There was quite a lot of transition in the Big South during the offseason as two teams joined while two others left. The new members are Hampton, coming over from the MEAC where they shared the regular season crown last year and should compete from Day One, and South Carolina Upstate, a team that is in rebuild mode. Leaving were Liberty, which took Upstate’s spot in the Atlantic Sun, and UNC-Asheville – well not really. The Bulldogs are still in the conference, but last year’s regular season champions lost their head coach and virtually their entire roster, so they must rebuild from the bottom up.
Hampton has a great chance to contend, but Radford is the pick to win the regular season title as the Highlanders return the top three players from their NCAA Tournament team. Campbell, led by the amazing Chris Clemons, and Winthrop should also contend. Keep an eye on Presbyterian as well, as the Blue Hose are primed to actually move out of the league basement this year.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Radford – The Highlanders won the Big South tournament title, and a First Four game by double digits over Long Island University, thanks to their defense last season. With their top three players back, along with a handful of key reserves, Radford has a chance to be even better this year and will be among the favorites to capture the regular season crown.
- Hampton – The Pirates move into the Big South this season and will try to prove that they are a force to contend with in their new league. Jermaine Morrow averaged over 19 points per game for the co-regular season MEAC champions last year and is one of four starters returning for head coach Ed Joyner’s team.
- Campbell – Chris Clemons chose to come back for his senior season and enters the year as the nation’s leading returning scorer (24.9 points per game). The question won’t be whether or not the Camels can score, it will be whether they can improve a woefully bad defense. If they do, the league crown could be heading to Buies Creek.
- Winthrop – Winthrop may not be the favorite to win the conference, but this team should never be counted out. Pat Kelsey’s Eagles lost their top two scorers from last season, but do get Nych Smith, who missed the second semester last year, back. Unfortunately, Smith was one of three players recently cited for marijuana possession, and the consequences of that are not yet known.
- Gardner-Webb – The Runnin’ Bulldogs return four starters from last year’s team that went 9-9 in Big South play, led by senior guard David Efianayi, who averaged over 17 points per game. If the team can improve its outside and free throw shooting, do not be surprised if they are in the race for the league title.
- High Point – The Panthers made a huge move in the offseason, bringing perhaps their most famous alum (with apologies to Austin Dillon) in as head coach – Tubby Smith. It would not be a surprise at all if Tubby has this team contending within just a few seasons, and the Panthers may even make some noise this year with four starters back, although top scorer Andre Fox is gone.
- Presbyterian – The Blue Hose have a chance to make a serious move up from perennial league doormats to at least the middle of the standings this season. Four starters and several key reserves return, led by point guard Davon Bell and forward Francois Lewis.
- Charleston Southern – Christian Keeling is a big-time scorer, who averaged over 17 points per game as a sophomore last year. There just may not be enough other pieces around him for the Buccaneers to make any serious noise.
- South Carolina Upstate – The Spartans move to the Big South from the Atlantic Sun this season and do so with a new head coach in Dave Dickerson. Deion Holmes averaged over 15 points per game last year and is one of two returning starters, but the team may be hard-pressed to significantly improve on last year’s 7-25 record.
- UNC-Asheville – The Bulldogs won the Big South regular season title last season. That team is now gone, pretty much completely. With head coach Nick McDevitt now at Middle Tennessee, former Shaka Smart assistant Mike Morrell takes over and welcomes in basically an entire new roster of players. This could be a long year in Asheville.
- Longwood – The Lancers welcome former UMBC assistant Griff Aldrich in as their new head coach, but don’t expect any instant miracles here. Isaiah Walton is a legitimate scorer at least, though just getting to 10 wins would be an accomplishment.