O26 Primers: Big South and Horizon League TourneysPosted by KDoyle on March 1st, 2011
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences. Up first are the Big South and Horizon League.
Being the “Other 26” guy around these parts, I deemed it appropriate to give a quick look into all 25 (the Ivy, of course, has no tournament) of the non-BCS conference tournaments prior to their commencement. I will bring you these previews for each conference on the day their first round games are slated to be played. We kick things off with the Big South and the Horizon League. Both will unquestionably be interesting tournaments as Coastal Carolina’s recent issues and allegations regarding NCAA violations have opened the door for the rest of the conference. Unlike the Big South which was dominated by Coastal for nearly the entire year, the Horizon League had great parity at the top of the conference with six teams reaching ten wins or better.
The Favorite: Coastal Carolina—dare I say it—no longer the favorite to win the Big South tournament? After coming up just short last year as Winthrop dashed their hopes of advancing to the NCAA Tournament, Coastal came out with a vengeance this year to take back what they thought should have been theirs. They won 22 straight games—14 of them coming in the Big South—and appeared untouchable. But, amidst recruiting violations and eligibility issues, Coastal’s chance at advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993 has taken a serious hit. Now, the league is wide open with Liberty, and UNC-Asheville also vying for the coveted auto-bid. I like Asheville as they have won three straight heading into the conference tournament with one of the wins coming in dramatic fashion against Coastal at the buzzer.
Dark Horse: They score a whole lot of points, but also give up a ton as well. Clearly, I am referring to the VMI Keydets. The scoring ability of Austin Kenon with his deadly shot is an aspect of VMI’s game that always makes them a threat to win games.
Who’s Hot: VMI happens to be the hottest team entering the tournament having won five of their last six games.
Player to Watch: Now that Coastal Carolina’s Desmond Holloway has been ruled ineligible, there is no other obvious player to keep an eye on. Austin Kenon for VMI is certainly one to keep tabs on as he can light up the gym maybe better than anyone in the conference, but I believe Matt Dickey of UNC-Asheville is poised for a big tournament. If Dickey’s name sounds familiar it is due to his heroics as he miraculously stole Coastal Carolina’s inbounds pass and hit an off-balance three to propel his Bulldogs to a big win.
First-Round Upset: Gardner-Webb over Coastal Carolina. I realize I am bashing Coastal’s chances in the Big South tournament after they very nearly ran the table in conference play, but one must remain cognizant of the fact that Gardner-Webb defeated Coastal 59-57 while Desmond Holloway was playing and before the entire controversy unfolded in Conway, SC. If G-W can beat the Chanticleers with Holloway, I’d say their chances are pretty good to beat them now.
How’d They Fare? In last year’s NCAA Tournament, Winthrop participated in the Play-In game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and was beaten handily, 61-44.
Interesting Fact: Speaking of Winthrop, in the last 12 years the Eagles have absolutely dominated the Big South, having won the league nine times.
The Favorite: Is it acceptable if I simply say: “I don’t know.” The Horizon League was one of the most unpredictable conferences in the nation this year as three teams finished with 13-5 records and three more reached the double-digit win total. Suffice it to say, I could see any one of these six teams winning the tournament, but I am going to play it safe and say the Butler Bulldogs will find a way to get it done. Just a year removed from the National Championship game, Butler boasts the best one-two punch in the league in Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, plus Brad Stevens is one of the best young basketball minds in the game.
Dark Horse: It is hard to say that the team entering the conference tournament as the top seed is a “dark horse,” but Wisconsin-Milwaukee has the quality of a dark horse kind of team when compared to the other top teams in the Horizon. The Panthers were under the radar for much of the year as their record was just 9-11 after 20 games, but they got hot at just the right time winning nine straight conference games. Even though during these nine wins they knocked off every team in the league, it is hard to make them the favorite to win the tournament.
Who’s Hot: As I already alluded to, Wisconsin-Milwaukee is without question the hottest team entering the tournament. They are playing with a great deal of confidence and belief that they can win the Horizon League—an attitude that makes a team very dangerous in an elimination atmosphere.
Player to Watch: Who else but Norris Cole from Cleveland State? The Horizon League boasts many players with supreme talents and abilities, but what Cole has done this year cannot be duplicated by many. Not only is he averaging over 20 points in conference, but he is also managing to dish out 6.3 assists and 7.2 rebounds a game as well.
First-Round Upset: Wisconsin Green Bay over Wright State. The Raiders are entering the league tournament having lost four of five games with their only win during this stretch coming against Hofstra in the BracketBusters. Green Bay is not much better as they have lost six of eight games. However, if the sports adage holds true of how it is difficult to defeat an opponent three times in one season holds true, then Green Bay may be in luck. The Phoenix lost both decisions to Wright State this year, but each loss was by a mere possession.
How’d They Fare: I don’t think I would be going out on a limb saying that Butler represented the Horizon League fairly well last year by advancing to the National Championship.
Interesting Fact: When Butler advanced to the National Championship last year, Brad Stevens—at 33 years of age—became the second-youngest head coach ever to coach in the Championship game.
Looking ahead to tomorrow, the following conferences will begin their tournaments: the Atlantic Sun, the Patriot League, and the Ohio Valley.