Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis can paint a scene to describe exactly what this season feels like, already.
“I feel like the middle child in the back seat,” he said.
That is to say, he’s the one who is just a little bit uncomfortable. The one without any room.
The one everyone else would like to see gone.
That feeling has everything to do with Coastal Carolina announcing Sept. 1 that it will leave the Big South and join the Sun Belt next season.
The Big South, in turn, announced that it will no longer hold its conference basketball tournament at Coastal Carolina’s HTC Center, the tournament site for the last three years.
That’s the same arena where the Chanticleers play their home games, where they’ve won the last two Big South conference tournaments, and where they had hoped to capture a third straight NCAA tournament appearance in 2016.
This season, now the tournament site will be divided with men and women at different arenas. Schools have submitted bids to host the tournament, and the Big South expects to make a decision in two weeks.
Regardless of what happens, Ellis already knows what to expect from his team that finished 24-10 last season and lost leading scorer Warren Gillis to graduation.
“This is going to be our toughest year because all the guns are pointed at us,” Ellis said. “Nobody wants us to have the trophy. Nobody. The last team that they want to have the trophy is Coastal Carolina.”
High Point has won or shared the last three regular-season titles, but this is the first time since 2007-08 that the Panthers are the preseason favorite to win the conference title. High Point head coach Scott Cherry has taken a team that was 12-19 in 2010-11 and turned it into a perennial contender. “I’m honored and I’m excited about all the work we’ve put in to get this program to where it is,” Cherry said. “To be preseason No. 1 by your peers and by the media is a great accomplishment and our kids should take tremendous pride in that. But, it’s on a piece of paper. We have to go out now and show we’re a good basketball team.” And, prove that they can make the NCAA tournament — an achievement they have not yet accomplished. “We want this to be a program,” Cherry said, “not just a good few years.”
Mark Adams’ take: Coach Ritchie McKay returns to spark a program that is down. He returns to Liberty where he went 39-28 from 2007-09. Charleston Southern, who have earned regular season co-champion status in two of the last three Big South seasons, has a new look roster, led by transfers Demetrius Pollard and Patrick Wallace.
Last season, at one point in February, seven teams were tied for first place in the Big South. Four teams finished the season with 20 or more wins. Conference parity is expected to be just as rampant this season, as four teams (High Point, Coastal Carolina, Winthrop and Charleston Southern) received first-place votes in the preseason poll.
Mark Adams’ take: Elijah Wilson a 6-4 junior returns as the 2014-15 Big South Tournament MVP. Wilson was a consistent offensive threat down the stretch for Coach Cliff Ellis scoring in double figures six of the last seven games. … High Point’s John Brown is the model of consistency. Brown was ranked first in the Big South while scoring 19.3 points. The 6-8 senior added 6.0 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.0 blocks to his impressive resume.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
High Point’s John Brown wears two bulky rings on his fingers on his right hand, for two of the three regular-season titles he’s won with the Panthers. If he had rings for all the times he has been voted the preseason Player of the Year, too, he’d be out of real estate. Brown was named the Big South’s preseason MVP for the third consecutive season, a first in the conference. He averaged 19.3 points on 55-percent shooting last season, and added 6.0 rebounds per game.
Mark Adams’ take: DeSean Murray was one great freshman and was named Big South Freshman of the Year. He overcame injury to return in conference play and put up some remarkable numbers. Murray averaged 14.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and 53% on field goals.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Coastal Carolina’s Elijah Wilson, a 6-4 junior guard, was the Big South Tournament MVP last season after averaging 20.3 points in the conference tournament and leading his Chanticleers to the NCAA Tournament. Presbyterian College sophomore DeSean Murray was last year’s conference freshman of the year with 15.7 points on 51.9-percent shooting, and 8.2 rebounds. Gardner-Webb junior forward Tyrell Nelson led the Big South and was seventh in the nation in field-goal percentage last year with 60.9 percent while averaging 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds. Winthrop junior guard Keon Johnson averaged 11.5 points last season, and was fourth in the league with his 83-percent free-throw average.
Mark Adams’ take: D.J. Mason, a 6-6 senior is Campbell’s top rebounder (5.2 rpg) and second-leading scorer (11.2 ppg). … John Brown is the model of consistency. Brown was ranked first in the Big South while scoring 19.3 ppg.
GAMES TO WATCH
Seven games will be televised by ASN, beginning with Jan. 16th’s contest between Charleston Southern and Campbell. Conference favorite High Point plays at Liberty on Jan. 23 at noon, and two-time Big South tournament champs Coastal Carolina play at Radford on Feb. 6 at noon.
Mark Adams’ take: It’s basketball season!
Vote: Who is your choice to win the Big South?