It was a relatively quiet offseason in the Big South. High Point and Liberty were the only two schools to change coaches. Scott Cherry replaced the fired Bart Lundy as the head coach of the Panthers, while former Colorado State head coach Dale Layer (who was actually working as a Marquette assistant) replaced another former Ram head coach, Ritchie McKay, as the leader of the Flames.
The other big news of the offseason is the decision of several promising youngsters to try their luck out of the league. The most famous case is that of Seth Curry, who left Liberty for the big time, Duke. Brolin Floyd also left, though he has yet to decide on a destination. Steadman Short left High Point for Marshall. Omar Carter, formerly of Charleston Southern, will suit up for Appalachian State next year. Tovi Bailey also left the Bucs and will play at Division II Lander. And that's just a start, as several other key performers went looking for greener pastures this offseason.
The Big South teams has several incoming transfers eligible this season. More on them and their impacts on their new teams after the jump.
Let's first take a look at what last season's Big South standings looked like.
Big South Conference Standings
(updated 3.24.2009 at 12:08 AM EDT)
|Virginia Military Keydets||13||5||24||8|
|Coastal Carolina Chanticleers||5||13||11||20|
|Charleston Southern Buccaneers||4||14||9||20|
|High Point Panthers||4||14||9||21|
Now, here are my picks for the 2009-10 Big South campaign, presented in reverse order.
Presbyterian (last NCAA: None) The Blue Hose didn't fare too badly in 2009-08, their first season playing a Big South schedule. However, they'll be hard-pressed to repeat their 9-9 league record this time around. With an eye on gaining the automatic bid in their first season of eligibility in 2011-12, head coach Gregg Nibert is going to redshirt his core players this season. Center Al'Lonzo Coleman and guards Josh Johnson and Pierre Miller will sit and come back next season with two years of eligibility left. In the meantime, the Blue Hose will be the youngest team in the league, so expect them to take their fair share of lumps.
Liberty (last NCAA: 2004) The Flames did a nice job last year, winning 23 games overall and acting as a factor in the conference race. However, the coach of that team and three starters are gone, as Curry and Floyd transferred and F Anthony Smith (17.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg) graduated. Dale Layer's team is now woefully short on experience. 6-4 guard Kyle Ohman is the leading returning scorer (13.9 ppg), but no other returnee averaged more than 6.9 ppg. The Flames' two 6-9 forwards, Tyler Baker and Austin Smith will be expected to boost their output, and Layer will also lean heavily on his crop newcomers, led by 6-2 guard Evan Gordon, brother of LA Clipper Eric.
Charleston Southern (last NCAA: 1997) The Buccaneers looked like they were going to be a serious contender for their second-ever NCAA bid. That was until Bailey and Carter decided to leave. The good news for CSU is that Jamarco Warren (17.8 ppg, 2.8 apg) is back to run the show and that forward Kelvin Martin is due to improve on his averages of 9 points and 7 boards per game as he returns from a knee injury. 6-10 C Billy Blackmon also returns after breaking his forearm early last season. However, the transfers will really affect the depth of Barclay Radebaugh's squad.
VMI (last NCAA: 1977) The big question in Lexington, VA this year is can Duggar Baucom's system be just as effective when three key pieces move on. The Keydets will be without the Holmes twins, Chavis and Travis, who averaged more than 41 points combined, and Willie Bell who accounted for nearly 9 points and 6 boards a game. Guards Austin Kenon (16.3 ppg) and Keith Gabriel (13 ppg) are back, so they'll continue to do their part. How well last year's bench players and newcomers Joe Carr, a 6-2 guard, and Stan Okoye, a 6-5 swingman, fit into their new roles in Baucom's offense will dictate whether the Keydets can rise above this prediction.
High Point (last NCAA: None) The Panthers actually return four starters, but losing Steadman leaves a substantial hole in the frontcourt. 6-7 junior forward Jourdan Morris could be an adequate replacement as he averaged nearly 7 points and 3 rebounds per contest. 6-11 C Cruz Daniels will have to improve his offense this season. Last year, he averaged nearly 8 points a game, to go along with 8 boards. The backcourt is in good shape, however, as double digit scorers Nick Barbour and Eugene Harris return and sophomore PG David Singleton (4.8 apg) is back to run the offense.
Winthrop (last NCAA: 2008) The Eagles, dynasty of the Big South, thanks to 7 NCAA appearances in this decade, fell hard last season. The 9-9 Big South record wasn't too bad, but recording only 2 wins in 12 non-conference games hurt. It's miraculous that the Eagles managed to win as many games as they did, as no one averaged in double figures in scoring. 6-7 F/C Charles Corbin was the team's leading scorer, averaging 9.5 points a game to go along with almost 6 rebounds. Randy Peele's team will have to find some scoring punch, otherwise they will sink further down the standings. 6-9 F Matt Morgan, a transfer from St. Bonaventure, should be a helpful addition.
Gardner-Webb (last NCAA: None) Rick Scruggs' backcourt could be among the best in this league, if they improve their scoring output. If they do, the Bulldogs should improve on the 9-9 mark earned in their inaugural Big South campaign. Point guard Grayson Flittner (14.5 ppg, 3.8 apg) is a contender for Big South Player of the Year, and his numbers should improve as he suffered from knee issues throughout last season. However, with the graduation of 14 point per game performer Aaron Linn, no returnee other than Flittner cracked double digits last season, though C Auryn MacMillan should increase his production this year. Last year, he averaged only 9.4 ppg while shooting over 61 percent from the floor last year, Flittner's backcourt-mate, Jonathan Moore should also improve on his average of 9.1 ppg in Linn's absence.
UNC Asheville (last NCAA: 2003) The Bulldogs were young last year, but very competitive, winning 10 games in the league. With that year of experience, Eddie Biedenbach's squad should be ready to challenge for a conference title. Senior G Sean Smith (10.8 ppg) will provide leadership, and he'll team with sophomore G Matt Dickey (10.9 ppg) to provide a consistent perimeter threat. Junior F John Williams will provide inside scoring and rebounding (12.9 ppg, 6.6 ppg). while sophomore PG J.P. Primm (9 ppg, 4.5 apg) will run the offense.
Coastal Carolina (last NCAA: 1993) Cliff Ellis has all five starters back, as 6-5 F Joe Harris (15.2 ppg, 11.4 rpg) decided to stick around for his senior year. That means the Chanticleers are the team best equipped to challenge Radford for the league crown. Ellis also gains the services of South Carolina transfer Chad Gray, a 6-7 forward, who will join Harris and 10 point/6 rebound man Anthony Breeze in what could be one of the more formidable frontcourts in the league. The Chants' growth as a team may depend on how well the backcourt of Dexter Moore (7.2 ppg), Mario Edwards (9 ppg), and swingman Logan Johnson (6.9 ppg) builds on some solid performances at the end of last season.
Radford (last NCAA: 2009) The Highlanders already had a frontcourt that is the envy of most teams at this level of Division I, and they likely will be even better down low this year. You already know about 6-11 Art Parakhouski, who averaged better than 16 points and 11 boards last season. You may also have heard of PF Joey Lynch-Flohr, who scored 14 while grabbing almost 6 a contest. Now, you can add Binghamton transfer Lazar Trifunovic (and don't you think he's glad to have left that mess), a 6-8 forward who will likely step right in and contribute for Radford. The Highlanders will likely miss G Kenny Thomas (14.7 ppg, 5.8 ppg) and 6-5 Chris McEachin, who averaged almost 9 points a game in a reserve role left school over the summer (HT to e-mailer Tom Raschke for alerting me to this). He would have slid in beside Amir Johnson (9.6 ppg, 5.2 apg) to form a pretty good backcourt tandem. Now RU has a bit of a hole. In this league, when you can put together as impressive a frontcourt as Brad Greenberg has, you might only need a passable backcourt to cut down the nets in March. (And in selecting Johnson for my preseason All-Big South team, I think they could be really good back there.)
So, thanks to their prospects inside, the Highlanders are my preseason pick to repeat in the Big South. You'll see them in my 2009-10 Final Preseason Bracket on November 9. To wrap up this preview, here is my preseason All-Big South team, featuring the best returning players from last season.
Preseason All-Big South Team
Player of the Year: Artsiom Parakhouski, 6-11 C, Sr. (Radford)
Remainder of the Team
Grayson Flittner, 6-0 G, Sr. (Gardner-Webb)
Joseph Harris, 6-5 F, Sr. (Coastal Carolina)
Amir Johnson, 5-9 G, Sr. (Radford)
Joey Lynch-Flohr, 6-8 F, Sr. (Radford)