3. High Point Panthers
Last Year: 23-10 (13-5), 2nd BSC, 2nd Rd CIT
Stuck in the Middle? PC, GWU, CSU
Our team breaks down the Big South in tiers based on preseason voting from our panel of experts. Today we look at the back half of the middle tier.
Departures: Devante Wallace (10.3 ppg), Brian Richardson (6.8 ppg)
Key Returners: John Brown (19.3 ppg), Lorenzo Cugini (9.8 ppg), Adam Weary (9.3 ppg)
John Brown announced before last season that he'd leave High Point after his junior year. Brown reversed that decision last spring and is now back for his senior year finally hoping to propel the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament. High Point has had tremendous regular season success under Brown and head coach Scott Cherry but the Panthers are 0-3 in the Big South Tournament over the last three years losing all three games by a combined margin of just four points.
We all know what John Brown can do and how he is the conference's best player but this season is going to come down to the guys around him. High Point has two things, John Brown and perimeter threats with Lorenzo Cugini and Anthony Lindauer. Cherry needs to expand on that this year with a guard to dictate games, another big, and solid defense.
Brown is forced to do a lot for the Panthers and he's not your traditional big man. He's more of a guy that will be a wing or small forward on the professional level. Cherry has failed to find a guy that play down low and allow Brown to be at his best. That help could come this season with Miles Bowman, a junior college transfer who missed all of last season for HPU. Bowman is still only 6'6 though and the Panthers still might have trouble banging with teams like Winthrop and Longwood.
Who handles the ball for HPU this year? There is a bit of a platoon between Adam Weary, Haiishen McIntyre, and Jorge Perez-Laham this year after Perez-Laham did not take the natural first step a year ago. Cherry needs to find a natural rotation and some grit at the guard position that could help the Panthers finally find some postseason success.
4. Longwood Lancers
Last Year: 11-23 (5-13), 9th BSC
Departures: Quincy Taylor (17.2 ppg), Ryan Badowski (7.3 ppg)
Key Returners: Shaquille Johnson (13.6 ppg), Lotanna Nwogbo (12.9 ppg), Leron Fisher (10.8 ppg)
Longwood woke up the Big South last year when the Lancers took down the top seeded Charleston Southern Buccaneers in the conference quarterfinals. Coach Jayson Gee is back for year three with his most talented roster yet and the Lancers are poised for a breakout year.
At the core of what Longwood is doing is big man Lotanna Nwogbo who missed the second half of Longwood's season a year ago after injury his wrist in Charleston on January 10. Nwogbo was well on his way to an accolade filled season with nearly 13 points and over 8 rebounds per game. Before getting injured he was actually on a streak of three straight double-doubles. Nwogbo will also have a partner in crime this year with Drexel transfer Khris Lane. Lane lead the Lancers in points and rebounds on their August trip to the Dominican Republic.
Longwood's frontcourt actually looked really deep with the return of Jason Pimentel and Shaq Johnson but both are currently suspended indefinitely from the team for possession of marijuana. The status of those two, especially Johnson, may determine how serious a contender the Lancers will be.
Gee will still have a solid squad regardless of the suspension situation. Leron Fisher is back at the point guard spot and has proven over the past two seasons that he's the conferences premier defensive guard. Fisher showed last year that he has an offensive side as well averaging 14.1 points per game in conference play. Tra'Vaughn White, a Duquesne transfer, also adds another weapon in the backcourt to replace Quincy Taylor. White can play off the ball and just a few years ago he lead the junior college ranks in scoring. Rounding out the trio of backcourt threats is Kanayo Obi-Rapu who is ready to take the next step after averaging over 4 points per game as a freshman.
5. UNC Asheville Bulldogs
Last Year: 15-16 (10-8), t-6 BSC
Departures: Andrew Rowsey (TR, 19.2 ppg), Kem Ubaru (TR, 8.2 ppg), Jaleel Roberts (7 ppg), Corey Littlejohn (3.9 ppg), Chudier Pal (3 ppg),
Key Returners: David Robertson (10.7 ppg), Kevin Vannatta (7.6 ppg), Sam Hughes (6.1 ppg)
Head coach Nick McDevitt heads into his third season at the helm with a major rebuilding project on his hands. After going 17-15 in McDevitt's first season at the helm, the Bulldogs finished a game below .500 last season, but equaled their conference win total from a year earlier, notching 10 victories. In his first two seasons, the new head coach has at least kept the Bulldogs above water, and after following in the footsteps of the legendary Eddie Biedenbach--a former Dean Smith disciple at North Carolina--the pressure to get the Bulldogs back competing in the top tier of the Big South will increase as he moves forward.
This season, McDevitt must deal with the transfer of talented guard and Lexington, VA native Andrew Rowsey, who has transferred to Marquette. Rowsey was one of McDevitt's first recruits and garnered Big South Freshman of the Year honors back in 2013-14. The sharp-shooting guard averaged 19.2 PPG last season and knocked down 102 triples, which ranked second in the Big South.
Despite that loss, however, the Bulldogs return a healthy nucleus, highlighted by guards Kevin Vannatta (7.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG) and wing guard David Robertson (10.7 PPG, 2.7 APG), who might see his role change with Rowsey's departure. The Bulldogs won't be the biggest team underneath like they have been in some recent seasons, but do return 6-9 post Giacomo Zilli (5.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG), as welcoming 6-10 Georgia graduate transfer John Cannon. The Bulldogs also return 6-4 forward Sam Hughes (6.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and 6-6 junior Will Weeks (4.5 PPG, 4.5 RPG), who returns from injury. Ahmad Thomas returns as a key supplemental guard off the bench. Of the newcomers, keep an eye on guards, in 6-3 Jack Costigan and 6-5 Dwayne Sutton, who could step in and player major minutes from the outset this season.