Archive | July, 2015

Midsummer 2015-16 NEC Preview

28 Jul

Five story lines to watch in the 2015-16 NEC basketball season…

1) After coming oh so close to their first NEC title and first NCAA Tournament appearance, can the St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers remain atop the league after losing beast on the block Jalen Cannon and PG Brent Jones? I think so given the returning talent.

2) Robert Morris is looking to defend their NEC Tournament title, but lost FR stud Marcquise Reed in the offseason to the majors, in addition to Lucky Jones graduating. However, with Rodney Pryor back and Andy Toole at the helm still, the Colonials are likely the team to beat.

3) Look for Jamion Christian to really crank up the “Mayhem” with a quick, athletic backcourt and spread the court with shooters and contend for the NEC title once again.

4) If Dwaun Anderson and Mike Aaman is fully healthy (and remains healthy), Wagner could be the surprise team in the NEC.

5) Is this the swan song for Howie Dickenman at CCSU? The colorful coach has been in New Britain since 1996, but with off the court issues, defections, and the losses piling up and with this being the last year of his contract, this very well could be his last year on the Blue Devils’ sideline.

Predicted Order of Finish:

1) Robert Morris– The defending champs return a lot of talent to help offset the transfer of Marcquise Reed and graduation of Lucky Jones. First and foremost, Rodney Pryor looks set to have a POY type NEC season. Pryor was an efficiency monster last season, shooting 52% from two combined with an absurd 43% from three. I think those numbers will be deflated a bit with Reed and Jones no longer around to help keep defenses off of him, but nonetheless, Pryor is potentially the best player in the NEC this season. The loss of Reed and Jones will definitely be felt defensively as well. Reed had the 27th highest steal rate in the country last season, and his length combined with Jones at the top of Toole’s pressure zone was highly effective. Toole has stated several times that he’s a man to man guy, so I’m interested to see what he does defensively with that perimeter length gone. Kavon Stewart returns at the point, and Toole added some offensive threats in high scoring Matty McConnell (TJ’s brother) and Isaiah Still, but I’m not sure how ready they are in terms of defense. Still at least is 6’6. In the frontcourt, Toole survived a scare when Elijah Minnie decided to return after heavy transfer rumors were circulating in the offseason. Minnie is an outstanding rim protector and rebounder, and if he adds some more offensive production, it will be icing on the cake for the Colonials. Aaron Tate also returns, and will provide his typical clean up work on the offensive glass. There’s certainly not much of a gap between RMU and say Mt. St. Mary’s, St. Francis Brooklyn, and maybe even Wagner or Sacred Heart, but I think with their talent and pedigree, they’re the team to beat heading in to the season. [UPDATE: Steve Bennett has left the program and Aaron Tate will miss several weeks after “lower leg” surgery”, leaving the frontcourt very thin behind Minnie]

2) Mount St. Mary’s– Despite the losses of Andrew Smeathers, Kristijan Krajina, and Chris Martin, I think the Mount suffered the least amount of offseason attrition of any NEC contender. Plus, with the loss of some of the more immobile guys (Smeathers) I think you’ll see Jamion Christian really return to cranking up the 3/4 court “Mayhem” ball pressure, which could be even more effective with the 30 second shot clock in place. I think you’re likely to see Christian go will the smaller lineup of 40% three point shooter Will Miller at the 4 and versatile/athletic Gregory Graves at the 5, allowing him to press while spreading the floor offensively with potential breakout star PG Junior Robinson and bucket getter Byron Ashe, with plenty of depth in the backcourt as well to maintain that style with Charles Glover, Khalid Nwandu, and the late addition of FR Elijah Long. The Mount has the potential to be the best team in the NEC, and they’re certainly the most equipped to exploit any advantages given offensively and defensively with the 30 second shot clock.

3) St. Francis Brooklyn– Glenn Braica’s Terriers enjoyed a historic season that brought them to the brink of their first NCAA Tournament appearance, but now they have to move on without bulldog on the block and glass Jalen Cannon and assist machine Brent Jones at the point. Sophomore point Glenn Sanabria will slide somewhat seamlessly into Jones’ role (plus he’s a better shooter), but replacing Cannon’s offensive efficiency and glass dominance is virtually impossible. Chris Hooper will try to slide into Cannon’s spot, but it’s going to take a group effort from him, Amdy Fall, and 6’7 returnee Antonio Jenifer. Fall, a rim protecting freak (10th nationally in block rate) and the best defensive player in the NEC, will have to step up his offensive production for that scenario to have any hope of working out. While replacing Cannon is difficult, I think the biggest question Braica faces is who is going to give him some offensive production/court spreading ability out of the 3 spot? The backcourt is set with Sanabria taking over at PG and Tyreek Jewell poised for a big year off the ball (assuming he can improve his efficiency and shoot the ball at a lot better clip than 21% from three), but the wings were something of a dead spot offensively last year for the Terriers, and I’m not sure if that changes this year. Sophomore Gunnar Olafsson could very well turn out to be the guy, and should help improve the dreadful 30% team shooting from three in NEC play last season. Look for Jon Doss out of Taft High in Chicago and Eastern Wyoming CC to help in that regard as well. Redshirt FR Keon Williams, a high scoring wing out of Kentucky, should provide some depth on the perimeter, and at 6’5, he could provide the type of defense that Braica loves, which is totally denying the three point line and funneling ball handlers/shooters into the swatting Fall.

4) Sacred Heart– The Pioneers finished 9-9 in NEC play, and nearly had an NEC tournament win (suffered a heartbreaking 2OT loss to Bryant that featured the (in)famous O’Shea buzzer beater), which constituted their best season since 08-09, so Anthony Latina certainly has this thing going in the right direction. However, Latina does have some role replacing to do, especially in the backcourt. PG Phil Gaetano (the toughest to replace), 3 point specialist Steve Glowiak, and wing Evan Kelley all graduated. The good news is that Cane Broome, who could be the best pure scorer in the league after just one season, returns to that same backcourt. The big question is who handles the ball? Broome is certainly a capable ball handler, but he’s obviously far more effective off the ball. Highly touted FR Quincy McKnight will be relied upon immediately to help in that regard. Latina’s frontcourt is solid with the return of hyperly efficient De’von Barnett, Jordan Allen, 6’10 Filip Nowicki, and the best returning rebounder in the conference in Tevin Falzon. Falzon was first in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate in NEC play, while also boasting the fifth highest block rate and drawing a ton of contact offensively. The Pioneers were the least three point reliant team in NEC play last year, and with the loss of Gaetano and Glowiak’s 300 combined attempts, they might shoot even less of them this year. But, Chris Robinson and McKnight are going to be relied upon from outside with Broome to provide some semblance of offensive balance. If Broome continues to develop at his current rapid rate and he gets some sort of help in the backcourt, the Pioneers could be a top 3 NEC team. UPDATE 8/6/15, per @pioneer_pride (Ryan Peters), De’von Barnett’s season is in jeopardy after a shoulder injury http://www.nycbuckets.com/2015/08/sacred-hearts-devon-barnett-injures-shoulder-season-in-doubt/. Jordan Allen’s role certainly becomes more important, and this injury probably drops the Pioneers down a rung and out of the preseason “legit contender” slot.

5) Wagner– Bashir Mason’s team is almost totally reliant on the health of big man Mike Aaman and wing Dwaun Anderson. Both are reportedly 100% right now, but Aaman’s concussion history and propensity to draw a lot of contact unfortunately makes him a big risk. Mason also has to replace a ton of minutes, a ton of shots, and a ton of points with the graduation of Marcus Burton. Mason had the 24th youngest team in the country last year, but it somehow seems they’re getting even younger this year. Nolan Long left to focus on baseball and Stedman Allen transferred, which severely limits Wagner’s frontcourt depth (and puts an even bigger premium on Aaman’s health), and those losses could be felt most immediately on the glass, where Wagner was outstanding last year in NEC play. Mason added Penn grad transfer Henry Brooks, which will help immediately on the glass, and if Greg Senat and Japhet Kadji improve with increased minutes, the Seahawks should be fine in the frontcourt. As for replacing Burton in the backcourt, Corey Henson will be relied upon to continue building on a solid FR year that saw him shoot 36% from 3 in NEC play, but he needs to prove he can put the ball on the floor. JoJo Cooper and Aaren Edmed are back to man the point at sophomores and hopefully reduce their high turnover rate. Romone Saunders is yet another sophomore who has the potential to step on the perimeter this year. The return of a healthy Anderson will help offensively as well, but his impact will also be felt on the defensive end. Anderson was 15th in block rate and 16th in steal rate in NEC play two years ago, and Mason’s Wagner teams have either been first or second in defensive efficiency in the NEC until last season, when the defense fell off a cliff. Granted, a lot of that efficiency was because of Naofall Folahan and Latif Rivers, but the return of Anderson on the perimeter will undoubtedly help. To add some backcourt depth, versatile FR Devin Liggeons comes in, as well as 6’5 Michael Carey, a onetime Texas Tech commit who won a JUCO national title at San Jacinto last year. If Aaman and Anderson can stay healthy, I could be laughing at this fifth place prediction at the end of the year.

6) Bryant– This might be the year Tim O’Shea is finally forced to use his bench. Bryant is always in the bottom 20 nationally in terms of bench minutes, but with the loss of Dyami Starks (6th in percentage of team minutes nationally) and nephew wing Joe O’Shea, playing time has to come from somewhere. Replacing the sheer shots, points, and production of Starks is the biggest challenge, but Hunter Ware seems more than capable of shouldering a large chunk of the scoring load after showing flashes as a FR last year. Ware also has the potential to be an elite defender in the NEC. As a freshman, he had the highest steal rate in the conference playing for a team not exactly known for ever applying ball pressure under O’Shea. Shane McLaughlin returns as a SR PG, a luxury in the NEC this year, and I think Bosko Kostur likely slides over to the 3 in O’Shea’s place. Kostur has great length at 6’7 and can shoot (47% from 3 in a small sample size last year), but he can be exploited defensively by the smaller, quicker NEC wings. The 3/4 situation is a bit nebulous for this team, and I think that’s where the loss of the efficient O’Shea will be most felt. However, in general I think you’ll see O’Shea shift back to a more paint touch based offense that centers around Dan Garvin, and undersized but highly effective big man. Think along the lines of Bryant two seasons ago with Alex Francis.

7) St. Francis U– I was a bit disappointed with the Red Flash last year, so my expectations for this year are probably a bit more tempered than they should be. Comparatively speaking however, last season was a definite success for Rob Krimmel, as the Flash finished 9-9 in NEC play and won a tournament game over Mt. St. Mary’s. Krimmel has some challenges though in terms of keeping the momentum going forward, as he has to replace heavy minutes and heavy usage 4 Earl Brown and an outstanding perimeter threat in Ollie Jackson. The Flash loved the 3 last season (highest three point rate in NEC play), but the offense will probably be better served to filter through Ronnie Drinnon inside this year. Hopefully sophomore Basil Thompson can make a big jump and help Drinnon as well in terms of replacing Brown’s production inside. In the backcourt, Malik Harmon returns at the point, but will need to be far more efficient offensively. Greg Brown and Ben Millaud-Meunier return as well from the prolific Flash three point attack of last season. Unless Drinnon and Harmon substantially improve their efficiency and Thompson emerges as a legit offensive threat, I don’t necessarily see the Red Flash improving on last season’s record.

8) LIU Brooklyn– The Blackbirds are another incredibly young NEC team that seemingly somehow got younger in the offseason. Jack Perri’s squad was the 10th youngest in the country last season, but then lost PG Elvar Fridriksson to a surprise transfer to Barry, and then his potential backup Jamil Hood also bolted. To replace Fridriksson, I think Perri might slide fellow Icelander Martin Hermannsson on the ball and supplement him with South Alabama transfer Aakim Saintil. Hermannsson is outstanding at getting into the lane and drawing contact, and when he gets to the line, he rarely misses (86% FT shooter). It’s somewhat imperative that Hermannsson displays an improved jump shot though, as teams are prone to sagging off him, especially if he’s going to be the primary ball handler this year. Perri did an excellent job of adding some height to the ninth smallest team in the country last year. Joining potential all NEC Nura Zanna inside is FIU transfer and tremendous rebounder Jerome Frink. Frink will be one of, if not the most, impactful newcomer in the NEC this year. Perri also added 6’9 Ganlandou Cisse for some additional interior depth. If the Woods twins can make a big leap on the wings replacing Gerrell Martin and Landon Atterberry and the addition of Frink improves Zanna’s efficiency inside and proves to be capable of running the floor in Perri’s uptempo offense, I could very well be undervaluing the Blackbirds, although the loss of Perri’s longtime assistant Jason Harris isn’t something to overlook going forward.

9) Fairleigh Dickinson– I don’t think we’re going to see another 15 game NEC losing streak out of Greg Herenda’s squad, but the rebuild seems to have tacked on another year with the transfers of Matt MacDonald, Xavier Harris, and Malachi Nix. Mustafaa Jones and his 200 three point attempts also graduated, but I think that might be a case of addition by subtraction. The FDU offense should revolve around Marques Townes this year. Townes has the ability to be one of the best all around players in the NEC (if he develops his jump shot) because of his versatility and potentially elite defensive skills, especially in Herenda’s hectic ball pressure heavy, up tempo scheme. Townes was 13th nationally in steal rate last year and I don’t see that changing this year. FDU also returns Darin Anderson at the point, but they really need someone who can work off the ball in the backcourt. Stephan Jiggetts was a miserable 14-49 from three last year, so ideally Townes would be able to slide into the two spot and let smooth Earl Potts Jr work from the three. The frontcourt was a disaster area for the Knights last year, as they were the worst rebounding team in the country in terms of defensive rebounding rate and they were the worst 2PT% defense in the NEC as well. Monmouth transfer Tyrone O’Garro is going to bring some immediate relief to help offset the loss of Xavier Harris, but there’s still no depth at all after O’Garro and Myles Mann. There’s certainly some talent on this roster and the Knights should be better than last year, but a significant climb up the NEC standings doesn’t look likely.

10) Central Connecticut State– By any metric, CCSU was the worst team in the NEC last year. Standings wise, defensively, offensively, everything, they just weren’t good. Unfortunately for Howie Dickenman, who is entering the last year of his contract after being at CCSU since 1996, the future doesn’t look particularly bright either. Thinks started off about as poorly as they could with the Kyle Vinales off the court issues and Malcolm McMillan getting hurt after two games, and CCSU finished with a 3-15 league mark and the NEC’s worst offense and worst defense. McMillan ended up leaving the team, and then things somehow got worse in the offseason when one of the league’s best and most efficient scorers Matt Mobley transferred to St. Bonaventure. The lone bright spot this year is the return of 6’7 big man Brandon Peel, but he’s likely going to face constant double teams (especially with Faronte Drakeford graduating) unless Khalen Cumberlander can emerge as a consistent perimeter scoring threat. The good news is that Dickenman’s system has been proven to produce high scoring guards seemingly year after year. Howie has a plethora of freshmen and JUCOs coming in, but the most talented addition is Virginia prep Eric Bowles. Bowles should be starting from day one in Mobley’s spot and is a sneaky pick for the NEC’s top freshman. All in all, I have a feeling this is the last time we’ll see Howie Dickenman patrolling the sidelines in New Britain.

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Mid Summer Preview of the 2015-16 Atlantic Sun Season

23 Jul

Five Atlantic Sun story lines to watch…

1) NJIT replaces Northern Kentucky in the ASun this year, and the experienced Highlanders should immediately be a contender.

2) North Florida looks to repeat as ASun champs, and their odds look good with Dallas Moore and Beau Beech returning.

3) FGCU loses seniors Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson, but are reloading, not rebuilding.

4) USC Upstate loses irreplaceable Ty Greene, and Eddie Payne is looking to rebuild after the most successful D1 era in Spartans history.

5) Jacksonville could be primed for a significant jump in the ASun standings in Tony Jasick’s second season. The Dolphins return everyone, including PG Kori Babineaux, last year’s ASun newcomer of the year after transferring from Drake.

Predicted Order of Finish:

1) North Florida– The Ospreys once again look like the team to beat in the ASun. Led by PG Dallas Moore, UNF was far and away the most efficient offense in the conference last season. In fact, only three teams (Villanova, Wisconsin, Davidson) had a higher disparity between their offensive efficiency and the team that finished second in conference play in that regard than North Florida did last year (UNF’s OE was 120, while Upstate and NKU were 111.5). Returning alongside the outstanding Moore in the backcourt is sharp shooting Trent Mackey, who shot 43% from outside last season. Led by Moore and Mackey, North Florida had just a 15.5% offensive turnover rate in ASun play. Add that to the fact that they shot threes at 41% in conference play and got to the free throw line at the second highest rate (and hit them at a 78% clip), and you have a pretty good idea why they were by far the best offense in the conference. On the wing, 6’8 Beau Beech returns to provide sharp stretch shooting and vocal leadership, but replacing 6’6 Jalen Nesbitt will be Matthew Driscoll’s biggest challenge this year. Nesbitt was a guy who could get to the FT line easily when the offense broke down (8th highest FT rate in the country) and also shot the three at 41%. However, where Nesbitt will be missed most is on the defensive end. Only 11 teams in the country took away the 3 point line better in terms of defensive 3PT rate better than UNF last season, and a lot of that had to do with Nesbitt and his 6’6 frame wreaking havoc on opposing backcourts. Nick Malonga and a hopefully healthy Karlos Odum (tore achilles before last season) are the most likely candidates to replace Nesbitt. UNF returns all of their frontcourt height as well with BaeBae Daniels, Chris Davenport, and Romelo Banks. Daniels is the most athletic player on the team around the rim, and can step out and hit the three, while also having the sixth highest block rate in the ASun. Davenport was becoming more of a force offensively inside towards the end of the year, and he’s also capable of hitting the three and possibly sliding into the Nesbitt role defensively. If his perimeter game does improve in that regard, look out. Banks is the biggest member of the frontcourt at 6’11, but was seeing less minutes down the stretch. Cleveland State transfer Ismaila Dauda will also provide some frontcourt depth this season, as will Canadien prep D’Andre Bernard, who is the athletic 3/4/5 type like Daniels and Davenport that UNF seems to be restocking every year.

2) FGCU– Replacing the greatest backcourt duo in program history in Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson is a tall order, but Joe Dooley has FGCU reloaded, and ready to stay in contention as the best team in the ASun. Comer’s 45% assist rate won’t be replicated of course, but if Zach Johnson is fully recovered from an unknown medical condition that forced him to redshirt last season, the Eagles will be right back in business. Johnson is a former four star recruit out of south Florida, and is an aggressive rim attacker and pure scorer. He’s not the passer Comer was (and he might be pushed by incoming Georgia FR Reggie Reid in that regard), but Johnson should likely be starting at PG from day one for FGCU. Joining Johnson in the backcourt will be Julian DeBose, who will be the most consistent source of points for Dooley this year. The Rice transfer gained some major experience playing on Kansas’ World University Games roster this summer, and looked great for several stretches during that tournament. 6’4 wing Christian Terrell should also build on a promising freshman year, while highly touted North Carolina prep Rayjon Tucker will provide some versatility and instant offense off the bench. The Eagles’ frontcourt also returns fully loaded as well. Athletic rim protector Demetris Morant was playing well at the end of the season, as was former Tulane big man Marc-Eddy Norelia. Joining them in the second semester (the NCAA willing) will be former highly touted VCU commit Antravious Simmons. If Simmons is indeed eligible, Dooley will certainly have the best frontcourt in the league, and I haven’t even mentioned the return of 6’8 floor stretcher Filip Cvjeticanin from chronic back issues. FGCU has the most athleticism top to bottom in the ASun, it’s just a matter of being able to put it all together.

3) NJIT– The transition to the ASun will be difficult, if not just for the travel, but at least the Highlanders have a conference and a shot at making the NCAA tournament (plus, the other seven schools have to travel to Newark too). However, the difficulty of that transition is eased by the fact that this is a veteran roster that returns nearly everyone from a team that advanced all the way to the CIT semifinals last year. Engles’ offense revolves around the three pointer, so the Highlanders are going to fit right in with a conference that had the second highest three point rate in the country last season. NJIT themselves were 28th nationally in three point rate, and that’s unlikely to change with Damon Lynn and Winfield Willis returning in the backcourt. Sparkplug Lynn shot over 300 threes last season, in addition to hawking the ball on the perimeter defensively. Returning alongside Lynn and Willis are wings Ky Howard and Tim Coleman, and Engles adds Hofstra sharpshooter Chris Jenkins to the mix as well. The big task for Engles will be replacing Daquan Holiday and Odera Nweke in the frontcourt. Fortunately, 6’6 Terrance Smith is healthy after missing last season due to injury, but 6’10 Russian Vlad Shustov will have to log heavier minutes. He was a force towards the end of the year after his conditioning improved. 6’9 FR Mohamed Bendary out of St. Anthony’s is the best of Engles’ incoming class, and is expected to be an immediate contributor in the frontcourt.

4) Jacksonville– With virtually everyone returning, there’s a definite possibility the Dolphins could make some noise in Tony Jasick’s second year at the helm, but that would almost certainly entail improving upon what was by far the worst defense in the ASun, and Jasick isn’t exactly known for being a defensive mastermind. Nevertheless, Kori Babineaux returns, and the Drake transfer was 2nd in assist rate and 3rd in steal rate in ASun play last year, and he ideally worked on a jump shot to keep teams from sagging off of him. He was just 1-17 from three last season. Jasick also returns a pair of 6’5 wings in Andris Misters and Josh Adeyeye who combined to hit nearly 100 threes last season, but both will have to make a big leap defensively this year. Antwon Clayton is Jasick’s best defender, and at 6’6 he was still second in the league in block rate. Jasick indeed tried to address the lack of height that forced him to play a zone that allowed teams to shoot 55% on two pointers and 38% from three by adding a pair of JUCO transfers in 6’7 Demontrez Austin and 6’8 Cody Helgeland. The offensive talent is there for Jacksonville to be a surprise ASun contender, but the defense has to improve significantly and quickly.

5) USC Upstate– The graduation of Ty Greene is the most significant loss any ASun team faces this year, and it doesn’t help that running mate Fred Miller also graduated. Greene was a stellar, efficient offensive player because he was equally skilled in shooting the three and getting to the FT line. On top of that, Greene and Miller were incredibly effective pressuring the ball at the top of Eddie Payne’s pressure zone. Factor in the loss of Mario Blessing as well, and Payne is rebuilding the entire backcourt from the most successful era of Upstate basketball. Payne is going to have to rely heavily on three newcomers in the backcourt, plus the length and versatility of the returning frontcourt of ShunQuez Stephens and a healthy Damien Goodwin, but uber athletic Josh Cuthbertson should be taking over as the primary backcourt scorer for the Spartans. UPDATE 8/13 ShunQuez Stephens has left the team. That’s pretty much a death blow in terms of Upstate being competitive for the ASun title.

6) Lipscomb– No team in ASun play shot threes and free throws at a higher rate than Lipscomb last season, and while the FT production will drop off with the departure of Malcolm Smith, the threes are still going to fly with the return of backcourt Nate Moran and JC Hampton, wing Josh Williams, and stretch 4 Brett Wishon. Those four combined to shoot 550 triples last season, and without the addition of any significant height to help Talbott Denny and replace Chad Lang, I don’t see how it’s going to change, unless George Brammeier makes a huge leap and FR Eli Pepper can provide quality minutes early. Wishon’s 7’2 brother David joins the roster as a grad transfer from College of Charleston, but he has had trouble being able to stay on the court throughout his career. Overall, I’m having a tough time seeing how this roster provides more balance offensively and at the same time allows Alexander to move away from a zone that got shredded last season.

7) Kennesaw State– At the end of what seemed to be a fairly acrimonious off season for the Owls, Al Skinner has emerged as the head coach for Kennesaw State this season, and that likely means the return of the most compact flex offense in the country. Former head coach Jimmy Lallathin was somewhat surprisingly let go by Vaughn Williams after just one season (there were whispers of minor NCAA violations), but the thinking was that Williams would install David Rivers as head coach. Rivers even reportedly told recruits he was guaranteed to be named HC, but in the end, it turned out Williams turned to the old vet Skinner. If Skinner does indeed run his super compact flex offense, it will essentially be the opposite of KSU’s three point reliant style under Lallathin last season. In the end, you have to figure it can’t hurt, as the Owls chucked up threes at a high rate, but made very few of them. Skinner will have to work in a new offense without one of KSU’s best scorers last season, as Damien Wilson has already been ruled academically ineligible for this season (this could be an addition by subtraction situation though, as Wilson wasn’t exactly an efficient offensive player). Quinnipiac transfer Kendrick Ray will likely join Yonel Brown immediately in the backcourt, but 6’7 wing Nigel Pruitt buying in early to Skinner’s flex is the key for Kennesaw State potentially being a competitive top half ASun team this year. In the frontcourt, Jordan Jones will be relied on to provide quality minutes in his sophomore year to help Bernard Morena, especially with the departure of Willy Kouassi.

8) Stetson– It’s likely going to be another long year for the Hatters, who are one of four NCAA D1 basketball teams facing an APR postseason ban. Gone is 6’8 big man Kentwan Smith, which means Stetson will once again be one of the youngest teams in the country, in addition to now being almost entirely reliant on their backcourt. That young sophomore backcourt however, gives reason for some hope. The undersized trio of Grant Lozoya, Divine Myles, and Angel Rivera will certainly be the heart and soul of Corey Williams’ squad, and he added high scoring Georgia prep Ty Cockfield to that trio. In addition to Smith leaving the frontcourt, the Sikora brothers are also no longer on the roster, but at least Brian Pegg is back, and Williams added some intriguing athletic height in Shaquillo Fritz and Gabe Adesina, plus redshirt FR Kevin Ndahiro will be added into the frontcourt mix. Fritz, the top rated incoming Caribbean player in the country, is the most exciting option in the frontcourt because of his leaping ability and athleticism. There is certainly some upside to the Hatters this year, even with the APR ban.

America East 2015-16 Summer Preview

18 Jul

Five America East story lines to follow…

1) Can Albany win their historic fourth straight AmEast title? They return their entire backcourt, but may need some help around the rim.

2) Can Stony Brook finally get over the Albany hump and win a title after years of heartbreak in the AmEast tourney? They have the best player in the conference and possibly best midmajor big in the country in Jameel Warney, in addition to returning virtually everyone else.

3) Despite a litany of injuries (some heartbreaking) and some unexpected defections, Vermont should once again be at the top of the AmEast standings and poised for a return to the NCAA Tournament.

4) New Hampshire returns virtually everyone to a team that was within a rimmed out buzzer beater of knocking off Albany in the AmEast semifinals, and that was without Tanner Leissner, who returns fully healthy.

5) Is this the year Tommy Dempsey turns Binghamton around? Last year was supposed to be a pivotal year in the rebuild, but major injuries and derision (and eventual departure) with star player Jordan Reed sort of derailed the plan a bit.

Predicted Order of Finish

1) Albany– To be honest, I should just put Stony Brook and Vermont on this line too, but I’ll stick with the team that has won three straight AmEast tourneys and lost one conference game last year. Will Brown returns his exceptional backcourt of heart and soul Peter Hooley, Evan Singletary, and Ray Sanders (who has slid nicely into the Gary Johnson role), but I think the loss of undersized post Sam Rowley will prove to be significant. Can his brother Michael take over inside? Brown added 6’10 Kyle McKinley for some much needed height to the Greig Stive, Richard Peters, Rowley rotation, but this team is built around Brown’s grind it out, draw contact style on offense, and I think you’re likely to seem him go small much of the time with Dallas Ennema at the 4 in the role of “stretch shooter”. The problem is that the other contenders have a lot of height to throw at the Great Danes.

2) Stony Brook– Team heartbreak. My preview for the AmEast last year centered around Stony Brook getting over the hump and finally getting into the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately for Steve Pikiell, it’s the exact same situation. They’ve had three losses in the AmEast title game (two at home), and none more heartbreaking than last year’s Hooley buzzer beater. The good news is that virtually everyone returns (including the previously mentioned monster Warney inside), and they add Longwood passer extraordinaire Lucas Woodhouse to the backcourt. The addition of Woodhouse, who was an assist machine at Longwood, is going to allow Carson Puriefoy to move more off the ball and into a scoring volume type player, like Tristan Carey at Longwood. Woodhouse is also going to speed up the development of 6’6 wing Roland Nyama and Deshaun Thrower. Nyama was unstoppable in February last year, going 17-33 from three in that month, but he ran out of gas in his freshman year come March. Add in the return of relentless rim attack Ahmad Walker after a year at community college, and the Seawolves’ backcourt is suddenly loaded, and that was an area of concern in terms of shooting and halfcourt execution last year. After all that, we still haven’t touched on the strength of this team, which is Warney in the frontcourt. Simply put, Warney dominates on both ends of the court in this league, and he has Rayshaun McGrew returning on the opposite block. The Seawolves were already dealt a setback with shooter Kam Mitchell breaking his hand and being unavailable for their upcoming European trip, and Warney is already reportedly dealing with some nagging injuries, but anything short of a return to the AmEast title game would be a total failure, and even not winning it again would be devastating considering Warney and Puriefoy are seniors.

3) Vermont– John Becker has proven in his three years at UVM after taking over when Mike Lonergan left that he is something of a defensive mastermind. Vermont was exceptional in AmEast play defensively, both in taking away the three point line and two point percentage defense, and the Catamounts put up those numbers with the sixteenth youngest roster in the country. With Dre Wills guarding the ball and Ethan O’Day protecting the rim, the Catamounts are outstanding man to man from rim to perimeter, and Becker has shown a willingness to mix in some trapping zones as well. Returning to join vocal team leader Wills in the backcourt is point guard Trae Bell-Haynes. Not only are Wills and Haynes solid defensively, but they attack the rim with ease out Becker’s heavy screen motion offense, combining to shoot nearly 300 free throws last year, with Bell-Haynes leading the way with the sixth highest free throw rate in the country. Additionally in the backcourt, Ernie Duncan is hopefully recovered from his back injury, but I’m afraid of this being a career nagging injury that will prevent him from playing the full load of minutes he wants. Certainly at the very least, he’s going to be under a minutes restriction early in the season. When healthy, Duncan is capable of being the best pure scorer in the conference. Joining Duncan from Evansville Harrison this year is his 6’6 brother Everett, who could provide an immediate impact with his length and versatility on the wing. Rebounding is the biggest issue facing this team though, and they sort of wore down towards the end of the year, and there are some significant losses on the frontline entering this year. Hector Harold and Ryan Pierson graduated, but the big surprise was Zach McRoberts quitting the team and heading back to Indiana. Hofstra transfer Darren Payen and Drew Urguhart are expected to pick up the slack on the glass to help O’Day. Payen has a massive wingspan and Urguhart played for the Canada U19 team this summer. Additionally, 6’6 Kurt Steidel provides a huge advantage at the 3 with his versatility and length. Josh Speidel, another big time recruit Becker plucked from Indiana, was tragically in a vicious car accident that has left him almost certainly unable to play this year, but hopefully he’ll eventually see the court as a Catamount. Overall, this a Vermont team that was extremely young last year, and still played some of the best basketball in the AmEast. I certainly consider them a co-contender with Albany and Stony Brook.

4) New Hampshire– Lurking just beneath the power trio of Albany/Stony Brook/Vermont is Bill Herrion’s rapidly improving New Hampshire team. The Wildcats return virtually everyone to a team that was within a rimmed out buzzer beater of knocking off Albany in the AmEast semis, and that was without Freshman of the Year Tanner Leissner, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Leissner is fully healthy and returning to his stretchy 4/5 role, along with the rapidly improving interior play of Jacoby Armstrong and smooth 3 Jaleen Smith who can shoot, pass, and defend 1-3. The backcourt is equally solid with Joe Bramanti back at PG and Daniel Dion off the ball as a sharp shooter. UNH is awaiting news on the eligibility of a sixth year for Matt Miller (cousin of Sean and Archie). Miller is one of the best shooters in the country (went an astounding 40-75 from 3 in AmEast play) and would be a huge boost to the UNH offense. [UPDATE: Extra year not granted :(] Defensively, I think Herrion’s philosophy lends itself to be highly effective given the new 30 second shot clock. Herrion loves to take away the jump shot, and will extend past the three point line routinely, and force teams to beat them by putting the ball on the floor. It leads to a high foul rate, but with five less seconds to work off the dribble, I think UNH will rival Vermont as the best defensive unit in the league.

5) Binghamton– Tommy Dempsey’s squad is probably a year away from really contending for the AmEast title, but they’re going to be a difficult out this year. They were the youngest team in the entire country last year, and then they suffered a plethora of devastating injuries, and then slow fizzling out of star player Jordan Reed’s career at Binghamton. Despite all that, the Bearcats were playing their best basketball at the end of the season, beating Vermont at the end of the regular season and nearly taking out Stony Brook in the AmEast tournament. The young Bearcats are also going to reap the rewards of playing through all the injuries and defections, as they’re experienced and deep now. Dusan Pecovic returns from a season ending injury. He’s a 6’9 stretch shooter and will vastly improve the perimeter shooting of a team that shot 31% in league play last year, good for dead last. Additionally, Pecovic will provide some height at the rim defensively, something that was severely lacking last season. Dempsey was hoping to return Nick Madray from injury as well, but he opted to transfer to Eastern Michigan. Dempsey’s high pressure zone was effective at times (second highest defensive turnover rate in the AmEast), but they could get shredded on the back end by skilled ballhandlers. Dempsey is hoping that the addition of Dematha product Thomas Bruce helps in that regard as well. In the backcourt, the Bearcats are as athletic as any team in the conference, and the trio of Marlon Beck, Willie Rodriguez, Romello Walker, and Justin McFadden probably has the highest ceiling in the conference. Beck will likely improve his turnover rate with the addition of more offensive weapons, Rodriguez is a star in the making as a 6’6 wing who can score inside and off the dribble, Walker is outstanding in transition, and McFadden is a defensive stopper. If everyone stays healthy, this should be the year Dempsey turns this thing around, and if everyone buys in, the Bearcats could be the class of the league as early as next season.

6) UMass-Lowell– Pat Duquette has done a tremendous job in a tough situation as UML continues their D1 transition, but his continued upward swing relies on three things this year: 1) the health of 6’2 cannonball Jahad Thomas 2) who replaces Lance Crawford at PG 3) is there any frontcourt help for what was by far the smallest team in the country last year. First and foremost, the health of Jahad Thomas’ knee is key. This is the second ACL tear Thomas has suffered (fortunately, I guess, in different knees), and he was having a phenomenal freshman year before the injury. Despite being just 6’2, Thomas was 98th nationally in defensive rebounding rate, and shot 52% from 2. Hopefully for the sake of all the River Hawks, Thomas rounds into form by AmEast play. Moving on to the second question, a pair of freshmen, Keith Hayes and Isaac White, are the most likely candidates to replace Crawford at PG, and the return of 6’4 wing Jordan Shea should allow sharp shooter Matt Harris to slide back down to a more natural 2. As for question 3, 6’5 Kerry Weldon did his best at the 5, but the total lack of height forced Duquette to play a hectic, pressing/trapping style that resulted in the 13th highest defensive turnover rate. But as usual, that style can lead to being shredded on the back end without an anchor. Duquette redshirted Dontavious Smith and Josh Gantz, both 6’9, to better prep them, so hopefully they’ll allow Duquette to employ a little more flexibility with his pressure. Overall, if Thomas is healthy, UML should continue to improve in their penultimate transition year.

7) Hartford– The tenth most experienced team in the country last year obviously will be losing a lot of important players, so this should be something of a rebuild year for John Gallagher. One of the most successful Hawks classes of all time had a disappointing end of their careers, as injuries to star Mark Nwakamma derailed their season, and Hartford lost 9 of their last 12 to end last year. Joining Nwakamma on the departure list is basically the entire backcourt, as Yolonzo Moore, Corban Wroe, and Wes Cole all graduated as well. Gallagher is going to rely on a slew of D1 transfers to help out co-sixth man of the year Justin Graham in the backcourt. John Fay from Fordham is a 6’6 wing, Jalen Ross from Eastern Michigan should handle step in right away and share ball handling duties with Graham, and Cleveland Thomas from New Mexico is a solid scorer with strong rebuilding abilities for his size. The return of Evan Cooper to the backcourt after missing last season due to injury should provide some much needed help in the “actually The frontcourt of Irish John Carroll, Jack Hobbs, and Taylor Dyson has to improve rapidly. Dyson will have to shift primarily to the 3 to take advantage of his scoring ability, and he was overwhelmed at the 4 defensively last year when playing their out of necessity. Carroll has to improve his ability to defend without fouling. Gallagher also added another Aussie in 6’8 George Blagojovic for some frontcourt depth.

8) UMBC– Things are looking slightly/hopefully rapidly up for Aki Thomas in his fourth season at UMBC. The return of Rodney Elliott from a shoulder injury and the subtraction of a few players (suspensions and injuries forced Thomas to use a 7 man rotation last year) means Thomas actually has some depth to work with this year. Elliott had an outstanding FR year prior to the injury last season, and if he’s 100%, he’s solid on and off the ball on offense and an exceptional defender. When healthy, he’s truly one of the top talents in the AmEast. As a luxury of his injury (if you want to call it that), Jourdan Grant gained some valuable experience, but it’s certainly helpful he won’t be the primary ball handler, and in turn that will help reduce the sixth highest turnover rate in the country. Adding to the backcourt is 6’5 wing Malcolm Brent, who shot 40% from three last season, and that number likely improves with a healthy Elliott filtering the offense. Moving on to the frontcourt, the Retrievers actually have some shockingly solid height. Cody Joyce is the lone senior with regular minutes, and he returns at the 5 as the heart and soul of the team. Will Darley showed some improvement at the end of the year as a versatile 3/4, and 6’10 Swede Jakob Stenhede has reportedly added 30+ pounds and could conceivably anchor the middle for 15-20 minutes this year. On top of that, Thomas added even more interior bulk with 6’10 Nolan Gerrity and 6’9 Sam Schwietz (of infamous Prime Prep fame). Schwietz is the most likely immediate contributor of the new additions in the frontcourt. 6’6 wing Joe Sherburne has the potential to make an immediate impact as well, but the biggest coup for Thomas was the addition of VCU transfer (via Robert Morris, which complicated this process) Jairus Lyles. Lyles will be eligible come second semester because of the inanity of the NCAA. Call me crazy, but I see a whole lot of upside in this UMBC team.

9) Maine– Bob Walsh’s team is young and improving, which is about as best as you can expect if you’re a Black Bear fan. But, simply put, the defense was atrocious last season, and the offense wasn’t much better. Only ten teams played worse overall defense per KenPom than the Maine BBs, and much of that ineptitude was on the interior. The good news is that Till Golger returns with another year of experience, but he has to improve rapidly defensively in the middle, as he represents the only real height on the roster. The crux of the team lies with sophomores Kevin Little and Aaron Calixite, who are both capable of handling and shooting the ball, but the issue remains their overall lack of length, and thus their ability to defend with versatility.

An Early Look at the 2015-16 Big South Season

14 Jul

This is the first in my series of mid summer conference previews. I started with the Big South for absolutely no particular reason, maybe it’s because it’s always such a competitive and interesting league year in and year out, and one I particularly enjoy following. The top 5 storylines to watch for the 2015-16 season…

1) High flying John Brown’s return to High Point was somewhat of a surprise. Can he finally lead the Panthers to an NCAA Tournament appearance after three straight years of at least sharing the Big South regular season title but then failing to win a single game in the Big South Tournament?

2) Cliff Ellis’ Coastal Carolina squad lost some key players, but also return a lot of athleticism. Can they three-peat as Big South champs? They also have a fairly historic trip to Cuba on tap this summer.

3) Barclay Radebaugh has built Charleston Southern into annual Big South contenders, but life post Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper is going to be a challenge. Radebaugh has a lot of JUCO and high major talent coming in. Will they gel come tournament time?

4) Longwood is poised to breakout with their best Big South season in 2015-16 after a strong finish at the end of the year that included knocking off top seeded Charleston Southern in the Big South Tournament. Can Jayson Gee’s athletic, fast paced squad handle higher expectations?

5) The league lost a lot of four year stars like Nimley, Harper, Javonte Green, and other standouts like Andrew Rowsey, Keon Moore and Jerome Hill. But expect breakout years from returnees DeSean Murray, Elijah Wilson, Ya Ya Anderson, and Shaq Johnson, and for the new talent like LaQuincy Rideau, Demetrius Pollard, Zach Price, and Rodrick Perkins to bolster the league.

Predicted Order of Finish

1) Winthrop– Coastal might be the team to beat coming in, but I think Winthrop has the most talent on their roster, and it could be just a matter of how early all the new pieces come together for Pat Kelsey’s squad. Replacing Keon Moore, the best player on both ends of the court for the Eagles, is going to be difficult, but Kelsey has a LOT of talent coming in this year. The Eagles could have the best big man in the conference in 6’10 Zach Price (by way of Missouri via Louisville) and they add a high scoring D2 wing in 6’5 Rodrick Perkins to pick up the slack from Moore’s departure, and they’ll join improving Xavier Cooks in the frontcourt. Winthrop also loses Andre Smith and Derrick Henry, and a lot is going to be expected from Keon Johnson in terms of playing more on the ball than off this year, but Kelsey also brings in a couple of talented FR guards to maintain his typical three ball handler offense. Bjorn Broman is a pure scorer who scored 74 in a Minnesota high school game and also has plus passing skills, while Adam Pickett is a constant rim attacker, something Winthrop needed more of last season. Winthrop has the potential to be long and talented from rim to perimeter if everything goes according to plan.

2) Coastal Carolina– The two time defending champs lose Josh Cameron and Warren Gillis, two key SR contributors to that Chants backcourt that has been so key to their Big South runs, but Shivaughn Wiggins returns at PG, Elijah Wilson is back to fill it up from outside and the frontcourt should be stronger than in year’s past. Freakishly athletic Badou Diagne is back to protect the rim and patrol the boards, as is the rapidly improving Marcus Freeman. Add South Carolina transfer Jaylen Shaw to the mix in the backcourt and an expanded role for wing Colton Ray-St.Cyr, and the Chants should be a strong pick to win their third straight NCAA Tournament berth, especially if the newcomers pick up quickly on Cliff Ellis’ constantly shifting zones, which the exhibition games in Cuba should help with. Plus, the Big South tournament is once again being held in Conway.

3) High Point– The window is closing rapidly on Scott Cherry’s squad. The Panthers have finished with at least a share of the best record in the Big South the past three seasons, but then failed to win a single game in the Big South Tournament in each of those three seasons. The good news is that John Brown decided to pass on turning pro or transferring to a major program, so the high flying big man is back to lead the Panthers. Losing Devante Wallace on the perimeter is going to be difficult to overcome, especially since Cherry loves to utilize perimeter length at the top of his otherwise porous zone. If 6’7 FR Ricky Madison can contribute right away in Wallace’s role, the Panthers will once again be at or near the top of the Big South standings.

4) Longwood– The Lancers took a big step in the right direction at the end of last season with a strong finish that included knocking off top seeded Charleston Southern in Conway, and that was without big man Lotanna Nwogbo, who was out with a thumb injury. Nwogbo was turning into a dominant force inside before the injury, so having him healthy for (hopefully) an entire season is significant. Plus Jayson Gee’s team returns PG Leron Fisher and super athletic 3/4 Shaq Johnson. Additionally, they’ll have the services of former Old Dominion big man Jason Pimentel for a full season. The Lancers do lose Quincy Taylor (48% from three last year), and touted wing Kanayo Obi-Rapu needs to make a big jump to fill his shoes. The good news is that Obi-Rapu certainly showed flashes last season of being a consistent wing scorer in games vs Radford and Gardner-Webb. Taylor’s departure will also be offset by the addition of Tra’vaughn White from Duquesne. White is another potential off ball complement to Fisher in the backcourt, and another scorer Gee can use in what was the most up tempo offense in the Big South last year. Drexel transfer Khris Lane will provide some more bulk inside and help spell Nwogbo, but for Longwood to take another big step into a legit Big South title contender, Obi-Rapu and White have to be able to at least partially replicate Taylor and Badowski’s production from outside. Regardless, the Lancers are likely going to be the most exciting team to watch in the Big South again. [UPDATE: Shaquille Johnson and Jason Pimentel have both been suspended indefinitely. Both are still listed on official roster.]

5) Charleston Southern– Barclay Radebaugh has the toughest task ahead of him in the Big South this season, as replacing Saah Nimley is basically impossible, and to make matters worse, the Bucs also lose another four year guard and best perimeter defender in Arlon Harper, and their entire frontcourt. The good news is that Radebaugh is arguably the best coach in the league, and he has a lot of talent transferring in. Northeastern transfer Demetrius Pollard will be relied on immediately to be the primary scorer, and he could flourish in Radebaugh’s three point reliant offense (the Bucs have been a top 25 team in 3PT rate the past three seasons, which is obviously part system/part Nimley). Radebaugh also added NC State transfer Patrick Wallace to the backcourt, a potential stretch 4 in Tennessee St transfer Ugo Mmonu, and a super athletic 4 in former Air Force commit 6’7 Melvin Brooks. Factor in that Javis Howard is likely due for a breakout year after playing abroad with Athletes in Action in the Philippines, and I think you’ll see CSU end up being one of the more dangerous teams when the Big South tourney rolls around if all the new pieces are gelling.

6) Radford– I feel for Mike Jones and Radford. He’s done an outstanding job building that program, but let’s face it, Javonte Green’s senior season last year was their year to get into the tournament, and now their window might be closed for possibly another class cycle. Radford relied so heavily on Green for virtually everything, so replacing that kind of production just isn’t possible. Despite being just 6’4, he was 10th nationally in defensive rebounding rate, 88th in offensive rebounding rate, and 15th in steal rate. The Highlanders were the 4th oldest team in the country last year, and 13th smallest, so they lose a lot of senior leadership (particularly SR combo guard RJ Price) and what Green helped offset size-wise. Jones is going to rely heavily on Rashun Davis at the point and will be banking on Ya Ya Anderson to become a more consistent off ball scorer and hoping that Cameron Jones’ 30-56 shooting from 3 in conference play translates to a similar ratio in a larger role. Incoming FR Ed Polite has to step at least partially into Green’s shoes, because this team is still going to be really small inside, especially with surprising departure of Lucas Dyer.

7) Gardner Webb– I’m just not sure what to make of Gardner Webb, or Tim Craft for that matter. They had the best frontcourt in the conference last season, yet jacked up threes at the third highest rate in conference play. Outstanding PG Tyler Strange graduated, and then Craft learned of the stunning loss of half of that dynamic frontcourt duo when Jerome Hill decided to pursue a professional career. Fortunately for Craft, 6’10 L’Hassane Niangane is eligible this season to join Tyrell Nelson in the frontcourt. But expect the threes to keep flying, as Harold McBride, Dylan Poston, and Adonis Burbage all return, which is nearly 400 3PTAs from last season. Gardner Webb could have the most high impact FR in the Big South this year, as Craft scored big with Laquincy Rideau, who should step into the PG role vacated by Strange starting on day one.

8) Presbyterian– It might not seem like it, but the Blue Hose made a significant step in the right direction last season, winning six Big South games after winning just six in the previous two conference seasons combined. Gregg Nibert loses Jordan Downing and William Truss, but returns the best player in the Big South not named John Brown in sophomore 4 DeSean Murray. Murray doesn’t offer much versatility offensively, but he’s a load on the block, on the glass, and protecting the rim despite being only 6’5 and only playing the second half of the season. Austin Anderson left the program, but that’s likely addition by subtraction, plus sharp shooter Reggie Dillard returns from a knee injury to offset that loss. Davon Bell had a full year at PG to develop, and he showed flashes of being an exceptional passer and rim attacker, but the turnover rate has to decrease in his SO year. Nibert also has some backcourt depth to work with as I expect freak athlete Janeil Jenkins to be a significant contributor. Don’t be fooled by his height. He plays like a 6’5 wing even though he’s just 5’10. His athleticism will be useful if Nibert sticks with the zone to cover up being one of the smallest teams in the country again. This is a team that has the potential to surprise a lot of people and work their way into a top half finish.

9) Campbell– This is something of a make or break year for Kevin McGeehan’s Richmond style offense at Buies Creek. When the live or die by the 3 offense is working, it can be a difference maker, but when it’s producing the results the Camels have put up without the right personnel the past two seasons, it can be frustrating at best for fans and the administration to suffer through. McGeehan loses a lot of his shooting and scoring from last year with Reco McCarter and Andrew Ryan gone, but there is some reason for optimism. Curtis Phillips looks poised to step into Ryan’s role, while do everything 4 DJ Mason returns to the frontcourt. Dual ballhandlers Quinton Ray and Troy Harper return with more experience as well, although turnovers were a major issue for both last season. Additionally, Kyre Hamer showed a lot of promise as a rim attacker and lock down perimeter defender. Lehigh transfer Shane Whitfield will add some much needed bulk in the frontcourt as well.

10) UNC Asheville– Not a whole lot to say about UNCA. Andrew Rowsey’s transfer to Marquette is certainly significant just in terms of his sheer domination of the ball offensively. Perhaps there will be more flow to the offense, but one of the youngest teams in the country last year is going to need to have a lot of perceived role players step up into significant roles. Giacomo Zilli, Kevin Vannetta, and David Robertson give Nic McDevitt some pieces to build on, and Will Weeks is hopefully healthy as well. However, for UNCA to avoid the cellar, they’ll need immediate help from 6’10 Georgia transfer John Cannon and Dwayne Sutton, a 6’5 FR wing out of Louisville.

11) Liberty– As expected, the end of the Dale Layer era brought about a mass exodus, and Ritchie McKay is basically working from scratch in his return to Lynchburg, which is just as well really considering the Flames won two conference games last season. McKay showed he can develop talent quickly during his first stint at Liberty (Seth Curry, Evan Gordon, Jesse Sanders), so the development curve of a lot of new faces might not be as steep as people think. McKay spent the last six seasons as an associate head coach under Tony Bennett at Virginia, so there’s little doubt that he will incorporate pack line principles ASAP at Liberty. Dembley, Retic, Gielo, Moller, Andoh, etc are all gone, so almost all offense will have to work through Theo Johnson and 6’5 wing AC Reid is going to have to make a big leap in McKay’s three point reliant system. At the very least, I think you’re going to see Liberty win more than two Big South games this year, and possibly avoid the cellar, especially since they’ll be stronger in the second half with the eligibility of Marquette transfer John Dawson, a solid on ball defender who will work well in the pack line. [UPDATE: Theo Johnson has been suspended indefinitely.]

Player of the Year: John Brown, High Point

Freshman of the Year: Laquincy Rideau, Gardner Webb

Coach of the Year: Barclay Radebaugh, Charleston Southern