Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
- Coastal Carolina 11-3 / 21-5
- Radford 10-4 / 14-10
- Winthrop 9-4 / 13-10
- UNC Asheville 8-6 / 11-14
- High Point 7-6 / 12-12
- Liberty 7-6 / 12-13
- Charleston Southern 6-8 / 11-13
- VMI 4-10/ 9-15
- Gardner-Webb 4-10/ 7-17
- Presbyterian College 2-11/ 4-21
Coastal Holds Serve, Radford Keeps Pace. No, the Chanticleers couldn’t make it through unscathed, but they’re still rolling strong in the lead at 11-3 in the Big South. As of February 12th, Coastal had not yet lost consecutive games this season—but will that still hold by Valentine’s Day? CCU’s earlier 12-game winning streak ended at Radford’s hands January 14th, and those teams meet again February 13th—with Coastal Carolina coming off of a loss at High Point, trying to avoid back-to-back defeats. And the Highlanders seek the opportunity to wrest first place away, as RU would hold the tiebreaker with a win and a sweep over the Chants.
Eagles Soar. Can we say no one really saw this one coming? Naturally you can never write off a program of Winthrop’s strength and tradition, but this was a team see-sawing between winning and losing runs in the early part of the season—and now we see WU with five straight wins and eight of the last nine to fly up the standings into third. If Winthrop can hang on, it means postseason basketball would return to Rock Hill after an uncharacteristic absence in 2009…but the schedule won’t make it easy: WU will finish the season with three games in five days against Asheville, High Point, and Radford, the last two on the road.
The Three Races? Naturally there’s a battle for first place, one likely to remain between Coastal Carolina and Radford, as it has for most of the season…and there’s the important fight to be in the top four, because that means hosting in the first round, and there are four teams in a tight tangle for fourth right now…but we have one more standings stand-off: the difference between eighth and ninth. The Big South Championship takes eight teams—VMI and Gardner-Webb are tied for eighth (at 4-10), trying just to get in…and Thursday night, VMI defeated GWU to force that tie. The Keydets would rather not fall from second last year to non-qualifier this year.
With only four to five Big South games remaining for every team, and with no seeds locked down yet, each game becomes that much more significant to how the whole season will be viewed for these teams. Late season matchups pitting foes in close races will shape the Championship field, such as Coastal @ Radford, CSU @ Liberty, Winthrop @ HPU, and UNCA @ Winthrop.
Rises and falls, rises and falls…while Coastal Carolina and Radford have been the steady pace-setters, others have had surges at the leaders and cooled down—first High Point, then Charleston Southern, and more recently UNC Asheville. Currently Winthrop is still on the upswing, so we’ll see if the Eagles can hold on to the higher spot—third at the moment. Those up-and-down teams cited: HPU, CSU, & UNCA, are three of the four squads fighting for the fourth spot (along with Liberty, who has maintained its slow-and-steady pace hovering around the cut line throughout).
- Charleston Southern – The Bucs need to right the ship: January started with five wins in six games, but CSU has balanced that by losing five of six since then. On any given day, the team expects to rely on scoring from Jamarco Warren and rebounding from Kelvin Martin, but it’s the contribution from freshman guard Jeremy Sexton that has been a pleasant surprise.
- Coastal Carolina – Joseph Harris remains among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding, and shooting percentage to be the fuel for Coastal’s run, but he’s not alone out there. In fact, the Mario Edwards-to-Chris Evans alley-oop combination against GWU hit the #7 position on the SportsCenter Top Ten one night! Thanks in part to back-to-back 30+ point wins over GWU and UNCA, CCU leads the Big South in scoring margin with a whopping +15.6.
- Gardner-Webb – the Runnin’ Bulldogs have been the Strugglin’ Bulldogs for most of the season, but the Conference season still had possibilities before their most recent stretch of five losses in six games. Now GWU is in a fight just to make the Championship field, as noted above. C.J. Hailey is the only GWU Bulldog in the Big South’s top 25 scorers, averaging 13.0 ppg.
- High Point – the Panthers can bomb away some shots—looking only at Conference play, HPU has the Big South’s best 3-point shooting percentage (.371) and its top 3-point scorer in Eugene Harris (with 3.0/game). Harris joins teammate Nick Barbour in the top four in scoring for Big South games this season. And home is sweet for High Point: overall, the Panthers are 9-1 at home and only 3-11 on the road.
- Liberty – how close are the Flames to dead-even? One game under .500 overall, one game over in the Big South…in 25 total games, LU has been outscored by merely 15 points and in 13 Conference games, outscored by just 6…and no streaks in Big South play, win or lose, longer than two games. Given all that, Liberty has been up and down, but the average is pretty much a flat line.
- Presbyterian College – It’s certainly a dubious honor to lead the nation in minutes played by freshmen (3410 of a possible 5075 minutes), but that’s the situation at PC this season. In Big South games, the highest minutes/game average belongs to Khalid Mutakabbir of the Blue Hose—and yes, he’s a freshman (with 35.5 min./game).
- Radford – “Big Art” Parakhouski remains the focal point for RU (and for NBA scouts): he is the Big South leader in scoring (21.7), rebounding (13.4 – including leads in both offensive (5.38) and defensive (8.00) boards), and also shooting percentage (.589). Meanwhile, teammate Amir Johnson leads the conference in assists (5.73/game).
- UNC Asheville – it’s all about teamwork in Asheville: the Bulldogs have no one among the top 19 scorers in the Big South this season, but they have four of the top 25—J.P. Primm, John Williams, Matt Dickey, and Chris Stephenson, all averaging between 10-12 points per game. The Bulldogs lead the Big South in blocks, with 5.8 blocked shots per game.
- VMI – the song remains the same this year for the Keydets: VMI leads the Big South in scoring offense with 89.7 ppg, but comes in dead last in scoring defense, with 96.8 ppg. More good news/bad news: tops in the Conference in steals (11.00/game), but last in rebounding margin (-12.3). Those disparities have resulted in games played at a dizzying pace, but not in favor of the Keydets.
- Winthrop – in its current five-game winning streak, Winthrop has held each opponent under 40% shooting. WU has won eight of the last nine—holding three opponents under 50 points during that span. Another win will extend the Eagles’ Big South record for most 10-win Conference seasons—to ten.