It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.
Big South Tournament
Dates: March 4, 6-8
Site: HTC Center (Conway, SC)
What to expect: Charleston Southern and High Point claimed the top two seeds but positioning probably won’t matter all that much this week. As recently as early February, seven of the Big South’s 11 teams were tied for first place, each showing an ability to defeat (and be defeated by) any other team in the conference. In fact, only once since 2010 has the top overall seed in this tournament actually reached the NCAA Tournament – a testament to the league’s remarkable parity. Both the Bucs and Panthers, along with Winthrop, Radford, Coastal Carolina and perhaps others are good enough to claim the automatic bid. Count on several close games, a few sizable comebacks and maybe even a buzzer-beater, but don’t count on any one team.
Favorite: High Point. High Point is the Big South’s highest-rated team in KenPom and has its best and most athletic player in 6’8’’ forward John Brown. Before losing in triple-overtime at Charleston Southern on Saturday, the Panthers were also the league’s hottest team, having won five games in a row.
We’re just days away from the postseason, yet several leagues with imminent conference tournaments remain up for grabs heading into this weekend. Let’s take a look at the most crucial match-ups on tap – games that will decide top seeds — highlighted by the de facto Missouri Valley championship game on Saturday.
Stetson (9-20, 3-10) at North Florida (19-11, 11-2)– 7:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Saturday. North Florida completed a sweep of Florida Gulf Coast on Wednesday and can clinch the No. 1 seed – and home court advantage in the A-Sun Tournament – by beating Stetson on Saturday. KenPom gives the Ospreys a 96 percent chance of doing just that.
Florida Gulf Coast (21-8, 11-2) at Jacksonville (9-21, 3-10)– 2:00 PM ET, ESPN3, Saturday. After losing at home earlier this week, Dunk City needs some help. The Eagles should handle lowly Jacksonville on Saturday, but then it’s a matter of hoping Stetson pulls off the stunner later that night.
High Point and Charleston Southern will square off for the Big South’s top seed. (Laura Greene / hpenews.com)
High Point (22-7, 13-4) at Charleston Southern (18-10, 12-5)– 4:30 PM ET, Saturday. After all the craziness and parity (earlier this month, seven teams in this league were tied for first place), the Big South championship and top seed come down to this one game. High Point breezed past the Buccaneers in January and will earn its second straight outright conference title (third overall) if it beats them again, but Charleston Southern – led by 5’8’’ point guard Saah Nimley (20.8 PPG) – is 12-2 at home this season and owns the tiebreaker should it win. Plus, who knows – this game could also decide whether Nimley or High Point’s John Brown (18.2 PPG) garners Player of the Year honors.
Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.
O26 Team of the Week
Albany. Last Monday, Albany learned it would be without leading scorer Peter Hooley indefinitely following the junior’s decision to return home to Australia to be with his ill mother. While the move was understandable and even encouraged by head coach Will Brown, it left the Great Danes – in the thick of an America East title race – without one of their most important players… just in time for a road trip to Stony Brook. With the preseason conference favorites on deck before games at Hartford and against UMBC, the week suddenly spelled ‘gut-check’ for Brown’s group. And boy, did they respond.
Without its top scorer, Albany grabbed control of the America East. (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)
Not only did the Danes beat Stony Brook in the face of long odds (KenPom gave the home team an 82.3% win probability), they did so convincingly, jumping out to an early 10-point lead and never looking back. The team’s other top Australian, forward Sam Rowley, stepped up with 16 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and three blocks – outworking America East Player of the Year Jameel Warney underneath – and Albany scored 19 of its 64 points at the free throw line. Defensively, Brown’s 2-3 zone baffled Stony Brook all night long, holding the Seawolves to a season-low 0.77 points per possession. The final margin: a whopping 17 points. “I thought it was a gutsy effort tonight,” Brown said after the dominant victory.
But the week (and the winning) was far from over for the Danes. Next up was a trip to Hartford on Thursday to battle a talented-if-underachieving Hawks team also vying for a top-four seed. That game, tabbed as a coin-flip, played out much the same for Albany; Rowley was excellent (22 points, eight rebounds) and the team rolled, 62-53. The cherry on top for Brown’s short-handed unit came on Sunday, at home against UMBC, when four players scored in double-figures and the Danes again won big, topping the Retrievers by 14. A week that began with difficult news and could have gone in the opposite direction – again, Hooley leads the team in scoring – ended with Albany standing alone and undefeated atop the standings, in prime position to grab the America East Tournament’s top seed – a spot that means more than ever in 2014-15.
As we dive into the back nine of conference play and approach the home stretch of the season, it’s time to take a look at the three postseason tournaments and where each Pac-12 team fits into the picture. I’ll make my full bracket projections each week (or two) for the NCAAs, NIT, and CBI, and then report where the Pac falls on the list.
Definitely Dancing: Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA are all locks at this point in the season. I have the Wildcats just a bit higher than most prognosticators at number four in the nation, as they have been one of the few consistently good teams that doesn’t have any bad losses (barely). In an interesting second round matchup, they square off with the best 16 seed, Charleston Southern. Of course, the two teams already met in the season opener, with CSU hanging around for a good portion of the game before fading quietly down the stretch.
Oregon is so much of a lock that it would basically have to lose each of its remaining games to miss the tournament. It may be hanging onto a four seed by a thread, but good wins over the likes of UNLV, Arizona, and UCLA give them the nod over any bubble team if it ever came down to that. I currently have the Ducks matching up against a mildly dangerous Louisiana Tech squad at 13. The Bulldogs have a nearly impeccable 20-3 record, but the schedule has been fairly soft.
UCLA’s recent two game skid has made things much more interesting for the Bruins, but this year’s bubble is so soft that they are fine for now. That’s in part due to their Top 50 RPI standing and good wins against Indiana State, Missouri, Colorado, and Arizona. However, the recent struggles don’t go unpunished. Dropping down to a low eight seed means as challenging a tournament opener as you’re going to get, and that comes in the form of a 19-4 Colorado State team.
Bubble In: Colorado and Arizona State are the other two Pac-12 teams I see making the field of 68, but both will likely be sweating bullets come Selection Sunday. The 15-7 Buffaloes are actually seeded pretty high considering their record, due in part to a Top 25 RPI that’s keeping Tad Boyle and company on the good side of the bubble. There are five remaining key games on CU’s slate (home against Arizona, Arizona State, and Oregon, at the Bay Area schools), and if the Buffs come out on the good side of three of them they should be a lock for the Big Dance.
Arizona State is on even thinner ice. The Sun Devils are the final team in my rankings before the dangerous 12’s begin, and while their record (17-5) is much better than Colorado’s, an SOS of 110 is holding them down badly. Regardless of where they land in the field, this ASU team will be a sneaky bunch come tournament time. A meeting with head coach Herb Sendek’s former school in the opener would be quite a sight, and a chance for the Pac-12 to get some major recognition on a national level.
Freshman Point Guard Jahii Carson Has Led Arizona State From The Bottom Of The Pac To The NCAA Bubble (credit: Zach Long)
NIT Locks: Washington is the next team up for the Pac-12, and while its recent poor play means the Huskies won’t be in any NCAA bubble discussion, an NIT lock is definite. The Huskies currently sit at an uninspiring 13-10, but they have been in most every game they’ve played (only two losses were by double digits, and the last three were all by five points or less). Combine those factors with the fact that Alaska Airlines Arena typically draws well, and the Huskies made a run to the semifinals of the same tournament last season, I like Washington right now a solid four seed. That means they would host at least a first round game, and I have them playing an interesting Xavier squad in the opener.
The Pac-12 made it through the opening weekend of college basketball with an unblemished record (13-0), one of only two power conferences to do so. Let’s take a closer look at how it all went down through the first few days.
Upsets – None. Zip. Nada. The Pac-12 team was the favorite in each of the 13 games played this weekend, and they won each and every time. Oregon State and Arizona were the closest schools to a loss as the Beavers held off New Mexico State, 71-62, and the Wildcats pulled away late to win 82-73 against Charleston Southern.
Best Game – New Mexico State at Oregon State: This one had all the makings of an upset for the first 10 minutes of the game. The Aggies used their height advantage to dominate the glass and took advantage of a slow-to-rotate Beaver defense by nailing mid-range and three-point jumpers. But down 18-12 midway through the first half, the Beavers went on a 22-6 run to kill the Aggies’ morale. New Mexico State hung around for the duration of the contest, and even had a chance to cut the deficit to three with 30 seconds left, but Terrel de Rouen clanked a three-point attempt and the Beavers escaped.
Ahmad Starks’ 33 Points Led Oregon State To A Nine Point Win Over New Mexico State (credit: Andy Wooldridge)
Player of the Week – Dwight Powell: Stanford’s junior forward scored 27 points in 32 minutes on Friday night against San Francisco. Even more impressive is the fact that Powell didn’t have a point in the final seven minutes of Stanford’s 74-62 win at the Oracle Coliseum. However, his final bucket, a tip-in to extend the Cardinal lead to 13, was a dagger to the heart of the Dons. Powell also pulled down seven rebounds on the night.
When the season began, it was taken for granted that Florida State would be the third-best team in the ACC. On the cusp of conference play, I am beginning to wonder if Florida State is even in the top half of the conference. Despite lining up some decent challenges in their non-conference schedule, the Seminoles haven’t been able to prove they even belong in the conversation. Until last Friday, FSU had basically beaten bad teams and lost to very good teams and remained an enigma. Losing to Harvard, Connecticut, Michigan State, and Florida on the road isn’t shameful. Nearly every team in the country would lose to those teams under these circumstances. On the other side of the coin, when your best victories are against Massachusetts, Central Florida, and Charleston Southern, you haven’t really demonstrated anything either. These teams, while talented, should be handily beaten by a team that is supposed to be the third best in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Then, on Friday, Florida State loses by two points at home to Princeton in triple overtime. What do we make of this loss? Princeton isn’t great (with losses to Elon, Siena, and Drexel already), but they are pretty good. What conclusion can be reasonably be drawn from this performance? Is Leonard Hamilton’s team anywhere close to last year’s tournament team?
Leonard Hamilton Has Won With Bad Offensive Teams Before, But Can He Do It This Year?
It’s really hard to say. The Seminoles are an enigma this year. Without a signature win or a horrible loss (Princeton is #134 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings), the team just seems middling and undistinguished. As always, the defense is excellent, with Ken Pomeroy ranking the Seminoles as fifth best in the entire nation, the best mark in a conference that includes the other excellent defenses of Virginia and North Carolina. The difference, this year, seems to be that even an elite defense can’t make up for a truly dreadful offense. Read the rest of this entry »
Well, as expected Charleston Southern seized on its one advantage and managed to force Florida State into 21 turnovers. Of course, it didn’t matter: The Seminoles locked down and held its Monday night opponent to 29.9% from the field while shooting 48.4% on its end. It was a 15-point victory, but it felt like the margin was bigger considering how quickly Florida State jumped to a big lead.
The Seminoles Had Little Problem Blasting Charleston Southern Last Night
Tonight, we have a couple of nice gut-check games and then the equivalent of an angry child getting their aggression out by punching a pillow a bunch of times.
The Main Event
Memphis at Miami at 9:00 PM on ESPN2
Even without Reggie Johnson, Miami has been pretty good this year. A loss to Purdue and an overtime road loss to Mississippi are understandable, but they are also blown chances at really putting the Hurricanes on the national map. With a faltering Memphis team coming to Coral Gables, the team has a good chance at a nice signature win. Without a strong front court presence, Miami has struggled to rebound effectively, but Memphis has been fairly terrible at rebounding so far this season too, giving the Hurricanes an opening. In terms of weaknesses, Miami’s mediocre perimeter defense will have to hold strong against a Tigers team that has shot 44.2% from beyond the arc. The game may come down to pace as Miami tries to slow it down against Josh Pastner’s run-happy team. In any case, this should be a pretty entertaining game this evening.
Yesterday was a lousy day for the conference. Aside from a breakout performance by Terrell Stoglin to lead a struggling Maryland team over Notre Dame, it was losses all round for the other three conference teams in action. Turnovers did in North Carolina State who otherwise played a very strong game on the road at Stanford. Andre Young went cold and Clemson has now dropped three home games against in-state rivals after hosting South Carolina. Kansas State locked down Virginia Tech’s scorers in the second half and stole one on the road. While none of these losses is particularly “bad,” aside from Clemson’s loss to South Carolina, Virginia Tech needs to find some quality wins this non-conference season if it wants to make the tournament. The Wolfpack’s loss to Stanford is a “quality loss,” considering how close NC State came to getting a high-caliber road win against a Stanford team that has looked very good in the early going. Still, the win would have been that much more impressive.
As rough as yesterday was for conference teams, tonight promises to be a little bit better. The ACC has a very good chance to go undefeated this evening. Of course, there is only one game tonight, so maybe that’s not so impressive. Still, it’s all the Atlantic Coast Conference has going down tonight, so let’s talk about it.
The Only Game
Charleston Southern at Florida State at 7:00 PM on ESPNU
So this has the making of a rout on paper. Those aren’t all that thrilling generally, but if you can get in the right mindset, this one has the potential to be a defensive masterpiece. Florida State can play lock down defense on the perimeter and in the paint. They force turnovers and the whole team is pretty tall. Charleston Southern’s average shooting, not particularly good rebounding, and mediocre ball handling points to a low scoring game for the Buccaneers. As mediocre as the team is offensively, they are even worse defensively.
Let’s go back to the height thing for a second. The two tallest starters for Charleston Southern are 6’5″. The two shortest starters for Florida State are 6’5″. It’s a rough match-up.
Leonard Hamilton's Seminoles Should Win Easily Tonight
The one favorable match-up for Charleston Southern comes on the defensive end. Charleston Southern has actually been nearly as good as Florida State in terms of forcing turnovers while the Seminoles have displayed a shocking indifference to taking care of the ball. If the Buccaneers can force turnover and then get made baskets before the defense is set, they have a chance to get some points on the board and get an edge in terms of extra possessions. It’s a slim advantage, but it might be their best chance.
Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference. You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.
The Week That Was
Major Conference Assault… Big South teams threw down a few notable upsets since our last report: Presbyterian over Cincinnati 56-54 (Big East), Coastal Carolina over Clemson 60-59 (ACC), Campbell over Iowa 77-61 (Big Ten), and UNC Asheville over Utah 87-65 (Pac-12). Add that to Coastal Carolina’s victory over LSU (SEC), as noted in the last update, and the Big South has wins over teams from five of the six BCS conferences (regrettably no games against Big 12 teams remain, 0-2 in the only chances).
Temporarily Perfect… For the first time in conference history, two teams opened the season with five straight wins. Coastal Carolina and Campbell each reached 5-0 before dropping game number six (Campbell to Creighton and Coastal to FIU).
League Play Begins… Again this season, Big South Conference play gets a December preview before beginning in earnest on New Year’s Eve. Most teams will get two chances to notch an early conference win, with games on Thursday 12/1 and Saturday 12/3. High Point and Asheville are the only two teams who will have just one game against a Big South foe this weekend.
1. UNC Asheville – (3-4/0-0) The record gives an illusion of a lackluster start, but two of those losses were to top five programs (UNC & UConn) and another was to ACC foe NC State. The one the Bulldogs would probably like back is the two-point loss to College of Charleston. Of course, this team also obliterated Utah by a healthy 22-point margin. Asheville is fine, and the tough early tests should only serve to get the squad ready for the games ahead.
2. Coastal Carolina – (5-1/0-0) While we figured any reports of CCU’s death were greatly exaggerated, getting early wins against both LSU and Clemson certainly opened some eyes. The other contests on the Chanticleers’ schedule don’t offer much to go on so far, but even without some of the big-name players of past years, the two-time defending regular season champs are not going away anytime soon.
3. Campbell (5-1/0-0) – Rocketing up the charts, I present the Fighting Camels of Campbell. Okay, I was fooled before in thinking this team would be a middle-of-the-pack bunch this year because they are bringing it! Led by highlight-worthy senior Eric Griffin and rapidly-ascending freshman Trey Freeman, Campbell may well have something to say about the Big South race this season.
4. VMI (3-2/0-0) – The Keydets have knocked off equal and lesser competition so far, with losses to larger out-of-conference foes Air Force and Ohio State, those games also being the only ones with VMI held under 80 points. Led by Keith Gabriel and ESPN Top 10 dunker Stan Okoye, VMI is still running and gunning. We will soon see if they can outpace conference foes this year.
5. Presbyterian College (3-3/0-0) – The Blue Hose got deserved recognition and attention for grabbing a win at top 20 Cincinnati in a demonstration of what can happen when they are clicking. A team that has seen the bottom of the standings in recent years should be no worse than the middle of the pack this season, and could frustrate several league foes along the way.
6. High Point (2-4/0-0) – They may not have the most attractive record to date, but the Panthers have been in every game they’ve played right down to the end. Three of the four losses have been by only four or five points (the other was a 12-point margin). So while High Point has more losses than wins to show for November, the team has also demonstrated a little more fight than they have gotten credit for in the last couple of years and that could be important against familiar opposition in conference.
7. Charleston Southern (3-2/0-0) Saying your most impressive win of the year is against Stetson may not be shaking the pillars of college hoops, but the Bucs do bring a three-game win streak into league play after an 0-2 start, and that’s a very good sign for CSU. Bump them up for now, but see what comes out of the first week of December for a better barometer.
8. Liberty (2-5/0-0) – Ummm…dropping far down, at least for this week, is Liberty. The Flames have lost four straight, and not exactly against a murderer’s row. LU still has a fair chance to be in the mix this season, but the early skid does not offer much to go on. That said, the Flames have come back strong after slow starts before.
9. Radford (3-4/0-0) – What gives? Radford has lost three in a row since the last report and moved up two positions? Believe me, it says more about the other teams than it does Radford. We still think the Highlanders will have a rocky road to travel this season, and will likely finish at or near the bottom, but for now, slot them here.
10. Gardner-Webb (3-5/0-0) – Well, the record isn’t pretty, but some of that is deceptive. Yes, GWU is 3-5, and yes, that includes a four-game losing streak, but Bulldogs had to deal with five games in nine days at the Hoosier Invitational–and still had enough in the tank to pull out an overtime victory on that ninth day (76-74 over Chattanooga). So it’s bad, but it’s not ALL bad.
11. Winthrop (1-5/0-0) – Honestly, this is a “how the mighty have fallen” moment. Winthrop was the class of the Big South for years, and has found a way to matter in the postseason even when not playing from the top, but things have taken a turn this year. Winthrop needs a remedy–and fast. Their lone win came at the expense of Central Penn, a 107-68 thrashing. Outside of that game and a four-point loss to Drake, Winthrop has not seriously challenged its opponents, losing by 12, 21, 22, and 23. To be fair, two of those losses were Virginia and Marquette, and the Eagles were close for much of the Virgina game before being blown away down the stretch, but there aren’t many genuine positives to latch onto yet this season.
There are other games, sure, but the headliners right now are the conference pairings. Here are some key ones to look for…
Liberty — at Campbell 12/1 & at Coastal 12/3… a very tough 1-2 punch to take for Liberty, facing two early power teams on the road, but a sincere measuring stick for where the Flames really stand.
VMI — at Coastal 12/1 & at Charleston Southern 12/3… if you’re looking for entertaining basketball, you should find it on VMI’s road trip, with plenty of running, and threes, and dunks…defense may be optional in these games.
Winthrop — at Presbyterian 12/1 & at Gardner-Webb 12/3… talk about measuring sticks–is it the old guard or the up-and-comers who will prevail? Has Winthrop really fallen that far or was that an illusion?
Caught on Film
I’m not sure it gets much better than this–I can honestly say that it just doesn’t matter how many times I watch this dunk by Campbell’s Eric Griffin: the take-off from the Big South logo just shy of the free throw line, the posterizing of the unfortunate NC A&T player, the sheer vertical involved, you name it…I am spellbound each and every time.
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.