LWOS continues its conference previews with the Big South Basketball Preview. The league saw a fierce battle between Radford and Winthrop for the title last season. Both teams ended up tying for the regular-season title. However, when the dust settled in the conference tournament, Winthrop emerged as the champion. The Eagles have more than enough returning to repeat, but there are some much-improved teams that will be on their heels in 2020-21.
2020-21 Big South Basketball Preview
11. Presbyterian Blue Hose
Key Returners: Michael Isler
Key Losses: Cory Hightower, Chris Martin, Ben Drake
Key Newcomers: Will Ferguson (JUCO), Rayshon Harrison
Presbyterian enters year two of the Quinton Ferrell era extremely young. He is essentially having to build the program from the ground up. Suddenly, sophomore Isler is the team’s best player after averaging 7.9 points per game and making 28 starts. However, there is some promising talent in the incoming recruiting class. Still, this is nothing more than a rebuilding year with lots of growing pains expected for the Blue Hose.
10. Hampton Pirates
Key Returners: Davion Warren
Key Losses: Jermaine Marrow, Ben Stanley, Greg Heckstall
Key Newcomers: Najee Thomas (JUCO), Dajour Dickens (Old Dominion), Marquis Godwin (Old Dominion)
It is not often that a team has two players averaging 20+ points per game in a season. However, Hampton had just that in Marrow (24.8) and Stanley (22) last year. That duo helped the Pirates make a surprise run to the Big South Tournament Final. Both have moved on, meaning this is a program that will need a new identity. A pair of Old Dominion transfers in Dickens and Godwin will become eligible in time for league play. Still, the Pirates will most likely make a steep drop in the standings.
9. Longwood Lancers
Key Returners: Juan Munoz
Key Losses: Shabooty Phillips, Jordan Cintron
Key Newcomers: Zac Watson (UC Riverside), Jermaine Drewey (JUCO)
Longwood enters 2020-21 in a tough spot after losing three starters and their top rebounder. Munoz can be the Lancers’ playmaker, but everyone else around him will need to step up for this team to perform well. UC Riverside transfer Watson comes to Longwood after seeing his role reduced with the Highlanders. He averaged a serviceable 6.1 points and four rebounds per game as a freshman. However, his addition will not be enough for this team to make a push for anything substantial this season.
8. Campbell Camels
Key Returners: Cedric Henderson Jr., Jordan Whitfield
Key Losses: Cory Gensler, Ja’cor Nelson
Key Newcomers: Duane Moss (Chattanooga)
It was to be expected that Campbell would take a step back after Chris Clemons graduated. The Camels fell to tenth place, but some improvement should be expected this season. Henderson and Whitfield have stepped into the leadership roles for this team. However, the overall depth of this team is a concern. Having everyone get their feet wet last year will be beneficial, but that should only lead to a slight bump in the standings.
7. Radford Highlanders
Key Returners: None
Key Losses: Carlik Jones, Travis Fields, Devine Eke
Key Newcomers: Jamal Burke (JUCO), Bryan Hart (D-II), Dante Moses (JUCO)
Radford essentially enters 2020-21 with a clean slate. All of the key pieces from the past few season’s success are gone. However, the biggest loss is reining Big South Player of the Year Jones, who decided to transfer to Louisville. To plug the holes, the Highlanders are looking for incoming transfers to help out while the younger players develop. A lack of overall roster experience at the Division I level means Radford will take its lumps this season while retooling for the future.
6. Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs
Key Returners: Jaheam Cornwall, Ludovic Dufeal, Kareem Reid
Key Losses: Jose Perez, Eric Jamison, Nate Johnson
Key Newcomers: Jacob Falko, Christian Alexander
Gardner-Webb is another Big South program with lots of youth and inexperience heading into the season. Outside of Cornwall, Dufeal, and Reid, everyone else on the roster is either a freshman or a transfer. While that returning trio can keep the Runnin’ Bulldogs competitive, there will still be plenty of struggles expected as well. Fans should look at this season as a way to build towards a title run in a year or two. However, that does not mean Gardner-Webb could not surprise a few teams.
5. High Point Panthers
Key Returners: John-Michael Wright, Eric Coleman Jr.
Key Losses: Curtis Holland III
Key Newcomers: Jaden House, Lydell Elmore (D-II)
High Point had a lot of freshmen minutes played last season. However, that experience should help the Panthers be one of the most improved teams heading into 2020-21. John-Michael Wright earned a Big South honorable mention nod after averaging 14.2 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game as a freshman. Furthermore, his playmaking ability alone will be enough to keep High Point in games and vault him up the all-conference list. Tubby Smith has a core that will push the Panthers towards the top of the league sooner rather than later.
4. USC Upstate Spartans
Key Returners: Everette Hammond, Tommy Bruner, Nevin Zink
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: None
USC Upstate is another team that will benefit from the experience its roster got last year. The Spartans have a talented backcourt. Hammond led the team with 14.5 points per game in 2019-20, while Bruner earned an all-freshman team spot with 14 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game. However, there is a good mix of experience and depth beyond those two, meaning this is a team that will show vast improvement. The Spartans will give the teams at the top a run for their money.
3. Charleston Southern Buccaneers
Key Returners: Phlandrous Fleming Jr., Deontaye Buskey, Ty Jones
Key Losses: Dontrell Shuler
Key Newcomers: None
Charleston Southern has a senior core that makes them a title contender this season. Phlandrous Fleming could be the preseason favorite for player of the year. He is an all-around talent that can win games on his own if needed. However, the frontcourt has its own key guy in Jones, who averaged 10.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in 2019-20. The Buccaneers should be in the mix throughout the season, but still might be a step behind the top two. Still, they are a sleeper for taking home the Big South title.
2. Winthrop Eagles
Key Returners: D.J. Burns, Chandler Vaudrin
Key Losses: Hunter Hale, Josh Ferguson
Key Newcomers: Toneari Lane, Kelton Talford
This will be the most controversial pick in the league. Winthrop has the talent to repeat, but that does not mean they are a shoo-in. The loss of Hale hurts, but guard play is the strength of this team. Ferguson’s loss hurts more, as that leaves the frontcourt a little thin. However, that will open the door for young pups Lane and Talford to get some playing time. Vaudrin and Burns make a nice one-two punch, but time will tell if that is enough to repeat. Luckily for the Eagles, experienced guards help mid-major programs thrive.
1. UNC Asheville Bulldogs
Key Returners: DeVon Baker, L.J. Thorpe, Tajion Jones
Key Losses: None
Key Newcomers: Evan Clayborne (North Carolina Central), B.J. Marable
UNC Asheville returns all five starters and will take another leap forward this season. That consistency along with the treasure trove of riches in the backcourt makes them the preseason pick for the Big South title. Baker is the playmaker on this team, but the other talented guards will make them difficult to defend. The frontcourt is a little more concerning, but grad transfer Clayborne should help with that. The Bulldogs are set to compete for league titles over the next two seasons, with 2020-21 being when they announce themselves to their conference foes.
2020-21 Big South Basketball Preview Award Projections
Player of the Year: Phlandrous Fleming Jr., Charleston Southern
Fleming’s talent was discussed in the Buccaneer’s section, but here are the stats to back it up. He averaged 17.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game in 2019-20. It starts to get scary to think about how he could improve on those heading into this season, but it is likely. It is not out of the question to find Fleming averaging a double-double by season’s end.
Defensive Player of the Year: Phlandrous Fleming Jr.
Defense was a huge area of improvement for Fleming last season, increasing his blocks per game by almost a full block from his sophomore to his junior year. That helped him take home last season’s defensive player of the year honor. There is no reason to think he will not repeat this season. Capturing this award again would be great, but capturing player and defensive player of the year will etch him in league history.
Freshman of the Year: Rayshon Harrison, Presbyterian
Harrison gets the nod here because of Presbyterian’s roster situation. There is a high-percentage chance that he will be starting in the Blue Hose’s backcourt right away, meaning growing pains are probable. However, that will provide him plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent. The incoming freshman averaged 14.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, and two assists per game as a senior at Legacy Early College in Greenville, South Carolina.
Coach of the Year: Mike Morrell, UNC Asheville
Morell has had to build the Bulldogs up from scratch in his two years at the helm in Asheville. Last season saw an 11-win improvement from his first season in 2018-19. This season may see the Bulldogs eclipse 20 wins and bring home a Big South title. That kind of three-year turnaround would make him more than worthy of this honor.
Big South First-Team Projection: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (Charleston Southern), DeVon Baker (UNC Asheville), L.J. Thorpe (UNC Asheville), John-Michael Wright (High Point), D.J. Burns (Winthrop)