Vannatta, a junior from Upper Arlington, Ohio, started all 34 games for the Bulldogs last year, averaging 11.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game while shooting 50.6 percent from the field and 37.8 percent from 3-point range. It looks, though , like he might be working on extending his range.
INTRODUCING CINDERELLA: Meet the UNC Asheville Bulldogs
Names you need to know: G Dylan Smith (13.6 ppg), G Kevin Vannatta (11.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg), G Dwayne Sutton (11.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg), G Ahmad Thomas (11.3 ppg, 6.4 rpg), F Sam Hughes (10.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Stats you need to know: The Bulldogs don’t have much in the way of height, as the tallest member of their rotation is 6-foot-6 forward Will Weeks (6-foot-10 forward John Cannon has played in just 16 games this season). Where that hurts them defensively is inside the arc, as opponents are shooting 51.7 percent from two. But the Bulldogs can really get after teams on the perimeter, as they force turnovers on more than 22 percent of their opponents’ possessions and limit teams to 28.8 percent shooting from three. Offensively they’ve been good at using their quickness to attack teams off the bounce, and that has led to a free throw rate that ranks 44th nationally. UNC Asheville entered Sunday shooting 45.9 percent from the field and 32.5 percent from three.
Big wins, bad losses: The win that grabbed the most attention for the Bulldogs during non-conference play was the 79-73 victory at Georgetown December 19. But thanks to the Hoyas’ tailspin, it’s UNC Asheville’s win over ETSU four days prior that represents their lone RPI Top 100 win of the season. UNC Asheville also beat Winthrop twice this season, most recently in the Big South title game. As for “questionable” defeats, getting swept by Radford may be the biggest blemish on the Bulldogs’ résumé. Four of UNC Asheville’s six Big South losses came against teams that finished in the top four of the league standings.
How’d they get here?: As the four seed in the Big South tournament, UNC Asheville beat No. 5 Liberty 80-49, No. 1 High Point 80-69 and No. 2 Winthrop 77-68 to earn the conference’s automatic bid. The Bulldogs ended the regular season with three losses in their last five games, so they didn’t show up in Buies Creek playing their best basketball. And with Hughes being the lone senior among their top five scorers (the rest are either freshmen or sophomores), this may not be the first rodeo for this particular group.
Outlook: They’re going to be an interesting matchup for someone, especially if their opponent doesn’t have enough size to take advantage of UNC Asheville’s lack of it. Sutton was outstanding throughout the Big South tournament, capping the weekend with a 23-point, 18-rebound performance in the win over Winthrop, and this team’s offensive balance makes them a tough group to defend. Picking a 16-seed to beat a one-seed on your bracket would be a big gamble, but UNC Asheville is capable of being a team that grabs the nation’s attention late in their first round matchup.
How do I know you?: They made three NCAA tournament appearances under former head coach Eddie Biedenbach, the most recent of which came in 2012. And as mentioned above, their win over Georgetown (before we realized just how bad the Hoyas are) grabbed some attention back in December.
Big South Preview: Can John Brown take down Coastal Carolina?
Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Big South Conference.
A month before the Big South Tournament started, seven teams were tied for first place in the conference standings. Once the tournament began, the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds were bounced in the quarterfinals. Despite all the parity and chaos in the league, the tournament champion remained the same.
Coastal Carolina is eyeing a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament in its final season in the Big South before moving to the Sun Belt Conference.
The Chanticleers bring back Elijah Wilson, the Big South Tournament MVP, point guard Shivaughn Wiggins and power forward Badou Diagne. That trio could make a three-peat possible. Coastal Carolina boasted one of the conference’s most efficient offenses and defenses, and tops in both offensive and defensive rebounding 2014-15. The production of graduating guards Warren Gillis and Josh Cameron won’t be easily replaced, but if they defend and crash the boards like they’ve done in the past, the Chanticleers will be in a good position when they host the Big South Tournament again in March.
Like the Chanticleers, many of the teams across the Big South have lost start players. Of the 15 players named to the all-conference teams last March, only two of them return this season.
One of them is High Point senior John Brown, the ultra-athletic and physically imposing forward. Through his first three years he’s averaged 18.5 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. He’s helped the Panthers win at least a share of the last three regular season titles, but has no NCAA tournament appearances to show for it. Click here and check out some of the dunks he’s thrown down over the years. Now imagine him playing on the first Thursday or Friday of the NCAA tournament. Fun, right? Surrounded by a cast of upperclassmen, Brown could finally get that shot this spring.
Winthrop graduated two double-digit scorers, including first-team selection Keon Moore. Keon Johnson will be the key holder over in a new-look perimeter that could feature not one, but two Division II transfers. Jimmy Gavin’s amazing journey was chronicled back in May. Roderick Perkins, a 6-foot-5 wing, was the second-leading scorer in all of D2 in 2013-14. Winthrop’s defense, rated as the most efficient in the Big South, returns a pair of shot-blockers — Xavier Cooks and Duby Okeke — the frontline. Zach Price, the former Louisville and Missouri big man, is eligible this season, as well.
Longwood could be a dangerous team, especially if the Lancers can get quality play from the back court. The Lancers have one conference’s best front courts. Shaquille Johnson is one of the league’s top athletes. Lotanna Nwogbo, the 6-foot-8 forward, is back after missing the last 17 games of conference play with a thumb ligament tear. In three full Big South contest, he was averaging 19.3 points and 12.0 boards per game. Gardner-Webb is dealing with the loss of Jerome Hill and Tyler Strange, but returns six of its top nine scorers, including Tyrell Nelson. Radford should be another potential sleeper. YaYa Anderson is joined by senior Rashun Davis and Cameron Jones, the potential breakout star of the league.
Favorite: “In my mind, it would probably be High Point. There will be several teams that have really good players back, but High Point has several really good players back and John Brown has been one of the top players in the league for the last three years. Probably the team with the most experience, top to bottom, coming back is Coastal. I think they have four starters back, but I think they lose two really good players. On paper, as you look at it, Coastal makes sense to pick first.”
Sleeper: “I think a lot of people would say Longwood. I think they have a talented roster and they have a player on their team (Lotanna Nwogbo) I think a lot of people would talk about having a chance to be one of the better players in the league. He got hurt the second or third game in the conference season.”
Star to watch: “I’d say John Brown should be the favorite for preseason player of the year. There are a lot of good ones, but he’s definitely been really good for a long period of time. I think it starts with his motor and how hard he competes and how physical he is. He just stays after it every possession. He really plays so hard on both ends. He’s great at working at working on catching the ball at the rim and using his size and athleticism to score in the paint. Then he’ll get stuff in transition and on the offensive glass. He’s a monster.”
PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Brown, High Point
Brown, maybe the best dunker in all of college basketball, returns for his senior season after averaging 19.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per game in 2014-15. The 6-foot-8 nightmare matchup plays with a consistent motor. He understands angles and where to position himself on the floor in order to get easy buckets. Brown also creates opportunities for himself in the open floor and offensive glass.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON BIG SOUTH TEAM:
Tyrell Nelson, Gardner-Webb: The 6-foot-7 center was top-10 in the Big South in both scoring and rebounding at 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a night.
Elijah Wilson, Coastal Carolina: Had a strong finish to last season, earning Big South Tournament MVP honors. The 6-foot-4 guard is the top returning scorer at 11.3 points per game.
Shaquille Johnson, Longwood: The best athlete in the conference not named John Brown, Johnson averaged 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 steals per game last season.
DeSean Murray, Presbyterian: The Blue Hose will rely heavily on the 6-foot-5 sophomore, who recorded five double-doubles during conference play last season.
Andrew Rowsey, a UNC Asheville transfer guard, announced he had committed to Marquette on Sunday afternoon via Twitter.
The 5-foot-10 guard was one of the top scorers in his two seasons in the Big South Conference. He will have two years of eligibility remaining after he sits out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules. Rowsey was also considering Cincinnati and N.C. State.
Rowsey joins Henry Ellenson, Traci Carter, Haanif Cheatham, Matt Heldt and Sacar Anim in Marquette’s incoming recruiting class.
Rowsey averaged 19.7 points per game in 63 appearances with the Bulldogs. He also shot better than 38 percent from three in both seasons.
Andrew Rowsey announced on Wednesday night that he will be transferring out of the UNC Asheville program.
“I want to thank Asheville for a wonderful experience the last two years,” Rowsey wrote on Instagram. “I appreciate all of the support the community, my teammates, the coaches and the staff have given me. Asheville will always be a home of mine.”
Rowsey will likely be a sought-after transfer target. The 5-foot-10 lead guard averaged 20.3 points as a freshman in 2013-14, following that up by averaging 19.2 points this past season.
The Lexington, Virginia, native will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, although he will have to sit out the 2015-16 season due to NCAA transfer rules.
2014-2015 Season Preview: Coastal Carolina, High Point early favorites in competitive Big South
The Big South will be one of the most entertaining mid-major conferences to follow this season, and it’s not just because of the absurd about of young talent in the league. Let’s talk about that before I get into the meat and potatoes of this preview. The best player in the conference, High Point’s John Brown, is a junior this year. Last year’s leading scorer, Andrew Rowsey of UNC Asheville, is a sophomore this season. The leading scorer on Coastal Carolina, the team that won the automatic bid last year and the favorite to win the league this season, was now-sophomore Elijah Wilson. How many leagues can make that same claim, particularly at that level?
It’s not just the talent in the league that’s exciting, however. Last season, seven of the 12 teams in the Big South won at least 10 games, with six teams finishing within two games of regular season champ High Point. While VMI has left the conference for the SoCon, there are still enough quality teams here to make this regular season title race wild.
It starts with Coastal Carolina, who will strengthen what is the best perimeter attack in the conference. Wilson returns, as does senior point guard Warren Gillis, the best player on the Chanticleers. Add in senior Josh Cameron and transfer Shivaughn Wiggins, who may end up being the best point guard on the roster, and Cliff Ellis has himself some serious back court talent.
Should I mention that the Big South tournament is played at the HTC Center, Coastal’s home floor?
The biggest question mark, however, is CCU’s front court simply because they don’t have anyone on the roster that can matchup with Brown, a 6-foot-8 athletic specimen that led High Point with averages of 19.5 points and 7.7 boards. Brown is a workhorse that creates all kinds of matchup problems with opponents because, quite frankly, he has no business being a Big South player. Sharpshooter Devante Wallace, who hit nearly 60% of his threes in league play, is back, as is Adam Weary. The x-factor for this group will be sophomore Anthony Lindauer, who played well when HPU’s starting point guard got hurt last year.
Anyone looking at last year’s standings may not realize this, but Charleston Southern is a team to keep a very close eye on this year. They entered last season as the favorites to win the league, but injuries to Saah Nimley and Arlon Harper derailed their season. Those two are reportedly healthy now, and if they are, the Buccaneers will be a factor in the conference race.
Radford brings back five seniors from last year’s team, headlined by Javonte Green, who may be the best player in the conference not named John Brown. He’s a bit undersized at 6-foot-4, but he scores, rebounds and defends well. Size will be an issue, however, as there are times the Highlanders play Green at the four with three guards on the floor. UNC Asheville will never be out of a game when Rowsey is on the floor, but losing Jaron Lane and big man D.J. Cunningham will be a lot to overcome.
Winthrop returns four starters, including another standout sophomore in Keon Johnson. The Eagles will be a serious threat to win the league if former Louisville and Missouri center Zach Price gets a waiver to be eligible immediately. Gardner-Webb brings back Jerome Hill, but they lose three starters, including Naji Hibbert and Donta Harper.
PRESEASON BIG SOUTH PLAYER OF THE YEAR: John Brown, High Point
Brown has been one of the most productive players in the country since he made his debut with the Panthers two seasons ago. Expect much of the same from the reigning Big South Player of the Year, and don’t be surprised when one of the nation’s hardest-working big men routinely makes it on Sportscenter’s Top Ten.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-BIG SOUTH TEAM:
Andrew Rowsey, UNC-Asheville, So.: Rowsey averaged 20.3 points as a freshman, the second person to ever do that. The first? Seth Curry. And he’s just getting started.
Saah Nimley, Charleston Southern, Sr.: Nimley is just 5-foot-8, but he’s one of the best mid-major players in the country … when healthy.
Javonte Green, Radford, Sr.: A 6-foot-4 forward, Green averaged 16.9 points and 8.1 boards last season.
Warren Gillis, Coastal Carolina, Sr.: Gillis, a point guard, was the best player on the Big South’s conference tournament champion last season.