#135 Liberty Men's Basketball Preview

Liberty Flames

Overall Rank: #135
Conference Rank: #2 Big South

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2010-11: 19-13, 13-5
2010-11 postseason: none
Coach: Dale Layer (34-29 at Liberty, 304-222 overall)

Back in 2009-2010, Jesse Sanders had to do everything for Liberty. Last year that changed thanks to the addition of junior college transfer John Brown. Sanders did not have to be the team’s best rebounder, passer and defender and still provide a decent scoring threat. Instead, Sanders was able to do what he does best last season; finding his teammates and attacking the basket. In the meantime Brown picked up much of the scoring slack and a whole lot of rebounds. Brown, who is listed as a 6-4 guard, played at the four spot last year and probably will spend much of his time there again this season. However, he has the toughness to do it despite his size and in his first season with the Flames he averaged 11.3 points and 10.8 rebounds.

Who’s Out:
The loss of Evan Gordon is a big one. He was the team’s best scorer and a superb all-around player. Even though he just shot 33.7 percent from beyond the arc, which turned out to be pretty good for this Liberty team, he was the only consistent long range shooter on the team. Finding another one will be very important. Finding a leader who will take the big shots should be less of an issue as Sanders and Brown are more than capable of filling that role as long as they stay inside the arc.

Who’s In:
With Gordon gone, it may be feasible for Coach Dale Layer to move Brown to the three spot. However, if that is going to happen one of the newcomers needs to fill in at the four spot. Stephen Baird has plenty of potential after redshirting last year. Andrew Smith has enough size to play at the four spot as well. The most intriguing option is Tomasz Gielo. The versatile 6-8 forward has plenty of international experience as a member of the Polish National team and can fill in a lot of roles for this team. He can play the four, allowing Brown to move to the small forward spot and he can be the consistent outside shooter this team needs. His development could make a huge difference for the Flames. The addition of junior college All-American Tavaris Speaks will give Liberty even more options on the wing.

Who to Watch:
Antwan Burrus and Joel Vander Pol split starts at the center position last season. One of those two will need to step up and be a more consistent force under the basket even if the group of newcomers can provide a quality power forward. Burrus proved to be the more productive player, but at 6-6 he is way too small to start at the five spot with the 6-4 Brown at power forward. That will not work against most opponents. Vander Pol has the height and girth to push people around in the paint, but he did not have a particularly productive freshmen campaign. Carter McMasters and Sommy Ogukwe will fight it out with the newcomers for playing time off of the bench in the frontcourt.

Final Projection:
The Flames really need to find a shooter in the backcourt. Speaks is more of a scorer than a shooter, but he could certainly fill that role sooner or later. David Minaya started 31 games a year ago and proved to be a fine scorer, but not a particularly effective shooter. Jeremy Anderson is running out of time to emerge as a shooter and is much better off attacking the basket with his 6-4, 200 pound frame. Chene Phillips showed some promise during his freshman campaign, but not as a shooter. That leaves last year’s most effective sixth man, John Caleb Sanders. Sanders only averaged 12.4 minutes per game, but he did knock down 1.1 three-pointers per game. However, Sanders is almost exclusively a catch and shoot player and he will almost certainly provide a little spark off of the bench every once in a while instead of finding a starting role. That still leaves a big gap in the starting lineup to replace Gordon’s 2.2 three-pointers per game and on a team that did not shoot very well last season, it may get worse this time around. However, this team has plenty of options and more than enough talent to win the Big South even if they cannot hit an outside shot.

Projected Postseason Tournament: none

Projected Starting Five:
Jesse Sanders, Senior, Guard, 11.3 points per game
Tavares Speaks, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
David Minaya, Senior, Guard, 10.7 points per game
John Brown, Senior, Guard, 11.3 points per game
Joel Vander Pol, Sophomore, Center, 4.1 points per game

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