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Big South preseason rankings: Radford looks to build on last season’s NCAA Tournament appearance

Winthrop, UNC Asheville and newcomer Hampton will challenge the Highlanders at the top.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Four-LIU Brooklyn vs. Radford Brian Spurlock -USA TODAY Sports

Unlike other conferences, the Big South’s parity was extremely high — especially during conference play. With eight teams who went .500 or better during conference play, the power rankings picture changes depending on who you talk to.

Overall, UNC Asheville came out on top in the regular season while Radford went dancing in March. The conference will be close again, especially with a new addition in Hampton. Coming off an NIT berth, the Pirates have been one of the most dominant D1 HBCU’s this century. The Pirates are ready to shake some things up — perfect timing since Liberty left for the Atlantic Sun.

Although Hampton’s departure from the MEAC was rather interesting and affected some schedules of their teams, the basketball program will be fully entrenched in Big South play. With a new school and a lot of returning stars, the Big South will be loaded once again.

Here’s our Big South Power Rankings!

Radford (23-13, 12-6 Big South)

Radford went on a roll to finish off their season last year. Before losing to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament, the team went on an eight-game winning streak and won the Big South’s tourney bid. That bid was clinched with a last-second three-pointer, otherwise known as “The Shot.”

The combo of Carlik Jones (reigning Big South Freshman of the Year) and Ed Polite Jr. are returning for another year. Coach Mike Jones was offered a contract extension as well. Expect Radford to be ready to roll this season.

Winthrop (19-12, 12-6 Big South)

Big South Player of the Year Xavier Cooks will be missed by the Eagles. Coach Pat Kelsey still returns an experienced squad that includes Bjorn Broman and Nych Smith. Some role players might see more minutes as well. The Eagles will be a team at the top for sure; expect a battle for first place with Radford.

Hampton (19-16, 12-4 MEAC)

Hampton is new to the conference. So after you look up what an HBCU is, or maybe the MEAC — and even the school itself — look up Jermaine Marrow.

He was third in the MEAC in scoring last year as a sophomore. Marrow will still produce in a new conference. Last season he scored at least 20 points in 16 games, and in double-figures in all but four games. If you would hypothetically compare his 19.1 PPG to the rest of the Big South, he’d rank second in the conference.

Hampton is a strong basketball program for sure, and quite honestly the best MEAC basketball program in terms of conference dominance before their jump to the Big South. Get used to the Pirates; they are ready to strike.

UNC Asheville (21-13, 13-5 Big South)

UNC Asheville dominated the Big South. Their 13 Big South wins lined them up for an amazing run for the tourney until Liberty had other plans. Despite the loss, the Bulldogs pushed USC to two overtimes in the NIT first round.

Things were looking up until the transfer bug hit the Bulldogs. Key players Jonathan Bähre transferred to Clemson, Drew Rackley transferred to Division II Charleston, and MaCio Teague transferred to Baylor. With those key departures, the Bulldogs will take a step back this season.

Campbell (18-16, 10-8 Big South)

Chris Clemons. When hearing his name, there are two reactions. For Campbell fans, there’s joy and excitement; for everyone else its fear and anxiety. Why?

This man averaged 24.9 points per game, and that’s fourth in the nation. He started last season by dropping 39 points on Penn State. He dropped 42 points on Liberty in late January and went on to score at least 20 points in the final eight regular season games.

But basketball is a team sport and the Camels will need a better team effort this season, especially when having four players transfer out the program. But hey, Clemons is still dangerous.

High Point (14-16, 9-9 Big South)

Tubby Smith returns home. This season, High Point is led by a coaching legend who’s still able to lead a team to success. Smith has led 5 teams to the NCAA Tournament (Tulsa, Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota and Texas Tech). And he has Jahaad Proctor returning this year: the heartbeat of an HPU team who lost steam during the second half of the conference stretch.

Charleston Southern (15-16, 9-9 Big South)

Charleston Southern literally amped up and went 8-3 during their last 11 games of the season. Their last three losses were decided by five points or less. With that roll, CSU will be looking to capitalize on the newfound energy they tapped into during last season. Christian Keeling leads CSU as they try to get over the hump and reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997. Keeling will be even more effective this season: He’s only the 5th player in league history to score over 1,000 points during his first two seasons.

Gardner-Webb (14-18, 9-9 Big South)

Having three teams at .500 in a conference schedule is rare, and G-W was one of them. They took a few close losses in non-conference play and played close in most of their Big South contests. The Bulldogs are led by returning guard David Efianayi. He earned second-team All-Big South Conference honors and ranked fourth in the Big South with 17.5 points per game.

Presbyterian (11-21, 4-14 Big South)

Historically, Presbyterian has struggled in the Big South. They have not reached .500 in conference play since they first joined the conference in 2007. Fifth-year senior Davon Bell (12.8 PPG, 5.2 APG) will be looking to change the narrative during his last season at PC.

Longwood (7-26, 3-15 Big South)

Despite the record, Longwood showed promise last season. They upset High Point in the first round of the conference tournament and only lost to eventual-champion Radford by six points in the next round. Expect some more conference wins from Longwood this season.

USC Upstate (7-25, 2-12 ASUN)

The newest member of the conference also has a new coach in Dave Dickerson. The former assistant under Thad Matta and scout for the Utah Jazz inherits a team that ranked dead-last in the nation in defense per KenPom last year. The good news is that leading scorer Deion Holmes (15.5 PPG) and Malik Moore (13.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG) are both back, so Dickerson will have some pieces to play with.