Checking in on the… Big SouthPosted by rtmsf on January 23rd, 2009
Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
We are hitting the halfway point in Big South Conference play, and the plotlines for the run into postseason play are getting deeper by the game…
The Top Group
VMI still rules the roost for the Big South. Since the last update, the Keydets won a close one (103-102 over Coastal) and an easier one (90-75 past PC) before facing a tough test against a surging Liberty squad. To the surprise of a VMI home-record crowd, the Flames scorched the Keydets 91-80 for an upset that ended VMI’s ten-game winning streak and its undefeated Big South run. That loss, coupled with a recent run by Radford, set up a duel for first place—one taken by VMI, who beat the Highlanders in Radford 87-72 to regain sole possession of first place (7-1).
That said, Radford is hanging right behind VMI, sitting at 6-2 and only a game back. Before falling to VMI, RU had enjoyed six straight double-digit wins against Big South foes. Naturally, the Highlanders intend to get right back into that pattern, but Liberty is their next order of business—they meet Saturday.
Speaking of the Flames, is it too clichéd to say they’re on fire right now? Liberty (5-3) has rattled off four consecutive Big South wins to bounce back from a rough start in the league. The Flames have still not tasted defeat at home (9-0 overall, 3-0 Big South), and their next three conference games are all at the Vines Center in Lynchburg. Seth Curry earned Big South Player of the Week honors last week, in large part for coming up big in the team’s biggest game of the season: Curry poured in 35 in the upset win over VMI.
Presbyterian College is tied with Liberty for third place, enough to keep the Blue Hose in reach of putting a wrinkle in the standings storylines: PC is eligible for regular season honors, but not postseason play (transition to D-I). So when figuring who will host quarterfinal games, remove PC from your thinking—but don’t forget they can be regular season champs if enough things fall the right way.
The Middle Pack
As of this writing, three teams are knotted at 4-4 in the Big South: Gardner-Webb, UNC Asheville and Winthrop. Of that trio, Winthrop may be the most surprising from two perspectives—a four-time defending champion picked by many to make it five is held to merely .500 play, but at the same time, this is a team that had struggled to win anything for much of this season. The Eagles have now won their last two and three of their last four to reach break-even, and because of that surge, they have laid claim to a tie for the critical fourth tournament host position.
A pair of Bulldogs join WU at that spot. Gardner-Webb and UNC Asheville have achieved middling records largely due to unpredictability or inconsistency from game to game and week to week—win big, lose big, up, down, etc. Plenty of questions remain for these two teams, and it will be interesting to see who asserts themselves firmly into the Big South race going forward.
Coastal Carolina is 2-5 in the Big South and has been atrocious outside of the home gym (0-3 Conference, 1-7 overall). The Chanticleers have their own identity crisis to worry about—is this bunch the team that kept pace with VMI in a one-point loss or the team that got drubbed by 22 at GWU? It’s possible Coach Cliff Ellis does not yet know the answer to that one yet, but he’ll need more Jekyll and less Hyde from his squad if CCU is going to make any noise in the end.
The Buccaneers won their Big South opener…but none in Conference since (1-6). Hook that together with a current nine-game losing streak and you’ve got a fairly bleak picture for Charleston Southern right now.
Still, it could be worse for CSU: they could be in High Point’s shoes. HPU has stumbled to 1-7 in the Big South so far, including a disastrous 0-5 mark in home league games. Here’s the unfortunate punchline for the Panthers—the next two games are at VMI and at Liberty, two tough tickets for anybody, let alone a team needing to find a way off the bottom.
Key Games Ahead:
- 1/24: Radford at Liberty
- 1/28: Winthrop at UNCA
- 1/31: Radford at GWU
- 1/31: UNCA at Liberty
- 2/2: UNCA at VMI
- 2/2: Radford at Winthrop
- 2/4: VMI at Winthrop
- 2/4: Liberty at GWU