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Big South Conference Preview

November 5, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big South Conference Preview

by Jeremy Dunlap

There have been quite a few changes in the Big South as the 2003-2004 season gets ready to tip off. One team has joined the league (VMI) as another team has left (Elon). Along with that change, Birmingham-Southern will now have its games count in the standings, though they will still be watching the conference tournament once March rolls around. And Jerry Steele, the long-time head coach of High Point has retired, giving way to Bart Lundy, who promises to bring a new high-octane style of play to the league.

However, the change that might impact the league the most is the new structure of the conference tournament. Instead of holding the tournament in a central location, each tournament game will be played at the home-court of the higher seed. This places a much greater emphasis on the regular season, and would force a bottom-tier team to win in up to three different hostile gyms to advance to the NCAA tournament.

But despite these changes, there does not appear to be much change expected at the top of the standings. Winthrop and Liberty captured the top two seeds last year and are poised to hold on to those spots with both teams returning a bulk of their rosters and bringing in recruits that will contribute immediately.

So where does that leave UNC Asheville, the defending conference champion? Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they lost their three top players and will have to rely on a very young team (no seniors and only two juniors) in order to return to the Big Dance. But as they proved last year, anything can happen once the conference tournament comes around.

All-Conference Team
Danny Gathings – High Point
Whit Holcomb-Faye – Radford
Gabe Martin – Liberty
Radee Skipworth – VMI
Tyrone Walker – Winthrop

Conference MVP – Tyrone Walker, Winthrop

In a very tight race with Liberty’s Gabe Martin and High Point’s Danny Gathings, Walker gets the edge because of his ability to take over a game both inside and outside.

Freshman of the Year – Larry Blair, Liberty

Blair should get a lot of playing time in the backcourt for the Flames, and if Jeremy Monceaux’s outside shooting does not improve this season, expect Blair to step into the starting lineup by the time the conference schedule rolls around.

Coach on the Hot Seat – Pete Strickland, Coastal Carolina

After five losing seasons and a 46-93 overall record, it is difficult to see Coastal Carolina administration being much more patient with Strickland.

1. Winthrop Eagles (Last Season: 20-10; 11-3, 1st in Big South)

Projected Starters:
F/G Marcus Cooke, Sr. (6’5″, 190 lbs) – 7.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg
F/C Josh Grant, Jr. (6’10”, 245 lbs) – 6.4 ppg, 2.3 bpg
F/C Billy Houston, So. (6’8″, 230 lbs) – 6.8 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 58.6 FG%
G Ivan Jenkins, Jr. (6’1″, 175 lbs) – 8.3 ppg, 2.3 apg, 54 3PT made
F Tyrone Walker, Sr. (6’6″, 226 lbs) – 13.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg

Other Key Returning Players:
G Elijah Holland, Sr. (6’2″, 180 lbs) – 4.1 ppg, 38.3 3PT%
G/F James Shuler, So. (6’6″, 210 lbs) – 5.3 ppg

Key Player(s) Lost:
G Pierre Wooten – 13.1 ppg, 3.7 apg

Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
F/C Craig Bradshaw, Fr. (6’9″, 220 lbs)
G Brandon Key, Jr. (6’1″, 180 lbs)
G Torrell Martin, Fr. (6’4″, 185 lbs)
G/F Alex Spotts, So. (6’6″, 205 lbs) – Eligible 2nd Semester
F Phillip Williams, Fr. (6’7″, 200 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
at Kentucky (Nov. 21), at Georgia (Dec. 9), Arizona State Holiday Tournament (Dec. 29-30)

Winthrop has four starters returning from a team that finished in first place, three games ahead of the second place team. They saw a recruiting class come in with the last two South Carolina 4A Mr. Basketballs (Alex Spotts and Torrell Martin) and one of the best players ever to come out of New Zealand (Craig Bradshaw). They also have a big, experienced frontcourt led by preseason player of the year Tyrone Walker. Therefore, it is no surprise that many people are picking Winthrop to win the Big South this season. The only real question-mark with the Eagles is at the point guard position. Ivan Jenkins has proven to be a solid player in the last two years, but he is now responsible with being the floor leader in place of Pierre Wooten. If Jenkins can step in and handle the role of starting point guard, the Eagles should find themselves at the top of the standings again, challenging for a spot in the NCAA tournament.

2. Liberty Flames (Last Season: 14-15; 8-6, T-2nd in Big South)

Projected Starters:
G Ryan Mantlo, Sr. (6’1″, 175 lbs) – 11.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg
G/F Gabe Martin, Sr. (6’4″, 200 lbs) – 15.1 ppg,! 6.4 rpg, 85.3 FT%
G Jeremy Monceaux, So. (6’0″, 170 lbs) – 8.8 ppg, 2.5 apg
C Jason Sarchet, Sr. (6’8″, 225 lbs) – 9.0 ppg, 6.8 rpg
F Glyn Turner, Sr. (6’8″, 215 lbs) – 4.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg

Other Key Returning Players:
F Mats Perrson, Jr. (6’7″, 230 lbs) – Did not play last year; injury
F Louvon Sneed, Sr. (6’7″, 235 lbs) – Did not play last year; ineligible
G Harry Williams, Sr. (6’5″, 190! lbs) – 3.0 ppg, 2.2 rpg

Key Player(s) Lost:
F Vincent Okotie – 12.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg

Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
G Larry Blair, Fr. (6’1″, 185 lbs)
G/F David Dees, Fr. (6’5″, 200 lbs)
F Leo Lightbourne, Jr. (6’8″, 215 lbs)
F/C Emmanuel Segun, Jr. (6’11”, 235 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27-29), at Iowa State (Dec. 13), Fiesta Bowl Classic (Dec. 28-30)

Liberty shocked the conference last year by finishing with a winning conference record and garnering the #2 seed in the conference tournament. JuCo transfers Gabe Martin and Ryan Mantlo were the primary reason for the turnaround from a last-place team in ’01-’02 to a second-place team last year. They both return this year and give Liberty a legitimate chance at a championship season. Joining Martin and Mantlo is a talented recruiting class with David Blair, Leo Lightbourne, and Emmanuel Segun expected to pay immediate dividends. If the guards can shoot well from outside and the young post players can play solid defense, the Flames could challenge the Eagles for the top spot.

3. Birmingham-Southern Panthers (Last Season: 19-9; did not officially compete in conference last season)

Projected Starters:
F Grant Davis, Sr. (6’9″, 220 lbs) – 6.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg
C Shema Mbyirukira, Jr. (6’11”, 210 lbs) – 3.9 ppg, 2.0 bpg, 53.1 FG%
F Sredrick Powe, Jr. (6’7″, 225 lbs) – JuCo Transfer
G Jakob Sigurdarson, Jr. (6’4″, 185 lbs) – 12.3 ppg, 40.5 3PT%
G Derrick Williams, Sr. (5’9″, 175 lbs) – 12.6 ppg, 3.4 apg

Other Key Returning Players:
G/F Jimmy Amerson, Jr. (6’4″, 205 lbs) – 2.1 ppg
G James Collins, So. (6’2″, 170 lbs) – 4.6 ppg

Key Player(s) Lost:
F Josiah James – 13.7 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 56.4 FG%
F/G Corey Watkins – 11.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg

Other Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
G/F Arnold Gore, Fr. (6’5″, 200 lbs)
F Rostislav Vergun, Jr. (6’7″, 210 lbs)
F/C Thomas Viglianco, Jr. (6’9″, 225 lbs)
C Augustinas Vitas, Jr. (6’11”, 245 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
at Kansas State (Nov. 21), at UAB (Dec. 3)

Birmingham-Southern has had no problems in their transition into Division I. In fact, the other Big South schools probably consider themselves lucky that their games against the Panthers have not counted in the standings, because last year, Birmingham-Southern would have only finished behind Winthrop if their games did count. However, their games will count in the standings and could influence the seeding of the conference tournament. Unfortunately for the Panthers, they will not be participating in the tournament until the ’05-’06 season.

The Panthers lost two quality scorers and rebounders in Josiah James and Corey Watkins, but they do return a solid guard tandem (Jakob Sigurdarson and Derrick Williams). Head Coach Duane Reboul also raided the JuCo ranks for frontcourt help and got plenty of size, talent, and hard-to-pronounce names. The Panthers may lack a reliable go-to guy, but experienced backcourts and depth in the frontcourts are always recipes for success, and Birmingham-Southern has both, so expect another solid season for them.

4. High Point Panthers (Last Season: 7-20; 3-11, 8th in Big South)

Projected Starters:
G Jeff Allen, So. (6’0″, 185 lbs) – 4.6 ppg, 2.8 apg
F/C Jerry Echenique, Jr. (6’6″, 260 lbs) – JuCo Transfer
F Danny Gathings, Jr. (6’6″, 205 lbs) – 18.7 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 57.1 FG%
F Issa Konare, So. (6’7″, 220 lbs) – Transfer from South Carolina
G Zione White, Jr. (6’3″, 175 lbs) – JuCo Transfer

Other Key Returning Players:
G Matt Anderson, So. (6’0″, 185 lbs) – 3.0 ppg
F Brent Halsch, Sr. (6’5″, 215 lbs) – 5.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg
C John Stonehocker, Sr. (6’9″, 220 lbs) – 2.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg

Key Player(s) Lost:
F Ron Barrow – 4.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg
C Kashawn Hampton – 6.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg
G Joe Knight – 16.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 40.3 3PT%
G/F Dustin Van Weerdhuizen – 14.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.0 apg

Other Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
G/F Jorsua Chambers, Jr. (6’5″, 215 lbs)
C Josh Fowler, Fr. (6’11”, 200 lbs)
F/C Dwayne Martin, Fr. (6’7″, 245 lbs)
G Chris Meeks, Jr. (6’3″, 185 lbs)
G Javier Palacios, Jr. (6’2″, 185 lbs)
G Landon Quick, Fr. (6’1″, 175 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
at Clemson (Nov. 24), at Michigan (Nov. 26), at Virginia (Nov. 30)

Head Coach Bart Lundy is the only new head coach in the league, and for that reason, High Point is the hardest team to figure out going into this season. Lundy came over from Queens University of Charlotte, taking the place of the retired Jerry Steele. Whereas Steele was an old-school style of coach, stressing a patient offense, Lundy was leading Queens to the Division II tournament with explosive offenses and a run-and-gun style. To be able to play at that pace at High Point, Lundy has blitzed the JuCo ranks and brought in a fleet of athletic players to join talented holdover Danny Gathings and South Carolina transfer Issa Konare.

Depending on how well Lundy can get this team to gel and how well they can dictate tempo, the Panthers could finish just about anywhere in the standings. Look for High Point to win some games they are not expected to win, and lose some games that they should not lose.

5. Radford Highlanders (Last Season: 10-20; 6-8, 6th in Big South)

Projected Starters:
G Andre Bynum, So. (6’2″, 170 lbs) – 3.5 ppg
F Aaron Gill, Jr. (6’6″, 185 lbs) – 6.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg
G Whit Holcomb-Faye, So. (6’1″, 170 lbs) – 14.3 ppg, 4.1 apg
G Olumuyiwa Popoola, Jr. (6’3″, 185 lbs) – 8.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
C/F Kyle Zaharias, Jr. (6’9″, 240 lbs) – 3.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg

Other Key Returning Players:
F Chris Goodin, So. (6’5″, 225 lbs) – 5.7 ppg
F Matt James, Sr. (6’6″, 225 lbs) – 3.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg

Key Player(s) Lost:
G Raymond Arrington – 14.8 ppg, 65 3PT Made

Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
F Brandon Jeffers, Jr. (6’7″, 220 lbs)
F Reggie McIntyre, Fr. (6’5″, 210 lbs)
F Chris Oliver, Fr. (6’7″, 190 lbs)
G Dan Ross, Fr. (6’6″, 210 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
at Clemson (Dec. 22), at East Carolina (Dec. 30)

Radford was able to rebound from a rough regular season and advance to the conference finals last year. They are hoping that the late season success will provide momentum into this season and with a strong nucleus of young players returning, there may reason for optimism at RU. Whit Holcomb-Faye, last season’s Big South Freshman of the year, is only going to get better and Olumuyiwa Popoola is poised for a breakout year. But the Highlanders are still rather thin in the frontcourt, so though they should expect a better, more consistent season than they had a year ago, this team is still a few players away from getting to the top of the standings.

6. UNC Asheville Bulldogs (Last Season: 15-17; 7-7, 5th in Big South; Advanced to first round of NCAA tournament)

Projected Starters:
F Joseph Barber, Jr. (6’9″, 225 lbs) – 7.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg
G Omar Collington, So. (6’1″, 180 lbs) – 3.3 ppg
G KJ Garland, Fr. (6’1″, 160 lbs) – Freshman
F Bryan McCullough, Jr. (6’6″, 195 lbs) – 10.1 ppg, 3.7 rpg
F Chad Mohn, So. (6’8″, 205 lbs) – 5.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg

Other Key Returning Players:
F/C Aaron Creasman, So. (6’9″, 200 lbs) – 0.9 ppg
G/F Oliver Holmes, So. (6’6″, 190 lbs) – 2.1 ppg

Key Player(s) Lost:
G Alex Kragel – 11.1 ppg, 63 3PT made
C Ben McGonagil – 14.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg
G Andre Smith – 15.9 ppg, 3.6 apg, 2.2 spg

Other Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
G/F Joey Harrell, Fr. (6’7″, 190 lbs)
G Steven Rush, Fr. (5’10”, 160 lbs)
C CJ Walker, Fr. (7’1″, 210 lbs)
F/C Brett Warner, Fr. (6’9″, 190 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
at NC State (Nov. 21), vs. Charlotte (Nov. 30), at Syracuse (Dec. 28), at Tennessee (Dec. 30)

UNC Asheville made an amazing run last season in earning their first trip to the NCAA tournament. However, duplicating that feat will be very difficult due to the graduations of Andre Smith, Ben McGonigil, and Alex Kragel. The team that is left for Head Coach Eddie Biedenbach is very young and inexperienced, but not devoid of talent. Juniors Bryan McCullough and Joseph Barber played well in a supporting role last year, and will be expected to take the lead this season. Sophomores Chad Mohn and Omar Collington both played well in limited time last season, and will join the two juniors as the nucleus of this team. The Bulldogs’ biggest problem this season will be in the post. Barber is a solid power forward, but not big enough to guard and score on the biggest players in the league. Until the freshmen centers bulk up and get experience, it is hard to see this team finishing in the upper tier.

7. VMI Keydets (Last Season: 10-20; 3-13, T-5th in Southern Conference, North Division)

Projected Starters:
C Tim Allmond, Jr. (6’9″, 220 lbs) – 4.4 ppg, 4.6 rpg
F Preston Beverly, Jr. (6’6″, 240 lbs) – 4.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg
G Levar Joseph, So. (6’2″, 170 lbs) – 4.0 ppg, 39.5 3PT%
G Richard Little, Sr. (5’10”, 160 lbs) – 7.5 ppg, 7.2 apg
F Radee Skipworth, Sr. (6’6″, 220 lbs) – 18.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg

Other Key Returning Player:
C Tadas Mankevicius, So. (6’9″, 230 lbs) – 2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg

Key Player(s) Lost:
G Ben Rand – 8.4 ppg, 3.1 apg
F Zach Batte – 3.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg

Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
G Matt Coward, Fr. (5’10”, 155 lbs)
F Chi-Chi Ezekwe, Fr. (6’6″, 190 lbs)
F Matt Murrer, Fr. (6’7″, 185 lbs)
G Fred Robinson, Fr. (6’2″, 180 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
Top of the World Classic (Nov. 20-23), vs. Virginia (Dec. 5), at Louisville (Dec. 23)

The Big South’s newest member may have lost its main attraction, but there is still at least one great player wearing a VMI uniform. Jason Conley’s transfer to Missouri last winter may have cost the Keydet’s the nation’s leading scorer of the ’01-’02 season, but it did allow Radee Skipworth to step out of Conley’s shadow and show his skills. Skipworth averaged over 18 points per game, and that number is sure to increase in a full season as the go-to guy. Unfortunately for the Keydets, he is the only major scoring threat on the team. In order to be successful in their new league, VMI needs players such as Preston Beverly and Levar Joseph to step up and give Skipworth a hand. Point guard Richard Little will do his part by distributing the ball, but needs to improve his shooting percentages if the Keydets want to have prolonged success this season.

8. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (Last Season: 13-15; 5-9, 7th in Big South)

Projected Starters:
F Kelvin Coggins, Sr. (6’4″, 203 lbs) – 6.0 ppg
G EJ Gallup, Sr. (6’4″, 205 lbs) – 9.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.1 apg
G Alvin Green, Jr. (5’9″, 160 lbs) – 7.5 ppg, 2.7 apg
G Brandon Newby, Sr. (6’2″, 166 lbs) – Did not play last year; injury
F Mihai Raducanu, Sr. (6’9″, 215 lbs) – 5.1 ppg, 3.1 rpg

Other Key Returning Players:
F Antwan Green, Sr. (6’5″, 190 lbs) – 2.0 ppg
F Clint Nagel, Jr. (6’7″, 200 lbs) – 1.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg
G Pele Paelay, So. (6’4″, 190 lbs) – 3.8 ppg, 50.0 FG%
F Clint Reed, Sr. (6’6″, 185 lbs) – 3.9 ppg, 40.7 3PT%
G Colin Stevens, Jr. (5’9″, 155 lbs) – 4.6 ppg, 2.5 apg
C Anthony Susnjara, Sr. (6’8″, 220 lbs) – 3.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg

Key Player(s) Lost:
F Torrey Butler – 18.6 ppg, 6.5 rpg
F Tony Darden – 7.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg
F Derrick Robinson – 5.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg

Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
C Adrian Gross, Fr. (6’7″, 245 lbs)
F Moses Sonko, Fr. (6’5″, 205 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
vs. College of Charleston (Dec. 6), at Virginia (Dec. 22), at North Carolina (Dec. 30)

The good news for Coastal Carolina is that they expect to have Brandon Newby and Alvin Green completely healthy off of their injury-filled seasons last year. The bad news is the Chanticleers no longer have the services of 2-time Big South Player of the Year Torrey Butler and versatile forwards Tony Darden and Derrick Robinson. This year’s team looks to be similar to the Coastal Carolina teams from the last few years, and that is not a good sign because none of those teams had winning records. Head Coach Pete Strickland is usually able to get talented guards to come to Coastal, but his frontcourts are usually very small and very thin. This season is no exception and the Chants will be forced to live and die by the 3-pointer and by their guard-play. Newby, Green, EJ Gallup, and Pele Paelay are all capable of having big nights, but without solid rebounders and interior defenders surrounding them, the Chants will struggle to win consistently.

9. Charleston Southern Buccaneers (Last Season: 14-14; 8-6, T-2nd in Big South)

Projected Starters:
F Nathan Ball, Jr. (6’9″, 210 lbs) – 2.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg
G Donnell Covingon, Fr. (6’0″, 170 lbs) – Freshman
F Trent Drafts, Jr. (6’8″, 175 lbs) – 7.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg
G Ed O’Neil, Sr. (6’0″, 175 lbs) – 8.2 ppg, 5.0 apg
F Kurtis Rice, Jr. (6’5″, 195 lbs) – JuCo Transfer

Other Key Returning Players:
G Terrell Brown, So. (5’9″, 175 lbs) – 2.3 ppg, 84.6 FT%
G Timon Farley, So. (6’3″, 190 lbs) – 1.1 ppg
G Thomas Harrison, So. (6’1″, 180 lbs) – 3.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg

Key Player(s) Lost:
G Gene Granger – 9.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg
C Chris Warzynski – 6.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg
F Kevin Warzynski – 13.8 ppg, 5.6 rpg
F Charles White – 12.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg

Other Newcomers Expected to make an Impact:
C Jovan Jegdic, Jr. (6’9″, 235 lbs)
C Isaac Jones, Fr. (6’8″, 210 lbs)
F/C Carter Stiglbauer, Fr. (6’9″, 210 lbs)

Schedule Highlights:
at College of Charleston (Nov. 21), at South Carolina (Dec. 17), at Georgia (Dec. 22)

The Buccaneers have shown steady improvement in each of Head Coach Jim Platt’s first three years, but big personnel losses will likely drop CSU back to the bottom of the pack. The graduations of Charles White, Gene Granger, and Chris Warzynski were damaging enough, but the fatal blow to the Bucs was the transfer of Kevin Warzynski, who led the team in points and rebounds last year. That leaves the team with talented point guard Ed O’Neil, solid contributor Trent Drafts, and a cast of inexperienced returnees and newcomers to pick up the slack. O’Neil is great at creating opportunities for his teammates, but he is not suited to be the primary scorer for the team. Unfortunately for the Bucs, they have virtually no experience in the front court and no proven scorer to help O’Neil out. Platt is going to a need a lot of patience with this team, as it will likely be a long season in the BucDome.


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