We've finally made it through all our Big South teams to the final two at the top, Winthrop and Coastal Carolina. This should come as no surprise as both teams have battled it out on championship Sunday in the HTC Center. Winthrop is looking to keep Coastal from threepeating and searching for their first title since 2010.
Last Year: 19-13 (12-6), t-3 Big South
Departures: Keon Moore (18.5 ppg), Andre Smith (11.3 ppg), Derrick Henry (TR, 4.4 ppg), Larry Brown (TR), James Bourne (TR), Joseph Lopez (TR, 3 ppg)
Key Returners: Keon Johnson (11.5 ppg), Xavier Cooks (7.8 ppg)
If fantasy college basketball was a popular thing then Pat Kelsey would probably be leading the way. Winthrop is a consensus contender in the Big South but the Eagles have one of the nation's strangest rosters with a lot of importing and exporting of transfers.
The Eagles do have two known commodities in Keon Johnson and Xavier Cooks. Johnson is a diminutive guard who can be a primary scorer in the Coliseum. He caught fire in the Big South Tournament last year averaging 16.5 points per game. Johnson will have to be more of a distributor this year for Winthrop to be successful with Andre Smith moving on.
The other returning proven threat is Australian big man Xavier Cooks. Cooks has the ability to become one of the mid-major ranks best players as he possesses a rare ability to play in the post and be a threat from the perimeter. He plays like an athletic small forward despite standing 6'8. It should be near impossible for Big South defenses to guard him as he continues to mature.
Beyond Johnson, Cooks, and a few other returning pieces the roster is full of wild cards that have been hyped publicly but in reality we're not sure what to expect. Zach Price comes to Winthrop after a maligned career at Louisville and Missouri, where he was dismissed from the university for suspected domestic assault. Price is big (6'10, 250 lbs), talented, and might very well be the conferences best big man, BUT... no one has seen this guy play since 2012-13 when he averaged 1.3 points per game for Louisville. There is no doubt he'll be part of a formidable frontcourt with Cooks and Duby Okeke by his side.
Price isn't the only hyped addition for the Eagles as Roderick Perkins, Jimmy Gavin, and freshman Bjorn Broman also join the fray. Perkins comes from Division II Erskine where he finished second in the country averaging 24.9 points per game. A similar story, Gavin comes from Wisconsin-Parkside where he scored over 1,000 points in two seasons for the D2 Rangers. Dizzy from scoring yet? Well sit down because Bjorn Broman lead the nation in scoring last year on the high school level averaging 49.5 points per game. Broman comes to Winthrop as a package deal with his brother Anders, who transferred to Rock Hill from South Dakota State.
We haven't really even touched on the depth Winthrop has with Tevin Prescott, Jarad Scott, and Josh Davenport. Or talked about the solid freshman guard Kelsey picked up in Adam Pickett. Winthrop has A LOT of talent but how will it translate and what will the chemistry be like for this team. Will high scoring players at the high school and Division II translate to the Big South? Is Zach Price the real deal? Do the Eagles have someone to facilitate all these scorers? There are a lot of question marks but if it all comes together in Rock Hill the Eagles will be a dangerous squad beyond the Big South.
Last Year: 24-10 (12-6), Big South Champs, NCAA Round of 64
Departures: Warren Gillis (13.4 ppg), Josh Cameron (12.8 ppg), Uros Ljeskovic (TR, 4 ppg), Kyle Buffkin (TR, 0.2 ppg)
Key Returners: Elijah Wilson (11.3 ppg), Shivaughn Wiggins (10 ppg), Badou Diagne (9.5 ppg)
Coastal Carolina is back for their last season in the Big South before heading to the Sun Belt this summer. While the Chants did lose their two top scorers from a year ago the biggest loss may be the home team advantage the Big South was giving CCU in the hosting of the Big South Tournament. As retribution to moving to the Sun Belt the conference has stripped Coastal of the tournament for a yet to be determined location.
On the court Cliff Ellis' 2015-16 version of the Chanticleers has what it takes to challenge for a third straight Big South title. Elijah Wilson and Shivaughn Wiggins form the conferences best backcourt and Badou Diagne is one of the Big South's most well-rounded players. The question is, who else will step up?
Marcus Freeman and Tristian Curtis combined for 9.9 points and 11.8 rebounds a year ago. Those two should be able to hold down the paint for the Chants and form a solid, but not stellar frontcourt. Freshman Josh Coleman could also get some burn for the Chants after being chased by a number of Conference USA schools in high school.
The biggest name to keep an eye on is South Carolina transfer Jaylen Shaw. Shaw lead the Chants in scoring during their offseason trip to Cuba and should fit in nicely with the heavy guard rotation that has become a staple in Conway the past few seasons.
Other names to watch in the HTC Center are Colton Ray-St. Cyr and Michel Enanga. Both have showed flashes of brilliance in the past and add a bit of depth to the Chants roster.