2009-10 Conference Primers: #23 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2009


Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Radford (14-4)
  2. UNC Asheville (12-6)
  3. Winthrop (12-6)
  4. Gardner-Webb (10-8)
  5. VMI (9-9)
  6. High Point (9-9)
  7. Liberty (8-10)
  8. Coastal Carolina (7-11)
  9. Charleston Southern (6-12)
  10. Presbyterian College (3-15)

 All-Conference Team:

  • Jamarco Warren (G), Jr., Charleston Southern
  • Grayson Flittner (G), Sr., Gardner-Webb
  • Joseph Harris (F), R-Sr., Coastal Carolina
  • Joey Lynch-Flohr (F), Sr., Radford
  • Art Parakhouski (C), Sr., Radford

6th Man. Nick Barbour (G), Soph, High Point 

Impact Newcomer.  Lazar Trifunovic (F), Jr., Radford (transfer from Binghamton)

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What You Need to Know.  Ask any of the Big South coaches right now who’s on top and the answer you’ll get is Radford.  The Highlanders are the preseason favorite for the first time in a decade with good reason: the defending conference champs (regular season and tournament winners) still have their skilled twin towers combination of 6-8 Joey Lynch-Flohr and 6-11 Art Parakhouski.  RU center and dominant force Parakhouski in particular has the size, strength, and game needed to dominate the opposition (for perspective, last year he averaged a double-double against Big East and ACC competition), playing his way into Player of the Year honors last season and the Preseason POY award for this year.  Beyond Radford, the race should be very tight among a few schools with questions to answer: Asheville — can the Bulldogs win away from the Justice Center this year (11-3 home, 4-13 on the road a year ago); Winthrop — can the Eagles return to their once-familiar position of dominance in the Big South with 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson now as the unquestioned team leader; and Gardner-Webb — can the Runnin’ Bulldogs and playmaker Grayson Flittner iron out some consistency so that they turn their big wins into streaks?  Meanwhile, two recent contenders will definitely be rebuilding:  VMI — where Coach Duggar Baucom no longer has the Holmes twins to rely on in his rapid-fire scheme; and Liberty –where star player Seth Curry and Coach Ritchie McKay both departed Lynchburg, leaving new Coach Dale Layer to get the Flames burning again.  High Point should fit in around where VMI and Liberty fall in the standings, with Coastal Carolina in that mix as well, while Charleston Southern is likely to trail that group despite the sharpshooting of Jamarco WarrenPresbyterian College remains ineligible for a championship as the transition to D1 continues, but PC doesn’t have the tools to contend yet in any case,  so look for the Blue Hose at the bottom of the standings.

Predicted ChampionRadford Highlanders (NCAA Seed:  #15).  Last year RU passed early front-runner VMI in the regular season and then knocked the Keydets out in the Big South Championship.  The reward for the Highlanders? A #16 seed and a lethal draw against eventual National Champion North Carolina (an experience Parakhouski describes as “short, but amazing”).  This season Radford should draw a little more attention and could easily play into a #15 spot, which opens the possibility of getting a potentially favorable match-up down low given the size RU can bring to the post.  With that, it’s not out of line to think the Big South could see a first round win for the first time since Winthrop’s memorable upset of Notre Dame in 2007.

Top Contenders:

  • UNC Asheville…quiet and going under the radar for many, but Coach Eddie Biedenbach has a good mix of experience and athletic skill that will compete every night–including forward John Williams and guard J.P. Primm.  Last year the Bulldogs were strong at home but invisible on the road.
  • Winthrop…ended a run of apparent conference championship last year, and Coach Randy Peele’s group will try to reclaim the top, and all the other coaches have a great amount of respect for what WU can bring to the floor, but can the Eagles erase the disappointment of last year?
  • Gardner-Webb…the Runnin’ Bulldogs have had some notable wins in recent seasons, but have not translated that into ongoing success.  So can Coach Rick Scruggs get greater consistency from his squad now that they’ve seen what’s out there (after being newcomers to the Big South last year)?

Top 5 RPI Boosters.  Several Big South teams have scheduled extensive big-time competition, but here are a few that take on the majors and have TV so that nobody misses the moment:

  • Nov. 17, 2009 – Clemson at Liberty, 10am ESPN (part of the 24 hours of college hoops on ESPN networks)
  • Nov. 23, 2009 –  Gardner-Webb at UNC, 7:30pm FSN
  • Nov. 30, 2009 – UNC Asheville at Kentucky, 7pm FS South (GWU and VMI upended UK the last two seasons)
  • Dec. 9, 2009 – Radford at Kansas, 8pm ESPNU
  • Dec. 15, 2009 – Gardner-Webb at Duke, 7pm ESPN2

Out-of-Conference Notes.  Duke and Clemson each have three games against Big South teams; UNC Asheville plays three SEC teams in a two-week span; Presbyterian will appear twice on the Big Ten Network; and it’s hard to figure who has the toughest murderers’ row, but have a look at these four — Gardner-Webb (UNC, Duke, Penn St., Texas), Radford (Duke, Kansas, Louisville), UNC Asheville (Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky), and PC (Clemson, Illinois, Ohio St., Florida).

Key Conference Games:

  • Dec. 4, 2009 – UNC Asheville at Gardner-Webb, 7:30pm MASN
  • Jan. 23, 2010 – Liberty at Radford, 6pm MASN
  • Jan. 30, 2010 – Radford at UNC Asheville
  • Jan. 30, 2010 – High Point at Gardner-Webb, 8pm MASN
  • Feb. 27, 2010 – Winthrop at Radford, 4pm MASN

Digging Deeper:

  • The Big South will have four teams in the ESPN BracketBusters event for the first time, with Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian College,  Radford, and Winthrop all participating and waiting to find out their match-ups.   
  • Preseason Player of the Year Art Parakhouski originally hails from Minsk, Belarus, and is just part of a growing international contingent in the league.  Radford alone currently has two from Turkey and one from Serbia in addition to the center from Belarus.
  • The Big South video streams all home basketball games not on regional/national television (so only road non-conference games would be left out), so if you’re looking for the games, you’ll find them at BigSouthSports.com throughout the season.
  • VMI Coach Duggar Baucom spent part of his offseason visiting our military serving abroad.
  • New coaches for 2009-10 are Liberty’s Dale Layer and High Point’s Scott Cherry.
  • UNC Asheville Coach Eddie Biedenbach tells us Jr. forward John Williams is more athletic this year, having proved it to him by jumping high enough to put his chin on the rim–but, Biedenbach added, “that doesn’t get us any points.”

Fun With KenPom.  The Big South was a bad defensive league last season, with seven of its ten teams rating in the bottom hundred in defensive efficiency.  Offenses were considerably better, with VMI (#94) and Liberty (#131) doing ok.  Interestingly, league champion Radford was not a very efficient team on either end of the floor (offense: #213; defense #164).  We’ll say one thing about this league – they’re not afraid to schedule!  Five teams rated in the top 60 nonconference schedules last season, headlined by UNC-Asheville, Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian, who all ranked in the top twenty.

NCAA Tournament History.   The league has only been around since 1991, and it has gone 2-18 (.100) over the course of its short history.  In 2003, UNC Asheville defeated Texas Southern in the Play-In Game, but in 2007, it was the Winthrop Eagles as a #11 seed who took down Notre Dame in the first round 74-64 (in a game not as close as the final score indicates).  The last two years haven’t been as kind, as Winthrop (2008) and Radford (2009) got blitzed by Washington St. and UNC, respectively.   

Final Thoughts.  The Big South has pulled off some noteworthy wins in recent seasons, and with a significant out-of-conference lineup including some of the best from the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and other power leagues, there are lots of opportunities to make some noise early this year.  Radford remains the obvious favorite overall and may be able to achieve the greatest postseason success of these teams, but with so much perceived parity following the top squad, an “anything can happen” attitude permeates the majority of the Big South for 2009-10.

rtmsf (3998 Posts)

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