By Kevin Sweeney
Unfortunately, the Big South is one of the conferences that has been victimized by transfers. In a growing trend, young stars are leaving mid-major schools after their freshman or sophomore season in hopes of moving up to a Power 5 conference. The Big South lost lots of promising young talent, such as Dylan Smith and Dwayne Sutton of UNC Asheville, who wound up at Arizona and Louisville, respectively, as well as DeSean Murray, who left Presbyterian for Auburn, and Evan Maxwell, a former Liberty center who is now with Kansas. While this is incredibly disappointing for the programs losing young stars, their is one bright spot: it means that the Big South is doing an excellent job of recruiting and developing players. Hopefully, teams in this league will begin to hold onto some of their talent. If they can, their could be some very dangerous teams coming out of the Big South.
- UNC Asheville
- High Point
- Charleston Southern
Champions: Winthrop- Good news, Winthrop fans! This is your year! After 3 straight seasons that have ended in heartbreak, losing in the conference tournament championship game each year, I believe that this is the season that the Eagles break through. They have one of the most fun-to-watch players in college basketball in the diminutive Keon Johnson, who doesn’t let his 5-7, 160 pound frame stop him from making some monster plays. Johnson will come into the season with a chip on his shoulder, following a 1-16 performance for just 2 points in the conference championship game. They also return Xavier Cooks, a versatile forward who averaged nearly 15 points per game a season ago. They do have some demons to conquer, but I feel that Winthrop will put together another outstanding season.
Dark Horse: Liberty- The Flames were much better last year than their 13-19 record showed. Liberty didn’t earn their first win over a Division 1 opponent until January, but finished strong, thanks in no small part to the mid-December addition of John Dawson, who transferred in from Marquette. The Flames wound up with a conference record of over .500, a remarkable turnaround. Now, Liberty brings back 6 out of its top 7 scorers and have a chance to make some noise in the Big South. They do have an inexperienced frontcourt thanks to the loss of Maxwell, but they have a great group of guards that can match up with anyone in the conference. If things come together, Liberty could be one of the most improved teams in college basketball.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Xavier Cooks- Winthrop
- F: Tyrell Nelson- Gardner-Webb
- G: John Dawson- Liberty
- G: Chris Clemons- Campbell
- G: Keon Johnson- Winthrop
Player of the Year: Keon Johnson- Johnson put up huge numbers last season, but I expect him to easily eclipse those numbers this year. Johnson and his backcourt partner Jimmy Gavin each averaged 18.7 points per game last season, and with Gavin having graduated, Johnson will likely be looked to make up for some of that lost production. An excellent shooter from beyond the arc and and crafty finisher when he elects to drive to the hoop, Johnson has all the tools to put up monster numbers and carry Winthrop to the NCAA Tournament.
Newcomer of the Year: MaCio Teague (UNC-Asheville)- A freshman, Teague should be an impact player right away for the Bulldogs. After an outstanding high school career in Cincinnati, Ohio, Teague took a prep year at Montverde Academy, an outstanding prep school that has produced the likes of Ben Simmons and D’Angelo Russell. Teague has a chance to fill part of the void left by Dylan Smith, who transferred to Arizona following his freshman season. His success will be key for UNC-Asheville if they hope to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive season.