We continue our 2015-16 Big South preview with a look at teams six through eight looking to challenge in a conference ripe with parity.
6. Gardner-Webb Bulldogs
Last Season: 20-15 (10-8), t-6th BSC, CBI 1st Rd
Departures: Jerome Hill (PRO, 18.9 ppg), Tyler Strange (8.3 ppg), Jarvis Davis (8.8 ppg), Corey Hensley (0.9 ppg)
Key Returners: Tyrell Nelson (13.9 ppg), Adonis Burbage (8.2 ppg), Harold McBride (8 ppg)
Gardner-Webb looked like a serious contender about midway through the Big South season last year but a blowout loss at Campbell in late January seemed to throw the team off. In fact, it seemed like Tim Craft lost his team and started to rely more on outside shooting and up pace basketball rather than using his two superior big men and one of the nation's best passers. The rift within the team resulted in Jerome Hill turning pro early and Gardner-Webb looking to reestablishing themselves after a championship window slammed shut over the past two or three seasons.
The Bulldogs biggest asset is big man Tyrell Nelson who finished his sophomore campaign with nearly 14 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. Nelson will now be the focal point of opposing defense so it'll be interesting to see how much of his success can be attributed to playing alongside Hill and Tyler Strange. If Tim Craft's team is going to have a successful campaign this year then they need Adonis Burbage and Harold McBride to develop into bigger scoring threats. McBride will also need to take care of the basketball while stepping into Strange's starting role.
7. Charleston Southern Buccaneers
Last Season: 19-12 (13-5) 1st BSC, 1st Rd NIT
Departures: Saah Nimley (21.4 ppg), Will Saunders (13 ppg), Arlon Harper (13 ppg), Cedrick Bowen (7.9 ppg), Paul Gombwer (3.5 ppg)
Key Returners: Aaron Wheeler (7.9 ppg)
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to the Bucs this season. The Nimley/Harper era effectively ended after the Bucs lost their first Big South Tournament game as the number one seed against Longwood. Since then Barclay Radebaugh has had to totally reload and he's done it with transfers and junior college additions.
Demetrius Pollard is expected to be the biggest addition. He'll take over at point guard for the Bucs after averaging nearly 9 points per game at Northeastern. Raemond Robinson (The Citadel), Patrick Wallace (NC State), and Ugo Mmonu (Tennessee State) also will be active in the Buc Dome this season. It's a bit of an experiment in North Charleston and it will be interesting to see how it shakes out.
8. Presbyterian Blue Hose
Last Season: 10-22 (6-12), 8th BSC
Departures: Jordan Downing (16.6 ppg), William Truss (10 ppg), Austin Anderson (TR, 5.2)
Key Returners: DeSean Murray (15.7 ppg), Markus Terry (8.3 ppg), Reggie Dillard (DNP)
Gregg Nibert can never seem to catch a break at Presbyterian since the Blue Hose went Division I. Last year was going to be the peak year for PC and instead it started out with a season ending injury for Reggie Dillard and a missed half season for DeSean Murray. Murray was the story for the Blue Hose, who had a better than expected season. Murray was the conference's best freshman ending the year with 15.7 points and 8.2 rebounds per game.
PC is now especially weak in the post with the graduation of William Truss. The Hose will have to lean on inexperienced players Ruben Arroyo-Felix, Stephen Osu, and Austin Venable. The good news is Dillard is back after averaging over 12 points and nearly 4 assists and rebounds per game as a freshman. It'll be interesting to see how Dillard and Murray play on the floor together and whether or not Dillard is the primary ball-handler.
Nibert's squad could be a serious contender in a year or two but this year should be about building momentum for the future with only one senior on the roster.