Checking in on the… Big SouthPosted by rtmsf on December 13th, 2008
Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer for Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
A Conference Upside-Down?
Here we are approaching the middle of December, each Big South team with one or two conference games under its belt, and already the plot has taken unexpected twists that could signal a changing of the guard.. The top three teams in the standings have yet to take a loss in conference play, even though none of those squads was forecast to finish in the upper half this year: VMI (2-0), Presbyterian (2-0), and Charleston Southern (1-0). At the same time, three teams with largely higher expectations have not scratched out a conference win so far: Coastal Carolina (0-1), High Point (0-2), and Winthrop (0-2).
Let’s start with the winning group. Take VMI (2-0 / 7-2) seriously, folks. With the senior leadership of twins Travis and Chavis Holmes, the Keydets are running and gunning Coach Duggar Baucom’s high-velocity, heavy-scoring offense with great success. They got a signature win at Rupp Arena earlier this year and they have a trip to Ohio State coming before Christmas, so look out, Buckeyes. VMI has no Big South titles, and just lost the nation’s top scorer in Reggie Williams, so the preseason poll had the team forecast at merely 7th in the Conference. It turns out that Baucom’s bunch has the right blend of seasoning and chemistry to make a run. They made a strong statement to that effect with their first two conference wins: toppling last year’s regular season co-champions Winthrop (92-74, for a MASN audience) and UNC Asheville (114-105) in back-to-back games.
Of course, if you want to discuss surprises, how about newcomer Presbyterian College (2-0 / 4-4)? The Blue Hose had a phenomenal two weeks, beating Army at West Point, and then staying on the road for Big South wins at Coastal Carolina and High Point. Although PC will not be eligible for the postseason while in transition to D-I, they can claim regular season honors and may be able to throw a wrench in the works.
Add Charleston Southern (1-0 / 4-3) to that group of hot starters, thanks to great play from Omar Carter and Jamarco Warren. Liberty’s right behind the trio of unbeatens, recovering to 1-1 in the Big South by taking down Gardner-Webb. The Flames continue to make noise outside the Conference, defeating George Mason and losing a close one to Clemson—keep an eye on freshman Seth Curry, whose sharp-shooting has already drawn attention and the inevitable comparisons to brother Stephen.
The middle pack of the Big South at the moment includes UNC Asheville, Radford, and Gardner-Webb (all 1-1 in Conference). By the way, the UNCA Bulldogs took some high-profile road lumps in the last two weeks, with losses at North Carolina and Tennessee.
The other end of the spectrum in the early going brings us a winless threesome of Coastal Carolina, High Point and Winthrop (a combined 0-5 Big South, 6-18 overall). Life wasn’t supposed to be easy for Coastal Carolina this year, but the bad start (0-1 / 1-6) has been more awkward than expected. High Point (0-2 / 4-5) has bobbed up and down, but two Big South losses on the home floor do not bode well. And then we have the Winthrop Eagles (0-2 / 1-7) bringing up the rear. Next time we’ll have to take Coach Randy Peele at his word—he told everyone before the season that he didn’t know what we should expect from his team and that he felt the preseason pick for WU as the top team was largely by default for past honors. It’s easy to think of that as standard coach humility, but it was basic honesty: Winthrop remains an enigma to this point in the year.
By the way…why make a big deal from day one about the Conference standings? Because the Big South does not have a central location for its men’s tournament: the top four teams host quarterfinal games and the semifinals are on the home floor of the top seed (with the championship to be played on the court of the higher seed among the two finalists). Home court makes a major difference in the Big South—and the jockeying for position has already begun!
Countdown to Christmas
No more Conference games until 2009, but there are some treats under the tree between now and Christmas—here are some interesting match-ups in the near future:
- 12/14: Gardner-Webb at Kansas State
- 12/15: Charleston Southern at Cincinnati
- 12/17: UNC Asheville at Duke (ESPN2)
- 12/18: Charleston Southern at Florida State
- 12/22: VMI at Ohio State
- 12/23: Presbyterian at South Carolina
- 12/23: Radford at West Virginia
Enjoy the games—and we’ll have another update from the Big South in two weeks!