Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
A Look Back
- Happy New Year? It Depends: For Liberty and Coastal Carolina, 2011 has the shine of bright possibility. The Flames got through New Year’s Weekend with a pair of Big South wins on the road to rise to 4-0 in conference games. The Chanticleers also got two wins to reach a league mark of 3-0. For the Chants, that’s also an impressive ten consecutive wins overall. On the other side of the coin, Gardner-Webb has gone into a bit of a tailspin of late, with a losing streak now at six games, while Radford has staggered to a league-worst 0-4 against Big South foes.
- Double-Trouble: Coastal’s Desmond Holloway has scored in double figures for all 14 of his team’s games this season. Holloway is the only player in the Big South this season who can claim that distinction. In fact, he has scored at least 13 points every time on the floor this year.
- No Sophomore Slump Here: VMI sophomore Stan Okoye leads the Big South in scoring (19.8 points per game), field goal percentage (.579), double-doubles (7), and is second in rebounding (9.6 per game, just 0.2 rpg off the lead) heading into Thursday night’s action. If Okoye can keep up this pace, he has a tremendous shot at an exceptional feat: leading the conference in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage in the same season, something only accomplished by two players in Big South history (Danny Gathings, High Point 2002-03, and Art Parakhouski, Radford 2009-10).
- Coastal Carolina (12-2 / 3-0)… the Chanticleers have been roosting here at the top spot all along, but the upcoming week could impact that, with a showdown at the Flames on the way. The winning streak has run to ten coming into this road swing at VMI and Liberty, and the results may give us a feel for whether coach Cliff Ellis has this talented and deep group running at its best. Hard to argue against that, given they are on the same pace that they were on last year in Coastal’s run to the regular season championship.
- Liberty (10-6 / 4-0)… yes, the Flames are hoping to demonstrate something when Coastal gets to town this weekend, but they have already taken a big step forward by sweeping the last two road games in the conference. Teams that can demonstrate the ability to win away from home have been rare in the Big South so far this season, and that will be a necessary skill. You have to be impressed with how coach Dale Layer has gotten his group to play above expectations.
- Winthrop (6-7 / 2-1)… I know we’ve said it before in this space, but the Eagles are going to keep lurking around. Other teams will rise and fall around them, but they should always be in the mix. For example, they would’ve been in the four-spot this week, but they just beat Presbyterian College head-to-head, so let’s give them the nod here. That score was 53-51, another example of how Winthrop will “grind it out” on you, whether you like it or not.
- Presbyterian College (7-8 / 1-2)… oh, Blue Hose, which team do we get on what night? The one that beat Navy last week and recently downed Auburn and Wake Forest as well, or the one that could only scrape together 51 points against the tough Winthrop defense? There’s a lot of talent and experience here, and they’ll be a tough out on any given night, but regrettably it won’t matter much in the end since PC cannot play in the postseason (Division-I transition).
- VMI (9-5 / 2-2)… two decisive road wins in league play helped right the ship from a pair of home conference losses in early December, so the Keydets remain a viable contender, or at least a legitimate spoiler, in the Big South standings. As long as Stan Okoye and talented freshman Rodney Glasgow keep doing what they’re doing, VMI should still have plenty to say. We’ll have to see if they can advance their cause with Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina coming to town.
- Charleston Southern (8-7 / 2-1)… after waiting to see if the Bucs would start living up to some of their obvious potential, along comes a week with two solid wins in conference. Senior guard Jamarco Warren had his shots falling, and that has a lot to do with the fortunes of CSU. Like Coastal, CSU is hitting the Liberty-VMI road trip, and that could be a barometer for the relative strengths of those squads. If the three-pointers are clicking, the Bucs have dark-horse potential, but those shots have a bad habit of drying up at inopportune times.
- High Point (5-8 / 2-2)… hmmm…the story keeps getting tougher for the Panthers each time we tell it in this space, doesn’t it? High Point and Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour have both seen struggles this season, and now at five straight losses overall, including two in the Big South, things are not looking too bright. The good news for HPU may be that there’s only one league game on the team’s schedule this week, and that’s against a down Radford squad.
- UNC Asheville (6-8 / 1-3)… Coach Eddie Biedenbach would love to see a fully healthy team, but that hasn’t been happening for the Bulldogs, and so Asheville has found the season to be rougher than anticipated. For example, they dropped the last two home games–this after running up a double-digit home winning streak…not a good sign.
- Gardner-Webb (6-10 / 1-3)… speaking of injury-troubled teams, we present the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. The losing streak has mounted to six games now, and with leading scorer Jon Moore considered out “indefinitely”, help is needed to stop this slide for coach Chris Holtmann.
- Radford (3-11 / 0-4)… the hole is getting deeper for a team that ended 2008-09 with the NCAA Tournament, opened 2009-10 as a Big South favorite in the eyes of many, ended last year with a disappointing finish and has played below the level of the rest of the league all this season. Winless in the conference and last in several key team stats, it may continue to be a rough ride for the Highlanders.
A Look Ahead
Four of the top five teams in the Big South standings are colliding this week while bringing in winning streaks (from two to ten games)… Saturday the 8th it’s CSU at VMI and Coastal at Liberty. All those games should be both fun and informative. Meanwhile, with several teams struggling with injuries, losing streaks, or both, there is also a race going on to see who can recover first and contend for the upper half of the standings. Remember that for the Big South, the top four seeds will host first-round games in the tournament, and that can be a key stepping-stone to a championship and the NCAA berth that follows.