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Men's Hoops Tabbed to Finish 4th in Big South North Division
The Liberty Flames men's basketball team was selected to finish fourth in the Big South Conference North Division for the 2012-13 season, as voted on by the conference's head coaches and members of the media. The announcement was made Tuesday at the Renaissance Suites Hotel in Charlotte, N.C., as part of the 2012-13 Big South Basketball Tip-Off Media Luncheon.
Liberty is coming off a 14-18 season, finishing fifth in last year's Big South standings. After beginning the conference slate 0-6, the Flames turned things around, winning nine of their last 12 Big South contests to finish with a 9-9 conference mark in 2011-12.
Head coach Dale Layer enters his fourth year with the program, returning three of his top five scorers from last season – Antwan Burrus, John Caleb Sanders and Tavares Speaks.
Burrus will take the court for his senior season, looking to cement a place in the Liberty record books. The Winterville, N.C., native concluded the 2011-12 season fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 11.2 points per game. Along with his point total, Burrus also led the team in blocked shots with 36 and was second in rebounding, grabbing 6.3 boards per game. The forward enters the 2012-13 campaign with 104 career blocked shots (fourth in school history) and is on pace to become the 23rd member of Liberty's 1,000-point club.
Sanders, the younger brother of former Flames point guard and all-time assist leader Jesse Sanders, returns for his third season. After seeing limited action during his freshman campaign, John Caleb became an offensive threat for Liberty a year ago, finishing the year as the Flames' third-leading scorer with 11.6 points per game. In addition, Sanders was effective from behind the three-point arc, leading the team in three-point field goals with 61.
Transferring to Liberty from Cape Fear last season, Speaks instantly provided the Flames with a strong presence on both ends of the court. Averaging 10.2 points per game, the Raleigh, N.C., native concluded the year second on the team behind Jesse Sanders in steals with 37. As a junior, Speaks posted double-digit scoring figures in 19 contests, while garnering multiple steals in a game on 11 occasions.
The voting panel tabbed Campbell (166 points) as the preseason favorite to finish first in the North Division. The Fighting Camels hold a 30-point margin over 2012 Big South Championship runner-up VMI (136). The teams rounding out the division are High Point (103), Liberty (98), Radford (57) and Longwood (49). Charleston Southern was picked to finish No. 1 in the South Division. VMI's Stan Okoye was tabbed the Big South Preseason Player of the Year.
The first official day of practice for the Flames is slated for Friday. Liberty's 2012-13 season begins on the road against Richmond, Nov. 9, at 7 p.m.
Liberty will play its first of 15 home games Nov. 12, when the Flames play host to William & Mary. Nearly two months later on Jan. 5, Liberty will host defending champion UNC Asheville for its Big South Conference opener.
Both the 2013 Big South Men's and Women's Basketball Championships will be played at Coastal Carolina's brand-new The HTC Center in Conway, S.C. The men's tournament will span March 5-10, with the winner earning the Big South Conference's automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.
2012-13 Men's Basketball Preseason Poll
Rk Team (first-place votes) – Points
1. Campbell (21) – 166
2. VMI (5) – 136
3. High Point (3) – 103
4. Liberty – 98
5. Radford – 57
6. Longwood – 49
Rk Team (first-place votes) – Points
1. Charleston Southern – 157
2. Coastal Carolina – 147
3. UNC Asheville – 130
4. Winthrop – 67
5. Gardner-Webb – 58
6. Presbyterian – 50
2012-13 Preseason Men's Basketball All-Conference Team
Stan Okoye, VMI – Preseason Player of the Year
Darren White, Campbell
Anthony Raffa, Coastal Carolina
Trey Freeman, Campbell
Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern
Khalid Mutakabbir, Presbyterian
Jeremy Atkinson, UNC Asheville
Arlon Harper, Charleston Southern
Kierre Greenwood, Coastal Carolina
Tashan Newsome, Gardner-Webb