Do you hear that? It's the popping of stadium popcorn, the bouncing of basketballs on the hardwood, and the swishing of jumpers going through the net. In other words, it is college basketball season! So to prepare you for the upcoming year, VAVEL USA's Ben Anderson, Tyler Bennett, Josh Irby and Peyton Wesner gave their view on which teams and players will thrive during the 2015-2016 Big South season.
1. Although the Big South is likely to be a one bid conference again, the teams within have tough non-conference schedules. Looking at their slates, which matchup do you see an upset occuring in favor of a Big South school?
High Point will have a decent shot against Tubby Smith's Texas Tech Red Raiders. The Panthers head to Lubbock as their first game of the season to face off against TTU, the perennial bottom-dweller in the Big 12. Smith is having to bring this program out of the grave, and while he is starting to get some talent, the team has a long way to go. Scott Cherry and company have the chance to go down there and send a statement to the college basketball world.
This one is tough, as there aren’t many Big South teams this year who have the talent to knock off a Power Five team. On December 2nd, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers welcome the Auburn Tigers as the second game of a home-and-home series over the past two seasons. The Chanticleers knocked off Auburn on the road last season, 58-54, and have a great opportunity to sweep the series. Bruce Pearl and the Tigers will be much-improved this season, with Kareem Canty eligible to play and Horace Spencer lining up beside Cinmeon Bowers in the front court. However, the Chanticleers are tough to knock off on their home floor, going 14-2 last year inside the HTC Center. Elijah Wilson, Shivaughn Wiggins, and company will give the Tigers a good run for their money and have the look of a team who could pull off the biggest upset of any Big South team in non-conference play.
Is Coastal Carolina winning at Wake Forest really an upset anymore? Wake Forest has become one of the most troubled programs in the ACC, while the Chanticleers have thrived in the Big South. Therefore, with each's recent history in mind, I think the Demon Deacons are ripe for the picking.
Look no further than opening night for a Big South upset. Specifically, High Point visiting Tubby Smith's Texas Tech Red Raiders. Considering the Panthers of High Point being unable to corral any victories against power conference opponents last season (0-2), the team will come out quickly and make a statement. Led by high riser John Brown, who you shall learn a little more about later, High Point will be ready to prowl and attack a Texas Tech team with only one scorer (Devaugntah Williams). Personally, I see Brown being unguardable on November 13 while preseason Big South second team selection Adam Weary neutralizes Williams' influence on the matchup.
2. Newcomer (Freshman or Transfer) of the Year?
Big man Zach Price has finally found a home after enduring personal struggles at Louisville and Missouri. He transferred to Winthrop after being dismissed from Mizzou's program for being arrested on suspicion of domestic assault. According to Sports Illustrated, Price pleaded guilty to one count of misdemeanor careless driving and two counts of misdemeanor disturbing the peace, receiving two years of probation and 80 hours of community service. Pat Kelsey is known as one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the nation, and he will undoubtedly be a great influence for Price. The Winthrop Eagles already had a great defense, but adding Price may push them over the top in the crowded Big South.
Gardner-Webb got themselves a steal when they landed a commitment from LaQuincy Rideau back in April. He played his high school basketball at Blanche Ely High School, one of the best prep schools in the country, and will have the perfect opportunity to step in and be an impact player from the outset. The 6’1’’ point guard from West Palm Beach, Florida, will be given the opportunity to replace gritty point guard Tyler Strange. If Rideau can do just that, and become a reliable point guard who is capable of running the offense while being a strong defender, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have a strong chance of improving as a team. He’s an imposing guard who is more than capable of filling the box score on a nightly basis. He was named the Florida Class 7A Player of the Year last season after dazzling with 16.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 4.9 steals per contest. If he gets anywhere close to those numbers as a freshman, this will be a cake walk for Rideau.
Winthrop's Roedrick Perkins will be the 2015-2016 Big South Newcomer of the Year. A Division II transfer, Perkins was second in the nation in scoring last season (24.9 PPG) and will provide a deadly offensive boost. Although his scorching may not be to the same extent as it was at Erskine College, a good amount of it could translate against Division I competition.
Not too often does a player transfer to a new university for their senior year, but that is exactly what Longwood's Tra'Vaughn White did. White, who was the nation's leading junior college scorer for the 2012-2013 season (25.9 PPG for Independence Community College), knows exactly what it takes to play at the Division I level as he scored 7.4 points per game with Duquesne of the Atlantic 10. At Longwood, White's production will increase (I am looking for 14-16 PPG, which will win this award) as he joins double-digit scorers Shaquille Johnson (13.6 PPG), Lotanna Nwogbo (12.9 PPG), and Leron Fisher (10.8 PPG).
3. Since Coastal Carolina cannot host the 2016 Big South Conference Tournament in Myrtle Beach (due to their impending move into the Sun Belt Conference), which team now has the best chance to keep them from leaving as three-time champions?
Clearly High Point is going to give CCU everything they've got since head coach Scott Cherry, a member of the Jim Larranaga coaching tree, has built a quality program. While John Brown (who I will analyze in deeper fashion in a bit) is clearly levels above most of the league, he is not a one man show. Lorenzo Cugini plays off of Brown very well to produce a massive frontcourt. Memphis native Adam Weary is a strong, feisty guard that will provide sparks. I feel this team is very complete, so their battles - Coastal Carolina are sure to be classics.
Both the Chanticleers and the High Point Panthers are seen as front-runners for the conference title this season. Both teams have a ton of talent on their rosters, and most would have gave the Chanticleers the edge due to playing on their home floor. Guess we don't have to worry about that now. With High Point's veteran roster, led by John Brown, Lorenzo Cugini, and Adam Weary, the Panthers are hungry and looking to end the Chanticleers’ reign atop the conference totem pole. The dream final would be these two battling it out for the right to play in the NCAA Tournament.
Not this year Coastal Carolina. High Point's senior heavy lineup has won a share of 3 straight regular season titles. Therefore, they are the most built to take down Coastal Carolina.
Even if the tournament was to be on the Chanticleers home court, the High Point Panthers would still be standing in their way! As I have thought the past two years, the High Point Panthers are the tallest hurdle for mighty Coastal Carolina. Honestly and unbiasedly, there is no reason this squad should still be looking for their first NCAA Tournament appearance as they have been one of best Big South teams each of the last two years. Hopefully a change in scenery to Campbell University (where the men's tournament will be held in 2016) will break the trend of "John Brown's Beasts" losing to an inferior opponent in their first tournament game. Therefore, Chanticleers watch out!
4. Big South Player of the Year?
When most think of the name John Brown, they think back in American history to a fellow named John Brown who led a revolt at Harpers Ferry to set the tone in the US Civil War. Well, this 21st century John Brown is spurning a new revolt. A dunking revolt. Brown is known for his highlight reel dunks that have set the Big South on fire. And while this has struck fear in many a team's heart, Brown is not a one-trick pony. He hits the boards, blocks shots, plays smart defense, and even gets steals. Most of all, the man scores buckets, and should be the leading scorer in the entire Big South this year. You can't go wrong with this preseason selection of POTY.
John Brown, a 6’7’’ forward for High Point, does a little bit of everything for his team. Last season, Brown averaged 19.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, both of which were team-highs. He also recorded 33 blocks, 39 steals, shot 55.0% from the floor, and 75.6% from the free throw line. Brown does it all for the Panthers, and is one of the more exciting players to watch in the conference as well as the NCAA. Simply, one never knows when he’s going to go off on an offensive explosion or throw down a monster, highlight reel dunk. It’s really tough to predict what Brown will do next. As the leader of the Panthers in 2015-16, expect more of the same from the senior forward, as he will do everything he can to get the Panthers back into postseason play.
John Brown of High Point is by far the best senior in the conference. He is coming off very great season and will once again be a highlight reel waiting to happen.
If ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas says you are the best dunker in the country, then that is very, very high praise. Yet, High Point's John Brown is not just a great dunker, but a fantastic scorer and rebounder as well. Brown, who enters the season as the Big South Preseason Player of the Year for the third straight season, has had an amazing career in the great basketball state of North Carolina as he has averaged at least 16+ points and 6+ rebounds per game while shooting over 51% every season. In addition--and unlike most big men--the six foot, eight inch "Star Senior" is a very good free throw shooter (shot 75.6% during his Junior year), which allows head coach Scott Cherry to leave him on the floor without being a liability. So with the following taken into considering, who really will be able to prevent Brown from capturing the award for a second time? No one!
5. The team who receives the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be...
I so want to give other teams like Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, and Radford a shot in my mind as the winner of the league. However, it's too difficult to think of this as any more than a two horse race. Coastal Carolina and High Point are destined to play in the Big South Championship game at Campbell. I've debated with myself about this matchup, whether High Point really has enough force in their backcourt to win against CCU's quality guards. But, I realize that these games are won in the trenches, and that's where High Point will dominate, pushing themselves to the NCAA Tournament.
The Chanticleers have won the conference title (on their home floor) in each of the past two seasons, and have represented the Big South in the NCAA Tournament. It’s tough not to pick them team again this year. After this season, the Chanticleers are off to the Sun Belt Conference. So with that being the case, the team will do everything they can to go out as the three-time defending champions of the Big South. With a roster that includes the likes of Elijah Wilson, Shivaughn Wiggins, and Badou Diagne, the talent is in place for the team to succeed once again.
Who cares if they are not hosting! Coastal Carolina will win this thing! Even though they lost 2 guards to graduation, they bring back a formiddable trio from last year's team that was conference champs.
Coastal Carolina's reign over the Big South will end at the paws of the High Point Panthers. Without their top two scorers (Warren Giles and Josh Cameron due to graduation), the Chanticleers will find it hard to get baskets at will, like in the past. In comparison, High Point will return three of their top four point producers in addition to shinning star and bona fide leader John Brown. Don't get me wrong, I do expect Elijah Wilson (11.3 PPG & 3.5 RPG) and Shivaughn Wiggins' (10.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 3.3 APG, & 1.2 SPG) Coastal Carolina group to be in the semi-finals, if not the championship, of the Big South Conference Tournament this March. Nevertheless, I do not see the guard tandum being able to oust an opponent with quality players, such as Lorenzo Cugini (9.8 PPG & 4.8 RPG) and Adam Weary (9.3 PPG, 2.4 RPG, & 2.7 APG), around a superstar.
Links to more VAVEL USA college basketball roundtables are listed below: