Last month we had an expert panel make their preseason predictions for the Big South. Through the next few weeks we'll take a little closer look at the conference by breaking down the conference into tiers. Today we start with the predicted bottom three teams coming into the 2015-16 season:.
9. Radford Highlanders
Last Year: 22-12 (12-6), t-3 BSC, 2nd Rd CBI
Departures: Javonte Green (15.4 ppg), RJ Price (12.4 ppg), Jalen Carethers (5.8 ppg), Kyle Noreen (2.5 ppg)
Key Returners: Ya Ya Anderson (9.3 ppg), Cam Jones (8.5 ppg), Rashun Davis (7.7 ppg)
Mike Jones basically had a four year rebuilding plan for Radford when he became the head coach of the Highlanders and last year was supposed to be the peak. Instead Radford lost a heartbreaker 67-66 against Winthrop in their first game of the Big South Tournament. While a 22 win season and a postseason birth may seem to be a successful season for most teams, Radford now has to reload and Jones has to face the fact that he's just 1-4 in the conference tournament during his tenure.
The good news for the Highlanders is they do have some upside. They have one of the most experienced guard trios in the conference with Ya Ya Anderson, Cam Jones, and Rashun Davis. They also still have serviceable big men Kion Brown and Brandon Holcomb. For Radford to surprise some folks this year they are going to need Anderson to become a premier scorer in the conference and will need some help from an unexpected spot on the roster. The problem for RU is that they aren't very deep and Jones has not created a very even roster in terms of recruiting classes. The Highlanders have 7 seniors, 1 junior, and 6 freshmen. With that formula Jones has set himself up for a tremendous runs of peaks and valleys that will put any coaches job in jeopardy.
10. Campbell Fighting Camels
Last Year: 10-22 (4-14), 10th BSC
Departures: Andrew Ryan (11.3 ppg), Reco McCarter (10.2 ppg), Nehemiah Mabson (TR, 3.8 ppg), Luke Moyer (TR, 3.3 ppg)
Key Returners: D.J. Mason (11.2 ppg), Curtis Phillips (8.6 ppg), Kyre Hamer (8.3 ppg)
It hasn't been a fun first two years in Buies Creek for former Richmond assistant Kevin McGeehan and it doesn't look like things are going to get better in the immediate future. I don't know if McGeehan is actually running a Princeton system or if his personnel just doesn't get it but the Camels have looked like a bit of an amorphous blob the last two years going 16-41 against Division I competition. UCF transfer Rod Days was also a bit of a disappointment a year ago.
If McGeehan's fortunes are going to change it needs to start this year with the late season emergence of Curtis Phillips and Troy Harper. Those two could be a solid foundation for the Camels and Lehigh transfer Shane Whitfield should provide more of a presence in the post. The Camels still don't have a true big on the roster and may have to depend on one of their five newcomers. For Campbell to compete this year they are going to need to trust the system and spread the floor.
11. Liberty Flames
Last Year: 8-24 (2-16), Last BSC
Departures: Tomasz Gielo (TR, 12 ppg), David Andoh (TR, 10 ppg), Andrew Smith (9.6 ppg), Peter Moeller (TR, 7.2 ppg), Joe Retic (TR, 6.7 ppg), James Johnson (5.8 ppg), Ethan Layer (3.6 ppg), Jordan Dembly (TR, 2.5 ppg)
Key Returners: Theo Johnson (10 ppg), Ryan Kemrite (4.8 ppg), A.C. Reid (4 ppg)
It's back to the future in Lynchburg as the Flames reenlisted Ritchie McKay to run the program. McKay coached the Flames for two season but left to become an assistant at Virginia after a 23-12 mark for the Flames in 2008-09. The 23 wins Liberty had that season still is the most in nearly 20 years. McKay seemingly had the Flames on the edge of becoming a mid-major power when Seth Curry transferred to Duke and the Flames quickly fell apart under Dale Layer.
McKay was able to scrape together a .500 season during his first campaign in Lynchburg but it's going to be a little tougher to do that the second time around. The Flames will be better because they can't be much worse and McKay should bring some energy back to Lynchburg. The biggest problem is the roster is still absent of talent. Theo Johnson, a Charleston transfer, had a nice season a year ago and maybe McKay can enhance the game of Ryan Kemrite or Ezra Talbert but there isn't any proven contributors. Marquette transfer John Dawson does join the squad and could add a true point guard on the roster to replace Joe Retic, who transferred out.
It also didn't help that McKay got a late jump in recruiting. He was able to scrape together a decent class and 2016 looks to be promising with three recruits already committed, including three star prospect Brock Gardner from Arizona.