In what is becoming a summer ritual, I have decided to once again play offseason coach and forecast what Liberty’s 2017-18 men’s basketball rotation might look like. The Flames return 9 guys from the 2016-17 team and welcome several new faces including Scottie James who is now eligible after sitting out last season following his transfer from Bradley. Here’s our first crack at what the starting lineup and rotation could look like in Coach McKay’s 3rd season.
Liberty returns 4 of 5 starters from last year’s team that won 21 games and finished 3rd in the Big South. Those 4 starters returning don’t include Caleb Homesley who was quickly establishing himself as the Flames’ go to offensive player before he suffered a season ending injury against Princeton in December. One thing that is quickly becoming apparent as McKay continues to build out this roster with his guys is that he’s doing so with an emphasis on flexibility. There’s several players who could play multiple positions, giving the coaching staff the ability to tinker with lineups and rotations.
Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz returns from a true freshman campaign where he started 33 of 35 games while scoring 8.6 points per game and leading the team in minutes played. Alongside Georgie is Lovell Cabbil who has started 59 games in his 2 seasons with the Flames, including 28 a year ago. Pacheco-Ortiz and Cabbil provide the Flames with experience and confidence in the backcourt, a key to any mid-major team that wants to do damage in March.
Ryan Kemrite started all 33 games he played in last year while becoming the team’s leading scorer, averaging 13.3 points per game. Many times throughout the season, he was asked to play in the paint, something that shouldn’t be a concern during Kemrite’s senior campaign. As a redshirt-freshman, Myo Baxter-Bell started 28 games, scoring 7.9 points and grabbing 3.4 rebounds per game.
Will Homesley be healthy by the start of the season? Will someone else force their way into the starting lineup? Homesley, Scottie James, Brock Gardner, Elijah Cuffee, and Isaiah Williams all have the possibility of cracking the first 5. If Caleb is back and healthy, it will be hard to keep him off the floor though.
Brock Gardner averaged 18 minutes and 5.9 points per game in his true freshman season. At 6’7″, he can play anywhere in the frontcourt from on the wing to even in the post if needed. Scottie James, a 6’7″ forward who sat out last season after transferring from Bradley, should also make an immediate impact. He will give Myo a breather at the 5, and could even play alongside Baxter-Bell at times.
That brings us to the new comers Elijah Cuffee, Keegan McDowell, and Isaiah Williams. Cuffee is a 6’4″ guard who played his senior season at LCA after spending his first 3 years of high school at Poca High School in West Virginia. He’s expected to make an impact during his freshman campaign, and his ball-handling skills will be needed behind Georgie and Lovell. McDowell is a 6’5″ wing from Moeller High School in Cincinnati. He helped guide his team to a state runner-up finish this past season and was named 2nd team all-USA Ohio. Keegan will be fighting for playing time at a crowded wing position. Williams was a late addition to the roster this summer as he transfers in from Akron. He’s a 6’7″ forward originally from Dayton, Ohio who red-shirted at Akron this past season. He’s expected to be eligible immediately with 4 years left to play, and could see time at the 4 or 5.
That’s 9 guys fighting for 200 minutes, and we haven’t even mentioned Ezra Talbert. Will there be room for him? What about incoming LCA freshman (and former AD Jeff Barber’s son) Jay Barber? It’s a good problem for the Flames to have, and not a situation the team has had during McKay’s tenure. Brendan Newton is another incoming freshman that is expected to red-shirt.