CSU struggled last season to a 7-11 conference record. They struggled on both offense and defense. However, CSU has their four most important and efficient players back for this season. Jamarco Warren, Kelvin Martin, Jeremy Sexton, and Kenny Mitchell all were used on over 20% of possessions and had ORtg's over 100. Martin and Mitchell can rebound, block shots, and score inside the three point line at a high percentage. Warren and Sexton can both spread the court and hit the three. These four should lead an improved offensive team, but CSU will have to get more stops on defense this year to contend in the Big South.
The reigning Big South regular season champions were by far the top team in the Big South last season. Defense was the key for the Chanticleers. They held opponents to the worst three point shooting percentage in the entire country. However, Joseph Harris, Mario Edwards, and Logan Johnson are all big losses. Chad Gray will once again be the go-to guy. Along with Gray is a promising sophomore class consisting of Kierre Greenwood, Danny Nieman, and Sam McLaurin. The most important player may end up being Mike Holmes. The South Carolina transfer will have to sit out the first four or five games of the season, but should be a force in the paint. Coastal Carolina will again be in the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth.
The Bulldogs finished second to last in conference last year. Most of the minutes from that team are gone. Gardner Webb will certainly struggle again this season. They should be in full rebuilding mode. Senior Jonathan Moore could prove to be a solid go-to guy, but without much around him the Bulldogs will be in the cellar.
High Point featured a pretty solid offense last year that led to a 10-8 conference record. They lost just one game the whole season at home. Rising sophomore Nick Barbour should be in for a big year. Last season his usage was in the top 50 nationally. He shot 40% from three, got to the foul line, and didn't a good job taking care of the ball. A key for the Panthers will be replacing the rebounding and interior defense of Cruz Daniels. Corey Law, Earnest Bridges, and Jourdan Morris are relatively undersized, but have shown positive signs of being able to take on increased roads. High Point should be about average again.
Another very average team last season was Liberty. Kyle Ohman is no longer for the Flames, but there are some potential candidates to fill his role. Sophomore Antwan Burrus shot over 50% from the floor, rebounded, and block shots in limited minutes last season. He is a potential breakout candidate for Liberty. Fellow sophomore Evan Gordon looks to build on a solid rookie campaign. Gordon shot the ball extremely well, but was very turnover prone. Overall, Liberty has a lot of minutes back and has the talent to take a step forward this season.
Asheville started the season off 1-12 against D1 opponents. In their last 15 games, they went a solid 11-4. The Bulldogs played fast, with an adjusted tempo of 72.8 possessions per game (11th fastest in the nation). The Bulldogs were also extremely young last season. Now, everyone is back except for Sean Smith. The major problem will be taking care of the ball. Last year Asheville turned it over on 23.2 percent of possessions. The four highest usage players on the team all turned it over at least one in five possessions individually. Primm, Dickey, Stephenson, and Cunningham are all young players with upside, and NC Asheville will depend largely the development of those four.
The stage is set for Presbyterian. The team played with just one player older than a sophomore last season. They were the youngest team in the country. This was actually done by design. Al'Lonzo Coleman, Pierre Miller and Josh Johnson all red-shirted last year in order to retain eligibility for the 2011-12 season: the first year the team is eligible for the postseason. This situation certainly parallels North Dakota St. in some regards. Still, the three of them aren't exactly the next Ben Woodside or Brett Winkelman. Presbyterian will certainly be improved, but we aren't ready to bring back the "Bison Fever" quite yet.
The Highlanders played their way to a 13-5 conference record last season with strong defense. Radford loses a lot from last year, including the dynamic big man Artsiom Parakhouski. Parakhouski carried otherwise bad offensive team last season. Radford will certainly need impact from newcomers to remain a top team in the Big South. An interesting recruit to watch will be 7'1" Martins Abele from Oak Hill Academy.
The Keydets seems to have a perpetual identity crisis. They clearly play fast. In the last four years they have been 1st in the nation in adjusted tempo three times and 2nd in the nation once. The type of pace they play at would seem to indicate an extremely athletic team who probably likes to get out and press. Yet regardless of pace, VMI had the worst defense in the country last season. Athleticism wasn't prevelant on offense either. They had the high opponent block percentage in the nation as well. The one thing that you might not expect from a team with such a frantic pace is ball control. Yet the one thing VMI did well was take care of the ball (17.2 TO%). The Keydets have a lot back and are an interesting team to watch. Defense will have to improve to gain relevancy in the Big South.
The Eagles did something pretty remarkable last season: get to the P.I.G. without being able to shoot. Winthrop shot 26% from three and 43% from two. They could, however, play solid defense and take care of the ball. The Eagles have the core of the team back should once again have the best defense in the Big South, but it is really hard to win without being able to shoot. Expect an overall solid season from Winthrop.
Player of the Year: Nick Barbour, High Point
The 6'3" junior will be the leader for High Point this season. Last year, Barbour was used on 30% of High Point's posessions and had an ORtg of 106.6. He knocked down the long ball took care of the basketball. Furthermore, he drew 6.4 fouls per 40 minutes. His number one backcourt mate from last season, Eugene Harris, graduated. Barbour could even take a bigger role this season. He has shown he can handle a heavy workload and will be up to the task.
Best of the Rest:
1) Chad Gray, Coastal Carolina
2) Jamarco Warren, Charleston Southern
3) Kelvin Martin, Charleston Southern
4) Austin Kenon, VMI
5) Reggie Middleton, Winthrop
Breakout Player: Antwan Burrus, Liberty
Burrus was excellent in his freshman season for the Flames. Burrus was top 200 in the country in both offensive rebounding percentage and block percentage. He also shot 52% from the floor. The departure of Kyle Ohman will free up both minutes and possessions for Burrus. If he can even just maintain his production from last season with the increase in minutes, he will be one of the best low post players in the Big South.
Best of the Rest:
1) Kenny Mitchell, Charleston Southern
2) Corey Law, High Point
3) Jourdan Morris, High Point
4) Ryan Hargrave, Presbyterian