College Basketball Preview: Big South

By Jesse Kramer

The Big South has not produced a seed other than a 16 since the 2007-08 season. Whether or not that trend changes, this should be an exciting year in the league with lots of talented teams and players. High Point returns two of the best forwards at the mid-major level, Charleston Southern returns a pair of all-conference guards, and Liberty looks to build on its Cinderella run in last year’s Big South tournament.

 

The North Favorite

1. High Point
Photo: House of Dread
Photo: House of Dread

High Point is a big step ahead of everyone else in the North division. The Panthers have two all-league forwards in John Brown and Allan Chaney, and a deep backcourt in Adam Weary, Dejuan McGaughy, Derrell Edwards, and Devante Wallace.

Brown, a redshirt sophomore, is coming off a freshman season where he earned First Team All-Conference honors. The 6’8″ power forward averaged 16.4 points on 51.7% shooting, 6.1 rebounds, 1.2 blocks, and 1.7 assists. He also ranked No. 38 in fouls drawn per 40 minutes, No. 40 in turnover rate, No. 68 in steal percentage, and No. 70 in offensive rebounding percentage.

Chaney, a graduate student, made the Second Team All-Conference with 14.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. He shot 51.3% from the field and better than 80% from the foul line. The Maryland native also posted seven double-doubles.

Weary and McGaughy, a pair of combo guards, lead the backcourt. Weary joined Brown on the All-Freshman Team last season after averaging 10.2 points, 2.3 assists, and 1.4 steals. The rookie scored in double figures 20 times and posted a career-high 19 points at Charleston Southern. McGaughy, a senior, averaged 6.9 points and 2.5 dimes per game and led the Panthers with 24 made three-pointers.

 

The North Contenders

2. Liberty

Liberty won only six games in the Big South last season, but the Flames got hot in March, winning four games at the Big Sky tournament, to earn a bid to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Flames graduated starting shooting guard Tavares Speaks, but every other noteworthy player from last year’s squad is back to pick up where they left off. Plus, they add Antwan Burrus, who started 31 games in 2011-12 but missed all of last season with an injury, and junior college transfer Joe Retic.

At guard, the Flames return John Caleb Sanders, Davon Marshall, and Casey Roberts. Sanders, the brother of former Liberty great Jesse Sanders, averaged 14.4 points and 3.6 assists in his first year as the starting point guard. It took some time for him to adjust, but by conference play he seemed more comfortable, averaging 18.2 points and 4.6 assists in 19 league games.

Marshall contributed 13.6 points and 2.8 dimes per game, both good for second on the team, and he was the club’s best three-point shooter at 43.1%. The 5’11” sharpshooter drained 107 treys. Roberts, another shooting guard, averaged 5.4 points and knocked down three-pointers at a 38.2% clip.

Retic, who averaged 11.3 points and 5.1 assists at Owens Community College last season, should be a solid contributor off the bench.

Liberty also returns JR Coronado, Tomasz Gielo, Joel Vander Pol, and Andrew Smith in the frontcourt. Coronado was one of the Big South’s best rebounders with 8.2 boards per game, and he also added 4.9 points. Gielo averaged 7.1 points and 4.3 rebounds while Vander Pol and Smith combined for eight points, 7.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks off the bench.

The addition of Burrus, who averaged 11.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in 2011-12, will provide extra depth at forward.

 

3. Radford

Radford won 21 games and appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2008-09, but since then the program had been on a decline. This year, the Highlanders have the pieces to once again win 20 games and even challenge for the conference’s NCAA tournament bid.

Returning for the Highlanders is everyone but starting guard Blake Smith—but the talented backcourt of R.J. Price, Ya Ya Anderson, and Rashun Davis should not have much trouble making up for his 4.7 points per game.

Price, a junior who should make an all-conference team this year, averaged 13.6 points and 2.5 assists, and he netted 82 three-pointers. Anderson added 8.8 points per game, and Davis made the All-Freshman Team with 8.1 points, 2.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game.

In the frontcourt, the Highlanders return Javonte Green, Kion Brown, Kyle Noreen, Jalen Carethers, and Brandon Holcolmb.

Green made the Second Team All-Conference with 14.6 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.1 steals per game, while Brown posted 5.2 points and Noreen added 3.8 points and 4.3 rebounds. Carethers, the tallest man on the team at 6’8″, averaged 3.6 points, 3.6 boards, and a team-high 1.1 blocks in only 13.7 minutes per game.

 

The North Sleeper

4. VMI

VMI has not won 20 games since the 2008-09 season, but the last three years have produced a respectable 49 victories. Although the Keydets do not have the talent to win the league, they should be able to finish above .500 for the third time in four seasons.

The Keydets return an all-league caliber forward in D.J. Covington, who won Big South Defensive Player of the Year last season. Covington is the team’s top returner with 15 points, 7.2 rebounds, three blocks, and 1.2 steals. He also shot 56% from the field. With him in the frontcourt are sophomore Phillip Anglade and redshirt sophomore Jordan Weethee. Weethee missed all of last season with an injury, but as a freshman he was a key contributor with 6.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, and 50 three-pointers.

At guard, VMI returns Rodney Glasgow, Brian Brown, and Tim Marshall. Glasgow averaged 11.7 points and 4.8 assists while shooting 37.7% from beyond the arc, and Brown averaged 8.5 points and shot 37% from deep.

 

The Rest of the North

5. Longwood

Longwood returns leading scorer Tristan Carey and starting point guard Lucas Woodhouse in its second season as a Big Sky member. The Lancers, who went 4-12 last year, bring back two additional starters in Jeylani Dublin (10.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and David Robinson (8.8 ppg, 34.5 3P%).

Carey and Woodhouse both have the talent to make all-conference teams this season. Last year, Carey averaged 15.6 points and 5.1 points while shooting 36.5% on three-pointers, and Woodhouse posted 5.2 points and 5.5 assists per game.

Junior college transfer Leron Fisher, who played at Allan Hancock last season, could contribute off the bench. He averaged 13.7 points and 4.3 assists in 2012-13.

 

6. Campbell

First-year head coach Kevin McGeehan will struggle in his first year at Campbell. The Camels will have depth in the frontcourt, but they return only one guard in Andrew Ryan, who averaged 7.1 points and 1.7 assists last season. McGeehan is bringing in four freshmen guards who will help fill in the void, although how effectively they remains a question.

At forward, the Camels return a pair of solid players in Marvelle Harris (8.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and Reco McCarter (8.0 ppg).

 

The South Favorites

1. Charleston Southern

Charleston Southern returns arguably the two best guards in the league in Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper. Nimley, who was named to the All-Conference First Team last year as a sophomore, averaged 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and five assists. Harper, an All-Conference second teamer, averaged 15.3 points and shot better than 38% on three-pointers.

The Buccaneers also return Sheldon Strickland (4.0 ppg) in the backcourt.

At forward, they return Cedrick Bowen, Paul Gombwer, and Alhaji Fullah. Bowen played only 18.1 minutes per game, but he averaged 7.5 points and four rebounds while shooting 57.5% from the field. Gombwer posted 5.5 points and 6.3 boards per contest, and Fullah average four points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks.

 

2. Gardner-Webb

Gardner-Webb is looking for back-to-back, 20-win seasons for the first time since joining Division I. The Runnin’ Bulldogs have the talent to do so with the returns of Donta Harper, Jerome Hill, and Tyler Strange, and the addition of two key transfers.

Harper has all-conference talent. The junior averaged 12.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.4 steals last year, although his 3.1 turnovers per game were way too many. Hill, who averaged 6.1 points and 4.7 boards, joins Harper in the frontcourt.

Strange, also a junior, started at point guard last season and averaged 5.6 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.6 steals. In two seasons, the 5’10” guard has already recorded well over 200 assists.

The Runnin’ Bulldogs also add a pair of impact transfers to their backcourt in Naji Hibbert and Josh Castellanos. Hibbert averaged 3.8 points as a junior at Texas A&M, and as a sophomore he posted 5.2 points per contest. Castellanos received less playing time last season at Mount St. Mary’s, but as a sophomore he logged 31 minutes per game and averaged 8.1 points and 4.6 assists.

 

The South Contender

3. UNC-Asheville

Longtime UNC-Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach resigned to take an assistant coaching job, and the Bulldogs tabbed Nick McDevitt to replace him. McDevitt spent 10 seasons as an assistant coach at UNC-Asheville, and last year he was promoted to associate head coach. Under his guidance, the Bulldogs should once again be in the mix for the Big South title.

Returning are guards Trent Meyer, Jaron Lane, and Corey Littlejohn. Meyer is the Bulldogs top returner in points (9.7 ppg), assists (3.9 apg), and steals (2.0 spg). Lane, who redshirted last year with an ankle injury, averaged 11.5 points and shot better than 57% from the field.

In the frontcourt, the Bulldogs return D.J. Cunningham and Will Weeks, and they add junior college transfer Chudier Pal. The 6’10” Cunningham is one of the Big South’s best defenders with three blocks per game. He also averaged 7.6 points and 5.7 rebounds last season. Weeks, a sophomore, was named to the All-Freshman Team with nine points per game on 59.4% field-goal shooting.

Pal, who averaged 10.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game at Roane State Community College last season, should contribute immediately.

 

The South Sleeper

4. Winthrop

Winthrop was once the king of the Big South with four straight 20-win seasons, but the last three seasons have resulted in only 39 total victories.

Winthrop may once again reach the .500 march, as it returns six of its top seven scorers.

The Eagles return their starting backcourt of Derrick Henry and Andre Smith. Henry led them in scoring last season with 11.4 points per game, while Smith posted 9.1 points and 2.2 assists and drained 58 treys. The Eagles also return reserve guard Christian Farmer (5.7 ppg) and add junior college transfer Brandon Vega, a 5’10” point guard.

Winthrop brings back Joab Jerome, Larry Brown, and James Bourne in the frontcourt. Jerome posted 10.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.2 assists last season while Brown and Bourne combined for 11.6 points and 9.5 boards per game.

 

The Rest of the South

5. Coastal Carolina

Although it has never been to the NCAA tournament, Coastal Carolina has been one of the better teams recently in the Big South with four straight winning seasons in conference play. This year, however, that should change, considering the Chanticleers lost their two best players.

Returning for Coastal Carolina is guard Warren Gillis (10.5 ppg, 1.6 spg) and forwards El Hadji Ndieguene (6.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg), Michel Enanga (6.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.4 spg), and Badou Diagne (5.4 ppg, 4.3 rpg.

The Chanticleers will add a pair of talented transfers to their backcourt in Eric Smith and Josh Cameron. Smith, who will start at point guard, averaged 5.7 points and 3.1 assists at South Carolina last season. Cameron posted 15.7 points per game at Connors State College.

 

6. Presbyterian

Presbyterian limped to a 4-12 Big South record, and things are only going downhill. The Blue Hose lost their five of their top seven scorers and bring seven newcomers onto the roster.

Aside from Jordan Downing (12.8 ppg, 43.3 3P%) and William Truss (6.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 59.0 FG%), Presbyterian is made up of a bunch of nobodies this year.

Big South Player of the Year

John Brown, High Point

Big South Defensive Player of the Year

D.J. Covington, VMI

Big South Freshman of the Year

Elijah Wilson, Coastal Carolina

Big South All-Conference Team

Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern

Javonte Green, Radford

John Brown, High Point

Allan Chaney, High Point

D.J. Covington, VMI

 

*All advanced statistics are courtesy of KenPom.

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on SI.com, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

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