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2014-15 Big South Basketball Preview

Get ready for a crazy year in the Big South! The conference is deeper than it's ever been and virtually anyone can come away with the Big South title at Myrtle Madness this March.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

1. Winthrop Eagles
Last Year:
20-13 (10-6), t-2 Big South-South
Departures: Joab Jerome (12.3 ppg), Christian Farmer (4.1 ppg), Donovan Carter (0.3 ppg), Carlin Bremner (Transfer, 1.4 ppg), Brandon Vega (TR, 3.5 ppg)
Key Returners: Keon Moore (14 ppg), Keon Johnson (12.3 ppg), Andre Smith (10.1 ppg)
Must Follow: @WinthropFans

I continue to be a firm believer in what Pat Kelsey is doing down in Rock Hill, South Carolina and I think the rest of the Big South is cringing due to the thought of another Gregg Marshall like dynasty from Winthrop.  The Eagles made it all the way to the Big South final last year and ran out of gas against Coastal Carolina.  Now, more or less, everyone is back for the Eagles and Kelsey has added some other interesting pieces. Keon Johnson and Keon Moore will both be the primary scoring threats again with Andre Smith finishing off the talented trio.  The Eagles could have a monster frontcourt with Duby Okeke coming off a redshirt year and the possible, immediate addition of former Missouri Tiger and Louisville Cardinal Zach Price.  Price is awaiting an NCAA ruling on his status this year but has been practicing with the squad. The Eagles have been banged up a bit this offseason and big man James Bourne is expected to sit out the year. With Bourne out keep an eye on sophomore Jarad Scott and freshmen Joseph Lopez and Australian native Xavier Cooks.

2. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
Last Year:
21-13 (11-5), Big South Champion, NCAA Tournament
Departures: El Hadji Ndieguene (4.4 ppg), Eric Smith (2.5 ppg)
Key Returners: Elijah Wilson (15.8 ppg), Warren Gillis (14.7 ppg), Josh Cameron (13.8 ppg)
Must Follow: @CoastalFans

Cliff Ellis' defending Big South Champions will be the preseason favorite in most people's book this preseason. The Chanticleers return everyone but big man El Hadji Ndieguene and have the conferences toughest rotation of guards with Josh Cameron, Elijah Wilson, Warren Gillis, and former NEC Freshman of the Year at Mount St. Mary's Shivaughn Wiggins. While Ndieguene's stat sheet wasn't eye popping a year ago, he might be hard to replace. Ndieguene was an imposing body in the paint and he'll be replaced by a platoon of juniors in Badou Diagne, Uros Ljeskovic, Tristian Curtis, and newcomer Marcus Freeman.  Coastal will be a tough out on their home court in March again and may be the Big South's deepest team coming into the season.

3. Radford Highlanders
Last Year:
22-13 (10-6), 3rd BS-North, CBI 2nd Round
Departures: Allen Dickerson (2.2 ppg), Juwan Wells (TR, 1 ppg)
Key Returners: Javonte Green (16.9 ppg), R.J. Price (13.2 ppg), Ya Ya Anderson (11.5 ppg), Rashun Davis (10.4 ppg)
Must Follow: @RadfordMBB

It's now or never for Mike Jones and his Radford Highlanders as his first entering class becomes seniors. Javonte Green is the best all-around player in the Big South averaging 16.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.9 steals a year ago despite standing just 6'4. R.J. Price and Ya Ya Anderson make up one of the best backcourt combos in the conference as well.  To get back to the NCAA Tournament Radford has to step up in the paint, Green can't do it all so guys like Kion Brown, Jalen Carethers, and Brandon Holcomb need to step up. It will also be interesting to see if the Highlanders have any kind of momentum after some postseason success last year beating Oregon State in the CBI.

4. High Point Panthers
Last Year:
16-15 (12-4), 1st BS-North, NIT 1st Round
Departures: Allan Chaney (15.4 ppg), DeJuan McGaughy (4.8 ppg), Derrell Edwards (3.4 ppg), Cliff Cornish (TR, 1.9 ppg)
Key Returners: John Brown (19.5 ppg), Devante Wallace (12.6), Adam Weary (11.7 ppg), Lorenzo Cugini (8.1 ppg)
Must Follow: @PanthersHoopFan

It's John Brown's last year at High Point and he wants a real Big South title and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Scott Cherry's Panthers were once again bounced from the Big South Tournament in the first round and High Point had to settle for a NIT birth.  We all know what John Brown can do, but my primary concerns surround the point guard position and help for Brown in the paint. Jorge Perez-Laham stepped into the point guard role last year and was solid, but who takes care of the ball behind him? Haiishen McIntyre is expected to be the secondary ball-handler, but he's not a natural point guard. Regarding the front court, John Brown is at times asked to too much on both ends of the court in the paint.  Brown has a mid-range game and we he gets that going he's most dangerous. High Point has an abundance of wings with Devante Wallace, Lorenzo Cugini, Adam Weary, Anthony Lindauer, and South Carolina transfer Brian Richardson, but there is really no one to help Brown out in the paint the way Allan Chaney could two years ago. Perhaps Miles Bowman Jr., who averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds on the junior college level, will be that missing piece in the frontcourt.

5. UNC Asheville Bulldogs
Last Year:
17-15 (10-6), t-2 BS-South
Departures: Jaron Lane (16.5 ppg), D.J. Cunningham (11.6 ppg), Mike Bedulskis (2.3 ppg)
Key Returners: Andrew Rowsey (20.3 ppg), Will Weeks (13 ppg)
Must Follow: @AshevilleDogs

Andrew Rowsey busted on the scene a year ago and immediately became a player that Big South fans loved to hate. The flamboyant scorer ended the year averaging over 20 points per game and actually averaged 23 points in Big South games. He's giving a lot of people Anthony Raffa flashbacks and will likely continue to do so for the next three years. Rowsey and his Bulldogs are a trendy pick this year in a highly competitive conference but the loss of D.J. Cunningham and Jaron Lane for Asheville cannot be overstated. Both were huge contributors and Cunningham was the conference's best true big man. Nick McDevitt will now lean on Will Weeks, Sam Hughes, and David Robertson to pick up the slack and all are very capable. One thing to keep an eye on early in the seasons is the big man rotation battle between 7-footer Jaleel Roberts, Giacomo Zilli, and Chudier Pal.  The replacement for Cunningham will be either a platoon or one of those individuals stepping up. Also, keep an eye on freshman Kevin Vannatta and the impact he might have at the two guard position off the bench.

6. Charleston Southern Buccaneers
Last Year:
13-18 (6-10), 5th BS-South
Departures: Matt Kennedy (12. 5 ppg), Sheldon Strickland (11.4 ppg), Ali Fullah (4.4 ppg), Malcolm Bernard (TR, 3.4) ppg), Ty'Quan Biting (TR, 3.3 ppg), Bakari Copeland (TR), Tre' Smith (TR), Greg Dorleus (Left Team), Dominique Williams (Left Team), Mitchell Deter (1.8 ppg), Thomas Odom (0.4 ppg)
Key Returners: Arlon Harper (12. 6ppg ), Saah Nimley (13.3 ppg)
Must Follow: @CSU_MBBall

Are the Bucs back? Good question... The season did not go as planned last year for Barclay Radebaugh's scrappy Charleston Southern squad. Long story short it was injuries to star guards Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper that really derailed the Bucs. Nimley and Harper are back and healthy by all accounts now and both will need to regain their sophomore form for the Bucs to make a comeback in the Big South. Expectations and rankings have been high for CSU in a lot of preseason previews but this is a squad that lost twelve players to graduation, transferring, and other reasons. Radebaugh does have what might be the best starting lineup in the Big South but his bench is made up of four JUCO transfers, four freshmen, and two walk-ons. Will Saunders is a big time three point threat for the Bucs but you have to wonder if his production will go down with Sheldon Strickland and Matt Kennedy moving on. Teams will now be able to focus solely on Saunders on the perimeter. Cedrick Bowen and Paul Gombwer anchor the frontcourt, they are a group that combined for just 11.9 points and 10.4 rebounds a year ago. That combo will  need to get dirty in the paint this year to take some rebounding duties of the Bucs scrappy guards.

7. Gardner-Webb Bulldogs
Last Year:
18-15 (10-6), t-2nd BS-South
Departures: Onzie Branch (5.7 ppg), Naji Hibbert (11.5 ppg), Donta Harper (TR, 10.1 ppg), Logan Stumpf (TR, 2.2 ppg), Donnell Tuff (TR, 1.7 ppg), Josh Castellanos (4.9 ppg), Michael Byron (3.1 ppg)
Key Returners: Jerome Hill (14.4 ppg), Tyler Strange (9.5 ppg)
Must Follow: @GardnerWebbMBK

I think the Bulldogs may have missed their window for a Big South championship the past two years but two guys are going to keep Tim Craft's squad in games, Tyler Strange and Jerome Hill. Hill is a 6'5 beast who averaged 14.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a year ago. He spent the offseason playing on a college all-star team in the Philippines and it sounds like he's ready to become one of the Big South's best post players this season. Strange complements Hill well as the Big South's scrappiest guard. Last season the 5'10 Strange averaged nearly 10 points and 5 assists per game. The question for Craft is who else steps up for the Bulldogs after a lot of talent left Boiling Springs this offseason? Two guys to watch are Tyrell Nelson and Adonis Burbage. Burbage sat out last season after transferring from Central Connecticut State where he was a 10 point per game scorer. Nelson ended last year averaging 8.9 points and 5 boards per game and was named to the Big South All-Freshman Team. GWU has talent and it's going to be fun to see how it all comes together.

8. Longwood Lancers
Last Year:
8-24 (3-13), 6th BS-North
Departures: Jeylani Dublin (TR, 10.4 ppg), Karl Zielger (TR, 12 ppg), Tristan Carey (18.5 ppg), Lucas Woodhouse (TR, 11.5 ppg), Eric Shaw (TR), Curtis Rowser (TR), Jeff Havenstein (1.3 ppg), Charlie Lockwood (TR)
Key Returners: Leron Fisher (6.9 ppg), D.J. Allen (5.6 ppg)
Must Follow: @LancersBlog

Jayson Gee knew it wasn't going to be an easy undertaking at Longwood and he has completely cleaned house know of any remnants of the Mike Gillian era in Farmville. A lot of people aren't believing in the Lancers after a 8-24 season a year ago mainly because of all the unknowns on this roster. The one thing that should be known though is this is the most talented group of players Longwood has evr had since starting a Division I schedule in 2004. Gee had no semblance of a frontcourt a year ago and that changes this year with Tulane transfer Lotanna Nwogbo, former ODU big man Jason Pimentel, and returning big man Damarion Geter. Gee thinks Nwogbo can be one of the nest rim protectors in the Big South, Pimentel has shown a lot of talent in practice, and Geter has put on 21 pounds of muscle this offseason. The Lancers won't be the pushover in the post like they were last year. Also joining the frontcourt will be uber athletic Shaquille Johnson, who started his career at Auburn as a four-star recruit. Losing Lucas Woodhouse was seemingly a big blow but the Lancers now have a backcourt more suited for Gee's style of play. UAB transfer Quincy Taylor is expected to be one of the Big South's best pure point guards and defensive specialist Leron Fisher also returns. Gee also got a big pick up in combo guard Kanayo Obi-Rapu who turned down the likes of Rutgers, Cincinnati, and Rhode Island to come to Longwood. Beyond Obi-Rapu look for sophomore DJ Allen and sharpshooting freshman Ryan Badoswki to also make an impact.

9. Campbell Camels
Last Year:
12-20 (6-10), 4th BS-N
Departures: Leek Leek (6.5 ppg), Antwon Oliver (4.0 ppg), Marvelle Harris (3.0 ppg), Antonio Kalpic (2.0 ppg), Darius Leonard (10.2 ppg)
Key Returners: Reco McCarter (12.7 ppg), D.J. Mason (10.8 ppg), Andrew Ryan (9.9 ppg)
Must Follow: @GoCamelsMBB

What a strange first year for Kevin McGeehan in Buies Creek. His Camels posted a 6-9 mark in non-conference play, including a loss to Division II Chowan, but then surged to a 5-2 record in the Big South when the wheels totally fell off. Campbell lost nine out of their last ten games by an average margin of nearly 12 points. Will year two be better in McGeehan's Princeton-style system? It all starts with Reco McCarter for Campbell, who averaged 12.7 points and 5.1 rebounds a year ago.  The former VCU forward is the catalyst for the Camels offense but is going to need a little help, especially with Darius Leonard transferring to Wake Forest. Two guys who weren't factors a year ago need to step up and help Carter if Campbell is going to be successful, D.J. Mason and Rod Days. Mason averaged 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds a year ago but was suspended for over 10 games with academic issues in the middle of the year. Days is a Central Florida transfer who will have to do some dirty work in the paint for the Camels. On the outside the black and orange will be bolstered by sharpshooting Luke Moyer and Andrew Ryan, both showed they can catch fire at times last year. Campbell's biggest deficiency is in the post where they have no one that stands over 6'6. The Camels are going to have to rely on their outside shot and could really struggle to rebound the basketball.

10. Liberty Flames
Last Year:
11-21 (5-11), 5th BS-N
Departures: Antwan Burrus (13 ppg), JC Sanders (11.6 ppg), Davon Marshall (10.1 ppg), JR Coronado (4.7 ppg), Joel Vander Pol (3 ppg), Casey Roberts (1.8 ppg), Sommy Ogukwe (TR, 0.7 ppg), Wesley Alcegaire (TR, 1.3 ppg), Devon Pekas (Left Team), Chad Donley (TR, 1.4 ppg)
Key Returners: Tomasz Gielo (10.9 ppg), Andrew Smith (8.4 ppg)
Must Follow: @Flames_Nation

Liberty came into last season as the Big South's defending champs but a senior-laden team could not produce for Dale Layer. Now Layer comes into 2014-15 with a whole new cast of characters lead by his frontcourt of Tomasz Gielo, Andrew Smith, and James Johnson. Gielo is a sharpshooting big man who will likely spend a little more time on the perimeter this year with a more true center in the Big South in San Diego State transfer James Johnson.  Meanwhile, Smith is a highlight machine and very athletic forward who can rebound and score the basketball. While the Flames frontcourt might look shored up it's the backcourt that could provide worry. The original plan was for Joe Retic, who averaged 4.8 points a year ago, to play off the ball but after some recruits reversed course this summer he became the Flames primary ball handler. It's unclear who will handle the rock when Retic is on the sidelines but he does have some young shooting guards beside him in freshmen Peter Moller and Ezra Talbert. Moller is a sharpshooting Dane and late commit for the Flames, while Talbert (who is experiencing back problems) turned down some solid interest from Summit League schools to come to Lynchburg. Layer did get some recent good news when he found out 6'7 Charleston transfer Theo Johnson will be immediately eligible. It's a lot of moving pieces and new faces, but the Flames could surprise some this season.

11. Presbyterian Blue Hose
Last Year:
6-26 (2-14), 6th BS-S
Departures: Ryan McTavish (TR)
Key Returners: Jordan Downing (20.2 ppg), Reggie Dillard (12.1 ppg), William Truss (10.9 ppg)
Must Follow: @BlueHoseHoops

Greg Nibert is an institution in Clinton, South Carolina but can he survive an eighth straight losing season at the Division I level? He may have the best Blue Hose squad that he's had since 2011-12 but will they improve enough to get out of the Big South basement? The Hose are lead by Davidson transfer and scoring machine Jordan Downing, who took the Big South scoring title with 20.2 points per night a year ago. Alongside Downing is big man William Truss and point guard Reggie Dillard. Truss was a walking double-double a year ago and Dillard was likely the most underrated freshman in the conference. Some say Dillard is better off the ball, but does PC have the guard to allow him to do that this year? Perhaps fellow sophomore stud Markus Terry could be the answer after averaging 8.4 points but just over 1 assist per contest a year ago. PC returns more contributors than anyone in the Big South this year, but it's really hard to say if that's enough of an offseason improvement for a two win team a year ago in conference play.