Thursday, September 12, 2013

32 In 32: Big South Conference

HTC Center at Coastal Carolina University will once again host Big South Conference's tournament, one in which Liberty punched NCAA Tournament ticket despite sub-.500 record. (Photo courtesy of Gary Moore via The College Hardwood)

Earlier tonight, we unveiled the first of two "32 In 32" conference previews on this Thursday evening when we took a shot at handicapping the Mideastern Athletic Conference, and now we remain on the Eastern seaboard for our latest profile of the league that produces one of the first automatic NCAA Tournament bids, the Big South.

1) High Point - The representatives of what has come to be known as the furniture capital of the world tied for the Big South regular season crown last season, and are poised to make a similar run through the stretch this time around. Forwards John Brown and Allan Chaney lead an inside-oriented Panther attack, with sophomore guard Adam Weary serving as one of the backcourt anchors. Pay close attention to senior guard Dejuan McGaughy, especially from long range, as the Columbus native connected at a 42 percent clip from beyond the arc last year.

2) Gardner-Webb - The Runnin' Bulldogs are known to casual fans with strong memories for their upset of Kentucky several years ago, and now they attempt to re-enter the minds of the nation with a team strong and talented enough to take the next step. Junior swingman Donta Harper will be the catalyst on this team, as will sophomore Jerome Hill, but Gardner-Webb's greatest strength will be in the backcourt; where a pair of sharpshooting transfers in Naji Hibbert (Texas A&M) and Josh Castellanos (Mount St. Mary's) arrive to provide solid complements for incumbent junior point guard Tyler Strange, who averaged over four assists per game last season.

3) VMI - The Keydets return their potent offense, which averaged over 78 points per contest in a 14-17 season last year, and bring three of their five starters back to lead the charge. D.J. Covington, a 6-9 senior, will be the centerpiece of the attack, as he seeks to improve on an efficient junior season marked by fifteen points and seven rebounds per game, not to mention shooting 56 percent from the field. Brooklyn native Rodney Glasgow and Brian Brown return to the backcourt, with sophomore Tim Marshall joining them after serving as the sixth man during his rookie year.

4) Liberty - The Flames emerged from the Big South Tournament with a ticket to the field of 68 despite finishing under .500, and the good news for head coach Dale Layer is that he brings four of last year's starters back to Lynchburg, Virginia for a shot at a repeat. Leading scorers John Caleb Sanders and Davon Marshall, a pair of guards who can score, pass and shoot in equal parts, are the core of this group; and as they go, so too does Liberty as a whole. In fact, Marshall's outside shooting kept the Flames in contention for most of the night when we saw them take on Iona in New Rochelle last December. Tomasz Gielo and JR Coronado give the Flames two serviceable big men as well.

5) Charleston Southern - The Buccaneers bring back three of their top five scorers from a season that saw them tie High Point for the regular season conference title, two of them being junior guards Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper. Burgeoning big men Cedrick Bowen and Paul Gombwer will need to do more on the offensive end to match their rebounding if Charleston Southern has any shot of matching their 2012-13 success.

6) Winthrop - The school that gave rise to the career of Gregg Marshall could conceivably finish higher since six of their top seven scorers return to Rock Hill this season. Led by junior guard Derrick Henry, the Eagles also receive underrated contributions from senior swingman Joab Jerome on a nightly basis, with the stable shooting hand of 5-10 combo guard Andre Smith always waiting for a big shot in just the right moment. However, size is a concern outside of 6-8 James Bourne, forcing Larry Brown; who stands 6-6, to shoulder most of the rebounding load.

7) Radford - The Highlanders will try to prove that there can only be one this season, (friend of the site Gary Moore, who we thank for that cover shot of the HTC Arena, would be pleased with that reference) but head coach Mike Jones will be facing the same size concern that Winthrop will deal with as well. Radford does most of its damage from the backcourt, with junior guards Javonte Green and R.J. Price leading the way while sophomore Ya Ya Anderson is the third man in the guard triumvirate. In fact, Green managed to average over eight rebounds per game despite standing only 6-4.

8) Campbell - The Fighting Camels, still relatively new to the Big South world, will look to maintain their balance without point guard Trey Freeman; who graduated after averaging nearly six assists per game last year, and leading scorer Darren White, who averaged nearly 22 points per contest. In their absence, senior forward Marvelle Harris looks to pick up White's slack inside, while VCU expatriate Reco McCarter will try to facilitate more from the wing in his junior campaign.

9) UNC Asheville - The Bulldogs, who upset St. John's four days before Christmas last season, have a new head coach in Nick McDevitt after Eddie Biedenbach stepped down to join Buzz Peterson's staff at UNC Wilmington, and lose the heart and soul of their offense in Jeremy Atkinson to graduation, and Keith Hornsby; the son of acclaimed musician Bruce, after he transferred to Louisiana State. Point guard Trent Meyer is back for his senior season, where he will undoubtedly get more opportunities to carry the offense, as will sophomore Will Weeks and 6-10 senior D.J. Cunningham.

10) Coastal Carolina - The Chanticleers host the Big South Tournament once again, but have mounds of work to do if they are intent on cutting down their own nets come March. Leading scorers Anthony Raffa and Kierre Greenwood are gone, leaving Philadelphian junior Warren Gillis to carry the offense while African big men El Hadji Ndieguene and Michel Enanga shoulder the rebounding load. Coastal Carolina will get a huge boost next year, however, when point guard Shivaughn Wiggins regains his eligibility after transferring from Mount St. Mary's.

11) Longwood - The Lancers may have gone 8-25 last year and might not look like much on paper, but they have an underrated inside/outside scoring duo headlined by La Salle castoff Tristan Carey, who averaged almost sixteen points per game while shooting 37 percent from three-point range. When Carey is passing the ball, Brooklyn native Jeylani Dublin demonstrates why he could average a double-double this season. Senior guard David Robinson, not to be confused with the San Antonio Spurs legend, is a deceptively strong guard, as is his backcourt running mate Lucas Woodhouse, who averaged over five assists per game at the point as a freshman last year.

12) Presbyterian - Junior shooting guard Jordan Downing, who shot an astounding 43 percent from three-point range for the Blue Hose last season, will be a de facto one-man show this season as Presbyterian loses three of their four leading scorers from last year. Burgeoning junior big man William Truss will need to overcome his lack of size at 6-7 to convert off feeds from Downing and Ryan McTavish in order for this season to avoid becoming a long one.

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