Summer School in the Big SouthPosted by Brian Goodman on August 6th, 2010
Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
Around The Big South
- Back to the Future for Gardner-Webb – The GWU Runnin’ Bulldogs called on a former assistant to get the program going back in the right direction with the departure of Rick Scruggs after a 15-year tenure in Boiling Springs. New head man Chris Holtmann was with GWU’s staff from 2003-08, but his more recent time with Ohio University had him on the up-and-coming coach prospect lists — that performance by the Bobcats last year in winning the MAC Tournament and upending Georgetown at the NCAA Tourney opened lots of eyes to Holtmann’s contributions as lead assistant there.
- Association Aspirations – While not impacting the upcoming season directly, two NBA storylines have gotten lots of Big South attention: Art Parakhouski and Reggie Williams. Parakhouski, a two-time Big South Player of the Year, was considered by many as a draftable prospect for the NBA, but did not get selected, missing what many thought was the Big South’s best chance to date of having someone taken in the modern two-round format for the first time. The big man from Radford landed on the Celtics’ Summer League team, trying to work his way into a spot. Meanwhile, that’s just what former Big South and VMI star Reggie Williams did. Once college basketball’s leading scorer, he started doing the same thing in the NBA’s D-League, which will get you noticed. He signed a ten-day deal with the Golden State Warriors, and then another, earning his way onto the team roster with lots of praise from teammates and coaches.
- Coastal Carolina – no one’s expecting the Chanticleers to crow through the season at last year’s astonishing pace (28-7 ,15-3, regular season champion), but here’s some consideration for them repeating a run at the title nonetheless. CCU loses team leader and All-Conference forward Joseph Harris, but we suspect Chad Gray (also All-Conference First Team) will step into that role and get sufficient help from last season’s Freshman of the Year Kierre Greenwood. Big South Coach of the Year Cliff Ellis seemed to finally get the pieces put together last year, and their tournament final loss may provide adequate motivation to reach the next rung on the ladder this time around.
- Winthrop – okay, so the Eagles lose a cornerstone in Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson from last year’s Big South Championship squad, but coach Randy Peele said it best when WU managed that upset title run: this team is built for tournament play. In other words, there will be some ugly play along the way (as seen when the shooting ices over, like in the NCAA opening round game), but this team will stay in games and stay in the race and stay a thorn in the side of everyone else. Just ask the Coastal fans who watched the Eagles celebrate on the CCU court this spring… can’t count Winthrop out, so let’s credit them with contender status here.
- High Point – If coach Scott Cherry can keep his team on its improvement pace, he’ll do even better than this spot, but let’s consider the Panthers as a notch better than last year’s 15-15, 10-8 squad. That mark was an increase of six wins (conference and overall) over the previous season. Granted, HPU has to bid farewell to big man and shot-blocker Cruz Daniels, along with the talented Eugene Harris, but they still have the offensive production of standouts Nick Barbour (All-Conference) and Tehran Cox. For his senior year, Cox will also get the emotional boost of seeing his team play preseason games in his native Bahamas. As for Barbour, beware when this shooter is on the mark – he can hit from anywhere.
- Radford – The Highlanders and coach Brad Greenberg are an enigma: Two years ago, this team powered its way to the NCAAs; last year, they underperformed against expectations and didn’t even make the conference final. Now they’re losing the “twin towers” combination of two-time Player of the Year Art Parakhouski and 2nd Team All-Conference Joey Lynch-Flohr. So stamp a big question mark on RU, but know this: Greenberg understands talent and Radford recruits international players to fill needs–the roster loses the big Belarusian, but gains players from Turkey, France, Latvia, and Sweden.
- Charleston Southern – some might find this spot a bit lofty for the Buccaneers, but it seems likely that CSU and coach Barclay Radebaugh have what’s needed to bring play up another notch this season. The squad’s core trio of All-Conference Jamarco Warren, Freshman of the Year Jeremy Sexton, and up-and-comer Kelvin Martin are all back from a team that had early glimmers of contending last year. Coach Radebaugh described the season as “improved but…not satisfied,” so let’s say the Bucs get some more satisfaction this time around.
- UNC-Asheville – It’s tough in some respects to put the Bulldogs down this far – after all, plenty of teams have been bounced for underestimating coach Eddie Biedenbach and his squad over the years. While Asheville has standouts in J.P. Primm and John Williams back, this group remains one that seems likely to be somewhere around the middle of the standings, possibly bobbing a little higher than where they’re listed here, but a title run would be somewhat surprising. Losing shooter Sean Smith takes points off the board and Biedenbach will have to find out where they’re coming from this year.
- Liberty – Coach Dale Layer walked into a tough situation on the heels of the Flames losing a coach and a star player right after the previous year, but held serve with a team that played around .500 for the season. Year one had its ups and downs, and it seems likely that year two may look much the same, with more aggressive scheduling on the books for a team trying to build itself up. Major out-of-conference opponents this time include Notre Dame, Texas Tech, and South Florida. One source of optimism certainly comes from the play of All-Freshman Team Evan Gordon.
- VMI – the formula will remain the same for coach Duggar Baucom and his Keydets: run till you can’t run anymore, and keep shooting before you can turn it over. That mix will continue to produce high-scoring games and, unfortunately for VMI, plenty of high-scoring losses, unless the defense can slow down the opposition at the same time the offense is running wild. The style will net several victories along the way, but even with great contributions from Austin Kenon and Stan Okoye, the Keydets still need to find a dominant power source like they had with Reggie Williams to overwhelm opponents.
- Gardner-Webb – This position may seem unfair to coach Chris Holtmann in his first year, but the Runnin’ Bulldogs did not bring much to the table last year and that’s the template Holtmann has had to start with in taking over the GWU program. Improvement is expected, possibly even one that has Gardner-Webb climbing out of the cellar group, but not likely a dramatic one this season – we’d figure on seeing that in year two, perhaps.
- Presbyterian College – No one wants to bring up the rear, and certainly PC is tired of being dumped in this spot, but that’s where the Blue Hose will probably end up one more time. One thing we know–it will be harder to knock off PC this season, as a trio of scoring players are available after redshirt seasons: Al’Lonzo Coleman, Josh Johnson, and Pierre Miller. Careful planning by the coaching staff allows them to play together now that they’ve made the transition to Division-I eligibility. PC has one more year without postseason play open to it, but the year after this is when they hope to make a splash. Look for PC to be a tough out, but not a serious contender this year.
- Coaching Stories – The first year for Holtmann at GWU — can he launch a turnaround? It’s also the second year for Cherry at High Point and Layer at Liberty. Can the Panthers continue to rise, and can the Flames show some improvement?
- Postseason Play – The issue of the Big South Tournament format seems to be an issue that comes up periodically, and recent questions have come up that may even result in a shuffling of games for this year’s Championship. Stay tuned to see if anything moves for the upcoming season, or how the format will alter for the availability of Presbyterian and incoming member Campbell for the years beyond.