College Basketball Preview: UNC Asheville eye top of Big South

Bulldogs senior Drew Pember was named the conference’s top player in a preseason poll

UNC Asheville forward Drew Pember was named the Big South Preseason Player of the Year in a vote by the conference's coaches and media. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

UNC Asheville is coming off its first postseason appearance in four seasons after going to the CBI last year. UNCA also had its best start to the year in six seasons and its best nonconference record since 2007. Coach Mike Morrell will look to take another step forward with a veteran team that could contend for the Big South title and the league’s likely one NCAA bid.

2021-22 record: 17-15 (8-8 Big South)

Top players: The Bulldogs return Big South Preseason Player of the Year in senior Drew Pember, who led UNCA in scoring (15.7) and rebounding (6.6) last season. The team also returns starters Tajion Jones (a preseason All-Big South second-teamer), Jamon Battle and Trent Stephney, who are all seniors or grad students.

Key additions: The Bulldogs will get a boost from transfer guard Caleb Burgess, who led the CAA in assists and was among league leaders in steals in three years at Hofstra. Guard Alex Caldwell arrives from NC Central and should add to the team’s outside shooting. Forward Nick McMullen (Murray State), shot blocker Amadou Sylla (Tennessee Tech) and guard Fletcher Abee (Citadel) round out the transfers. There are four freshmen.

Departed players: UNC Asheville loses one full-time starter in L.J. Thorpe, who led the team in assists and averaged 14.1 points as a redshirt senior. Senior Coty Jute, the team’s second most prolific outside shooter, also finished his college career.

Expectations: The Bulldogs will be an experienced team with four returning starters and a potential sixth man in junior Silas Mason. UNCA also adds a promising group of transfers who will boost the team’s playmaking, rim protection and outside shooting. They were picked third in the preseason Big South poll, but the Bulldogs should contend for the league crown.