CHARLOTTE, N.C. After collecting 75 wins and two regular-season conference championships over the last three years, the Coastal Carolina men’s basketball team is again expected to be among the Big South’s best -- but two other programs drew more respect in the league’s preseason coaches and media poll.
The Chanticleers were picked second in the conference’s South Division behind Charleston Southern while Campbell drew the most first-place votes atop the North Division as the poll was released Tuesday during the Big South’s annual basketball media day inside the Renaissance Suites Hotel.
And all told, CCU coach Cliff Ellis had no qualms with his team’s placement. He’ll be the first to admit his Chants have their share of uncertainties as they prepare for the start of practice Friday.
“Charleston Southern is favored -- they should be,” Ellis said. “When it comes to returning people, they’ve got so many weapons that are back. It’s new territory for them, but the pieces are in place for them to do something. ... It will go in cycles for sure, but when you look at our [division] you have to say that it’s, to me, a very tough side and on paper it looks to be the toughest.”
The Buccaneers received 16 of 29 first-place votes, the Chants drew eight and Campbell led the way with 21 of 29 first-place votes on the other side.
This is the first season for the league’s new divisional format as it expands to 12 teams with the addition of Longwood.
Charleston Southern, which went 19-12 overall and placed fourth in the league last year, will be led by its returning starting backcourt in sophomore guards Saah Nimley -- a preseason first-team all-league pick -- and preseason second-teamer Arlon Harper. But coach Barclay Radebaugh shared Ellis’ sentiments in regard to the competition he expects from the rest of the division challengers.
“This year is just so wide open,” Radebaugh said in addressing the room after the poll was unveiled. “There’s so many incoming people it’s hard to tell who’s going to be what by the end of the year.”
That especially applies to Coastal.
The Chants, who were 19-12 overall and second in the regular-season standings last season, return three proven senior guards in Kierre Greenwood, Anthony Raffa and Danny Nieman, but they will be counting on the impacts of several freshmen to fill key roles in their frontcourt.
Raffa, the league’s sixth-leading scorer at 16.7 points per game as a junior, was named to the Big South’s preseason first-team while Greenwood earned second-team status. Coastal would have had one of the most experienced rosters in the league if veteran forward Sam McLaurin had remained in that mix as well, but he instead opted to play out his senior season at Illinois while pursuing a graduate program not offered by CCU.
Which leaves the Chants as a bit of an unknown collectively.
“We’re going to be dependent upon a lot of freshmen,” Ellis said. “I like their skill level. I like their willingness to work. I like this team. But I also have to understand -- and we all have to understand -- that patience is going to be a virtue. There is some learning that has to be done and we have to look at the long haul.”
Ellis expects some combination of 6-foot-7 Alioune Diagne, 6-foot-5 Michel Enanga, 6-foot-7 Tristian Curtis and 6-foot-8 Uros Ljeskovic -- all true freshmen -- as well 6-foot-10 junior college transfer El Hadji Ndieguene to fill the void down low. He likened the challenge to his first season at Coastal in 2007-08.
“It kind of takes me back to when I first got here because at that point of time we just didn’t know each other,” Ellis said. “So I kind of feel very similar -- not quite [the same] but very similar -- to the first year or two that I was here. But the fact that we got Kierre, Raffa and Nieman and even [sophomore guard Warren Gillis], I have a little bit of idea [what to expect].”
Greenwood is entering his fourth season as the team’s starting point guard and coming off a junior campaign in which he averaged a career-high 11.1 points per game while ranking second in the Big South with 5.04 assists per contest.
Nieman, who made 13 starts and averaged 4.4 points a season ago, has been sidelined the last three weeks with a toe injury and isn’t expected to resume practicing until Nov. 1 -- eight days before the season-opener against Akron.
Raffa, meanwhile, was the team’s leading scorer last year and quite often its instigator and has taken on a vocal role in workouts to help bring the young players up to speed -- a process that amps up Friday as the team formally begins its preseason preparations.
“We’ll know a lot more in the next month as we make this journey and go up and down the floor a little bit more,” Ellis said.
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318.