Big South Preview 2016-17

-Jim Root

1.      Winthrop
     UNC Asheville
     High Point
     Charleston Southern


All Conference Awards

POY: Keon Johnson, Sr., Winthrop
Coach of the Year: Pat Kelsey, Winthrop
Newcomer of the Year: MaCio Teague, UNC-Asheville*
Freshman of the Year: Brock Gardner, Liberty*

*Yes, that makes no sense because they’re both freshmen, but I wanted to recognize both guys, so there.

1.     Winthrop

Key Returners: Keon Johnson, Xavier Cooks, Bjorn Broman, Joshua Davenport
Key Losses: Jimmy Gavin, Zach Price
Key Newcomers: Anders Broman, Patrick Fisher


Postseason Projection: NCAA Tournament - 14 seed

Ever since Winthrop almost took down the Chris Lofton-led 2-seed Tennessee Volunteers (only to be taken down by a near-miracle shot), I’ve had a big soft spot for the Big South powerhouse. Wichita State stud coach Gregg Marshall got his start here, eventually getting Winthrop to a #51 overall KenPom finish (seriously!), and Pat Kelsey has built the program back up to a perennial contender. They return 5 of their 7 most important pieces from the regular season and conference tourney runner ups, and with two POY candidates leading the roster, they’re looking to improve on that this year.

Keon Johnson and Xavier Cooks are those aforementioned talents, and together they form a nice inside-outside combo. On first glance, it’s easy to see why they were passed over by bigger programs - Johnson is 5’7 and Cooks is a freaking string bean - but they are immensely talented and often overwhelm their Big South competition with quickness and scoring ability. Johnson is a shockingly good driver and finisher for his height (of course he can shoot, too), and Cooks was a top-5 defensive rebounder in the conference despite his lack of bulk while also blocking shots and stretching the floor with a nice perimeter touch.

With such a talented team and skilled ball-handler, Kelsey really pushed the pace last year (20th-fastest nationally), which opened up plenty of wing scoring opportunities for the departed Jimmy Gavin. This year, a deep stable of wings will look to step into his role and take advantage of the secondary break chances. Brothers Bjorn and Anders Broman put up video game numbers at their tiny Duluth high school (Bjorn averaged 49ppg as a senior, Anders scored over 5,100 points in his 4 years), and their shooting and scoring abilities should shine this year as scoring roles open. Bjorn was strictly a (surprisingly bad) spot-up shooter last year, and Anders sat out after transferring from South Dakota State. Watch out for them both this year as they look to uphold Kelsey’s proud shooting tradition in Rock Hill. Adam Pickett and freshman Patrick Fisher provide even more depth, though neither has the scoring upside of the Brothers Broman.

Between Cooks and defensively active center Duby Okeke, the Eagles should have superb rim protection, allowing the guards to run opponents off the three point line consistently. Their depth up front is dubious, though, as it’s really just undersized former walk-on Tevin Prescott and wing Josh Davenport to provide minutes in the paint. Latvian freshman Raivis Scerbinskis will get a chance to play due to his height (6’8) and impressive shooting ability, but even the Big South will be a step up in competition and physicality compared to what he’s used to.

The starting lineup should be the best and most lethal 5-man unit in the conference, and Kelsey will enjoy toying around with all of his pieces. It should all come down to a Sunday in March once again for their tournament hopes (not that Sunday), as Winthrop has suffered heartbreak in the tourney final for three consecutive years. I think Johnson and Kelsey emphatically conquer that mountain this year.  

2.     Liberty

Key Returners: John Dawson, Lovell Cabbil, AC Reid, Caleb Homesley, Ryan Kemrite
Key Losses: Evan Maxwell, Anthony Fields
Key Newcomers: Brock Gardner, Xzavier Barmore, Josiah Talbert


Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16

Liberty has changed quite a bit since I last saw them in person. That was back in December 2009, when a freshman lead guard named Seth Curry almost led them to a win on the road at Saint Louis, en route to a 23-12 (12-6) season under Ritchie McKay before Curry transferred to Duke and McKay left to be an assistant under Tony Bennett at Virginia. Fast forward to 2016-17, and now they’ll be led by a young backcourt and a coach named...Ritchie McKay. That’s right, he’s back folks!

McKay returned last year after the Flames suffered through 6 forgettable years under Dale Layer, and the move paid immediate dividends. After a horrendous 3-13 (0-2) start, the Flames finally got John Dawson fully into the fold and got cooking in Big South play, finishing an impressive 10-8 (tied for 5th) while having one of the youngest teams in the entire country (338th in experience). The team only played one upperclassman (senior Anthony Fields), and despite the transfer of big man Evan Maxwell, they bring back a ton of burgeoning talent ready to make a run at the conference title.

McKay brought Tony Bennett’s pack line defense back with him from Virginia, and the results were impressive: they jumped from last in conference defense in 2015 to 4th in 2016, and with so much roster continuity, they should only get better. They rebounded the ball well and generally walled off the paint, though their biggest weakness was fouling far too much - again, something that should improve with experience.

Offensively, McKay’s teams revolve around shooting and perimeter play, normally playing small in an effort to space the floor to open up driving lanes and three-point shooters. Dawson will be the key to that attack - he’s a Marquette transfer who was 4th in the conference in assist rate and showed excellent scoring ability as well. He’ll have wing weapons galore between budding sophomore star Lovell Cabbil (also a very good perimeter defender) and juniors Ryan Kemrite (a standstill three-point shooter) and AC Reid (a slightly bigger and higher-usage standstill three-point shooter). Cabbil, while inefficient as a freshman, showed the dynamic ability on both ends of the court to be a future all-conference player, perhaps as soon as this year.

Caleb Homesley, another sophomore, is probably the team’s best all-around defender and showed quite a bit of promise offensively himself with 58/37/65 splits last year; he could start as a small-ball four due to his contributions on the defensive glass. Freshman Xzavier Barmore could eventually allow Dawson to move off the ball at times and wreck shit from the wing; “Zay Zay” is a skilled, selfless passer.

Inside, Ezra Talbert and his freshman brother Josiah Talbert will get some playing time, but they’re both noticeably soft and can get pushed around pretty easily. Brock Gardner, a highly-regarded recruit from Arizona, isn’t bulky, but he is bouncy (volleyball player) - his YouTube mixtape is littered with poor Arizona high schoolers attempting to block his emphatic dunks (they always end up on the ground). He should start right away; the only decision is whether that’s at the four or as a small five.

The perimeter is extremely promising, particularly Dawson as a dark horse POY candidate and the two sophomore wings. If Gardner is a monster right away, Liberty will be knocking at Winthrop’s door in no time.

3.     UNC Asheville

Key Returners: Kevin Vannatta, Ahmad Thomas, Will Weeks
Key Losses: Dwayne Sutton, Dylan Smith, Sam Hughes
Key Newcomers: Malik Smith, MaCio Teague, Mubarak Muhammed


Postseason Projection: CBI/CIT/Vegas 16

Coach Nicholas McDevitt is going to have some restless nights thinking about what could have been this year. Some talented players return, but Dwayne Sutton very well could have been the conference POY as a sophomore, and sophomore Dylan Smith already led the team in scoring at 13.7ppg as a freshman. Instead, Sutton will sit out a year at Louisville and Smith will do the same at Arizona, both guys hoping to join elite programs and boost their college careers.

Even without those two, not much will change about the Bulldogs’ style - McDevitt will still have them running at breakneck speed, characterized most by their absolutely relentless harassing defense. Master thief Ahmad Thomas is the anchor of that scheme - with a 4.3% steal rate (top 10 in the entire country), he makes life hell for opposing ball-handlers on the wing of their trapping 1-3-1 zone defense. Sutton was often the point of that zone, and I would not be surprised to see Thomas shift to that spot this year. Freshman forward Malik Smith is another option there, though he’s not quite as quick as Sutton was.

Offensively, Kevin Vannatta will run the show, an efficient if unspectacular guard who can knock down shots when called upon. The ball is more often in the hands of Asheville’s dynamic wings, though, including Thomas, Raekwon Miller, and freshmen MaCio Teague and Justin Brown. Brown is a well-built guard and an effective finisher in transition and in traffic (perfect fits for this offense), but Teague is the real gem. He’s an ultra-smooth scorer who can finish with either hand going to the basket. His shot release is a little funky - it’s right out in front of his face - but it goes in and Teague can really fill it up. David Robertson also returns as a steadying force on the perimeter; he’s a secondary ball-handler who can hit a three every now and then as well. Thomas, for his part, is another very skilled transition finisher who hopes to add more to his game without Smith and Sutton. One other freshman, point guard Drew Rackley, will also probably play some due to his passing and defensive ability.

Asheville’s biggest weakness is its outside shooting. They don’t take many, and that’s probably because they miss most of the ones they take (284th nationally in 3-point percentage). Vannatta and Miller were both okay in low volume last year, and Robertson was fine two years ago before being hindered by injuries last year, but there aren’t any gunners/floor spacers on this team unless several of the newcomers can make an impact there. 

On the interior, Will Weeks will probably start, but while he’s an effective finisher, the team will need to gang rebound based on Weeks’s ineffectiveness in that area. There’s very little size on the roster, meaning freshman Grant Townsend and Smith will probably spend some time at the five too.

The bench will be extremely young for the Bulldogs, but McDevitt has a very good thing going with his pressure style, and there’s a ton of talent here. Expect Asheville to stay right in the thick of the race behind Winthrop.

4.     Gardner Webb

Key Returners: Tyrell Nelson, Laquincy Rideau, David Efianayi
Key Losses: Harold McBride, Adonis Burbage, Dylan Poston, Isaiah Ivey
Key Newcomers: Christian Turner, Nathan Johnson


Postseason Projection: None

Unlike basically every other Big South team, Gardner Webb’s strength is its frontcourt. Tyrell Nelson is one of the best players in the league, and gigantic Frenchman L’Hassane Niangane owns the paint when he isn’t in foul trouble. They also have high-upside sophomore Brandon Miller, who showed a lot of potential last year with his versatile game on both ends. They rode those horses to one of the league’s best interior defenses, although due to the inability of their high-usage guards to finish at the rim, they were poor inside the arc on offense.

Most of the inefficient guard culprits have moved on, and that means increased playing time for promising sophomore PG Laquincy Rideau. Like almost every frosh PG, he struggled with turnovers, and he straight up cannot shoot whatsoever (26% from 3, 45% from FT), but he’s a strong guard who can get into the lane easily, finishes well when he gets there, and does an excellent job of setting up teammates when he draws extra help. With so much production gone from the perimeter, Rideau is due for a breakout.

Another wing due for a big year is David Efianayi. He was off to a very nice start to his redshirt freshman campaign last season, but he got hurt halfway through, stunting his development. The graduated foursome listed in Key Losses basically seemed to play “my turn, your turn” to chuck threes last year, and without that disrupting the offense, Efianayi should have more of a chance to get in a comfort zone. Other wing options include defensive specialist Jamaal Robateau, JUCO guard Liam O’Reilly, and true freshmen Christian Turner and Nate Johnson.

No more three-pointer carousel will also allow Nelson to have a major breakout. He’s excellent on the glass and at drawing fouls, overpowering Big South bigs with his strength and work rate. Miller could be Nelson Lite off the bench, although he’s not quite the defensive rebounder that Nelson is.

Defensively, the Runnin’ Bulldogs used a mix of mostly man and some zone to have the league’s third-best defense, particularly strong due to the presence of Niangane inside and their penchant for forcing turnovers. To that end, Rideau’s insane 6.9% steal rate would have led the entire country if he played a few more minutes; he’s a bulldog that bothers the hell out of opposing ball-handlers, although he’ll need to cut down his fouling. Niangane is also prone to hacking, which is why coach Tim Craft sometimes prefers to zone it to protect him.

The offense will be drastically different from last year by necessity, but that may be for the best. The Dogs should be able to maintain an upper tier Big South defense, so if Nelson can become the focal point of a better O, GW has a chance to contend this year.

5.     High Point

Key Returners: Anthony Lindauer
Key Losses: John Brown, Adam Weary, Lorenzo Cugini, Haiishen McIntyre
Key Newcomers: Jalen Williams, James Manns, Jamal Wright, Carter Skaggs


Postseason Projection: None

A heartfelt goodbye to John Brown, one of the best dunkers in all of college basketball and an elite Big South talent for the last 4 years. It was a damn shame he never got to see the NCAA Tournament (and the public never got to see him), but that’s the way things go unfortunately. Going with him are three other very good starters, leaving coach Scott Cherry with a roster in flux and some major questions after going 12-4 or 13-5 in conference every year that class was around.

Cherry’s a pretty proven winner, though, using a slower tempo and a highly efficient offense (#1 or #3 in the conference for the past 5 years) to methodically knock off opponents. With so much turnover in the roster, the key player void is open, but my best guesses to fill that are junior point guard Austin White and redshirt senior big Miles Bowman, both of whom really came on late in the season (Bowman might have been their best player in the Big South tourney, and White was in the loss to South Carolina in the NIT).  The leading returning scorer is Anthony Lindauer, but unless he adds more dribble drive to his game, he’s best used as a spot-up, complementary type - he knocked down 38% of his threes last year. White didn’t handle the ball a ton last year with two solid senior PG-types, but he should step into that role in 2016-17, and he should thrive as both a scorer and passer with the ball in his hands. Bowman, on the other hand, will step into the Brown role in Cherry’s four-out, one-in offense, an active rebounder on both ends and a good athlete (if not quite on the level of Brown). Ricky Madison is also an option up front, though he’ll probably continue to play a backup role as long as Bowman is around.

As for the rest of the four-out part, Lorenzo Cugini will be difficult to replace as a smooth-shooting stretch big  man. Tarique Thompson is a very different player, more of a big athletic wing, meaning either Luke Vargo or Cliff Thomas will have to play some. Vargo actually has a smooth stroke and could end up taking the Cugini role - his biggest negative is that he wants to be an accountant, DON’T DO IT LUKE!

Two last players to watch offensively are sophomore Andre Fox and JUCO transfer Jalen Williams. Both can provide a decent wing scoring presence, particularly Fox if he continues to develop like he did towards the end of the year.

The biggest concern with remaining relevant is the defense. They weren’t good last year, and Brown was the only thing even resembling a rim protector on the roster. If they fall off even further from the poor mark they had last year, teams could really rack up the points on them. Per Synergy, they play man 93% of the time, and perhaps that improves without Cugini’s matador D at the four, but Cherry will need to focus on this area if the Panthers hope to compete.

6.     Campbell

Key Returners: Chris Clemons, Kyre‘ Hammer, Shane Whitfield
Key Losses: Troy Harper, DJ Mason
Key Newcomers: Damontez Oliver, Austin Burnette, Marcus Burk


Postseason Projection: None

It’s easy to fall in love with an alliterative combination like sophomore Chris Clemons and the Campbell Camels. Clemons was nothing short of awesome as a freshman point guard, rarely turning it over and shooting 35% from deep - both uncommon for a frosh PG. Unfortunately, pretty much no one else on the team could shoot, which is a very bad sign when you’re taking as many threes as coach Kevin McGeehan wants them to.

Clemons should only continue to get better, but he (and the team as a whole) needs to improve his passing. Campbell had one of the lowest assist rates in the country while playing a spread motion style offense, too often devolving into isolations for my-turn, your-turn bad three-pointers. That shot selection contributed to the team’s pitiful outside shooting. One of the main culprits, Troy Harper, transferred, so ideally the offense will become more fluid this year. Kyre’ Hammer can be a decent secondary ball-handler and is a good perimeter defender, Khadre Lane showed flashes of being an effective driver as a freshman, and Shane Whitfield was the team’s most efficient player due to his insanely high free throw rate - the guy got to the line like Bond gets the girl (which is to say, pretty much all the time).

The most intriguing part of this team, though is its freshman class. Damontez Oliver, Austin Burnette, and Marcus Burk should all be impact players right away, and Cory Gensler should eventually be a nice Big South player. Oliver is a super bouncy wing, probably one of the best dunkers in the conference right out of the gate. Burnette is a skilled post man best known for his midrange jumper; he’s also good with the ball in his hands as a driver and passer, which should fit into Campbell’s system very well and create mismatches throughout the Big South. Finally, Burk is a power guard who is also very good in the midrange. It’s possible two of those three start, and the success of the Camels is highly dependent on how quickly they’re ready.

The Camels’ sieve of a defense was a real problem. They had a near-even split between zone and man, per Synergy, but neither one of them prevented opponents from gashing them from the perimeter (and inside, really). If sophomore Andrew Eudy can develop as a rim protector or Burnette helps in that department, it would drastically improve the defense, but I wouldn’t bank on that happening.

The Big South has a pretty clear 1-5 and 6-10 divide, in my opinion, and I like Clemons and the freshmen enough to say that the Camels will be the top of that tier. They’ll need to shore up the D and hit more of their threes, but it’s possible for them. Plus, the rest of the league isn’t overwhelming enough to think any of them should clearly be ahead.

7.     Longwood

Key Returners: Darrion Allen, Khris Lane, Damarion Geter
Key Losses: Lotanna Nwogbo, Tra’Vaughn White, Kanayo Obi-Rapu, Shaquille Johnson, Leron Fisher
Key Newcomers: Kendrick Thompson, Oscar Cabrera, Isaiah Walton, Juan Munoz


Postseason Projection: None

One of our favorite slogans here at 3MW is “addition by subtraction” - sometimes, it’s better to just purge your roster and let a group of newcomers try to gel and create something better. Longwood certainly hopes that phrase can be true, as they lose their five highest-usage players from a team that tied for last in the league.

Replacing them will be a menagerie of newcomers, both via JUCO and freshmen, and a couple returnees who should enjoy seeing a little more of the ball. Darrion Allen has served as little more than a 3-and-D standstill guy, but he has been very effective in that role (48% from deep), and the Lancers might be best served to keep in that role if the newbies can take the lead. Khris Lane is the other returning starter, a former Drexel player who should be the team’s best rebounder. He’s also a fairly skilled scorer, but again, he just didn’t see the ball very much last year. Chris Shields and Damarion Geter both return from injuries (Shields played in 12 games before going down, Geter missed the whole year), and they’ll provide nice depth. Geter had one of the lowest usages I’ve ever seen in 2014-15 (took 4.3% of shots lol), so he’ll be a complementary piece also.

So who will take all of those departed shots? Well, that’s a little hard to say. My best guesses are JUCO transfers Kendrick Thompson and Isaiah Walton, mixed in with a lot of freshman hyper-athlete Jashaun Smith and his teammate Juan Munoz. Thompson was the best scorer at his previous stop, averaging 14ppg for a very good Daytona State team. Walton is a good driver with a nice three-point stroke. Smith is a great athlete who dunks with ease, and he should also be a great defender in the Big South. Finally, Munoz is a feisty PG who has a nice pull-up trey in his arsenal if his defender goes under a ball screen and a nice crossover to boot.

Behind Lane, Shields, and Geter, the Lancers should be a very good rebounding team, although the defense will once again struggle. Getting all the newcomers to mesh into a good defense will be a massive challenge for coach Jayson Gee, though perhaps having his son Bryan Gee on the team (and actually kind of in the rotation, not a courtesy walk-on) will help with the unity. Longwood has a wide range of outcomes due to all the uncertainty, but it’s unlikely they’ll rise above 6th at the highest.

8.     Charleston Southern

Key Returners: Armel Potter, Patrick Wallace, Raemond Robinson, Javis Howard
Key Losses: Aaron Wheeler, Demetrius Pollard
Key Newcomers: Jamar Martin, Jamal Thomas, Cortez Mitchell


Postseason Projection:

It’s not very common to see a coach stay at a Big South (or equivalent) program for 12 years, but that’s the case for Barclay Radebaugh at Charleston Southern. More often, if the coach is good, he’ll get a chance at a bigger job, and if he’s not, he’ll get fired and the school will hope another new candidate can build them to relevance. Being in the middle is rare, but I would say Radebaugh has done an above-average job in his first 11 years at the helm in Charleston. He’s never made a tourney, but the team has pushed toward the top half of the standings 3 times in the last 5 years (including tying for the title in 2013 and 2015), and he’s earned the athletic department’s trust.

This year’s squad returns a strong backcourt led by future (current?) Big South stud Armel Potter (sadly, he’s not a wizard) at point guard, the linchpin of an offense that took good care of the ball and shot fairly effectively - good signs with a frosh at PG. Now, Radebaugh’s fire-away-from-deep offense, traditionally played with four shooters on the floor, had plenty of other weaknesses - the Bucs rarely offensive rebound, and the free throw line must scare them or something - and the hope is that returning four starters along with adding some talented newcomers will boost that efficiency.

On the wing, Raemond Robinson and Patrick Wallace will both fire away at will from beyond the arc - the pair took 347 threes together while combining for 75 attempted twos and, remarkably, 36 total free throws. Seriously, did someone tell these guys the Grim Reaper waits at the charity stripe? It’s a symptom of Radebaugh’s four-out attack, but that’s still insane. JUCO guard Cortez Mitchell turned down several higher profile schools (including my beloved Mizzou) to play in Charleston, and he’ll be a nice add to the backcourt that will let Potter play off the ball at times. Christian Keeling was an all-state player in Georgia last year, and he’ll be a quality scorer that will play a ton in the four-guard lineups, too.

As for the “one” in the four-out, one-in, Javis Howard will play the lion’s share of minutes while being backed up by sophomore Melvin Brooks. Both are promising players, but Howard’s soft rebounding and Brooks’s hacking obsession (10 fouls per 40 minutes!) really limited their effectiveness. Maybe skilled redshirt freshman Antwan Maxwell can help, but he’s not going to be an impactful defender either. Ugo Mmonu was coming on strong in the middle of the year before he got hurt, but he’s also just 6’6.

Due to the lack of size on the floor, Charlie South will play a fair amount of zone, desperately trying to keep opponents out of the paint, where they feasted last year. They actually rebound incredibly well out of that zone and in man (and somehow always do under Radebaugh), but because they’re so compact, they don’t force any turnovers either. They’re extremely vulnerable to teams that can bully them inside...and teams that can shoot from the outside. Pick a poison, Barclay!

While the offense will be better than last year, the defense will probably just as bad if not worse, meaning they won’t separate a ton from the pack at the bottom of the standings.

9.     Radford

Key Returners: Ed Polite, Justin Cousin
Key Losses: Cameron Jones, Rashun Davis, YaYa Anderson, Brandon Holcomb, Kion Brown
Key Newcomers: Dominique Williams, Donald Hicks, Carlik Jones, Devonnte Holland


Postseason Projection: None

Radford reminds me of one of last season’s first big upsets, when they won at Georgetown on a buzzer beater by the graduated Rashun Davis. Davis headlined a touted senior class, but they were unfortunately never able to win anything of note. Coach Mike Jones (who?! Mike Jones!) must start over with stud sophomore Ed Polite and a cast of unknowns, and it could be a long year for the Highlanders.

Let’s start with their defense, which has been the biggest issue for Radford the past 3 years. Their perimeter defense is pretty effective, running opponents off the the three point line in a near-constant man-to-man, but that just pushes drivers into the soft underbelly of the Highlander defense - they’re consistently one of the shortest teams in the country, and despite the efforts of the undersized Polite as a the conference’s 2nd-best shot-blocker, there’s just not enough size and bulk inside to truly deter interior scorers. Darius Bolstad bolsters the size inside after a solid freshman year, and look for freshman Devonnte Holland to get on the floor right away with his ability to be productive on the glass and in the paint.

The other returner of note is Justin Cousin, a role player last year who will be expected to score a great deal more this season. He was used as a spot-up shooter alongside the senior stars last season, but he should be capable of more. He’ll have a lot of reinforcements from newcomers, particularly true freshman PG Carlik Jones, FIU wing transfer Dominique Williams, and junior college transfer guard Christian Bradford. Jones is an outstanding penetrator and passer who will probably have a lot of assists offset by a lot of turnovers in his first year, while Williams and Bradford are slasher types who probably won’t help space the floor much. Christian Lutete showed flashes as a true freshman, but he’ll need to put it more together to hold off the newcomers for playing time.

That lack of spacing will hurt the driving lanes as well as Polite on the inside, clearly the team’s best player. Despite being just 6’5, he’s a great rebounder and can score on the drive or on the block. Finding good positions to get him the ball should be Jones’s main offensive priority, as Polite can get to the line at will due to his combination of power and speed.

With all the new faces, it will take awhile for this team to come together. Between the freshman and sophomore classes, though, some promise exists, and Jones will focus on developing the young guys this year.

10.   Presbyterian

Key Returners: Reggie Dillard, Ed Drew
Key Losses: Desean Murray, Markus Terry, Janeil Jenkins
Key Newcomers: JC Younger, Myles McGregor, Ayi Armel Te Te


Postseason Projection: None

Terrible pun trigger warning - the Blue Hose got “hosed” by stud DeSean Murray’s transfer to Auburn. Murray was far and away their best player, and it really wasn’t close at all. He averaged 20.2ppg, no one else was at more than 8.5. Just look at his outrageous KenPom line:

He was basically the only thing going for the Blue Hose on offense, and yet they still finished in a four-way tie for last in the Big South.

Coach Gregg Nibert is in his 28th year at the helm of Presbyterian hoops, and while he did an admirable job guiding them up to Division I in 2008, he just hasn’t gathered any momentum in the time since. His squad has yet to finish above .500 in conference play over 8 years in the league, and with a talent-thin roster yet again this year, it’s hard to expect anything better. To Nibert’s credit, he’s tried just about everything you can stylistically - the Hose have played fast and slow, taken tons of threes or eschewed them, and last year they even started to try forcing more turnovers defensively with higher ball pressure and some trapping zones. None of it has worked, though.

Which direction he goes this way is a tough guess. Without Murray, they’ll be extremely guard-oriented, featuring wings Reggie Dillard and Jaron Withers along with diminutive guards Will Adams and Darius Moore. With those last 2 on the floor a lot (and fellow 5’10 guard Davon Bell), they’ll really struggle to match up with opposing backcourts, even in the Big South, so expect the zoning to continue. The Blue Hose didn’t shoot many threes last year, but expect JC Younger and Myles McGregor to come in firing as freshmen for a team that desperately needs scoring from anywhere on the floor.

Ed Drew and Austin Venable are respectable bigs, with Drew’s offensive rebounding and the developing Venable’s shot-blocking being strengths proving especially useful. Ruben Arroyo is ostensibly the stretch four, but he shot 29% from deep and grabbed a claw-your-eyes-out 0.9% of offensive rebounds, which I think means he would run away from the ball if it came near him. True freshman JoVontae Miller is more of a big wing at 6’6, but with so many guards and so few effective big man, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play some four in small-ball lineups.

Nibert is a noble soldier, desperately trying something, anything to build some momentum. Unless the young guards far exceed expectations, it’s hard to see that happening this year.