Instead of a preview that I'd throw together based on estimates of what to expect from Longwood, I thought it made more sense to ask someone who'd know better - Parks Smith, who writes for our SBNation sister site, Mid Major Majority. I answered some questions for Parks as well at LancersBlog, and those can be found here.
1) Longwood will be playing under first-year coach Jayson Gee, who comes to Farmville from Cleveland State. What attracted Gee to Longwood, and Longwood to Gee?
Coach has recently said that without Big South affiliation that the job wouldn't have been that attractive and maybe even wouldn't have even been in consideration. I think he saw a place where he could build something special and win. He's also created Longwood's Athletic Director, Troy Austin, as a key reason for coming to Farmville. I think Troy has provided him with the resources he needs to grow a team and grow a program. Troy also went to grad school at VCU and has plenty of contacts there and with the VILLA program. I think a lot of those connections were shared with Gee and guys like Shaka Smart helped foster the move. The culture shift that has occurred in just the last 6 months has been pretty unbelievable and you can already see signs of change.
2) Longwood shot the ball inside surprisingly well last season. With the transfer of Michael Kessens to Alabama, and the new coaching staff, do you expect the Lancers to continue to focus their offense on the interior?
The interesting thing about Gee is that he has said numerous time that he's going to let the offense flow on his own and he's not the type of coach who dictates plays on every possession. Nearly every practice has one main focus and that's defense. With Kessens gone we have senior Jeff Havenstein starting and a couple of wild cards in the post. Havenstein has never been much of an offensive presence and has traditionally been more of an energy guy off the bench. Jeylani Dublin is not slated to start, despite starting every game last year, but averaged 10 points per game a year ago. The biggest wild card is freshman Damarion Geter, a lanky 6'7 power forward with a 7 foot wing span. He's impressed the coaches enough to get the starting nod on Saturday.
The premier offensive threat is former La Salle transfer TT Carey who averaged over 15 points per game a year ago. He just knows how to score and even had a stretch where he dropped 31 points and 40 points in back-to back games late last year. TT can slash and also has more range then anyone else in the Big South. There are so many unknowns with the new coach and new personnel, but Carey is the one constant on the offensive end.
3) The Lancers defense last year had the quickest pace in the nation against them defensively. What about the team caused opponents to finish their possessions so quickly? Do you think that changes under Gee?
To answer your third question...YES! If anything changes on this team it's defensive intensity and energize. Coach Gee has installed a defense predicated on ball pressure and has said if your not playing defense then you're going to be riding the pine pony. Coach Gillian never really focused on defense and our defensive rankings and efforts were always among the worst in the country for a decade. Our transition defense was especially atrocious and one of the reasons why the pace was so absurd. It was basically street ball and just running up and down the court for ten years, all of that is about to change. You'll hear the word PACE a lot around Coach Gee and it stands for Pressure, Attack, Compete, and Energize. The holdovers have dedicated themselves to defense, while the newcomers were brought in to fit this system. New point guard Leron Fisher is one of those guys and has been applauded for how he can pressure the ball. Gee has also focused on developing rim protectors should that initial pressure breakdown on certain possessions.
4) Other than those things mentioned above, what one thing or player should Gamecock fans pay attention to on Saturday when it comes to Longwood?
The guy to watch (besides TT Carey) is sophomore point guard Lucas Woodhouse. Coach Gillian decided to go with a different freshman point guard (Nik Brown, now a 2014 UNCW transfer) to lead the way, but was finally forced to start Lucas (to Lancers' fans pleasure) due to injury in January. All Lucas did was lead the Big South in assists in conference play and set a single season record at Longwood for most assists in a season. Gee has called Lucas "the face of the program" and this offseason has been spent focusing more on hist shot and ratcheting up his defense.
The interior success of last year that you mentioned before wasn't only because of Kessens but because of Lucas Woodhouse. He has unbelievable court vision and if there is a player open anywhere on the court, and especially in the post, then they better be ready to receive the basketball and get an easy bucket. I'm excited to see how his game has improved over the offseason and how he handles SEC caliber guards.
5) What are your expectations for Longwood this season? For Saturday afternoon?
My biggest expectation is to see great effort, energy, and defense on the basketball court, all of which have been absent for the past decade of Longwood basketball. It's hard to put a number on the season because so much is unknown and so much has changed, but the realist in me has placed an over/under of 12 regular season wins for this team. The out of conference schedule is all about improvement and preparing for Big South play. In terms of Saturday, I'm optimistic enough to make the drive down to Columbia. I'm hoping to see a competitive game and I, kind of, have the expectation in my head that this will be around a 15 point game in favor of the Gamecocks in the end. It's just really tough to say all around.