CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston Southern is looking to start 2018-19 like it ended 2017-18. A young CSU team discovered itself late last season, winning eight of its final 11 games behind an exciting core. Another year of maturation, combined with an influx of talented newcomers, make the Bucs confident they can pick up where they left off.
"We are genuinely excited about this group and what we can become," said CSU head coach Barclay Radebaugh. "We're having a ton of fun because our guys come to work every day. We're playing with a pace and a passion that is really unique, and we can't wait to start the journey of another season."
What to Watch
Keeling & Fleming form dynamic 1-2 punch
Christian Keeling and Phlandrous Fleming Jr. give CSU one of the Big South Conference's top tandems. Both players had valuable experiences this offseason, and both should contend for all-league honors.
Keeling garnered second-team accolades last season after ranking among the Big South's top-ten in scoring (2nd), steals (6th), minutes (7th), free-throw percentage (8th) and rebounding (10th). He entered his name into the NBA Draft process, and earned a May workout with the Milwaukee Bucks before deciding to return to CSU. The chance to have his game evaluated by NBA brass was huge for the Augusta, Ga., product.
"It was a great experience and really reinforced some of the things I need to work on," Keeling said. "I love my coaches and teammates, and we feel really confident we can contend and have a great year."
A big reason for that confidence is the growth of Fleming, who turned in a terrific rookie campaign to finish as runner-up for Big South Freshman of the Year. Fleming impacted both ends of the floor and displayed excellent leadership traits for a young player. Over the summer, he helped Athletes in Action's Team USA squad to a gold medal at the FISU/Pan Am Games. Fleming has worked hard to hone his ball handling and perimeter shooting, which should make him a more dynamic scorer.
"I've really focused on dribbling, shooting and being a more consistent scorer," Fleming said. "I worked a lot on those things over the summer with Coach (Thomas) Butters. Everyone's been putting in a lot of work, and we're hungry to pick up where we left off last year."
Generating extra possessions
Helped in part by the defensive acumen of first-year assistant coach Rick Duckett, CSU led the Big South in turnover margin and ranked 17th nationally in forced turnovers last season. The Bucs forced 15 or more turnovers 18 times, and hope to exert similar pressure this year.
"We've always played with pace and we certainly want to do that again," Radebaugh said. "Coach Duckett is so valuable as a teacher, and our guys have really benefited from his knowledge. With some of the pieces we've added, we feel good about our ability to create pressure and keep pushing to get better defensively overall."
McConico the leader
Senior forward Travis McConico attended Athletes in Action's Captains Academy and the Big South Leadership Conference this summer. He is taking his role as a leader seriously for a still relatively young CSU team.
McConico was the Bucs' third-leading scorer and rebounder a year ago, and ranked 12th in the league with 61 made three-pointers, sinking 39 percent of his attempts. If McConico can make strides in his second season in the program, he could team with Keeling and Fleming to form a potent scoring trio.
Freshmen bigs to play big role
CSU will look to freshmen Timmy Sellers and Sadarius Bowser to play major minutes in the paint. Both have major size, with Sellers checking in at 6-8, 220 pounds and Bowser at 6-9, 220 pounds. Radebaugh and the Bucs' coaches are excited about their potential, and look forward to seeing it play out as the year progresses.
Sellers and Bowser have also formed a tight bond with each other.
"Me and Sadarius are close and have become great friends," Sellers said. "It's really exciting to know we're gonna play a role and contribute right away. Adjusting to the speed of the game has been a challenge but the coaches have really pushed us and helped us grow."
Shuler headlines talented newcomers on perimeter
Several of CSU's returners singled out freshman guard Dontrelle Shuler as a newcomer that has immediately impressed. The Irmo, S.C., product was a late signee out of Greenville's Legacy Charter, whom he led to the national charter school tournament by averaging 17 points, five rebounds and five assists last year. Shuler's defensive prowess, confidence and knack for creating off the dribble have turned heads.
Returners Ty Jones and Sean Price, meanwhile, are ready to build off productive freshmen seasons. Jones is a talented 1-on-1 scorer who showcased a feel for scoring around the rim. Price earned a starting spot at the beginning of last year and was a valuable bench contributor during the Bucs' hot finish. His 13-point, five-rebound, five-assist effort in an overtime win at Radford helped spark CSU's turnaround.
5 – CSU was picked fifth in the Big South Conference Preseason Poll. The last time the Bucs were picked fifth, in 2014-15, they opened the year with a win over Ole Miss and went on to capture the regular season conference championship and an NIT berth.
272 – Keeling enters his junior year just 272 points from breaking into CSU's top-ten all-time leading scorers. He poured in 537 points as a freshman, and added 494 last year.
9 – CSU ranked ninth in the Big South in made three-pointers and three-point percentage last season. The Bucs were markedly better down the stretch, shooting 37.5 percent from downtown over their final 11 games. Better consistency from McConico and contributions from newcomers like Anderson and LeXander give CSU a chance to be a much-improved perimeter shooting team.