The national headlines in great conference battles will probably be focused on leagues like the ACC, Big East, Big Ten and SEC this season. However, arguably the most exciting conference battle, especially given that the winner of the regular season crown will get home court for the conference tournament, may come in the Big South. There are five teams with legitimate chances to take the conference title this year, and a few others that might sneak into the discussion if anyone in that top group falters.
It is a close call, but the pick to in the title right now is UNC-Asheville thanks to the pairing of guards Ahmad Thomas and MaCio Teague. However, Campbell returns seven of its top eight players and has its own star in Chris Clemons, Liberty has a ton of depth and experience, Winthrop is always dangerous with Pat Kelsey on the bench, and Radford has its entire starting five back. Unfortunately for this conference, it may have another major battle — at its bottom. Longwood and Presbyterian could be among the contenders for this year’s Centenary Award, given out annually by the HoopsHD staff to the worst team in Division I.
Predicted Order of Finish
- UNC-Asheville – The Bulldogs return arguably two of the best and most exciting players in the conference in Ahmad Thomas and MaCio Teague. Though they will once again be lacking in height, they should have enough talent to finish at or near the top of the league standings.
- Campbell – The Camels return seven of their top eight scorers from last season led by junior Chris Clemons, who was second in the entire nation in scoring last year at 25.1 points per game. Campbell also has some size down low, moreso than a few of the other top contenders in the Big South. This could be the perfect recipe for a conference title.
- Liberty – The Flames won 21 games last season despite being without Caleb Homesley for much of the season. He is now healthy, and head coach Ritchie McKay’s team has the depth and experience to make their fourth trip to the Big Dance.
- Winthrop – After making the NCAA Tournament last season, Keon Johnson ran out of eligibility and head coach Pat Kelsey accepted the job at UMass . . . for about 48 hours. Kelsey changed his mind and decided to come back to Rock Hill, but Johnson is still gone. Xavier Cooks should score a ton, but making up for Johnson’s loss in the backcourt will be tough.
- Radford – With all five starters back from last season, the Highlanders will have the experience and depth needed to contend for the league crown. Ed Polite Jr. is a nightly double-double threat, but they may be missing a go-to player on the offensive end.
- Gardner-Webb – The Runnin’ Bulldogs will likely take a step back this season without their top two scorers from last year, but they still have enough weapons to compete for an upper division finish.
- Charleston Southern – Christian Keeling averaged over 17 points and 7 rebounds per game as a freshman last season, but the Bucs probably don’t have enough other pieces around him to make any serious noise in a very tough conference.
- High Point – The Panthers appear to be lacking enough offensive weapons to challenge for the upper division in the Big South. They only return one player who averaged in double figures last season, Andre Fox, and need to find a lot more scoring to win games.
- Longwood – The one bright spot for the Lancers during their 6-24 campaign last season was forward Khris Lane’s 17 points per game. He has decided to transfer to VCU, and there may not be any bright spots left for this season.
- Presbyterian – The Blue Hose were ranked 350 out of 351 teams at kenpom.com last season, have a new head coach, and don’t return much. This looks like the type of season that may land them back on our HoopsHD Centenary Award watch list.