What’s in store in the Big South Conference?

3 Nov

Can Matt Dickey and the UNC Asheville team keep the magic working? (PHOTO: UNC Asheville)

By Kevin Easley
National Hoops Report

The Big South Conference is an underrated league with good teams and great coaches. Winthrop University dominated the conference for nearly a decade but now there has been a changing of the guard. Teams like Coastal Carolina, UNC Asheville, VMI and Liberty have started to make their presence felt.

What should you be watching this year in the conference?

  • Dancing with the Stars -UNC Asheville returns four starters including the top backcourt duo in the Big South. The headliner, Matt Dickey, the returning leading scorer, at 15.7 ppg finished the season with a lot of momentum. He is an athletic, sharpshooter that gives UNC-A a threat to score in many different ways; however, he does have a dance partner by the name of J.P. Primm (14.6ppg/4.5apg) who is arguably one of the top point guards in the league. Primm is known for his toughness and leadership. The X-Factor for the Bulldogs is junior wing, Jaron Lane, who scored close to 9ppg in conference play. He is primed to have a breakout year.
  • What have you done for me lately– Coastal Carolina has dominated the last two regular season slates but have been upset on their home court during the tournament. The road back to dominance will be tough losing 39 ppg of their offense. CCU brings back one of the top floor generals in the league in Kiere Greenwood (7 ppg/10.9 assists). If he can come back from his ACL injury full speed, his on the ball defense and playmaking ability will pace the Chanticleers. Reserve Anthony Raffa, the team’s returning leading scorer at11ppg, should step into a starter’s role this season. Keep an eye on Louisiana Lafayette transfer Chris Gradingo. He was one of the top players in the Sun Belt and will instantly be the inside/outside threat CCU needs to contend for the title again.
  • Who’s going to start the fire– Coach Dale Layer spent the whole summer trying to figure out how to rekindle the “Old Flames.” Liberty finished second in the standings, but they dropped their last 5 games. The Flames bring back conference player of the year in Jesse Sanders (13 ppg/5 rpg). At point guard, he is one of the top rebounders in the BSC. Unfortunately, John Brown (12ppg/10rpg) the only player in the league that averaged a double/double will miss the entire season with a knee injury. Liberty will have the services of heralded recruit Steven Baird who redshirted last season. At 6’8, he should provide multiple mismatches with his skill set.
  • The Fast and Furious– Virginia Military Institute is clearly a team no one wants to play when tournament time hits. No team in the country scores more points and plays faster than VMI (87.9ppg), but they gave up (82.1ppg) on the defensive end. If the Keydets can find defensive balance, they will be in title contention in March.  The late emergence of All Freshman team selection 6’9 DJ Covington has Coach Duggar Baucom excited about their future. He will be one of the top inside threats in the league this year.  Rodney Glasgow who was also selected on the All Freshman team will look to be more consistent this season at PG. He started the season red-hot winning multiple rookie of the week awards but hit the freshman wall late in the year. Look for veteran forwards, Stan Okoye (16ppg) and Keith Gabriel (14.2ppg) to carry the scoring void left by Austin Kenon (18.4ppg).
  • Will the Eagles soar again– When you mention the Big South most people think of Winthrop. They have been solid over the last few years making the NCAA tournament two of the last four years. The Eagles biggest deficiency was their inability to make perimeter shots (30.7 3pt) during the course of games. Winthrop will need Andre Jones (10.7ppg) and Reggie Middleton (11ppg) to increase their numbers. Senior center George Valentine (6.8ppg/7.2 rpg) should prove to be a dominant force and control the paint.

Best of the rest

  • A potential sleeper team is High Point who returns Nick Barbour arguably the best player in the league (17.7 ppg). He has been an all-conference performer the last two seasons. The Panthers also return Shay Shine (14.3ppg), who is considered to be one of the best dunkers in the nation. Forward Corey Law (8ppg/7.6 rpg) returns from a late season injury. If High Point is going to make a run they will have to improve in conference road play. The Panthers were 5-19 on the road in BSC play during the last two years under Coach Scott Cherry.
  • Last season Presbyterian got off to a fast start defeating a couple of BCS teams. Consequently, a season ending ankle injury to star player Alonzo Coleman set them back. He is scheduled to return this season.
  • Charleston Southern returns Kelvin Martin, the most versatile player in the league. He is an all-conference performer. Sheldon Strickland (8ppg) was named to the All Freshman team a year ago. He quickly became a leader and will be looked upon to score for the Bucs. Sophomore guard, Jeremy Sexton, (10.8 ppg) will try to get his shooting stroke back from his freshman year that earned him freshman of the year honors.
  • Gardner Webb returns guard, Laron Buggs, (10 ppg) and forward Stephon Johnson (9.2ppg). They took a huge hit when starting point guard , Luke Davis, transferred. Chris Holtman will hope that his highly touted recruiting class can make strides early.
  • Radford will be in a rebuilding phase under new Coach Mike Jones. The bright spot is sophomore guard Jarreal Smith who averaged (9.4 ppg) and Blake Smith (9.4 ppg) who represent the team’s best perimeter defenders.
  • New Kids on the block- Campbell make its debut in the Big South this year.  They were a team near the bottom of the Atlantic Sun, but hope to make a great impression on the league early; however, they return three starters. This will give Campbell the experience needed to catch teams by surprise.

Kevin Easley was an assistant coach in the league at High Point University. Prior to that, he was an assistant at UNC Greensboro and UT-Martin. Easley played at Austin Peay University. He will be contributing to the National Hoops Report throughout the year and bringing a perspective on mid-major programs.

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2 Responses to “What’s in store in the Big South Conference?”

  1. Ty November 3, 2011 at 6:17 am #

    Liberty also lost Evan Gordon to Arizona State and Winthrop is having many issues with their players(Off Court Problems) so their roster could be a bit iffy.

    • Justin Young November 3, 2011 at 6:53 am #

      Gordon was a big loss for Liberty but I don’t know if I could call the “issue” with Gamble and Middleton a problem for Winthrop. Seems to me that late night meeting with the police has served its course. Nevertheless, not the kind of headlines you want out there if you are Winthrop.

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