2013-2014 Big South Preview: High Point, Charleston Southern return strong in league with sleepers

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

High Point and Charleston Southern finished atop the North and South Division standings last season, both teams fell at the hands of Liberty — a team that lost 20 games and didn’t beat a Division I opponent until Dec. 31 — in the Big South tournament. Liberty went on to steal the automatic bid, and narrowly missed advancing to the field of 64 after dropping a one-point game to North Carolina A&T in the First Four.

The Panthers and Buccaneers return strong teams again this season, and while both should be atop the regular season standings, the Big South will be one of the conferences to experience chaos come March. High Point returns sixth-year forward Allan Chaney, but more importantly redshirt sophomore forward John Brown has recovered from the broken right foot he suffered at the beginning of March. Charleston Southern has one of the best back courts in the conference returning with Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper. The duo both averaged more than 15 points a game for the Buccaneers, but they will have to replace starters Mathiang Muo and Jeremy Sexton.

While High Point and Charleston Southern are once again the projected favorites in their respective divisions, several teams looked poised to be this year’s Cinderella come spring. Radford has one of the best perimeter attacks with the trio of Ya Ya Anderson, R.J. Price and leading scorer and rebounder Javonte Green. They’re a young team but they may have enough returners to make that jump. Charleston Southern will battle a pair of contenders in its own division as well, as Winthrop and Gardner Webb both return multiple starters.

PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Brown, High Point

The redshirt forward was named freshman of the year after averaging 16.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Panthers. His season was cut short, and High Point’s NCAA tournament hopes were dashed when he broke his foot a week before the conference tournament. He’s one of the nations most exciting players to watch:

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern: Charleston Southern has some of the best returning guard play in the Big South with Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper. The 5-foot-8 Nimley was the team’s top scorer and fourth in the Big South in assists last season.
  • Davon Marshall, Liberty: The Flames senior guard scorched nets down the stretch with his 3-point shooting. The senior guard shot 43 percent on the season and shot 18-of-32 during a four game stretch beginning in the Big South quarterfinals and ending in the First Four for his 20-loss Liberty team.
  • D.J. Covington, VMI: The 6-foot-9 forward averaged 15.0 points, 7.2 boards and 3.0 blocks per game last season. He’ll have a bigger role with the loss of Stan Okoye, who averaged almost a double-double last season.
  • Javonte Green, Radford: The junior wing led the Highlanders in scoring and rebounding last season with 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Radford has one of the conferences best perimeter attacks with Green, Ya Ya Anderson and R.J. Price.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @BigSouthSports

PREDICTED FINISH:

North

1. High Point
2. Liberty
3. Radford
4. VMI
5. Longwood
6. Campbell

South

1. Charleston Southern
2. Winthrop
3. Gardner Webb
4. Coastal Carolina
5. UNC-Asheville
6. Presbyterian

Grand Canyon lands Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson

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Grand Canyon landed an important piece for its NCAA tournament push on Saturday night as Oregon graduate transfer guard Casey Benson pledged to the Antelopes.

The 6-foot-3 Benson will be eligible right away as spent the past three seasons with the Ducks as a key reserve guard, helping Oregon to multiple deep NCAA tournament runs. Benson picked Grand Canyon over Wisconsin for his final season of college basketball as Benson’s brother, T.J., is an assistant coach with the Antelopes.

Benson shot 40 percent from three-point range last season while also being a steady ball handler over the course of his career at Oregon as he has only 81 career turnovers in over 2,600 career minutes with the Ducks. While Benson wasn’t asked to score a lot for a loaded Oregon team that featured multiple bucket-getters, he could be asked to do more at Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon is eligible for the NCAA tournament for the first time next season as the addition of Benson gives them an experienced guard who should be more of a factor in the WAC. The Antelopes are coming off of a 22-9 season in which they finished 11-3 in conference play.

With great facilities and a quickly-growing fan base, head coach Dan Majerle has the potential makings of a perennial mid-major conference contender if he continues to recruit well to Grand Canyon.

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averaged 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.