Big South preview
A look at this year’s crop of men’s basketball squads
1. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
The reigning Big South tournament champions return virtually every key player from last year’s squad, setting themselves up nicely for a repeat bid. Big-time schools will envy the Chants three-man backcourt of Warren Gillis, Josh Cameron and Elijah Wilson. African-born big men Badou Diagne and Michael Enanga will not put up flashy numbers, but they get the job done. Also, announcers’ tongues will be in knots trying to pronounce the names of Chanticleers bench players Colton Ray-St Cyr and Uros Ljeskovic.
2. High Point Panthers
Big South Player of the Year (POY) John Brown returns for his junior season and will wreak havoc on the conference once again. No Big South team has the personnel to match up with the athletic forward.
3. Radford Highlanders
Just two years removed from an 0-16 season within the conference, the Highlanders went 10-6 in the Big South last year. Senior preseason all-conference selection Javonte Green is one of four returners who averaged double figures last season. Ten wins is certainly within reach again.
4. Winthrop Eagles
Miniature 5-foot-7 guard Keon Johnson partners with another Keon — Keon Moore — to form a formidable backcourt in Rock Hill. The Eagles should look more like the Gregg Marshall-era teams that won eight Big South titles in 10 years than last year’s team that went 6-10 in the conference.
5. Charleston Southern Buccaneers
Five-foot-eight Saah Nimley likes shooting, only he is not very good at it. The aggressive point guard shot only 35.9 percent from the field while taking a team-high 10.2 shots per contest. If he can score more efficiently and share the wealth with backcourt mate Arlon Harper, the Bucs will not be an easy out for anybody.
6. UNC-Asheville Bulldogs
If there is anyone who could topple Brown as Big South POY, it is Bulldogs sharpshooter Andrew Rowsey. No freshman in the NCAA scored more than Rowsey’s 20.3 average last year. If the Lexington, Virginia, native gets hot, he can drop a ton of points in a short amount of time.
7. Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
Stocky forward Jerome Hill might not be taller or longer than his opponents, but he is probably stronger. For those who like watching old-school, grind-it-out basketball, Hill is a treat to watch. Seven of the Bulldogs 10 conference wins last year were by single digits, so regressing slightly may be in the cards.
8. Campbell Camels
The Camels lost all-name team veteran Leek Leek, (yes, Leek Leek), but strongly named star Reco McCarter is poised for a big senior season. Freshman arrival Nehemiah Mabson helps pick up the slack in the name category as well.
9. Liberty Flames
After a disappointing follow-up to a surprise 2013 Big South Tournament run, the Flames will put a new-look squad on the floor for the 2014-2015 season. Nine of the Flames 14 players were not on the roster last year. Post-graduate transfer James Johnson will finally get an opportunity to play big minutes after playing sparingly at his previous stops at Virginia and San Diego State. With veteran guards John Caleb Sanders and Davon Marshall graduated, junior Joe Retic will be handed the keys to the offense.
10. Presbyterian Blue Hose
The Blue Hose finished last in the conference last year and could do it again this year. Shooting guard Jordan Downing is a threat to lead the conference in scoring — he averaged 20.2 per game last year — but that is one of the lone bright spots for
11. Longwood Lancers
As a program, Longwood is still settling in, and losing three-year starter Tristan “T.T.” Carey will not help things. Transfers Quincy Taylor and Shaquille Johnson will provide a spark for second-year coach Jason Gee’s Lancers.
Tichenor is the sports editor.