- Ky McKeon
Player of the Year: Chris Clemons, Jr., Campbell
Coach of the Year: Ritchie McKay, Liberty
Newcomer of the Year: Kyle Zunic, Fr., Winthrop
Freshman of the Year: Kyle Zunic, Fr., Winthrop
1. UNC Asheville
Key Returners: Ahmad Thomas, MaCio Teague, Raekwon Miller, Kevin Vannatta, Alec Wnuk
Key Losses: Will Weeks, David Robertson
Key Newcomers: Donovan Gilmore, LJ Thorpe, Jalen Seegars, Tajion Jones
Postseason Projection: 13-14 Seed
Outlook: UNC Asheville had its heart ripped out late last season when it was unceremoniously bounced from the Big South postseason tournament by Chris Clemons’s Campbell Camels. Asheville was hoping to return to the Big Dance for a second straight year under head coach Nick McDevitt, especially after running roughshod over conference foes during the regular season, notching a 15-3 league mark. The Bulldogs were surely disappointed after last season, but they have a real shot at avenging that early exit in 2017-18 with five key returners and the Big South’s best wing duo.
In McDevitt’s four seasons at the helm, the Bulldogs have been an uptempo squad, preferring to get out and score in transition. In 2016-17, UNCA slowed its pace slightly, but still capitalized in transition off turnovers. McDevitt plays four-guard lineups most of the time, which allows him to employ a high pressure perimeter defense that looks to force steals and run off the spoils of turnovers. Last season, UNCA ranked 9th in the country in % of field goals attempted in transition following a steal, 7th in steal percentage, and 10th in turnover rate. When not running out off turnovers, the Dogs run a disciplined half court motion offense that works the ball inside and out, and succeeds off penetration and kick outs.
The star duo for UNCA is Ahmad Thomas and MaCio Teague, two 6’3” rangy athletes with the ability to do just about everything on a basketball court on both ends of the floor. Thomas is flat out awesome – he’s amazing at getting to the rim and scoring in transition, shot 46% from three, and scored 0.898ppp on post-ups (a very good mark per Synergy) despite standing only 6’3”. His rebounding ability (7th in the conference) allows McDevitt to play him at the “4” role on both ends, and hardly anyone is better than Thomas at stealing the basketball in pressure situations (8th in the country in steal rate in 2016-17).
Teague is Thomas’s understudy, a dynamic scorer in his own right that also provides plenty of chaos on the defensive end. Teague’s versatility makes him a difficult assignment on defense, given he shot 45% from three on a high volume, but also got to the foul line regularly via penetration (often in iso situations), finishing from the stripe at an 89% clip. There is not a better overall one-two punch in the Big South conference than Thomas & Teague.
The Tremendous T’s will line up alongside returning guards Kevin Vannatta and Raekwon Miller in the starting five. Vannatta is a super underrated point guard, often overshadowed by his high-scoring counterparts. The lead guard was a primary reason the Dogs ranked 29th in ball protection last year and served as a spot-up threat from the outside when playing off the ball. Miller makes up for his rather pedestrian offensive stats with hard-nosed defense – he ranked 11th in the conference in steal rate and helps form an intimidating perimeter shell alongside Thomas and Teague.
The lone forward in the starting five will be Alex Wnuk, a serviceable senior big man with solid post up ability and a good face-up jumper. Wnuk isn’t a very big forward, so the Dogs are going to be super small when he runs the 5 and is surrounded by four guards. He’ll be spelled by redshirt sophomore Grant Townsend, sophomore Jonathan Baehre, and Charleston transfer Donovan Gilmore. The latter was a great per-minute rebounder at his previous school, which will be needed at Asheville given their lack of size.
Sophomore guard Drew Rackley will provide shooting off the bench for the Dogs; he shot 41% from downtown last year and could be a secondary ball handling source. Freshmen Tajion Jones, Jalen Seegars, and LJ Thorpe could also crack the rotation this year. Jones is reminiscent of Teague, a lanky shooter that can take the ball to the cup, while Seegars is more akin to Thomas, a well-built, highly athletic guard that could get away with playing bigger in a small lineup.
Bottom Line: UNC Asheville is the hands down favorite to win the Big South this season. The Dogs return a ton of talent from a team that had little trouble succeeding in prior year’s conference. With so many other title contenders taking baby steps backwards, the Dogs could find themselves with 16-18 league wins by season end.
Key Returners: Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz, Ryan Kemrite, Lovell Cabbil, Myo Baxter-Bell, Caleb Homesley
Key Losses: John Dawson, AC Reid, Brock Gardner
Key Newcomers: Scottie James, Keegan McDowell, Elijah Cuffee, Isaiah Williams
Postseason Projection: NIT/CBI/CIT
Outlook: Ritchie McKay enters his fifth season as the Liberty Flames’ head coach (third consecutive, he also coached back in 2007-2009) looking to build on his squad’s 21-14 (14-4) record and third place Big South performance. McKay is well traveled, spending time at the helm of Portland State, Colorado State, Oregon State, and New Mexico, as well as assisting at multiple schools, most recently Virginia from 2009-2015. He’s gained momentum in Lynchburg after retaking over the program from Dale Layer and now returns four starters from a competitive 2016-17 bunch.
Liberty plays a slow brand of basketball. On offense, the Flames drain the shot clock with top of the key ball handling and a weaving side-to-side motion offense that focuses on finding open looks from downtown. Liberty’s 4-out, 1-in look allows for plenty of floor spacing and its lack of size leads to a reliance on the three-ball. The Flames ranked 4th in the country in three point attempt rate last season, converting on a solid 36.1% of those attempts. The paint is pretty much ignored in McKay’s offense, a result of the team’s lack of size and their willingness to get back on defense. The Flames were one of the better transition defense teams in the nation last year thanks their focus on limiting run-outs, which led to them ranking 351st (dead last) in the country in offensive rebounding percentage in 2016-17.
On defense, McKay implements the infamous pack-line look, popularly used by Tony Bennett over at Virginia. This type of defense focuses on walling off the paint, limiting drives, and forcing teams to beat them with the outside shot. If Liberty faces a good shooting team, its liable to get run out of the building, but most of the time (at least last season) the Flames found success in their defensive shell and ranked as one of the best defensive rebounding teams in the country.
The backcourt is a real strength for McKay’s Flames and features a number of high-scoring guards and wings. Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz returns after turning in a stellar freshman season, cashing shots at a .433/.411/.816 slash and taking on one of the primary ball handling roles. With John Dawson lost to graduation, Pacheco-Ortiz will be the team’s PG; if his performance at the U19 FIBA World Cup (he played for Puerto Rico) is any indication, GPO is in for a monster year in Lynchburg.
Joining GPO in the backcourt is 2-guard Lovell Cabbil and wing Caleb Homesley. Cabbil really improved his shooting during his sophomore season, but is most valuable on the defensive end where he wreaks havoc on unsure ball handlers. The junior guard ranked 7th in the Big South in steal rate and Liberty allowed a staggering 0.12 less points per possession when he was on the floor. Homesley started off 2016-17 on a blistering pace, leading the Flames in scoring and rebounding until he tore his ACL against Princeton on December 10th. Now fully healthy, Homesley looks to rejoin the Flames as a dynamic wing scorer and versatile defender. He’ll be one of the better scorers in the conference this season.
Up front, McKay will rely on sophomore Ryan Kemrite (more of a wing than a 4) and Myo Baxter-Bell for production. Kemrite exploded efficiency-wise in his junior season, leading the conference in effective field goal % and shooting a stupid .659/.421/.862 in conference play. He’s one of the deadliest spot up shooters in the Big South, but doesn’t contribute in many other areas at a high level. Baxter-Bell is a 6’5” center that uses his girth to make up for his height. He’s not much of a shot blocker, but Baxter-Bell is a force on the glass and allowed only 0.603ppp on post-ups per Synergy.
The frontcourt tandem will be spelled by Bradley transfer Scottie James and redshirt junior Ezra Talbert, while freshmen Elijah Cuffee and Keegan McDowell look to crack the rotation on the wing and in the backcourt.
Bottom Line: Liberty will be a dangerous team in the Big South this season and should find itself comfortably in the top three of the standings come season end. Potent shooting, hardnosed defense, and an experienced coach should have the Flames in hot contention for a NCAA Tournament bid.
Key Returners: Xavier Cooks, Bjorn Broman, Anders Broman
Key Losses: Keon Johnson, Roderick Perkins, Josh Davenport, Duby Okeke, Tevin Prescott
Key Newcomers: Kyle Zunic, Nych Smith, Jermaine Ukaegbu, Tom Pupavac, Charles Falden
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Winthrop received some welcome news this offseason when head coach Pat Kelsey reneged on his commitment to become UMass’s next sideline chief. Kelsey led the Eagles to their first NCAA Tournament since 2010 last season, taking down the upstart Campbell Camels in the Big South championship and falling to 4-seed Butler in the Dance. Kelsey, now in his 6th year in Rock Hill, has his work cut out for him this season with the loss of Keon Johnson, the reigning Big South Player of the Year.
The Johnson loss is especially impactful on offense. As the point guard last year, Johnson led Winthrop’s uptempo, three-point attack. When the electric guard was on the floor, the Eagles scored 1.10 points per possession (ppp), when he sat Winthrop managed a measly 0.97ppp. The drop off in production was mostly due to the large decrease in three-point efficiency, a consequence of a lack of creation and floor spacing. Winthrop shot 39% from three when Johnson ran the point (he himself shot 39.6%), but when he sat, that number plummeted to 29%. The Eagles don’t get much inside, starting a lineup of four shooters, and only Johnson and returning wing Xavier Cooks were able to create off the dribble.
Cooks will be Kelsey’s go-to guy with Johnson out of the picture. The wiry 6’8” combo forward should be one of the best players in the Big South this year. Cooks literally does everything on the floor – he shot .534/.350/.682 from the field, ranked 1st in the conference in defensive rebounding rate, 3rd in assist rate, and 1st in block rate. He’s just about unstoppable on offense, as there’s nobody in the Big South equipped to guard a 6’8” wing that can shoot, drive, and dish. Cooks’s impact is sizeable on the defensive end – the Eagles allowed 0.10ppp less when he was on the floor versus when he sat. He should be an All-Defense member this season and will probably lead the league in usage as a senior (well, maybe 2nd to Chris Clemons).
Outside of the point guard spot, the backcourt should still be pretty productive thanks to the Brothers Broman. Anders and Bjorn Broman return to the fold with their sweet outside strokes. Bjorn is more of the on-ball presence, a 6’0” junior that may be asked to handle the rock more in Johnson’s stead. Anders is the better shooter, knocking down 44.3% of his three-point tries in 2016-17, 45.6% in conference play. The Bromans’ shooting allows Winthrop to space the floor at an elite level, feeding the fire to the team’s three-point attack. Adam Pickett will provide backcourt reinforcements off the bench. Pickett adds a slashing element to the Eagle offense when he plays and can handle the ball a bit in a pinch.
The major question marks lie at the bookend positions (point guard and center). Johnson and Duby Okeke leave massive holes for newcomers and former role players to fill. Kyle Zunic, an Australian import from the same town as Cooks, looks to be the answer at point guard. He’ll likely start immediately as a true freshman and could potentially take home the Freshman of the Year hardware in the Big South. Zunic is a pure PG, a crafty lefty with a good shot that can set the table for his teammates and run an offense. He’ll be fending off JUCO transfer (and former Fordham Ram) Nych Smith for time at the point. Smith is a former 3-star recruit that actually played pretty well in limited minutes at Fordham. He appeared to blossom in the JUCO ranks and should be a consistent contributor for the Eagles this year.
Reserve forward Josh Ferguson and JUCO transfer Jermaine Ukaegbu will fill Okeke’s spot. Ferguson posted impressive rebounding and shot blocking rates as a freshman and could be due for a nice sophomore leap in his second season. Ukaegbu is a former 2-star recruit that spent a year at Sacred Heart before jumping ship to JUCO powerhouse Indian Hills CC. He grew about three inches in JUCO, adding size to his already athletic frame. Kelsey says Ukaegbu will be one of the best athletes in the conference; his explosiveness will be valuable on the boards and in the paint on defense.
Two more freshmen, Tom Pupavac and Charles Falden should play roles in the rotation early on. Pupavac is another Australian, a stretchy 4/5 that can also score in the post. Falden is going to be really good in a year or two; he’s a pure scorer that can put points up in bunches.
Bottom Line: Despite the Johnson loss, Winthrop figures to be in the mix for the Big South crown. Cooks is going to dominate the league and Kelsey brings in one of the better newcomer class in the Big South. The defense, transition attack, and shooting should still be there, which are the three pillars of success for Winthrop.
Key Returners: Chris Clemons, Shane Whitfield, Marcus Burk, Andrew Eudy, Cory Gensler
Key Losses: Kyre’ Hamer
Key Newcomers: Jordan Whitfield, Ja’Cor Nelson
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: The Campbell Fighting Camels were a postseason tournament darling last season, streaking all the way to the Big South championship game despite finishing the regular season in a tie for 7th place. Kevin McGeehan enjoyed his best season at the helm of Campbell thanks to all-star guard Chris Clemons and his ridiculous scoring ability. The young Camels really started to click at the end of the year and now look to build on that momentum this season, returning nearly every player from their surprise Tourney run.
Campbell runs a Princeton-style offense, a set that relies on ball movement and cutting to exploit mismatches, with one caveat – the entire thing revolves around one player, Chris Clemons. Clemons is simply electric; the sophomore ranked 3rd in the country in scoring last season, 4th in usage, and 1st in % of his team’s shots taken. Despite this unmatched gunning, Clemons posted an impressive shooting slash of .526/.345/.821, proving that he was both highly efficient and highly effective. Clemons willed the Camels to their 2nd place conference tournament finish, scoring 27, 51, and 33 points in the games leading up to the championship. After a brief flirtation with the NBA Draft, Clemons is back to compete for the national scoring crown and lead the Camels to the Big Dance.
Clemons isn’t Campbell’s only competent player; the guard is surrounded by a good crop of teammates, particularly in the backcourt. Sophomores Marcus Burk and Cory Gensler look to reprise their roles as the starting off guards, while lengthy wing Austin Burnette promises to serve as a solid backup. Burk and Gensler are primarily shooters, spotting up in the Princeton-style of play, awaiting kick-outs from Clemons drives. Burk nailed 39.6% of his threes last season while Gensler poured in 35.5% of his own. Freshmen guards Ja’Cor Nelson and Jordan Whitfield could crack the rotation in their inaugural years, but Gensler and Clemons tended to play the whole game last season.
Up front, Shane Whitfield returns to play the 4 spot. Whitfield prefers to attack from the wing or top of the key, barreling into opponents in an attempt to draw fouls. The 6’7” senior ranked 7th in the country in free throw rate last season and knocked down a respectable 74.9% of his 211 attempts. Whitfield is joined by junior Andrew Eudy in the starting frontcourt, forming one of the smaller front lines in the conference. Eudy isn’t big at 6’7” 210 lbs., but he’s mobile and can still hold his own in the post, at the rim, and on the glass. Senior Mogga Lado and sophomore Damontez Oliver will see plenty of time in the frontcourt in the starters’ stead. Lado is a good glass cleaner while Oliver serves as more of a stretch 4.
The Camels’ offense should be in good hands with Clemons and company, but the defense will need to sure up if Campbell wants to have a legitimate Big South title shot. McGeehan runs an extended matchup zone on defense, along with straight man-to-man. The Camels did a decent job of limiting three-point attempts, but their small frontcourt wasn’t great at protecting the paint or defending without fouling.
Bottom Line: Campbell is deep and loaded with talent this year, and have the luxury of being led by the best offensive player in the conference. Clemons should shine on the national stage this year a la Marcus Keene from a season ago. If McGeehan can get the Camels to buy into competing a little more on the defensive end, this will be a dangerous team at the top of the Big South conference.
5. High Point
Key Returners: Andre Fox, Jamal Wright, Austin White, Ricky Madison
Key Losses: Miles Bowman, Anthony Lindauer, Tarique Thompson
Key Newcomers: Jahaad Proctor, Brandonn Kamga, Justyn Mutts, Caden Sanchez
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: The High Point Panthers evolved into somewhat of a Big South powerhouse in recent years thanks to the presence of John Brown, one of the best players ever to grace the confines of the conference. Scott Cherry’s squad won at least a share of the regular season title four seasons in a row from 2013 – 2016, then fell to 5th last year without Mr. Brown. Despite the loss of three double-digit scorers, High Point figures to be a competitor at the top of the Big South standings this year with one of the best recruiting classes in the conference joining the fold.
Cherry’s class of newcomers is led by a couple transfers in Jahaad Proctor and Brandonn Kamga. Proctor, an Iona transfer, will serve as a secondary ball handler in the backcourt and help make up for the lost three-point production left behind by Miles Bowman and Anthony Lindauer. Kamga comes by way of Northeastern; he’s technically a guard, but he’ll see plenty of time in the Panther frontcourt with his strength. Both transfers will be relied on for scoring, and more importantly, defense. The Panthers are typically good at forcing turnovers, which makes up for their lack of size in the interior.
Freshmen Justyn Mutts and Caden Sanchez will be counted on immediately to provide scoring and rebounding in the frontcourt. Mutts, an ESPN 3-star recruit, is a future Big South star and could start on day one alongside returning forward Ricky Madison. Mutts is an aggressive scorer inside with his elite athleticism and should be a force on the glass and serviceable rim protector on defense. Sanchez is a little more “stretchy” than Mutts on offense, but he has a big body to guard post players.
High Point plays a slower brand of basketball; the Panthers work through the high post, use a variety of ball screens, and rely on penetration and shooting inside the arc for scoring. Most of High Point’s points came from the free throw line last season, a consequence of their poor 2PFG shooting, lack of 3PA volume, and relatively strong offensive rebounding ability. Andre Fox is the returning leading scorer, a prototypical wing that can shoot from the outside a bit and take the ball to the bucket. Fox used the most of the Panthers’ possessions last season, but failed to produce efficiently, turning in a mediocre .409/.330/.797 shooting slash. The additions of Kamga and Proctor, two guys that should presumably alleviate the scoring load, should help Fox’s efficiency in his junior year.
Jamal Wright returns to run the point after ranking 5th in the Big South in assist rate last season. Wright is a good outside shooter but primarily serves as a table setter, distributing to the likes of Bowman and Fox last year. On defense, Wright is one of the better stealers in the conference with his quick hands. He’ll be backed up by senior Austin White and freshman Denny Slay, two serviceable options off the bench in the lead guard role.
Ricky Madison serves as the team’s de factor center, despite being listed as a guard/forward on the team’s website and standing only 6’5”. The addition of Mutts and DII transfer Sam Berlin may allow Madison to shift down a spot in the rotation, but he has enough girth to hold his own inside. Madison ranked 2nd in the Big South in offensive rebounding percentage and 8th in defensive rebounding percentage, but converted only 50% of his shot attempts at the rim. Sophomores Luke Vargo and Cliff Thomas could also crack the frontcourt rotation in their second year in High Point.
Bottom Line: High Point loses a lot from last year’s 15-16 (9-9) squad, but it also gains a lot by way of the transfer wire and freshman class. Cherry has consistently been able to vault his team into the thick of things in the Big South and should have the Panthers fighting for a top three finish once again in 2017-18.
Key Returners: David Efanayi, DJ Laster, Jamaal Robateau, Liam O’Reilly
Key Losses: LaQuincy Rideau, Tyrell Nelson
Key Newcomers: Jaheam Cornwall, Acton Shirley
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Gardner-Webb has never won less than 10 conference games in a season under head coach Tim Craft. In Craft’s four seasons in Boiling Springs, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have achieved a 41-29 conference mark but have yet to reach a NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Dogs have never made the Tournament since joining Division I back in 2001. With the loss of LaQuincy Rideau, a Big Dance bid doesn’t appear to be in the cards this season, but GWU still has a talented roster to compete in the Big South.
Rideau’s transfer is a big loss for the Bulldogs. The 6’1” point guard ranked 1st in the Big South in assist rate, 4th in usage, 1st in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, 2nd in free throw rate, and 1st in steal rate. BUT! Per Hoop Lens, GWU was just as good when Rideau sat as it was when Rideau played, which is odd considering the impact he appeared to have on the game.
Gardner-Webb’s offense is all about transition – last season the Dogs attempted the 29th highest rate of shots in transition, and those opportunities usually came off steals on the other end. Per Hoop-Math, GWU was 2nd in the country in initial field goal attempts in transition following a steal, and the Dogs ranked 10th in the country in steal rate per KenPom. Rideau was a large part of that defensive success, but returning guards David Efianayi and Jamaal Robateau are capable pressure defenders as well.
Efianayi is going to see plenty of time at point guard without Rideau in the mix. Last season, he shot .518/.423/.724 from the field, ranking 4th in the conference in true shooting percentage. He’ll compete with freshman Jaheam Cornwall for point duties (well, he’ll either play point or alongside Cornwall). Cornwall is a natural fit for Craft’s uptempo scheme, a quick point guard with good vision and handles.
A couple shooters, Liam O’Reilly and Jamaal Robateau, will line up with Efianayi in the backcourt. The Bulldogs focused on getting to the rim last season, relying on transition basket attacks versus the three-pointer, but O’Reilly and Robateau shot the long ball at a high volume. Both guards will be vital on the perimeter once again as spot-up threats when Efianayi takes his man off the bounce. Redshirt sophomore Eric Jamison and redshirt freshman Nate Johnson should play bigger roles off the bench in wing roles this season.
Inside, GWU will count on forward DJ Laster and centers L’Hassane Niangane and Brandon Miller for production. All three bigs are forces on the glass, particularly on offense, but Laster is really the only scoring threat of the bunch. Niangane is a great shot blocker but had trouble staying on the floor last season, averaging 8.2 fouls per 40 minutes. Patrick Zeck may be the only other competent frontcourt member on the roster, unless 7-foot freshman Acton Shirley can do more than just “be tall”.
Bottom Line: Gardner-Webb should be right where it normally is in the Big South – a middle of the pack team that will hover around 10 conference wins. Bad ball handling teams will struggle against the Bulldog pressure, which will in turn create offense for GWU.
Key Returners: Ed Polite, Justin Cousin, Caleb Tanner, Christian Bradford, Donald Hicks, Randy Phillips
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Leroy Butts IV, Tristan Owens, Carlik Jones (redshirt), Travis Fields
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Mike Jones enters his 7th season as head ball coach of the Radford Highlanders. Jones’s squad couldn’t quite get the offense rolling last season, finishing ranked 317th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings leading to a final record of 14-18 (8-10). Turnovers and shooting were major issues for one of the youngest teams in the country last season. Now with every relevant piece of last year’s roster returning, the Highlanders look to make some noise in the 2017-18 Big South.
Radford wasn’t all bad last season; the Highlanders were the best rebounding team in the Big South on both ends of the floor thanks to stud forward Ed Polite and girthy center Randy Phillips. The glass is a huge part of Mike Jones’s offensive attack, which likes to milk the shot clock, take outside jumpers and crash the boards with reckless abandon. Possessions often ended with isolations or one-on-one post-ups – not the most efficient of offenses, but possibly good with the right personnel.
Polite looks poised to etch his name on an All-Conference team this season after leading the conference in rebounds and the Highlanders in scoring during his sophomore campaign. At 6’5”, Polite is as comfortable backing down defenders in the post as he is attacking off the drive from the wing. His quickness at the 4 spot makes him a nightly matchup challenge for opposing defenders. Defensively, Polite is one of the conference’s best shot blockers and stealers, ranking in the top five in both on a per-minute basis. Per Hoop Lens, Radford was a staggering 0.18 points per possession better when Polite was on the floor.
Either Randy Phillips or Darius Bolstad will line up next to Polite at the center position. Both are sizable loads at 6’8” 240 lbs. a piece and each bring something to the table on both ends. Phillips was the 18th best offensive rebounder on a per-minute basis in the country (#1 in the conference), while Bolstad boasted a 64.1% FG% and blocked 11.8% of the shots he faced on the court (a very high number). The advanced statistics when Bolstad shares the floor with Polite are far superior to the Polite/Phillips combo, but Phillips saw majority of the run last year. 6’7” sophomore Devonnte Holland should be a factor in the frontcourt rotation as well.
Jones’s backcourt is super deep this year with Christian Bradford returning to run the point, Justin Cousin resuming his gunner role, and Donald Hicks looking to improve on a sub-par rookie season. Bradford was a brilliant distributor in his first season with the Highlanders, dishing out assists at a top five conference rate and did an amicable job limiting turnovers on a team that coughed the rock up at a feverish pace. Cousin shot 37.1% from deep on 194 attempts last season – he’ll trade off with Caleb Tanner (38.6% on 171 attempts) as the go-to trey bomber in the lineup.
Aside from the above, Jones will have redshirt freshman Carlik Jones (no relation) and ODU transfer Travis Fields as options off the pine. Jones was a highly touted recruit coming in last season, but was ruled ineligible prior to the 2016-17 season. He’ll compete with Bradford – or even start next to him – for a spot in the opening five.
Freshman Leroy Butts IV, a 22 year-old wing that previously had committed to Rutgers, Rhode Island, and Coastal Carolina is finally eligible to play college ball. He’s a former 3-star power forward recruit that possesses versatility on both ends of the court and a penchant for glass eating. Tristan Owens, JUCO transfer, will also compete for time on the wing. The former Air Force commit is another versatile wing that is known for his defense.
Bottom Line: Radford has every indication of being a competitive force in the Big South this year with everyone returning and a strong newcomer class. Jones’s team should once again be the best rebounding squad in the conference, and will continue to implement their preferred defensive style of running three-point shooters off the line. The Big South has a lot of strong teams this year, but Radford should be able to vie for a top five finish.
8. Charleston Southern
Key Returners: Christian Keeling, Cortez Mitchell, Javis Howard
Key Losses: Armel Potter, Raemond Robinson
Key Newcomers: Phlandrous Fleming Jr., Ty Jones, Deontaye Buskey, Sean Price, Travis McConico, Jamaal David
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Barclay Radebaugh returns to Charleston Southern for his 13th season looking to avenge back-to-back disappointing years. Radebaugh built CSU into a Big South contender, finishing in the top five of the conference standings in each of the five years leading up to 2015-16. His Bucs are by no means expected to compete at the top this year, but CSU could be a sneaky dark horse to creep up the standings. Radebaugh brings in one of his best recruiting classes ever and returns three starters from last year’s squad.
Radebaugh’s teams normally shoot a high volume of three-pointers, a consequence of their lack of height and 4-out style offense. That changed a bit last season with the arrival of Christian Keeling, who enjoyed one of the better freshman seasons ever in the Big South, leading the Bucs in scoring and rebounding. CSU still shows a 4-out set on offense, but Keeling brought a penetration threat that the Bucs have severely lacked. Instead of settling for outside jumpers, Keeling would simply take his man to the rack. Of course another reason CSU shot less threes was that it simply didn’t have many good shooters.
Keeling will pace the Bucs this season; he’s highly efficient on a large volume despite his tendency to force tough jumpers every now and again. Senior Cortez Mitchell will slide over and handle most of the point guard duties with the transfer of Armel Potter. Mitchell was one of the primary reasons the Bucs were a top 40 team in the country in protecting the ball, turning it over only 12% of the time. Like Keeling, Mitchell prefers to do his scoring inside the arc, but can let it fly if need be. Jamal Thomas will serve in the backcourt rotation in some sort of capacity, whether in the starting five or off the bench. Thomas is a big, strong guard capable of creating his own shot on the offensive end.
Senior forward Javis Howard will reprise his role as the CSU center, starting every game last season. Howard is a beast on the offensive glass and is a pretty good defender on the other end. However, he needs help inside at only 6’8” 220 lbs.; the Bucs were constantly gashed at the rim (66%) last season both in their soft zone and man-to-man sets. Jordan Jones is an intriguing breakout candidate to help Howard in the middle. Jamar Martin, an undersized 4-man, will provide shooting on offense and toughness on the glass.
The newcomers are going to play enormous roles in the rotation this season. Freshman wing Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (“Phlan”) looks like a future star in the Big South. Fleming is an uber-athletic 6’4” guard/forward with a good-looking jumper and strong passing ability. He will form a dynamic duo alongside Keeling in the lineup.
Freshmen Sean Price and Ty Jones and JUCO import Travis McConico will provide support in the frontcourt, suddenly giving Radebaugh depth in that realm. Price or Jones could start right away with their athleticism and ability to guard multiple spots on defense. McConico is natural fit for CSU’s 4-out attack; he’s a sharp-shooting power forward that made 93 threes in JUCO last season. In the backcourt, Deontaye Buskey and redshirt freshman Jamaal David will battle for playing time. Buskey is the guy to watch this season; he could be the Bucs’ starting PG once Mitchell graduates this spring.
Bottom Line: This is one of the deepest teams Radebaugh has had during his tenure, and he’ll tell you he’s excited for the upcoming season. The Bucs should have a potent offense with Keeling, Fleming, and Mitchell pacing the tempo, but the defense has to improve for them to make a jump in the standings. Defensive rebounding was the one strong suit of CSU last season – everything else on defense was trash. Radebaugh’s athletic incoming class and new additions to the frontcourt should help this aspect in 2017-18.
Key Returners: Isaiah Walton, JaShaun Smith, Chris Shields
Key Losses: Darrion Allen, Khris Lane, Isaac Belton
Key Newcomers: BK Ashe, Juan Munoz, Boaz Williams, Jordan Cintron, Spencer Franklin, Kamil Chapman
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: Longwood has sort of been the Big South punching bag since entering the league back in 2012-13. The Lancers have never finished higher than T-8th in the standings and have consistently ranked near the bottom of KenPom.com’s national rankings. Head Coach Jayson Gee appears to instill a fun and positive atmosphere in his locker room, but it hasn’t yet translated to winning. Now with sharpshooter Darrion Allen and team MVP Khris Lane gone, Gee will need to formulate a plan to get his Lancers back on the path towards competitiveness.
Longwood struggled on both ends of the floor last season. On offense, the Lancers didn’t have much of an identity and settled far too often for inefficient looks from the mid-range area. Turnovers derailed possessions and a lack of offensive glass crashing prevented second chances. Previously, Longwood was more of an outside shooting team under Gee, but Lane’s presence last season made them more able to attack within the arc. Defensively, Longwood rarely put up a fight – opposing offenses scored quickly and in bunches. The Lancers had the unique combination of allowing a high percentage of looks near the rim and getting burned from three-point land (opponents shot 40% from deep).
So how does Longwood improve? It’ll start with the backcourt, where returning leading scorer Isaiah Walton and Mount St. Mary’s transfer BK Ashe will form a formidable duo. Walton will see majority of time at point guard, but he was a walking turnover during his sophomore season, coughing up the rock on 30% of his possessions. However, when he wasn’t turning the ball over, Walton was a deadly scorer, converting shots at a .522/.378/.806 slash, flashing the ability to score from all three levels. Ashe is more of an off-guard, a gunner that uses a significant amount of his team’s possessions, which should be just fine for a Longwood squad needing a scoring presence. If Walton stumbles with turnovers, look for redshirt freshman Juan Munoz or true frosh Kamil Chapman to get run at the point. Munoz in particular could be a future leader for the Lancers.
Returning rotation pieces Chris Shields and JaShaun Smith will man two of the forward spots. Shields is a versatile player at 6’8” but needs to ramp up his aggressiveness on both ends to fully realize his basketball potential. Now out of Lane’s shadow, Shields could be a prime breakout candidate in his third season under Gee. Smith plays bigger than his 6’5” frame and represents the Lancers’ best rim protector.
Inside, Damarion Geter is back from injury, a sturdy 6’7” center with solid rebounding and shot-blocking ability. He’s pretty much invisible on the offensive end, but he does a lot of the dirty work for Longwood. JUCO imports Boaz Williams (formerly of Lamar) and Spencer Franklin could play roles in the frontcourt rotation. Williams is an athletic 4-man that can stretch the floor. Freshman Jordan Cintron has perhaps the most potential of the frontcourt newcomers to make an impact. He’s versatile, able to play all five positions according to Gee, which could help to replace the omnipresent Khris Lane.
Bottom Line: Longwood still has a “long” way to go in order to truly be a Big South competitor, but Jayson Gee appears to be on the right track to bringing the program to prominence. He just needs to get his guys to stop transferring out of Farmville, Virginia.
Key Returners: Reggie Dillard, Jo’Vontae Millner, JC Younger, Davon Bell
Key Losses: Ed Drew, Darius Moore, Will Adams
Key Newcomers: Francois Lewis, Montenia Nelson
Postseason Projection: None
Outlook: There’s not much positive to say about Presbyterian’s 2016-17 basketball season. The Blue Hose (still a great nickname) ranked 350th in the country per KenPom (2nd worst), winning only three games against Division 1 opponents and one in conference play. Strangely enough, one of Presbyterian’s wins came against Furman, a very good team last season – so I guess that’s a positive takeaway. With the futility came the firing of Gregg Nibert, who never led the Hose to more than 14 regular season wins since they became a D1 school back in 2007-08. Dustin Kerns now steps in as the head coach in Clinton, South Carolina, looking to rebuild a program that’s starving for competence.
Kerns comes to Presbyterian by way of Wofford, where he served as an assistant under Mike Young for a number of years. If Kerns chooses to maintain the style he learned under Young, we should expect a Hose team that emphasizes ball movement, outside shooting, and milking the clock. The latter is probably the best strategy Presbyterian has if they want to win more than one conference game this season.
Talent exists on this roster, especially in the form of senior Reggie Dillard and sophomore Jo’Vontae Millner. Dillard handles the ball a lot from the wing spot and was somewhat competent scoring the basketball last year with his .480/.318/.729 shooting slash. Dillard’s versatility is an asset on both sides of the ball – he’s a tough matchup on offense with his athleticism and can guard multiple positions on defense. Presbyterian played a lot of zone last season, but expect Kerns to show mostly man in his inaugural year. Millner, a member of the Big South All-Rookie team last year, is probably Presbyterian’s most talented player. He’s comfortable getting the ball to the rim where he finishes at a 72.5% clip and is one of the better offensive rebounders in the conference.
The backcourt consists of a veteran point guard in Davon Bell (back from injury) and a spot-up off-guard in JC Younger. Bell was great in his seven games played last year, and led Presbyterian to two of its three D1 victories. He’s a capable distributor and should thrive in an offense that will put a higher premium on ball movement. Younger is the team’s best returning outside shooter (34.4%). JUCO transfer Montenia Nelson will look to crash the backcourt party in his first season at Presbyterian. The 6’1” junior ranked 4th in scoring last year in the JUCO ranks and should be a source of instant offense either off the pine or in the starting five alongside Bell. Senior Jaron Withers will provide depth on the wing and in the backcourt.
Up front, Presbyterian will turn to senior Ruben Arroyo, sophomore Armei TeTe, and JUCO import Francois Lewis for production. Arroyo is more of a stretch four type of big man versus a back-to-the-basket guy. TeTe plays more of that role and is the team’s best shot blocker – he could break out in his second season. Lewis has D1 experience, formerly suiting up for Florida A&M back in 2015-16. Like Arroyo, Lewis is a face up shooter that can step out a bit from outside.
Bottom Line: Presbyterian has nowhere to go but up after its disaster 2016-17 campaign. Kerns seems like a great hire for a program yearning for a new identity. The new head coach is proven on the recruiting path and has a strong pedigree serving under Mike Young, Kerry Keating at Santa Clara, and (briefly) Mike Sutton and Buzz Peterson back in the early 2000’s. The Blue Hose likely finish near the bottom of the Big South this year, but they’re trending in the right direction.