2015-16 College Basketball Previews: High Point Panthers

The high-flying John Brown returns to lead the High Point Panthers in 2015-16, a season in which the Panthers could punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament as Big South champions.
The high-flying John Brown returns to lead the High Point Panthers in 2015-16, a season in which the Panthers could punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament as Big South champions.

When people talk about the Big South Conference, the first team that usually comes to mind is more often than not Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers have won the past two conference titles, so it’s not surprising that they’re the team people think about first.

In 2015-16, we ask you to take a strong look at another team in the conference, as they could be the ones cutting down the nets inside The HTC Centre after Myrtle Madness. The High Point Panthers, equipped with their own roster filled with experience and talent, are ready to contend in 2015-16.

How will the Panthers live up to expectations this season? What kind of talent do they have coming back? Who will lead the Panthers back to the NCAA Tournament?

All of those questions can be answered below, as we take a look at what to expect from the 2015-16 edition of the High Point Panthers.

Who’s Missing

In a season where the High Point Panthers are expected to contend for the Big South title, they benefit from only losing two starters from last year’s team that advanced to the CIT. While it’s only two starters who have graduated, the Panthers will need players to step up and fill the void in their absence.

Departing the Panthers from last season’s starting five are Devante Wallace and Brian Richardson. Both players logged serious minutes a season ago, and will be missed in the lineup.

Wallace was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2014-15, averaging 10.3 points per game to go along with 5.6 rebounds per game, which were also good for second-best on the team. Wallace appeared in all 33 games for the Panthers as a senior, starting in 31 of those contests. The 6’5” guard will leave a hole in the back court that will be tough to fill due to his versatility.

In Richardson, the Panthers lose another talented guard from their back court. The 6’4” senior averaged 6.8 points per contest in his final year at High Point, good for the fifth-highest mark on the team. He made 30 starts overall, and appeared in 32 total games. He shot 30.8% from three point range, and 40.1% from the field as a whole.

The loss of both Wallace and Richardson will be tough for the Panthers to overcome, but it also creates opportunities for key reserves from last season to step into a starting role and make a bigger contribution to the team’s overall success.

Who’s Returning

With only two players departed from last year’s starting lineup, the Panthers return a plethora of talent that will have them in the thick of the conference race as the season rolls along. Led by high flying senior John Brown and other key returning starters, the 2015-16 season could be the year for the High Point Panthers.

Senior forward John Brown is back to lead the way in 2015-16 for the Panthers. The 6’8”, 210-pound forward out of Jacksonville, FL led the team in scoring and rebounding a season ago, averaging 9.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest. He made 29 starts last season, appearing in 32 games overall, and was the only player on the Panthers to average more than 30 minutes per game (31.1).

Brown plays the game with a high level of intensity and efficiency, evident by his field goal percentage of 55.0% last season and his high-profile dunks that garner national media attention. With Brown back to patrol the paint and wreak havoc in 2015-16, the Panthers have a solid base up front that will open things up for the guards in the back end.

John Brown also looks like the early front-runner for the Big South Player of the Year, but time will tell how that all plays out.

Alongside Brown in the front court, senior forward Lorenzo Cugini is back to give the Panthers a talented front court duo. The 6’7” forward out of Stow, OH quietly put together a productive season in 2014-15, averaging 9.8 points and 4.8 rebounds, both of which were good for third-best on the team. He was one of only three players to appear in all 33 games a year ago. His durability (33 gp, 29.0 mpg) and his three point shooting ability (45.1% in ’14-15) make him a valuable asset for the Panthers moving forwards on their quest for a Big South crown.

In the back court, exit Wallace and Richardson, and welcome back Haiishen McIntyre to the starting lineup and insert Adam Weary into one of the slots. Weary, a 6’3” guard, played most of his minutes off the bench last season, making only 8 starts. With limited court time, he averaged 9.3 points per game and recorded a team-high 85 assists. With an increased role, and subsequent playing time, look for Weary to continue distributing the ball at a high clip and controlling the offense from the back end.

The one knock on the Panthers may be their lack of size, as the tallest player listed on their roster is 6’8”. If the Panthers can utilize their forwards effectively, and essentially play small ball, they have the talent to cut down the nets at Myrtle Madness come March.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Haiishen McIntyre (SR)

Guard: Adam Weary (SR)

Forward: Tarique Thompson (JR)

Forward: Lorenzo Cugini (SR)

Forward: John Brown (SR)

Schedule Notes

With potentially four seniors in their starting lineup to open the season, the Panthers have a great opportunity to open the season strong. In their first six contests, the key to success will be rest, as they alternate home and away games for the first two weeks of the year.

After opening up the season against Texas Tech in Lubbock, the Panthers return home to take on North Carolina Wesleyan. High Point could very well open the season at 2 – 0, as they take on a Red Raiders team who are still young and at least a season away from reaching their potential.

Road dates to Drexel and Georgia alternate with home dates against Western Carolina and Morgan State. Three of the four games appear winnable for the Panthers, with their toughest test coming against a Georgia team that is expected to be a top-three team in the SEC in 2015-16. Road games are always tough, and Drexel will give the Panthers everything they can handle in Philadelphia.

Like all Big South teams, the Panthers have two conference games to kick off December, facing Longwood at home and Gardner-Webb on the road. With these games coming in December, in the middle of non-conference play, there is an increased importance on these contests.

Two games of significance for the Panthers down the stretch of non-conference play come on the road at North Carolina State and William & Mary. Both the Wolfpack and Tribe will find themselves near the top of their conference standings this season, so a win over either team would go a long way for High Point as they head towards Big South play.

The Panthers have a great opportunity to put up a strong record in non-conference play. It’s just a matter of whether or not they can seize the opportunities.

The High Point Panthers will be one of the better teams to watch this season, with their high level of intensity and the chance to see John Brown throw down another monster dunk or two. With the talent all over the floor, don’t sleep on the Panthers in 2015-16.

For the past two seasons, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers have reigned supreme in the Big South, winning the last two tournament titles and representing the conference in the NCAA Tournament. While they may enter as a slim pre-season favourite, the High Point Panthers look like the team with the best chance to knock them off the top. Regardless, the Panthers should find themselves in post-season play this year, but they’d love to make it a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

– T.B.