College Sports

Davidson, Charlotte among Carolinas teams poised for basketball success

Davidson’s Jack Gibbs is fouled by St. Joseph’s Papa Ndao during an A-10 conference game in February.
Davidson’s Jack Gibbs is fouled by St. Joseph’s Papa Ndao during an A-10 conference game in February. TIM COWIE -

Duke and Kentucky are national powers and preseason men’s college basketball conference favorites this season, but a number of other Carolinas teams are poised for success.

That group includes Davidson and Charlotte, which loom as contenders in their conference races. Winthrop was the unanimous preseason pick in the Big South, and UNC Wilmington is forecast to repeat as Colonial Athletic champion.

In Division II, Queens University of Charlotte and Wingate are poised to give South Atlantic champion Lincoln Memorial – the No. 2 pick nationally in the preseason poll – a tough go.

Here is a look at men’s basketball in conferences with Carolinas schools:


Favorite: Duke.

Contenders: North Carolina, Virginia, Louisville, Syracuse.

Also: N.C. State, with No. 1 point guard recruit Dennis Smith Jr., could surprise.

Players to watch: 6-foot-4 G Grayson Allen (Duke); 6-7 F Jason Blossomgame (Clemson); 6-0 G Joel Berry II (North Carolina); 6-3 G Dennis Smith Jr. (N.C. State); 6-2 G London Perrantes (Virginia).

Comment: Duke and the four contenders are nationally ranked, and it figures to be a cast of familiar names atop the standings this season. Notre Dame and the Wolfpack could be spoilers.

American Athletic

Favorite: Cincinnati.

Contenders: Connecticut, Southern Methodist, Houston.

Also: East Carolina is picked seventh of 11 teams.

Players to watch: 6-3 G Troy Caupon (Cincinnati); 6-8 G-F Dedric Lawson (Memphis); 5-9 Fr. G Alterique Gilbert (Connecticut).

Comment: Coaches and writers are predicting a very close race between Cincinnati and Connecticut.

Atlantic 10

Favorite: Dayton.

Contenders: Rhode Island, Virginia Commonwealth.

Also: Davidson is picked fourth of 14 teams.

Players to watch: 6-5 G Charles Cooke (Dayton); 6-5 G E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island); 6-7 F Hassan Martin (Rhode Island); 6-6 F Mo Alie-Cox (Virginia Commonwealth).

Comment: Cooke and fellow guard Scoochie Smith lead Dayton. Davidson, with 6-0 G Jack Gibbs, will be a factor. Also watch George Washington, the reigning NIT champion.

Big South

Favorite: Winthrop.

Contenders: Liberty, UNC Asheville.

Also: Gardner-Webb is picked fourth of 10 teams.

Players to watch: 5-9 G Keon Johnson (Winthrop); 6-8 F Xavier Cooks (Winthrop); 6-7 F Tyrell Nelson (Gardner-Webb).

Comment: The Eagles were a unanimous No. 1 preseason pick by coaches – the first time they’ve been a Big South pick in eight seasons. They have three starters and 12 letter-winners back. Nelson, of Gardner-Webb, is a former Victory Christian standout in Charlotte.

Colonial Athletic

Favorite: UNC Wilmington

Contenders: Towson, William & Mary.

Also: Charleston is picked fourth and Elon eighth of 10 teams.

Players to watch: 6-5 G Chris Flemmings (UNC Wilmington); 6-7 F William Adal Mato (Towson); 6-7 F Jarrell Brantley (Charleston).

Comment: The Seahawks have three starters back from a 25-win NCAA team. Towson, which won 20 last season, also returns three starters. Charleston has all five starters back from a 17-14 squad.

Conference USA

Favorite: Alabama-Birmingham.

Contenders: Middle Tennessee State, Western Kentucky, Marshall.

Also: Charlotte is picked eighth of 14 teams.

Players to watch: 6-3 G Marcus Evans (Rice); 6-7 F William Lee (UAB); 6-8 F Chris Cokley (UAB); 6-8 F Erik McRee (Louisiana Tech).

Comment: The Blazers have four starters back from a 26-7 NIT team that went 16-2 in the conference. Middle Tennessee won the conference tournament and then shocked No. 2 seed Michigan State in the NCAA. Old Dominion, with four starters back from a team that won 15 of its last 18 in 2015-16, could threaten.

Mid-Eastern Athletic

Favorite: Howard.

Contenders: S.C. State, Hampton.

Also: N.C. Central is picked fourth and N.C. A&T seventh of 13 teams.

Players to watch: 6-0 G James Daniel III (Howard); 6-3 G Eric Eaves (S.C. State); 6-2 G Sam Hunt (N.C. A&T).

Comment: Daniel averaged 27 points last season for Howard. S.C. State reached the conference tournament final in 2015-16. Hampton is reigning champion but lost several starters.


Favorite: Kentucky.

Contenders: Florida, Texas A&M, Georgia.

Also: South Carolina is picked eighth of 14 teams.

Players to watch: 6-10 F Moses Kingsley (Arkansas); 6-10 F Edrice “Bam” Adebayo (Kentucky); 5-10 G J.J. Frazier (Georgia); 6-3 G De’Aaron Fox (Kentucky).

Comment: The Wildcats are preseason No. 2 in the country, but nobody else from the SEC is in the Top 25. Fox, a freshman, could be the league’s breakout star. Kentucky appears head and shoulders above the rest of the league.


Favorite: Chattanooga.

Contenders: East Tennessee State, Wofford.

Also: Furman and UNC Greensboro are tied for the fifth spot, Western Carolina is eighth, and The Citadel 10th of 10 teams in the preseason poll.

Players to watch: 6-5 Fr G Tre’ McLean (Chattanooga); 6-2 G Devin Sibley (Furman); 6-8 F Hanner Mosquera-Perea (East Tennessee State).

Comment: Look out for Chattanooga! The Mocs have four starters back from a 29-6 team. East Tennessee State was 24-12 a season ago and adds Mosquera-Perea, a transfer from Indiana.

Sun Belt

Favorite: Texas-Arlington.

Contenders: Arkansas-Little Rock, Georgia State.

Also: Coastal Carolina is picked fifth and Appalachian State 11th of 12 teams.

Players to watch: 6-9 F Kevin Hervey (Texas-Arlington); 6-2 G Devin Carter (Arkansas State); 6-0 G Tookie Brown (Georgia Southern); 6-2 G Marcus Johnson Jr. (Arkansas-Little Rock).

Comment: Little Rock is reigning champion but lost coach Chris Beard to Texas Tech. Texas-Arlington has all five starters back from a 24-win team. Coastal Carolina, in the league for the first time, has a well-balanced team that could be a factor.


Favorite: Virginia State (North and overall), Fayetteville State (South).

Contenders: Virginia Union and Bowie (North); Winston-Salem State and Shaw (South).

Also: Johnson C. Smith is picked fourth of six teams in the South.

Players to watch: 6-5 G Marco Haskins (Chowan); 6-2 G Joshua Dawson (Fayetteville State); 6-1 G Robert Davis III (Johnson C. Smith); 6-8 F Elijah Moore (Virginia State).

Comment: Virginia State (14-2 in league, 24-6 overall last season) has six regulars returning, but Virginia Union has two preseason all-conference picks.

Conference Carolinas

Favorite: King.

Contenders: Barton, Limestone.

Also: Pfeiffer is picked seventh and Belmont Abbey ninth of 10 teams.

Players to watch: 5-11 G C.J. Good (King); 5-11 G Danny Shand (Barton); 6-6 F Malcolm St. Louis (King).

Comment: King has most of its regulars back from a team that won the regular-season and conference tournament titles. Barton was last season’s runner-up.

South Atlantic

Favorite: Lincoln Memorial.

Contenders: Queens University of Charlotte, Wingate.

Players to watch: 6-4 F Isaiah Cureton (Wingate); 6-3 G Luquon Choice (Lincoln Memorial).

Comment: First place is easy. Lincoln Memorial, the NCAA Division II national runner-up last season, is No. 2 in this year’s preseason poll. Queens just missed a Top 25 national preseason ranking. The Royals lost their top three scorers but have a highly regarded freshman recruiting class. Wingate has its top two scorers returning – Cureton, who played at Cuthbertson High in Waxhaw; and G Mike Baez, a product of United Faith Christian in Charlotte.