The Liberty Flames men's basketball team was selected to finish second in the Big South Conference North Division for the 2013-14 season, as voted on by the conference's head coaches and members of the media. The announcement was made Thursday at the Sheraton Myrtle Beach Convention Center Hotel as part of the 2013-14 Big South Basketball Tip-Off Media Luncheon. Liberty enters the upcoming season as the defending conference champions after an incredible run in the 2013 Big South Championship. Despite being seeded at No. 5 in the North Division, the Flames persevered to win four straight games, punching their ticket to the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Along with its third conference title and third trip to The Big Dance, Liberty became the just the second 20-loss team to appear in the NCAA Tournament.
Head coach Dale Layer enters his fifth year with the program, returning four starters from last year's squad – JR Coronado, Tomasz Gielo, Davon Marshall and John Caleb Sanders. Antwan Burrus, a 2011-12 starter, also returns for his final year after missing the entire 2012-13 campaign due to injury.
The voting panel tabbed High Point (175 points) as the preseason favorite to finish first in the North Division. The Panthers hold a 38-point margin over the Flames (137). The teams rounding out the division are Radford (104), VMI (93), Campbell (78) and Longwood (43). Charleston Southern was picked to finish No. 1 in the South Division.
High Point's John Brown was tabbed the Big South Preseason Player of the Year. Along with Brown, the Big South Preseason All-Conference first team includes High Point's Allan Chaney, VMI's D.J. Covington and Charleston Southern's Arlon Harper and Saah Nimley.
Liberty's Marshall and Sanders were voted to the preseason second team. Joining the tandem are Longwood's Tristan Carey, Radford's Javonte Green and Gardner-Webb's Donta Harper.
Marshall, the 2013 Big South Tournament MVP, put on a show during the four-game span in Myrtle Beach, last season. In addition to averaging 18.0 ppg, the Niagara Falls, N.Y., native went 20-of-33 (.606) from the field, 17-of-24 (.708) from three-point land and 15-of-16 (.938) at the foul line. The guard's 17 three-pointers set a new tournament record.
During Liberty's NCAA First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, Marshall set another benchmark, knocking down six treys to surpass Seth Curry (102) for the program's single-season three-point field goal record. Marshall concluded the year with 107 triples.
Sanders is coming off a year in which he led the Flames in scoring, averaging 14.4 ppg. Along with Marshall, the Sugar Land, Texas native was voted to the Big South All-Tournament team for his stellar performance during the 2013 Big South Championship. Sanders played an instrumental role in the championship game, tying a career high in scoring with a 27-point effort.
Sanders went on to reach an important milestone during Liberty's NCAA Tournament appearance, posting 21 tallies to become the 23rd member of the program's 1,000-point club. The senior enters his final season with 1,013 career points.
The Flames open the 2013-14 season on Nov. 8, playing host to Randolph College inside the Vines Center. Two months later, Liberty will kick off conference play on the road, when it squares off against Radford.
Both the 2014 Big South Men's and Women's Basketball Championships will be played at Coastal Carolina's The HTC Center in Conway, S.C. The men's tournament will span March 5-9, with the winner earning the Big South Conference's automatic bid to the 2014 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship.
2013-14 Men's Basketball Preseason Poll North Division Rk Team (first-place votes) – Points 1. High Point (25) – 175 2. Liberty (3) – 137 3. Radford – 104 4. VMI (2) – 93 5. Campbell – 78 6. Longwood – 43
South Division Rk Team (first-place votes) – Points 1. Charleston Southern (28) – 177 2. Gardner-Webb – 117 3. Coastal Carolina (2) – 115 4. UNC Asheville – 99 5. Winthrop – 90 6. Presbyterian – 32
2013-14 Preseason Men's Basketball All-Conference Team First Team John Brown, High Point (Preseason Player of the Year) Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern Arlon Harper, Charleston Southern Allan Chaney, High Point D.J. Covington, VMI
Second Team Javonte Green, Radford John Caleb Sanders, Liberty Davon Marshall, Liberty Donta Harper, Gardner-Webb Tristan Carey, Longwood
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