Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Big South Conference Preview


Last year's Big South season was not much for the fans. Winthrop ran away with the league, finishing four games ahead of the next best team. Only one other team besides the Eagles finished above .500 overall. After winning their last 18 games, Winthrop gave Gonzaga a nice run in the NCAA Tournament, but lost by ten. Expect more of the same this season in the Big South.

Favorite: It's not even worth it to discuss any other team as a "favorite" besides Winthrop. As opposed to most mid-major leagues, which have several teams capable of winning the crown, the Big South should be dominated by the Eagles this season. They are a huge favorite. They return their top nine scorers and all five starters.The Eagles' balance is very good, but leading the way for them is Torrell Martin, the top scorer and rebounder for the team. He, at 6-5, and 6-6 James Shuler give them extraordinary size on the perimeter for a Big South team. Shuler is second on the squad in both scoring and rebounding. Chris Gaynor is a very good all-around point guard. 6-10 Craig Bradshaw and 6-8 Phillip Williams are usually too big for Big South opponents on the interior. They are also the deepest team in the league, with Otis Daniels being an excellent sixth man. In addition, Winthrop only allowed 59.1 points per game a year ago, good enough for tenth in the country.

Sleepers: Coastal Carolina should be the main contender for Winthrop's spot. Buzz Peterson was hired after Tennessee fired him, and he is inheriting a decent team. Pele Paelay is the defending Big South Player of the Year, and is a favorite to win it again. He combines with fellow guard Jack Leasure to form possibly the best backcourt duo in the league. Inside, Adrian Gross and Moses Sonko hold down the fort. UNC-Asheville returns all five starters from a team that finished third in the Big South but went 11-17 overall. Their perimeter is decent, with K.J. Garland leading the way. However, it is their size and post depth that make them dangerous. 6-8 Chad Mohn and 6-10 started last season, but 6-9 Joe Barber may have been the most impressive of the big men. 7-1 shotblocker C.J. Walker also returns, and the Bulldogs add 7-6, 325 lb. Kenny George, the biggest player ever in the conference. The rest of the league is wide-open, but Radford seems to have the edge. They return an excellent 1-2 punch in guard Whit Holcomb-Faye, who was suspended for the final eight games of the season, and forward Chris Oliver, one of the best players in the conference. Reggie McIntyre and Andre Bynum are solid role players.

Rounding Out the Pack: Birmingham Southern is the best of the muddled pack that is below the aforementioned group of teams. They lost three starters, but return a decent inside-outside duo in guard James Collins, and all-conference candidate Thomas Viglianco. Sredrick Powe sat out last season, but he is back this season, as are perimeter players Bucky McMillan and Arnold Gore. Virginia Military Institute has won seven games in two seasons since moving in from the Southern Conference. They should come close to matching that total this season. Reggie Williams was the league's best freshman a year ago, and Matt Coward led the conference in assists at nearly five a game. Levar Joseph joins them on the perimeter in what is one of the best trios in the Big South. Preston Beverly needs to improve his production inside. Liberty has one of the league's top players in Larry Blair, who averaged 17 points and 5 boards a year ago. He will miss his partner-in-crime David Dees, who transferred over the summer. He is going to need some help if Liberty is going to stay out of the cellar. Newcomer Damien Hubbard is expected to make a big impact. Charleston Southern returns a very talented and deep cast of perimeter players. The three returning starters are guards Terrell Brown, Thomas Harrison, and Mario Williams, while Donnell Covington and Chris Moore came off the bench but saw extensive minutes. However, they also possibly the best newcomer in the league in 6-3 Dwayne Jackson. With all the backcourt players, the Buccaneers need to find some post players to make noise within the conference. Ferdinand Cain and Trent Drafts are the best options down low. High Point returns a lot of young players that need to develop. Arizona Reid and Issa Konare are the frontcourt mainstays, as Reid was an all-freshman pick. Scott Akeem is a good scorer and defender in the backcourt, while Landon Quick runs the point. Mike Jefferson, a JC transfer, is expected to contribute immediately.

Prediction: It's not even going to be close. Winthrop is going to run away with the league. They are just too big, too deep, and too talented for anyone within the conference. Moreover, they might be able to pull off an upset in this year's NCAA Tournament. The Eagles are stacked from top to bottom; even their bench is extremely strong. They are going to be dominant in the Big South Conference.

Player of the Year: Pele Paelay, SG, Coastal Carolina

All-Conference Team:
G- Torrell Martin, Winthrop
G- Pele Paelay, Coastal Carolina
G- Larry Blair, Liberty
F- James Shuler, Winthrop
F- Chris Oliver, Radford

Second Team:
G- Jack Leasure, Coastal Carolina
G- Whit Holcomb-Faye, Radford
G- K.J. Garland, UNC- Asheville
G- Chris Gaynor, Winthrop
F- Reggie Williams, VMI

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