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

Syracuse’s Tyus Battle to test NBA draft waters

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Syracuse announced on Friday afternoon that sophomore guard Tyus Battle will be declaring for the NBA draft without signing with an agent, giving him until the NCAA’s May 30th deadline to withdraw from contention and return to school.

Battle averaged 19.2 points as a sophomore for the Orange, who made a surprising run to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.

He is a projected late-first round or early-second round pick given his size, shooting ability and skill with the ball in his hands.

Losing Battle would be a massive blow to a Syracuse team that is already going to be without Matthew Moyer, who transferred out of the program, and Dareus Bazley, who is heading to the G League instead of enrolling in college.

Maryland’s Kevin Huerter declares for NBA draft, won’t hire agent

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Maryland wing Kevin Huerter announced on Friday afternoon that he will be declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, giving him the option of returning to school by May 30th.

“This will be a great experience for Kevin to get honest feedback from NBA teams and executives,” said head coach Mark Turgeon. “Taking advantage of this opportunity will allow Kevin and his family to make an informed decision about his future.”

Huerter is a 6-foot-7 wing known for his ability to shoot from the perimeter. He averaged 14.8 points and shot 42 percent from three as a sophomore.

He is also the third player from Maryland to declare for the 2018 NBA Draft. Justin Jackson, a borderline first round pick who missed time last season with a shoulder injury, has signed with an agent while Bruno Fernando is testing the waters. Maryland, who has an excellent recruiting class coming in, will be a preseason top 20 team if Huerter and Fernando both return to school.

Huerter is a borderline first round pick.

Michigan’s Charles Matthews to test NBA draft waters

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Michigan guard Charles Matthews announced on Friday that he will be declaring for the NBA draft, but that he does not intend to sign with an agent, meaning he has until May 30th to withdraw from the draft and return to school.

“After careful consideration with my parents and coaching staff, I am excited to announce that I will be declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft without hiring an agent,” said Matthews. “I give thanks to the Lord for this amazing opportunity, as well as the entire University of Michigan for their support. Go Blue!”

Matthews, a redshirt sophomore that averaged 13.0 points and 5.5 boards for the national runners-up, was a four-star prospect coming out of Chicago and spent his freshman season at Kentucky.

Matthews is a likely second round pick with the potential to climb into the first round should he prove to be a more consistent three-point shooter. He shot just 31.8 percent from beyond the arc this past season.

Virginia’s Hunter to return to school for sophomore season

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De’Andre Hunter announced on Friday afternoon that he will not be entering his name into the NBA draft and will return to Virginia for his redshirt sophomore season, a decision that will have as much of an impact on the 2018-19 college basketball season as any that is made this spring.

Hunter, now a potential top ten pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 season. A 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, Hunter averaged 9.2 points and 3.5 boards while shooting 38.2 percent from three in just under 20 minutes a night for a Virginia team whose pace severely limits the kind of numbers a player like him can put up.

Throw in his ability to defend on the perimeter and in the paint, and Hunter is precisely the kind of player that NBA teams are looking to land as basketball becomes more and more built on positional versatility and the ability to space the floor.

And it’s that versatility that will make Hunter so important for the Cavaliers next season.

Let’s go beyond the simple fact that he is going to be the only guy on the Virginia roster that can create his own shot against length and athleticism and that there is a chance that he could end up being an all-american next season if things play out the right way. What makes Hunter so important to Virginia his that his defensive versatility is what allows Virginia to matchup with teams that want to try and play small-ball against them.

That’s precisely what UMBC did in the first round of the NCAA tournament, a game that Hunter missed with a broken wrist. We all know how that played out, and I’m not even dumb enough to pin all the blame of a 20-point loss to a No. 16 seed on a guy that played less than 20 minutes a night.

Virginia choked once they realized that there was a chance this could happen, but I would argue that a major reason they couldn’t ever truly assert their dominance was because they were unable to matchup with UMBC’s four-guard lineup without Hunter.

With Hunter back, Virginia is the No. 6 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25. If he had declared for the draft and signed with an agent, I’m not sure I would have had the Wahoos in the top 20.

He takes Tony Bennett’s club from simply being good to once against being a contender for the ACC regular season title.

Vanderbilt the sixth Kentucky player declares for the NBA draft

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Jarred Vanderbilt is now the sixth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA draft this spring, joining P.J. Washington and Wenyen Gabriel in testing the waters without signing with an agent.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo have all declared for the draft and signed with an agent.

Vanderbilt announced his decision on Friday afternoon.

“This season wasn’t easy for me,” Vanderbilt said. “At the end of the day, my goal has always been to make it to the NBA.”

“I know I have more to my game to show, but now I’ve got to figure out if the time is right for me to do it at the next level or if I would be better to return to school.”

Vanderbilt missed the first 17 games of his freshman season with a left foot injury, a foot that he had injured twice before during his high school career. He then missed all four of Kentucky’s postseason games with a left ankle injury, and there is a chance that he could end up needing surgery to correct this issue this offseason.

All told, the 6-foot-9 Vanderbilt played in 14 games as a freshman, averaging 5.9 points and 7.9 boards in just 17 minutes a night. But issues with his ability to shoot from the perimeter and a lower left leg that has proven to be extremely problematic, there is a good chance that Vanderbilt would go undrafted should he decide to turn pro.