CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern head coach Barclay Radebaugh knows his 2017-18 club will take time to mature. The Bucs feature ten newcomers, with five freshmen expected to play important roles. Youth, though, has been a positive for a CSU team high on energy heading into Friday night's season opener at Davidson.
"Our chemistry has been really, really impressive and it's made for a lot of fun this fall," Radebaugh said. "We've been real excited about the enthusiasm. There's an undeniable chemistry out there, an undeniable competitiveness and just a joy for playing. This group has a good time playing the game and makes a real effort to be coachable while showing a strong desire to improve. We're excited to see what we can become."
*= Redshirted last season
What to Watch
Guard your yard
The combination of a longer, more athletic roster and the addition of assistant head coach Rick Duckett makes Radebaugh optimistic CSU can make significant strides defensively this season. The Bucs allowed opponents to shoot 46 percent overall and 36 percent from three-point range last year.
"Rick has brought us an expertise on the defensive side of the ball that has been refreshing, enjoyable and significant," said Radebaugh of Duckett, a 30-year coaching veteran who spent the last five seasons at Miami (Ohio). "Our guys have really taken on the challenge of improving defensively. I know we've seen significant improvement through our intra-squad scrimmages and our scrimmages versus outside opponents."
It's good to have options
CSU returns two of its three leading scorers from last season in guards Christian Keeling and Cortez Mitchell. Along with fourth-year forward Javis Howard, the backcourt gives the Bucs a strong, experienced nucleus to build around.
The growth of that trio in the offseason, along with the influx of new talent, makes Radebaugh confident CSU can become a good deal more explosive offensively.
"The ability to shoot the ball makes this offense work and we've got a bunch of guys that can shoot the ball. We've got two or three that are elite shooters. Offensively, we're gonna be much more versatile."
"We've got three or four additional weapons with good size and athleticism that can get to the rim and also shoot from the outside," Radebaugh continued. "We won't be quite as one-dimensional and we've already seen the chemistry spread over into the offensive side, too."
Junior Travis McConico, who spent the last two seasons at Florida State College at Jacksonville, is perhaps the newcomer most ready to score immediately. McConico had a team-high 20 points in CSU's exhibition win over Southern Wesleyan last Friday.
"When you look up in our rafters and see the two banners we've put up there during our time at CSU, both of those came when we had a tremendous 'stretch four.' Mathiang (Muo) and Will (Saunders) brought us an ability to stretch the floor and run some things offensively that we weren't able to these last two years. Travis certainly is that caliber of player. He's growing defensively and in strength but without a doubt his biggest attribute is his ability to flat out shoot it."
Keeling ready to round out game
Following one of the most productive freshman seasons in Big South Conference history, the coaching staff has challenged Keeling to become a more complete player. The Augusta, Ga., native has been up to the task.
"Christian's been terrific in every way," Radebaugh said. "His attitude toward growth as a player and willingness to work on his weaknesses has been unquestionable. He had a terrific freshman year with still big steps to take in his game from a defensive standpoint, ball handling, strength and extending his three-point range. All those things we've worked very hard on and his attitude toward it has been refreshing."
Keeling was named Big South Freshman of the Week seven times last season, more than anyone in at least the last 13 years.
Freshmen class bringing new attitude to Bucs' program
True freshmen Deontaye Buskey, Phlandrous Fleming Jr., Ty Jones and Sean Price, along with redshirt freshman Jamaal David, have injected a passionate persona into the program. All five should see major roles in a rotation that will allow for many contributors.
"They've brought a lot of ability but the biggest thing they've brought to us is a refreshing attitude and a refreshing desire to play hard and have fun," Radebaugh said. "It's a really unique group of freshmen, with a lot of big personalities, and they bring so much fun, excitement and joy. We've seen all five of them grow as players and grow in confidence, and we expect that to continue."
Howard and Jones give CSU two strong paint presences
Howard, entering his fourth year in the program, is CSU's elder statesmen. He comes off a strong junior year in which he led the Big South with three offensive rebounds per game.
"Javis's attitude, leadership and maturity have been outstanding," Radebaugh said. "He can have as good a senior year as he wants to have. He has a ton of tools and as Javis stays consistent and aggressive, he will be fun to watch."
Jordan Jones displayed strong ability in sporadic playing time as a freshman and should see a greatly expanded role this season.
"Jordan, overall, has been our most improved player," Radebaugh said. "He's much more comfortable. He's gained quite a bit of weight and strength and he's playing with more certainty, which allows him to play with more freedom."
10 – Charleston Southern's 16-man roster features ten new players, including six true freshmen. Two of the ten – David and forward/center Abdul Sarki – redshirted with the program last year.
1 – In 2016-17, Keeling was the only player in the nation to lead his team in scoring and rebounding, pace all league freshmen in both categories and rank top-ten league-wide in each. Keeling has worked to add strength and improve his shooting range and defense as he learns to play with a more talented supporting cast.
3's (And hopefully lots of 'em) – CSU will hope to improve its three-point shooting from a year ago. Last season marked the first time the Bucs failed to make at least eight threes per game since the 2010-11 campaign. CSU ranked top-11 nationally in attempted and made triples in three consecutive seasons (2012-13 through 2014-15), claiming two Big South regular season championships and two NIT berths during that span. The addition of McConico, who knocked down 93 threes at Florida State College at Jacksonville last year, makes CSU confident it can return to being an elite three-point shooting team.