ men’s basketball team isn’t facing one of its ordinary opponents this weekend.

Instead, the Buccaneers will face its first NCAA Division I opponent this afternoon, hosting the University of North Alabama at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center. Game time is 4 p.m. Atlantic.

Today’s game will likely be the toughest opponent UVI — winless at 0-5, all coming against fellow NAIA or NCAA Division II teams — will face this season, Duncan said, just from an experience standpoint.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” the Buccaneers’ first-year coach said Friday. “When I look at the overall picture — and people don’t quite understand this — the teams that we’ve played, they’re older and more experienced. Some of those guys were 24, 25, 26 years old. The average age of my team is 19 years old.

“We’re a very young, inexperienced group of guys, and we’re going to be playing against some guys who are older and who got an extra year because of COVID. A lot of their guys may be listed as freshmen, but academically they’re juniors or better.”

The Lions — a former two-time NCAA Division II national champion that made the move to Division I in 2018 — have eight players back from last season’s 13-11 team, who came within a win of earning its first NCAA Tournament berth. North Alabama advanced to the finals of the Atlantic Sun tournament before losing to Liberty 79-75.

Of those eight, four – guards Will Soucie and Detalian Brown, forward Dallas Howell and center Sawyer Wright – are still listed as freshmen. The other returnees are juniors Jamari Blackmon and Aleksa Matic, senior C.J. Brim and redshirt senior Payton Youngblood.

By comparison, UVI has seven true freshmen and a sophomore — St. Thomas native Shirmoy O’Garro — on its 10-player roster that have never played at the college level before this season. Only two players — 6-foot-10 centers Will Boyd, a junior; and sophomore LiWayne Richardson — have any college-level experience.

Boyd spent last season at Sandhills Community College, which finished 21-6 and advanced to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s Division II National Championship tournament, finishing sixth. Richardson played at Howard University, which only got in five games before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down its 2020-2021 season.

“One year of college experience can be huge, especially against a kid just coming out of high school,” Duncan said. “But there’s a lot that we can take from playing in a game like this. We can learn how to play hard and how to execute, and how to play under pressure against a seasoned team.”

The Buccaneers have played North Alabama before — on Nov. 28, 2017, when the Lions were in their last season playing in Division II. North Alabama handed UVI a 92-58 loss in Florence, Ala. So Duncan isn’t worried about the final score, especially with more important games — like next week’s rematch against Wilberforce — coming up.

“It could be a blessing in disguise for them if they do things the way we’ve been working on doing them, and not be intimidated by playing a team like this,” Duncan said. “If they can keep the game close, it gives them confidence. I’m not into moral victories, but at this point you take what you can get.

“I’m like, ‘You’re going to make mistakes; that’s what freshmen do.’ I just want them to go out there and do their best, not turn the ball over and play hard. Just do the little things, and let the chips fall where they may. They could end up surprising themselves.”

— Contact Sports Editor Bill Kiser at 340-714-9117, or email