Coastal Carolina, coming off a 28-7 record a year ago, was the favorite to win the 2010-11 Big South Conference men's basketball championship according to the league's annual preseason poll of head coaches and a media panel. The results were revealed Tuesday in Charlotte as part of the Tip-Off Media Luncheon.
Liberty was the pick, as is customary, on the women's side. The Flames were chosen first for the 13th time in the last 14 seasons. Gardner-Webb was a close second.
It is the first time since 1993-94 and the fourth time overall Coastal is the Big South's preseason No. 1. The Chanticleers have six returners back from last year's NIT squad and will gain the services of USC transfer Mike Holmes on Dec. 13.
Coastal earned 10 of 24 first place votes. Four others received at least one first place tally.
Coastal was picked eighth out of 10 teams in last year's preseason poll. The Chants showed that the predictions are an educated guess at best and went on to make believers out of many in the conference. They won the regular season wit ha 15-3 league mark.
"You can't get caught up in whether you are No. 8 or No. 1. You've gotta play games," Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis said. The 1999 National Coach of the Year will begin his fourth season in Conway next month.
Ellis talked fondly of last season on Tuesday. He knows the conference won't be surprised by the Chanticleers this season and he expects to get everyone's best shot.
Winthrop put an end to Coastal's NCAA Tournament hopes with a 64-53 win in Conway in the Big South Championship game.
The Eagles, 19-14 in 2009-10, were picked to finish second. They are a team with many question marks.
Winthrop lost its best defender when Mantoris Robinson played his final game last March. The team struggled shooting the ball last year. In the NCAA Play-In game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff Winthrop went just 2-for-21 (9.5 percent) from three-point range and shot 29.1 percent for the game in a 61-44 loss. And, they will be thin at the post position to start the season.
Eagles coach Randy Peele praised Coastal Carolina's potential. He said the post combo of Chad Gray, a preseason All-Conference pick, and Mike Holmes was as good as any in the league.
"There is no way to know what (Holmes) is going to do," Peele said. "It depends on his personal makeup. What I do know is he averaged 11 points per game in the SEC. If you go by what he's done in the past I think he will be one of the best post players in the league."
High Point's Nick Barbour was named the preseason Player of the Year. The junior guard was second is scoring last season at 18.9 points per game. He enters the 2010-11 season just 26 points shy of 1,000 for his career.
"He is a prolific scorer," Peele said. "He is streaky. He gets his shot off quick and makes a huge impact on the game when he's on."
Liberty redshirt-sophomore Devon Brown was the choice for preseason women's Player of the Year. The 5-foot-10 guard/forward was a First Team All-Conference selection last season. She led the Big South by scoring 17.2 points and was third in rebounding at 8.2 per contest.
Brown was the first freshman (true of redshirt) to lead the league in scoring since 1996-97 and was one of four freshmen nationally to average at least 17 points and 8 rebounds per game.
The Flames lost just one starter, point guard Amber Mays, from last year's NCAA team as the Flames finished 27-6. In addition to Brown, 6-3 redshirt-junior forward Avery Warley was named to the preseason All-Conference team.
The Flames are deep. Jalena Antic was an All-Freshman Team selection last year. Guards Dymond Morgan and Brittany Campbell are seasoned and freshmen point guard Emily Frazier could see floor time right away.
Liberty coach Carey Green is ready to begin his 12th season at the school and won't overlook anyone in the conference.
The Flames were beaten twice in the regular-season last year by Gardner-Webb. But Liberty won the conference tournament championship on Brown's last-second shot.
"Gardner-Webb has certainly got our attention," Green said. "High Point has four of five seniors and will play on their home court in the conference tournament. Charleston Southern can shoot the 3 with anyone in the country. And (Coastal Carolina's Sydnei) Moss is as good a basketball player as there is in the league."
The Winthrop Lady Eagles, 13-18 last season, were picked to finish seventh in the nine-team Big South Conference.
The 2010-11 basketball season opens Nov. 12 for both men's and women's teams.