Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
A Look Back
- Sneak Preview: Early December brought a glimpse of conference play, as all teams got in some Big South action, with most playing two games inside the league. Liberty, High Point, and Coastal Carolina can all enjoy undefeated conference records until the full league schedule begins, while Charleston Southern, VMI, and Radford still seek their first Big South wins (and Gardner-Webb, Winthrop, UNC Asheville, and Presbyterian College all sit in the middle at 1-1).
- Small Teams, Big Numbers: The trend of beating up on smaller schools continued recently, with Charleston Southern crushing Toccoa Falls 120-43 and VMI sprinting past Central Penn College by a remarkable score of 151-92…that’ll certainly help the famous VMI scoring average.
- Conference Calls: While the Big South has mounted appropriate marks of 3-3 against SoCon foes and 2-2 vs. A-Sun opponents so far this season, other records may not reflect as well on the league, most notably an 0-6 total against the Colonial–and throw in a combined 0-4 vs. teams from the MEAC, MVC, and Patriot.
- Coastal Carolina (7-2 / 1-0)… the Chanticleers have rattled off five in a row, they are undefeated at small but spirited Kimble Arena (5-0), and won their first Big South game on a Chad Gray dunk with 1.6 seconds to go against Charleston Southern. Things have been working out early for the defending regular season champions, and they get the nod at the top of the list.
- Liberty (6-4 / 2-0)… this time, let’s give Liberty the benefit of the doubt we afforded VMI last time (more on them in a moment). The Flames handled Presbyterian and held off Winthrop to net two conference wins, running their overall win streak to four. Liberty seems to be making the necessary improvements to contend, save one: LU needs to demonstrate it can get a road win. The Flames are 6-0 on home or neutral floors, 0-4 on the road, not a recipe for success in crunch time.
- High Point (5-3 / 2-0)… earlier, we wondered when we would see the expected performances of Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour and his supporting cast with HPU–apparently that was coming in Big South play. The Panthers got off to a 2-0 start by pulling out two close home victories, by two over GWU and three over Asheville. HPU also got some high praise and national recognition for Shay Shines’ dunk against Asheville that made the top spot on SportsCenter’s Top Plays last weekend:
- Winthrop (4-4 / 1-1)… we will keep saying it because it’s true: beware the lurking Eagles. Coach Randy Peele believes in building for the tournament and knows that winning a few games at the right time can mean everything–but that doesn’t mean Winthrop sits back in the regular season. Winning in overtime at VMI in a high-scoring game was a test the Eagles passed with flying colors, only to falter at Liberty two days later. To move up the list, we’ll need to see more of the former and less of the latter. Robbie Dreher and Andre Jones have become a formidable tandem for the Eagles: they combined for 93 points in the two conference games.
- VMI (6-4 / 0-2)… the Keydets keep piling up points, but spoiled their hot 5-0 start by losing three of the last four games. Stan Okoye is the league’s only player averaging over 20 points per game for the season, with teammate Keith Gabriel not far behind with more than 18 PPG. Not to be overlooked, freshman Rodney Glasgow has been a strong contributor this year and throws in better than 13 PPG as well. Nonetheless, you have to say VMI’s conference start was a disappointment. Losing in overtime against Winthrop should not be held against them, but it seems as if they should have been able to give PC more of a fight.
- Gardner-Webb (6-6 / 1-1)… would you believe the Runnin’ Bulldogs are already approaching last year’s win total? It’s true, thanks to coach Chris Holtmann waking up the potential at GWU and getting off to a good start. The Bulldogs won a road game they needed to get at Radford and fell at HPU by just a basket, so it seems as if GWU may have some bark and some bite this season.
- UNC Asheville (3-5 / 1-1)… it remains hard to peg this Asheville squad, although it seems fairly certain the injury to John Williams has hurt the squad’s overall performance. The Bulldogs hit the road and crushed Radford by 20, but followed that up with a three-point loss at High Point. They have a losing record overall, but with a win at a Big Six team in hand (even if it’s Auburn), so which team is this? Answers will likely come when full conference play rolls in soon.
- Presbyterian College (3-5 / 1-1)… another team playing to mixed reviews on the early conference swing, falling to Liberty by nine but downing VMI by double-digits (and setting a PC record against Division-I opposition with 92 points in that game). Khalid Mutakabbir has found his shooting stroke, leading the Big South in 3-point field goal percentage (.680, 17-25).
- Charleston Southern (4-5 / 0-1)… the Buccaneers have also had their ups and downs in the early going. CSU thought it might be able to sneak out of Conway with a win over Coastal, but fell by just two points. That’s a fair start, but still a loss–and that game will sit as the only Big South contest for a few weeks.
- Radford (2-6 / 0-2)… it can’t be encouraging that in seven games, the Highlanders have only broken 60 once (83 vs. Methodist). Opening Big South play with a 20-point home loss sure doesn’t help the outlook for Brad Greenberg’s squad, now with six losses in a row.
A Look Ahead
- Until all league teams get into the regular conference schedule beginning December 31, it remains a motley collection of home contests against smaller schools, road games versus major conference opponents, and a smattering of match-ups against comparable programs. Right now, the most encouraging thing is knowing that these teams will be going head-to-head soon and can truly sort out their identities from this rollercoaster mix of high-scoring wins and crushing defeats.
- If you’re looking to catch the Big South in action against the nation’s top teams, you’ll have a few chances with Presbyterian matching up against Missouri (12/11), Gardner-Webb at Louisville (12/18), UNC-Asheville visiting Ohio State (12/21) and Winthrop against Kentucky (12/22).