The Big South is making a name for themselves as a force to be reckoned with. They have individual talent, as two players finished the season ranked among the nation’s top 10 in scoring. Gardner Webb, last year’s conference champions, were up 16 to Virginia in the first half of the first round of the NCAA Tournament. There are a ton of good coaches in this league, as well as talented players.
Here are some of the storylines we are looking at heading into the season.
Who will be Player of the Year
Radford’s Carlik Jones was named the Preseason player of the year, and rightfully so, he is the best player on the best team. With the nickname Mr. Big Shot, Jones lives for the big moments, and with the success of Radford, he has been in a lot of big moments. You cannot ignore Hampton senior Jermaine Marrow, who comes in after finishing last season 8th in Division 1 basketball in scoring, averaging 24.4 per game. His usage will only go up this year, so while the target is on his back, he will get the chances point-blank.
Two names to not leave out of your mind for this will be 6’5” Gardner Webb sophomore Jose Perez. He may be the most unguardable player in the league this year, with this ability to line up and do damage all over the floor. He can shoot the ball, handle the ball, he can post and pass, initiate and finish from the low block. As a freshman, he averaged 15.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Look for his efficiency to continue to rise. Phlandrous Fleming is another name to watch for. This is a classic example of where opportunity will me production, he could quietly put together a season where he is top 10 in the league in 4 or 5 different major stats.
Jermaine Marrow’s Scoring Prowess
Marrow enters the season having scored 1,987 career points. This puts him in 12th place on the all-time list. Of course, Chris Clemons, obliterated the Big South scoring record last year when he ended his career at 3,225 career points. But let’s not let what Clemons did diminish anything Marrow is about to accomplish. Marrow is 78 points outside of 10th place on the list and 566 points outside of 2nd place. Marrow averaged 24.4 points last season, which was good for 8th nationally, or 854 points in the season. If he does that again, he would end up with 2,841 for his illustrious and storied career. Pay attention here.
Which Second Year Coach is Ready to Take the Step
Last season the Big South brought in four new coaches, as Hall of Famer Tubby Smith took over at High Point, Mike Morrell took over at UNC-Asheville, Dave Dickerson took over at USC-Upstate and Griff Aldrich took over at Longwood. To start this season, these teams are expected to finish 8th, 9th, 11th and 6th respectively. Coach Griff Aldrich returns 6 of his top 7 players from last year, which include 3 10 point per game scorers and 5 players who have starting experience. These players include preseason 2nd team selection Shabooty Phillips. They are predicted 6th in the preseason #6 team.
USC-Upstate and UNC-Asheville were jobs that had a bit of a tough road ahead of them, however, both have done a spectacular job on the recruiting trail, laying the groundwork. Mike Morrell brings in NC State transfer Lavar Batts, who will bring a sense of speed and athleticism this league just doesn’t have. Batts could make a run at an all-league position. Morrell also returns two 10+ points per game scorers as his freshman are now sophomores. Coach Dave Dickerson will have 7 freshmen on the roster this year, and they beat out other programs for all 7. They lose multi-year starters in Malik Moore and Deion Holmes, but this team is starting to be built by Dave Dickerson players. While the wins maybe a year off, look for consistent improvement on the floor.
Hall of Famer Tubby Smith had a unique offseason as leading scorer Jahaad Proctor is now with Purdue and second-leading scorer Brandon Kamga with Cal State Fullerton. This High Point program has six players who played their high school basketball in the state of North Carolina on the roster, a vast difference from the zero, just three years ago. As expected the led the league in defensive efficiency last year and you can rest assured a Tubby Smith team will defend. The question will be who will make the shots, they have some talent but will need the likes of Clifford Thomas, Jamal Wright and Curtis Holland to step up.
All four programs are in a better place than they were at this time last year, while this may not be the year for all of them, look for each to take significant steps.