RTC Conference Primers: #26 – Big South ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on October 9th, 2011
Mark Bryant, Big South Director of Multimedia Development and writer of BigSouthSHOUT, is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference. You can find him on Twitter at @BigSouthSports
Reader’s Take I
- Mountain High Expectations: Will UNC Asheville hold serve as the favorite, now that the team is no longer in its typical role as the scrappy underdog? Observers and opponents will not have their focus elsewhere this year, and Asheville will be showing off a new arena, no longer in the extra-cozy confines of the Justice Center which always provided a significant home court edge.
- New to the Big South: Some familiar names to SEC fans have found their way to the Big South. Mamadou N’Diaye, who played for Cliff Ellis at Auburn, will join Ellis on the Coastal Carolina bench, and B.J. McKie, who played at South Carolina when Barclay Radebaugh was an assistant there, will be part of Radebaugh’s staff at Charleston Southern. Meanwhile, Radford is the lone school with a new head coach, as Mike Jones comes in to lead the Highlanders. Campbell, a founding member of the Big South, rejoins the conference for the 2011-12 season.
- Tourney Turnover: Changes to the Big South Championship format will allow all ten eligible teams into the field (Presbyterian College has one remaining year of transition to Division I and cannot play in the postseason). Championship Week will be a wild ride, with the #7 & #8 seeds hosting the #9 and #10 seeds as “play-in” games on Monday night to get into the straight eight-team bracket. The winners will be reseeded as the #7 and #8 seeds for the quarterfinals to allow for traditional pairings (1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6, 4 vs. 5). Wednesday and Thursday of that week will be the quarterfinals and semifinals, all planned for the top seed’s home, with the Saturday final at the home of the higher surviving seed.
Predicted Order of Finish
- UNC Asheville (14-4)
- Coastal Carolina (13-5)
- Liberty (12-6)
- High Point (11-7)
- Winthrop (10-8)
- VMI (9-9)
- Charleston Southern (8-10)
- Gardner-Webb (7-11)
- Presbyterian College (6-12)
- Campbell (5-13)
- Radford (4-14)
- G: Matt Dickey, UNC Asheville, averaged 15.7 points, 3.3 assists, 1.9 steals per game last season. With his 22 points against Arkansas-Little Rock, including his game-tying three-pointer, and his 21 against Pitt, Dickey became a TV darling in last year’s NCAA Tourney and expanded his Big South reputation as a master of late-game heroics.
- G: J.P. Primm, UNC Asheville, averaged 14.6 points, 4.5 assists, 2.1 steals per game last year. A 2nd Team All-Conference and All-Tournament player in 2010-11, Primm enters his senior season as an energetic motivator for his team and a star in his own right from last year’s NCAA Tourney.
- G: Nick Barbour, High Point, averaged 17.7 points per game last year, top active scorer (1,488 points). A tremendous shooter and a perennial All-Conference player, Barbour needs to avoid slump stretches to keep High Point winning, but there’s no doubt the talent is there for Barbour.
- F: Al’Lonzo Coleman, Presbyterian, averaged 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last year. Coleman’s season was cut short with injuries a year ago, but not before he was instrumental for PC in wins over Auburn and Wake Forest. Now a senior, he will be dangerous if he can stay healthy.
- G/F: Jesse Sanders, Liberty, led Big South with 183 assists last year, only player in Big South history to eclipse both 500 career rebounds and 400 career assists. Sanders pulled down plenty of boards last season, but also pulled down the Player of the Year award as the leader of an improved Liberty squad. He’ll be the all-time assist leader for the Big South after another 133 dimes.
6th Man: Kelvin Martin (F), Charleston Southern: Martin hasn’t always gotten much attention, but will likely get more notice now that Jamarco Warren has left Charleston. A reliable contributor and a dynamic court presence, Martin would be our first one to plug in if one of those top five faltered.
Impact Newcomer – Saah Nimley (G), Charleston Southern: The 5A All-State guard from Georgia may find a home next to Jeremy Sexton in the Bucs’ backcourt. Again, with Warren gone, there are lots of shots to be claimed this year, and Nimley might be a key beneficiary.
UNC Asheville (NCAA Seed: #16): The Bulldogs should be able to pick up where they left off. Losing dunking force John Williams (now John “The Jet” Williams of the Harlem Globetrotters) is a blow, but not insurmountable given the experience and talent of the Primm-Dickey backcourt for coach Eddie Biedenbach. They’ll get their share of points and win their share of games–but there is a potential stumbling block in the loss of D.J. Cunningham to injury this season. Cunningham’s knee surgery means no experienced 6’11” center to rely on for the Bulldogs. It probably doesn’t wreck them, although if they had him, you would love their odds at dominating given superior play at both post and perimeter…which would give them the opportunity for a better record and a better seed. As it is, unless Asheville surges beyond even the high expectations folks have of them this season, they are likely to wind up in Dayton again–which proved to be fine with them a year ago.
- Coastal Carolina: Another NIT trip for the Chants? It’s possible, but this team is a real wild card after being prohibitive favorites for the conference title and falling short of the NCAAs for two seasons running. The variables involve questions around what players coach Cliff Ellis will be able to put on the court after last season’s ending of injuries and suspensions.
- Liberty: Last season was the best one seen in years for the Lynchburg faithful–well, for the men anyway (the women’s team has been a force for a long time). Coach Dale Layer has the Flames pointed the right direction and Jesse Sanders seems to have a knack for pulling his team up to handle key moments.
- High Point/Winthrop/VMI: A contender should emerge from this trio –HPU has the highlight-worthy duo of Nick Barbour and Shay Shine, Winthrop is always a tough out, and VMI has the most prolific offense around… but High Point always seems to have more potential at the start than production at the finish, Winthrop hasn’t lived up to its championship pedigree much lately, and VMI’s defensive shortcomings always offset its scoring prowess. If one of these teams can figure out how to maximize its positives and minimize its negatives, they’re in the hunt.
Reader’s Take II
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?
Most of the Big South coaches are well-established or rooted-in, but although we don’t see it happening right away, the two coaches that fit the profile for change here (youngish, but with enough experience to set a baseline) are High Point’s Scott Cherry and Gardner-Webb’s Chris Holtmann. Neither has had tremendous success to date, but with significant improvement this year, either one could certainly demonstrate his potential to a larger program. Mike Jones would be the third man on the list, but he just arrived in Radford (and the rebuilding program there is a weighty task right now).
Spotlight on… Facilities
The Big South has had a wide range of arena quality over the years, but the present is marked by a remarkable phase of growth and development. UNC Asheville moves into its new space this season. Coastal Carolina has had construction delays, but a new arena is in progress for the Chanticleers as well. Campbell’s arrival brings a high-caliber facility into the mix this season. High Point has an expansion plan on the table. Winthrop, Liberty, and Radford have had good quality buildings for some time, of course. And while there are still some small centers in use (CSU comes to mind), the general trend is for improvements and enlargements to embrace needs in amenities and attendance. It will be interesting to see what the facility profile of the Big South looks like in a few years.
The Big South has a remarkable any-team/any-night quality to it that keeps us guessing year after year. With growing schools, notable coaching experience and talented players, this league moves up another notch each season. It has shown that it can snare victories against major conference foes and be a threat to surprise in the Tournament. Will Primm and Dickey still be the underdog darlings to the nation at large now that they’re strong favorites in their own conference? Will VMI lead the nation in scoring again? Will Coastal or Winthrop be there at the end, as they have so often? Those are just a few of the intriguing questions we’ll be trying to answer this season in the Big South Conference.