Basketball

Is Winthrop the Big South’s most exciting team? Unofficial superlatives from media day

There’s no question that a lot can be discerned from preseason conference rankings.

In the Big South Conference’s case on the men’s side, the fact that three teams earned first-place votes means there is a perception of parity among the league’s best. Other preseason accolades — like preseason all-conference teams and preseason players of the year — can reveal a lot, too.

But no matter what these media selections imply, questions will always emerge from them: How much do these rankings mean? Are coaches more qualified to speak on the state of the league than those who cover it? What other variables can paint a picture of the conference’s landscape?

To supplement the official preseason rankings and to help quell some of these legitimate queries, The Herald conducted its own (very unofficial, considerably revealing) survey, asking the league’s 11 men’s basketball coaches to weigh in on five simple questions.

Toughest place to play?

Charleston Southern.

This question was the closest to having a unanimous answer than any other question — and there still was debate. Charleston Southern plays in the Buccaneer Fieldhouse, a relatively small facility known for regularly fielding standing-room only crowds. Its record attendance is 1,157, which occurred at a basketball game versus High Point in 2015.

Several coaches also mentioned that CSU crowds were loud and raucous, which contribute to why it’s tough to play there.

Honorable mentions: Radford, Gardner-Webb and Campbell.

Least favorite team to play?

Radford and Winthrop.

Maybe the most indicative mark of the Big South’s closeness in competition is the fact that different coaches dislike playing different teams. Case in point, besides USC Upstate and Presbyterian College, every school was mentioned in this category.

The selection of Radford, the league’s reigning champion that’s picked to win again, is self-explanatory. The Highlanders are returning five seniors, as well as redshirt junior Carlick Jones, a first-team all-conference selection last year.

Winthrop earned as many mentions as Radford did for this question: The Eagles have welcomed seven new players to its program this summer — which perhaps has contributed to Winthrop’s formidability.

Most exciting team?

Winthrop.

Campbell, with its Princeton offense and with having Chris Clemons as a recent graduate, and Charleston Southern each had two mentions to this question. Winthrop was mentioned three times.

Perhaps Winthrop’s legacy of having exciting guards who can push the game’s pace — tagged with a deeper interior presence with senior Josh Ferguson and redshirt freshman D.J. Burns — tipped the vote in the Eagles’ favor.

Best player?

Carlick Jones, Radford.

Jones was chosen to be the Big South Conference’s preseason player of the year by the media — and the league’s coaches largely agreed. In 31 games played, Jones averaged 15.7 points and 5.8 assists per game last season.

Jermaine Marrow of Hampton received three mentions, one less than Jones. The guard from Newport News, Va., is coming off a junior season when he averaged 24.4 points and 4.9 assists per game. He also shot 37 percent from three.

Honorable mention: Cory Hightower (Presbyterian College); Jose Perez (Gardner Webb); Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (Charleston Southern).

Best player the league doesn’t know to look out for yet?

Phlandrous Fleming, Charleston Southern; and Chandler Vaudrin, Winthrop.

Surprisingly, Big South coaches were quite comfortable answering this question. Several had a few answers at the ready.

Phlandrous Fleming Jr. of Charleston Southern only started 11 times as a sophomore for the Buccaneers in the 2018-19 season, but he finished second on the team with 12.5 points per game. He earned a spot on the Big South All-Freshman team the year before.

Winthrop’s Chandler Vaudrin also received attention from more than one coach in this question. Vaudrin, a redshirt junior transfer from Walsh, is a 6-foot-7 guard who led the nation at all levels in triple doubles in the 2017-18 season. He earned first team All-Great Midwest Athletic Conference honors two seasons ago, and in that year, he broke the GMAC record with 16 assists in a single game.

He didn’t play in any games last season due to his transfer.

Honorable mentions: John-Michael Wright (High Point); Michael Isler Jr. (Presbyterian College); Dontrell Shuler (Charleston Southern); Everette Hammond (USC Upstate); Jesús Carralero (Campbell); Leslie NKereuwem (Longwood).

Alex Zietlow covers sports for The Herald, where he has been an editor and reporter since August 2019. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in May 2019 and was a summer sports intern for The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., prior to coming to Rock Hill.
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