Friday, October 13, 2006

Big South Conference Preview


The Big South Conference was supposed to be in Winthrop's hands from the start to the finish. However, the title race came down the final day, when Winthrop, the aforementioned preseason favorite, went on the road and defeated Birmingham Southern to finish 13-3. BSU finished 12-4. Coastal Carolina also finished 12-4. No other team finished more than two games above .500 overall. The conference tournament featured even more excitement than the regular season. The top two seeds met in the title game. Winthrop won their first two games by an average of more than 26 points, while Coastal Carolina was riding a 12-game winning streak. The championship was everything it was hyped up to be, with Winthrop pulling out the victory by one on a Craig Bradshaw basket with 9.1 seconds left. In the NCAA Tournament, the Eagles were seconds away from pulling off the biggest upset of the first round when Tennessee's Chris Lofton hit a fadeway 19-footer with under a second left to give the #2 seed Volunteers the win. Expect a similar look to the standings as last season--even though BSU moved down to Division-3--with Winthrop looking potentially better than ever.

Favorite: Winthrop came into last season as a heavy favorite to win the conference. Similarly, the Eagles look like the clear-cut leader to win the Big South's automatic bid again. Gregg Marshall turned down an increase in money from the College of Charleston to stay in Rock Hill. When looking at the team, it's not very hard to see why. The Eagles are built on defense, leading the Big South in scoring defense and field-goal percentage defense the past eight years. Craig Bradshaw is one of the favorites for Big South Player of the Year. He is a versatile big man that is capable of huge games. Bradshaw is capable of scoring points down low or taking his game outside. Forwards Phillip Williams and Taj McCullogh also return up front. Williams was a part-time starter last season, but both players should see expanded roles this year. Freshmen Anthony Williams will get minutes right away. In the backcourt, all-conference guard Torrell Martin returns. He is an excellent three-point shooter who contributes in all facets of the game. Chris Gaynor will be the point guard for the third consecutive season. He is the best point guard in the conference who creates myriad opportunities for his teammmates. He is also one of the top long-range shooters in the Big South. Michael Jenkins is an important asset off the bench who can fill it up, while JC transfer Antwon Harris could make an impact.

Contenders: Coastal Carolina was one point away from reaching the NCAA Tournament last season, and will look to make a run again this season. The Chanticleers finished the season with 12 wins in their last 13 games, and look to carry that momentum over to the 2006-2007 season. They return one of the top players in the conference in guard Jack Leasure. The Big South Player of the Year is an outstanding three-point shooter and can also distribute the ball very well. Joining him in the backcourt is undecided right now. Returnee Mario Sisinni saw plenty of minutes last season, while freshman Joshua Mack is expected to make an immediate impact. Up front, all-conference candidate Moses Sonko and role player Joseph Harris return as starters. Sonko played well down the stretch and could be poised for a breakout season, while Harris is versatile and athletic. Chad Ferguson and Matt Brennan need to improve their production. High Point had a surprisingly successful season, going 16-13 and finishing .500 in the Big South. However, they only won 6 of their final 14 games and will need to improve their late-season play in order to reach their potential. 6-5 Arizona Reid is one of the best players in the conference and one of the most underrated post players on a national level. He is a dominant player who had ten double-doubles last season and can carry the Panthers. Jerald Minnis and Josh Lamons add some size and rebounding to the frontcourt. Mike Jefferson leads the way in the backcourt. He played very well late in the season and could become a big-time player this year. Landon Quick is a solid pass-first point guard, while Troy Bowen provides adequate production off the bench. Freshman Tim Burns could make an early impact.

Sleepers: Liberty returns five starters from last season, but that was from a team that went 7-23 overall and finished next-to-last in the Big South. That record should improve drastically this season. A main reason for the expected improvement is all-conference guard Larry Blair. One of the best shooting guards in the country, Blair is an outstanding scorer who will be in the running for conference Player of the Year. Joining him in what could be a dominant wing duo will be Providence transfer Dwight Brewington. An effective scorer for the Friars, Brewington should really have a big year this season. If he plays to his potential, he and Blair could become one of the most potent scoring duos in the country. Anthony Smith also returns in the backcourt. He is a solid scorer. Up front, Damien Hubbard is the go-to-guy. He is a match-up problem due to his versatility and athleticism. Rell Porter and Russell Monroe also return as starters in the frontcourt. Charleston Southern had a decent season last year, going 7-9, but they still finished sixth in the conference. A repeat for the Buccaneers could be in store with the loss of two starters. However, they finished strong and made it to the semi-finals of the conference tournament, giving Bucs fans optimism. Chris Moore could be poised for a huge season on the perimeter. He is an excellent three-point shooter and a solid rebounder. Dwayne Jackson and Donnell Covington were both on the verge of scoring in double-figures last season and will start on the perimeter. Up front, Vernon Huger is a solid scorer and rebounder who will become the go-to-guy in the frontcourt. Lorenzo Burgess and Shawn Outen are newcomers that are expected to contribute immediately down low. Radford loses the conference's top scorer in Whit Holcomb-Faye, but they return one of the best forwards in the Big South. Chris Oliver averaged a double-double last season, and might be the league's most difficult match-up on the offensive end. He can drive to the basket and also get points on the low block. Reggie McIntyre is an excellent complement to Oliver. He can put up points and is also a solid rebounder. Duane Ricks could move into the starting lineup at the center spot. The Highlanders have a lack of depth and experience on the perimeter. However, freshmen Philip Martin and Amir Johnson form the backcourt of the future for the Highlanders.

Rounding Out the Pack: VMI had a very disappointing season a year ago, finishing last in the conference and going 7-20 overall. However, the Cadets return all five starters. Moreover, they may have the best forward combo in the league in Reggie Williams and Matt Murrer. Williams is a big-time scorer and an excellent rebounder who is poised to become a national name with more exposure. He is an outstanding athlete. Murrer, who was second in the Big South in field-goal percentage, is one of the best rebounders in the conference. Twins Chavis and Travis Holmes are solid scorers in the backcourt who could increase their production this season. Big man Justin Jarman and Sean Christansen return as starters, but they need to improve their play. UNC-Asheville loses all five starters, and could have a tough time repeating the six conference wins they had a season ago. However, they do have some talent on the roster. Forwards Joey Harrell and Reid Augst will see an increase in minutes after coming off the bench last season. Guard K.J. Garland is an all-conference candidate who sat out all of last season with an ankle injury, while big men C.J Walker and Brett Warner also return after missing all or most of last season due to injury or suspension. Moreover, two newcomers are expected to make an immediate impact in JC transfer Vincent James and Middle Tennessee State transfer Bryan Smithson.

Prediction: Winthrop should win the Big South conference, hands down. However, the same thing was expected last season and the conference title came down to the final day of the season and the conference tournament came down to the final seconds. I don't expect the Eagles to have as much trouble this season. Torrell Martin and Craig Bradshaw form the best inside-outside combo in the conference, while Chris Gaynor is an excellent point guard. However, I look for the Big South to become a mid-major conference that is discussed more heavily this season. The league has several very good players who could become national names with more exposure, including Larry Blair, Jack Leasure, Reggie Williams, Arizona Reid, and Chris Oliver. Watch out for the Big South this season--and don't forget Winthrop as a potential upset pick in the NCAA Tournament.

Player of the Year: Craig Bradshaw, C, Winthrop

All-Conference Team:
G- Torrell Martin, Winthrop
G- Jack Leasure, Coastal Carolina
G- Larry Blair, Liberty
F- Arizona Reid, High Point
C- Craig Bradshaw, Winthrop

Second Team:
G- Chris Gaynor, Winthrop
G- Chris Moore, Charleston Southern
F- Reggie Williams, VMI

F- Chris Oliver, Radford
F- Matt Murrer, VMI


  1. Overall, a good preview...But FYI, Justin Dunn from High Point left the team early in the fall, Evan Risher & Doug Stewart from Liberty are no longer playing for the Flames, and Dan Ross isn't playing for Radford this year.

  2. Byron Faison freshman at Winthrop is an impact guys are stupid for not recognizing

  3. All those players are gone? I apparently have to get updated rosters.

    Thanks a lot.

  4. Jack Leasure is the best player in the conference and hardest worker by far.

  5. Thanks hater.

    And Leasure came in third in POY race, behind Bradshaw and Blair.

  6. Lookout for Asheville, flying under the radar

  7. look out for radford this year

  8. I'll be sure to look out for every team.

  9. Joseph Harris doesn't score a lot of points, but he and Moses Sonko are as responsible for Coastal's success as Leasure.

    There's lots of good storylines in BS this year:
    1). How will Blair and Brewington co-exist in Liberty backcourt?

    2). Can Asheville's team stay healthy? (If so, they're the sleeper IMO).

    3). Will Bradshaw become the conference's first player to be taken in NBA draft?

    And to Sumter: Faison is the real deal, but so are the other Winthrop recruits. It'll be interesting to see which ones emerge. My money is on Antwon Harris, the juco clone to Coastal's Harris.

    Hard-nosed rebounders and defenders like Harris and Harris get little recognition...but don't forget, it wasn't the teams scoring 80 and 90 points that were in the conference championship.

    The title game was 51-50 if I remember right.

  10. blair and brew will be amazing!!! look out for smith with all of the attention to LB and brew. alex mclean is a beast, and will be the answer to the flames' big man woes. i'll tell you that next year when bannister is playing for the flames, no one will be able to beat them with him, brew, mclean and smith. look out for the flames to make some noise

  11. and the answer to your question is no, brewington will be selected in the NBA draft, and blair might sneak in