While the college sports world justifiably anticipates the large-scale kick-off of college football, some of us are reminded of the joy that awaits us just some two-ish months down the road. Pretty soon we will be seeing ads on TV and social media for collegiate tip-off tournaments, full of predictions and anticipations about the excitement that awaits us in the ’22-’23 NCAA basketball season.
Those of us who claim Liberty to be our alma-mater/team-of-choice are fortunate. At one point in the team’s history, fans would find themselves excluded from any significant movements in the college basketball world. Times are different around Liberty Mountain. We are entering another season in the freshly minted Liberty Arena – the compact, intimate, and exciting environment. Coach Ritchie McKay and staff continue to improve their list of prospects each season. The pieces are falling into place this season, and I believe this ASUN retirement tour is quite promising for the Flames.
Predictions are always fun to read and ponder. Some may have little weight, but I believe last season gave insight into this coming winter. Given the number of returning talent, I have high hopes. The announcement of Darius McGhee’s return for his COVID senior season has opened the potential for the Flames. Below are three predictions for this year given last season and this off-season:
1. The Flames will play in the NCAA tournament.
This seems to be one of the boldest predictions that can be made about a mid-major team given the difficulty of making it to the tournament for non-power five schools. Regardless, I think the Flames have the recipe to make it to the tournament, and potentially, a deep run in the post-season. First, there is a spirit of dissatisfaction within the ranks, that their full potential was not realized last season. There is a renewed hunger to show what the Flames can do on a national scale.
Second, McGhee’s potential is somewhat unpredictable this season (although I will try) for all the right reasons. There is an itch among fans that there is the possibility to make (relatively) easy work of the regular season schedule and
be a newsworthy team entering the postseason.
2. Darius McGhee will solidify himself as the best player in Flames men’s basketball history.
If this comes true, it will be in small part to the number of seasons allotted given the circumstances. Still, these collegiate athletes have dealt with an unprecedented competitive environment due to the pandemic, so I don’t believe this to be a knock against their legacies. The arrival of Colin Porter, a ball-dominant, pass-first, defensive-minded guard will allow Darius to swap between floor general and scoring duties. I don’t expect drastic fluctuations in McGhee’s numbers, but given the roster, I think he will become slightly more efficient.
I wouldn’t be surprised if he shoots around 42-43 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line. I think his field goal percentage will stay around the mid-to-high 40s. Also, don’t be surprised if he wins the ASUN player of the year again. If the Flames make a deep post-season run, he has the chance to be the underdog, Doug Edert (Former Saint Peter’s University guard)-type of storyline the nation loves. Either way, his Flames legacy continues.
3. The lineup(s) will surprise us.
The Flames have a lot of inner-squad competition. Positions are being filled and fought for by multiple players, many of whom have similar play styles. This is a good problem to have. It means the team has depth. Depending on how the incoming freshmen perform, we will likely see very different looks on the court from what we were accustomed to last season. We know Coach McKay is not against starting and playing heavy minutes with his freshmen, so truly anything is possible. We may see a core eight-man rotation that reminds us of llast season, but I think a more creative approach is likely.
As always, these predictions are simply my best guess at some of the likely happenings this coming season. Part of the excitement of the sport is that anything is truly possible. No matter the outcome, I am looking forward to rooting for the guys and celebrating their hard work this off-season when the season tips off.