Liberty basketball is finally getting back on the court Wednesday after what seems like the longest offseason ever. The Flames return four key contributors plus an arsenal of newcomers including four talented true freshmen that will need to grow up quickly before getting into ASUN play.
We hand out our preseason basketball awards below, so read over them and give us your thoughts as the Flames get started Wednesday evening against Purdue.
Darius McGhee. Even on a roster full of experience last season, McGhee was the team’s most explosive, and arguably best, offensive player. This season, with Caleb Homesley and Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz no longer demanding shots every night, McGhee will have much more opportunities. We will see 20 point performances, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the 5’9″ guard drop 30 on any given night.
BEST BIG MAN
Micaiah Abii. We’ve heard nothing but glowing remarks for the true freshman from Texas who will quickly become a fan favorite. He could start from day one and develop into one of the best players on the team. His versatility is exactly what Coach McKay loves from all of his players. It will be fun watching him develop this season.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Elijah Cuffee. He’s the preseason defensive player of the year for the ASUN and rightfully so. The Flames’ senior guard will draw the opposing team’s top perimeter offensive player every night, and he has the ability to shut them down. Just look at what he did against the ASUN’s top scorer the past two seasons in NJIT’s Zach Cooks.
BREAKOUT PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kyle Rode. Even as a sophomore, Rode will take on a leadership role this season, and provided he stays healthy the 6’7″ forward should be a focal point of the team. As a true freshman, Rode showed the poise of a 5th year senior. Now, with a year of experience under his belt and the four seniors departed, the Kentucky native will have a plethora of opportunities this season.
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Jonathan Jackson. So, this award will end up going to Abii, but we already talked about him and Jackson deserves a mention as well. The 6’4″ guard has been described as a sniper with his ability to shoot from three-point range, and he could develop into the team’s best shooter. With his basketball IQ, he will force McKay to find time for him on the court.
Kyle Rode. Cuffee and McGhee are the easy answers here, but we’ll go with the younger Rode. We know what the two upperclassmen bring, but Rode is a little bit of a question mark. What is his ceiling? Can he develop into an ASUN all-conference performer? If he can, the Flames will be a serious threat to become three-time league champions.
TOUGHEST NON-CONFERENCE GAME
Purdue. Pick any of the team’s first three games with Liberty facing Purdue, Clemson or Mississippi State, and South Carolina, but the Boilermakers are expected to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten and return to the Big Dance once again. We’ll certainly learn a lot about the young Flames in short order.
ASUN RECORD PREDICTION
13-3. The season we’re about to experience is unlike one we’ve ever seen. Not just from the newness of the Liberty roster, but amid the COVID pandemic. Games will be canceled. Games will be rescheduled. Games will be added. It’s not a question of if but when. The ASUN has gone to a Friday-Saturday double-header at one site against the same team. The Flames drew the short straw having to face Lipscomb and Stetson on the road early in the league season. Liberty could start out slow, but should threaten to have a similar record to what the team had the past two seasons.
FINAL RECORD PREDICTION
20-7. Hopefully the team gets its full slate of games in and is able to extend its 20-win consecutive season streak. The Flames are likely to get off to a tough start to the season but should have a winning record at the turn of the year entering league play.