Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Radford (14-4)
- UNC Asheville (12-6)
- Winthrop (12-6)
- Gardner-Webb (10-8)
- VMI (9-9)
- High Point (9-9)
- Liberty (8-10)
- Coastal Carolina (7-11)
- Charleston Southern (6-12)
- Presbyterian College (3-15)
- Jamarco Warren (G), Jr., Charleston Southern
- Grayson Flittner (G), Sr., Gardner-Webb
- Joseph Harris (F), R-Sr., Coastal Carolina
- Joey Lynch-Flohr (F), Sr., Radford
- Art Parakhouski (C), Sr., Radford
6th Man. Nick Barbour (G), Soph, High Point
Impact Newcomer. Lazar Trifunovic (F), Jr., Radford (transfer from Binghamton)
What You Need to Know. Ask any of the Big South coaches right now who’s on top and the answer you’ll get is Radford. The Highlanders are the preseason favorite for the first time in a decade with good reason: the defending conference champs (regular season and tournament winners) still have their skilled twin towers combination of 6-8 Joey Lynch-Flohr and 6-11 Art Parakhouski. RU center and dominant force Parakhouski in particular has the size, strength, and game needed to dominate the opposition (for perspective, last year he averaged a double-double against Big East and ACC competition), playing his way into Player of the Year honors last season and the Preseason POY award for this year. Beyond Radford, the race should be very tight among a few schools with questions to answer: Asheville — can the Bulldogs win away from the Justice Center this year (11-3 home, 4-13 on the road a year ago); Winthrop — can the Eagles return to their once-familiar position of dominance in the Big South with 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson now as the unquestioned team leader; and Gardner-Webb — can the Runnin’ Bulldogs and playmaker Grayson Flittner iron out some consistency so that they turn their big wins into streaks? Meanwhile, two recent contenders will definitely be rebuilding: VMI — where Coach Duggar Baucom no longer has the Holmes twins to rely on in his rapid-fire scheme; and Liberty –where star player Seth Curry and Coach Ritchie McKay both departed Lynchburg, leaving new Coach Dale Layer to get the Flames burning again. High Point should fit in around where VMI and Liberty fall in the standings, with Coastal Carolina in that mix as well, while Charleston Southern is likely to trail that group despite the sharpshooting of Jamarco Warren. Presbyterian College remains ineligible for a championship as the transition to D1 continues, but PC doesn’t have the tools to contend yet in any case, so look for the Blue Hose at the bottom of the standings.
Predicted Champion. Radford Highlanders (NCAA Seed: #15). Last year RU passed early front-runner VMI in the regular season and then knocked the Keydets out in the Big South Championship. The reward for the Highlanders? A #16 seed and a lethal draw against eventual National Champion North Carolina (an experience Parakhouski describes as “short, but amazing”). This season Radford should draw a little more attention and could easily play into a #15 spot, which opens the possibility of getting a potentially favorable match-up down low given the size RU can bring to the post. With that, it’s not out of line to think the Big South could see a first round win for the first time since Winthrop’s memorable upset of Notre Dame in 2007.