The Liberty Flames will look different without Darius McGhee, but will still be the same smart and crafty team.
Not many players did what Darius McGhee did on a basketball court. He leaves Liberty as the 28th-best scorer in college basketball history, and second in three-pointers made. Losing McGhee will be a major blow, along with Blake Preston, who transferred to Northwestern.
However, the Flames still return multiple starters from a 27-win team and bring in some under-the-radar talent. Colin Porter, Brody Peebles, Kyle Rode, and Shiloh Robinson figure to be the core four, in no particular order. Joseph Venzant could be a player to watch for a big role change and transfer Kaden Metheny is another player to watch.
The Flames also have a 7-foot freshman, Hong Kai Lu, who comes in without much hype, but is worth mentioning, given his unique size. Finally, freshman Curtis Blair was ranked just inside the top 250 by 247Sports Composite, giving Liberty a 3-star freshman, something their program doesn’t always get.
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Head coach: Ritchie McKay (22nd season, 11th at Liberty – 9th in second stint with Flames)
2022-23 record: 27-7 (15-3)
2023 postseason finish: Lost to Wisconsin, 75-71, in second round of NIT
Notable departures: Darius McGhee (Graduated), Blake Preston (Transferred to Northwestern)
Notable non-conference games: Myrtle Beach Invitational (Nov. 16-17, 19), vs. FAU (Nov. 30), vs. College of Charleston (Dec. 1), at Alabama (Dec. 30)
PG: Colin Porter (5-9, 170, So.)
2022-23 stats: 7.8 PPG, 3.8 APG, 2.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 39.7 3P%
SG: Brody Peebles (6-2, 170, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 0.6 APG, 41.3 3P%
SF: Joseph Venzant (6-3, 200, Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 4.2 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 0.4 APG, 62.5 FG%
PF: Kyle Rode (6-7, 220, Gr.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 3.5 RPG, 39.9 3P%
C: Shiloh Robinson (6-7, 235, Rs.-Sr.)
2022-23 stats: 7.6 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 0.9 APG, 55.7 FG%
6: Zach Cleveland (6-7, 215, So.)
2022-23 stats: 3.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 1.8 APG
7: Kaden Metheny (5-10, 170, Rs.-Jr.)
2022-23 stats: 10.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.2 SPG, 38.2 3P% (Transfer from BGSU)
8: Curtis Blair III (6-6, 210, Fr.)
247Sports Composite No. 248 rated recruit
9: Zander Yates (6-7, 225, Rs.-So.)
2022-23 stats: 1.5 PPG, 0.5 RPG, 0.4 APG, 11 games played (Transfer from Creighton)
10: Hong Kai Yu (7-0, 240, Fr.)
Liberty Flames MVP: Kyle Rode
The only returning Flames player who averaged double-digits in PPG last season, Rode will be asked to take on a much bigger role. While no one can live up to or replicate Darius McGhee, Rode will likely be asked to become a 12-15 PPG scorer and help lead the flames in that department.
Most of Rode’s scoring comes from outside the arc, where he nailed just about 40% of his shots last season. However, he has the size to finish around the rim, which makes him a tough player to guard.
Aside from scoring, Rode brings experience, rebounding, and ball movement to a Flames team that will need that as they head into a new era of sorts. With Rode back, the Liberty Flames know they will have a consistent leader.
Liberty Flames make-or-break player: Colin Porter
McGhee had such a high usage rate, whether it was dribbling the ball or shooting it, that my number one concern is who will take that on this year. In short, not one single player will. It will need to be a team effort. But Colin Porter, who is my projected starting PG, will technically “replace” McGhee.
Porter certainly has what it takes. As a freshman, he was crucial, actually leading the Flames with 3.8 APG. He was also an asset on defense, and lethal from three-point range.
Porter added some size in the offseason, which should help him out, given his 5-9 frame. If Porter can take that next step up in his sophomore season, the Flames might just be the team to beat in their first year in C-USA.
Key analytic: 3P%
The Liberty Flames take a lot of threes. They also make a lot of threes. In fact, they were top 10 in the country in both categories last season. That led to a team rate of 37.3% from outside.
With McGhee gone, the bulk of those attempts will transfer over, and there are a few guys worthy of it. Porter, Peebles, and Rode all shot at least 39% from outside last season, with Peebles connecting at a 41.3% clip. Off the bench, Bowling Green State transfer Kaden Methany is a 3-point sniper too.
Ritchie McKay has built a strict identity at Liberty, and shooting the three-point ball isn’t about to disappear.
Liberty Flames 2023-24 projections
Projected conference finish: 1st in Conference USA
Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Round of 64