- Jim Root
3MW’s All Conference Team:
Player of the Year: Chris Clemons, Sr., Campbell
Coach of the Year: Kevin McGeehan, Campbell
Newcomer of the Year: Shabooty Phillips, Jr., Longwood
Freshman of the Year: Jose Perez, Gardner-Webb
1. Mr. 3000 Wins A Title
To cap off an incredible, 3000+ point career in Buies Creek, Chris Clemons saved the best for last: helping the Camels earn a share of the league championship on Senior Day at home against title favorite Radford. The pint-sized assassin had 30 of the Camels’ 64 points, and in doing so earned the right to play at home as long as he and his teammates remain in the conference tournament. With that victory, America’s chances of seeing (and falling in love with) Clemons in The Big Dance ratcheted up considerably.
2. Monster Middle Tier
As you can see in my preseason rankings, I thought the middle of the Big South would be nearly indistinguishable. And with six teams at either 10-6 or 9-7 in conference play, that was even truer than I could have guessed. Any of those six teams could conceivably win the tournament - two of them are actually ranked higher in KenPom than Campbell is - and the depth of competition should make quarterfinal Thursday a bloodbath.
3. Baby Bulldogs Struggle
After 11 straight years with double-digit league wins, UNC Asheville had to start from scratch this season. Asheville was the youngest team in the entire country: the rotation consisted of seven freshmen, two sophomores, and a lone senior. DeVon Baker, Tajion Jones, and Coty Jude all look like they’ll be major weapons in the years to come, but the growing pains led to a season with only two Division I wins (both against USC Upstate).
Everybody qualifies for the Big South Tournament, meaning Charleston Southern and Presbyterian are forced into the (dis)honor of having to dispatch USC Upstate and UNC Asheville, respectively, before the quarterfinals. The quarters and semis will both be held at Campbell, which is the best kind of conference tournament - 4 quarterfinals in one day at one site. The final will shift to the home of the highest remaining seed.
Best Team and Projected NCAA Tournament Seed
Despite the previously mentioned Clemons heroics, I still maintain that Radford is the Big South’s best team. The Highlanders won at Texas and at Notre Dame (when the Irish were healthy) during the nonconference portion of the year, and the inside/outside combination of Ed Polite and Carlik Jones is formidable. After winning a First Four game in Dayton last year, Radford would likely be a pesky 14- or 15-seed this time around.
Of course, I’m not counting out Campbell, especially at home. Andrew Eudy has been chronically underrated while playing alongside Clemons, a skilled big man who hits threes, blocks shots, and facilitates the offense. And if they need a basket late in a tight game, there’s very few players in the country I’d take over Campbell’s tiny terror.
Dark Horse Team
Remember that massive middle tier I discussed in the “Storylines” portion above? Go ahead and take your pick for a dark horse. Hampton is all the way down at the 8-seed, but the Big South newcomer could play spoiler thanks to a prolific scoring duo in Jermaine Marrow (25.3ppg) and Kalin Fisher (16.5ppg). Winthrop is well-coached and takes a gazillion threes, meaning the Eagles could make a run if they’re hot. Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, and Presbyterian all have stars capable of carrying their respective teams. And don’t forget that High Point is coached by Tubby Smith, a seasoned vet of the postseason environment.
I’ll be semi-bold and go with Hampton, though. Provided they can get by Longwood (no easy feat with Griff Aldrich on the sideline for the Lancers), the Pirates have the firepower to make a run, and they gave Campbell plenty of trouble this year (won by 6 at home, lost by 3 in Buies Creek). Robbing us of Clemons would be a travesty, but Marrow would be a great consolation prize.
(7) Presbyterian over (10) UNC Asheville
(6) Charleston Southern over (11) USC Upstate
(8) Hampton over (9) Longwood
(2) Radford over (7) Presbyterian
(6) Charleston Southern over (3) Winthrop
(1) Campbell over (8) Hampton
(4) Gardner-Webb over (5) High Point - unless Brandonn Kamga plays and is fully healthy
(2) Radford over (6) Charleston Southern
(1) Campbell over (4) Gardner-Webb
(1) Campbell over (2) Radford
If Hampton is able to knock off Campbell, I think they get to the finals and lose a good one to Radford. I’m not quite ballsy enough to pick that, though. Instead, I’ll hop on board the Clemons Caravan.