Checking in on… the Big SouthPosted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009
Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
- Coastal Carolina 1-0 Big South ( 6-2 overall)
- High Point 1-0 (4-2)
- Radford 1-0 (3-2)
- Liberty 1-0 (4-5)
- Gardner-Webb 0-0 (3-3)
- UNC Asheville 0-0 (1-6)
- Charleston Southern 0-1 (4-3)
- VMI 0-1 (3-3)
- Winthrop 0-1 (2-4)
- Presbyterian College 0-1 (2-6)
All-Conference Team Justifying Selections. Players of the Week (or Co-Players) in the early going for the Big South: Nick Barbour (HPU), Art Parakhouski (RU), and Joseph Harris (CCU), all members of the Preseason All-Conference Team. Fellow honorees Jamarco Warren (CSU) and Grayson Flittner (GWU) have been candidates for the award as well this young season. The first ten 20-point/10-rebound games logged in the Big South this season all came from that same set of players — four each from Parakhouski and Harris, plus two from the other half of Radford’s twin towers, Joey Lynch-Flohr. Right now we’ll take the position that these are great players having great games, rather than suggesting that there’s a lack of depth in the star production department beyond those six guys (six in all because of a tie in the vote).
Water Finding Its Level? The Big South is surely getting a sense of its place in the current basketball world, based on the out-of-conference play so far. Against the really heavy hitters it’s been a whitewash (0-15 against the major combination of ACC, Big East, Big Ten, and SEC — and none of them particularly close), against the next tier and the peer groups, it’s been a mixed bag (13-16 against other D-I schools), and finally against lower-level squads, the mark has been appropriately favorable (14-0 including D2/D3/NAIA and whoever else lined up out there).
In other words, no lifelines thrown from above to improve RPI, no mines exploding below to destroy it either. We’ve gotten used to seeing a win or two from this conference against “the big boys”, but so be it — it’s not shaping up to be that kind of year so far… after all, we’re also sort of used to seeing a slip-up against the tiny schools too and it’s so-far-so-good for the Big South (insert knock on wood joke here).
So the proof of the metaphorical pudding lies in the middle… let’s give it a look: 0-8 against the A10, Big West, Colonial, and Mountain West; 7-8 against the A-Sun, MVC, SoCon, and reclassifiers; plus a more pleasing 6-0 against the OVC, Patriot, SWAC, and MEAC. Like I said, a mixed bag. Being a little more analytical, the common measuring-stick/peer conferences in terms of geography and level of play for the fanbase are these: A-Sun, Colonial, & SoCon… and against that trio, the Big South record is 5-9.
Bottom line: Big South men’s basketball is a bit behind the preferred curve to date. Sure, there have been a lot of strong players departing over the last two seasons, but it’s not as if we haven’t seen skilled replacements step in — there are a lot of quality ballers on the floor in this league.
A Look Back. As alluded to above, the out-of-conference slate hasn’t established a high profile this year. Television audiences were subjected to drubbings that came across as ritual sacrifices to Clemson, Duke, Tennessee and others. Meanwhile, big wins over tiny schools do not offset the wide losses to major programs in any real sense, although they do help level off the standings, so we won’t go into those wins in this space. Instead, consider at least a few marquee performers stepping up to the stage when called upon: Radford’s Art Parakhouski (23 points and 14 rebounds at Duke, plus 26 points and 20 rebounds at Duquesne — RU’s first-ever 20-20 game); Gardner-Webb’s Grayson Flittner (32 points at North Carolina, including nine treys to tie a Dean Smith Center record); and Coastal Carolina’s Joseph Harris (three straight 20-point games plus an average over ten boards in that stretch).
Conference play has begun, at least with a brief taste for now — the full Big South schedule rolls out in January, but there are some December games inside the league. Opening night featured a quartet of games, two close, two not. Radford got its first Big South opening win since 2002-03, but had to use extra time to get it. The Highlanders fell behind on the road at Winthrop, stormed back late to take the lead, only to see Winthrop’s Gideon Gamble hit his lone basket of the game as time expired — a 30-foot three-point shot — to send the contest to overtime. RU’s free-throw shooting made the difference in OT and netted a 61-59 win. High Point relied on its own dramatics to pull out a road victory at PC, with Tehran Cox going end-to-end to score his winning layup in a 63-61 win for the Panthers. In the other Big South debuts, Liberty held the home court to down CSU 69-53, and Coastal Carolina successfully ran at VMI’s high pace to beat the Keydets 111-97. The remaining two teams, Gardner-Webb and UNC Asheville, played tonight, with Asheville getting its first win of the year against the Bulldogs.
A Look Ahead. It’s all about the early dip into Big South Conference play… a chance to get a measure on these squads head-to-head, a legitimate opportunity to see what’s really out there. Losing to power conferences and drubbing lower classification schools proves nothing… those are the results that could’ve been drawn on paper rather than played on a court. Obviously the sub-.500 record against the other opponents gives us a small clue or trend, but now that we put the teams together to battle it out, who will step up and put a claim on being better than that?
Radford is certainly the popular favorite, a preseason pick of the Big South poll and national publications, and who can blame them with the squad the Highlanders can put on the floor? But right now, it’s still that point of the season when all possibilities are open — only one win or loss on the record at this writing. That said, any team that can have a couple Big South wins in hand when the meat of the conference schedule arrives will have a big step up on the competition.
- Charleston Southern — Clutch play by Jamarco Warren and consistent play from Kelvin Martin have been keys for the Bucs out of the gate, but this team must shoot better from the free-throw line to be competitive against its peers… if they do that, and Warren has his 3-point stroke going, they can be in any game.
- Coastal Carolina — Redshirt senior forward Joseph Harris wanted one more year, and maybe we can understand why now. Sure, the level of competition has been up and down for the Chants and the others in the Big South, so it’s hard to consider the numbers binding, but CCU led the Big South in scoring margin and rebounding margin heading into the first Conference games — that’s a winning recipe.
- Gardner-Webb — Eighty points. That figure turned out to be the deal-breaker for the Runnin’ Bulldogs in their first five games: beat 80 and win, fall short and lose. Of course, the opponents have a good deal to do with that as well — the opening trio of wins all came against smaller programs, while the losses occurred when facing UNC and Western Carolina. Offense depends greatly on Grayson Flittner, but he can’t do it alone.
- High Point — The Panthers entered Conference play with the best three-point shooting percentage in the Big South, but that still feels like a residual effect of Nick Barbour’s jaw-dropping 10-11 display from the arc in the opener against UNC Pembroke. On the other end of the floor, Cruz Daniels has blocked a shot in ten straight games. Consider HPU a contender this year, albeit one that’s going to sneak up on some.
- Liberty — The Flames played their first eight games in 15 days, so it’s hard to learn too much from those rapid-fire outings. We can be fairly certain there’s some drop-off here for LU, coming off some major personnel losses from last season, but first-year coach Dale Layer will definitely have seasoned his troops a bit with that opening marathon.
- Presbyterian — PC still has transition time to play through in its reclassification, so they won’t be playing for a championship, but the Blue Hose did bounce back with a pair of wins following an opening plunge of five losses in a row.
- Radford — So you know about the height and strength of the inside game with Art Parakhouski and Joey Lynch-Flohr, but did you know about Blake Smith? The Highlander rookie earned Freshman of the Week honors in each of the season’s first two weeks. Add in senior Amir Johnson and his assist contributions, and you can see that makes RU more than just its expected twin towers.
- UNC Asheville — The most ambitious early schedule also turned out to be the roughest on any team in the Big South. Coach Eddie Biedenbach’s group opened 0-6, including three losses to the SEC (UT, UGa, UK). Conference play may seem like a relief after the pounding that hit the Bulldogs to begin the year, and so far, so good, with the win tonight over G-W.
- VMI — Coach Duggar Baucom has been quoted as saying he may try to go even faster this year. Really? That should be something to see. After losing Reggie Williams and then the Holmes twins in the last two years, that’s a lot of points out the door, but Austin Kenon and Keith Gabriel are among the Keydets keeping VMI up to speed this season. Early scores indicate the philosophy still holds: 93, 111, 95, 108 (so what happened with only 59 at Richmond?)…get ready to run, folks.
- Winthrop — Last year represented WU’s return to Earth after a multi-year lock on the Big South’s spot in the Tournament. This year holds more questions than answers for the Eagles and Coach Randy Peele. One thing for sure is that they need to find some points somewhere. The biggest offensive output in the first five games was 66, and that’s not going to be enough production–not when your opponents average more than your top output.