The Big East is expected to announce today that it will add five schools to its football lineup starting in the 2013 season, and the lucky ‘winners’ are quite literally all over the country. Boise State, San Diego State, Central Florida, SMU and Rice Houston will join the league in two years, with BSU and SDSU opting to join as football-only members, while the other three come on board in all sports, including basketball. We honestly never thought we’d see a day where the mighty hoops conference that Dave Gavitt created among a number of small private Catholic schools in the northeastern corridor would ever become a safe haven for the likes of a Methodist school, Phi Slama Jama, and a Florida commuter school, but the times they-are-a-changin’. Think of it this way — at least we’ll get to see more of Matt Doherty on national television.
Shouldn’t we just go ahead and pre-write the story where UCLA’s Reeves Nelson is permanently booted from the team? For the second time in the young season, the moody Bruin forward was suspended indefinitely by head coach Ben Howland for “conduct unbecoming a UCLA player.” The latest incident that drew Howland’s ire had to do with Nelson’s apparent laughter/smiling on the bench as Texas stormed back to beat his team on Saturday afternoon. If you read the comments from some of Nelson’s teammates and Howland in the LA Times article, you get a strong sense that the enigmatic forward is unlikely to figure it out. It would probably make the most sense for UCLA to move on in trying to rebuild its program without Nelson acting as a regular distraction, but we’ve been surprised with how much patience the head coach has shown with him.
Let’s stay in the Pac-12, also known as the conference of unhappy players, apparently. Merely one day after Arizona head coach Sean Miller noted that his freshman point guard, Josiah Turner, may get the start in tonight’s key game against Florida, the young player was suspended for that game for an undisclosed violation of team policy. Recapping the league’s recent player woes, we already know about UCLA’s Nelson. Arizona’s Sidiki Johnson and Oregon’s Jabari Brown didn’t even make it to their first semester break before deciding to transfer. Utah’s Josh Watson has been suspended indefinitely, as has California’s Richard Solomon. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson still has not been cleared by the NCAA to play this season. Things have already been a disaster on the hardwood for this conference; it appears that the instability of the league carries over to its personnel as well.
It’s rather hard to believe that he’s been around this long, but Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellispicked up his 700th career victory on Tuesday night against The Citadel. Nearly 80 of those wins came as the head coach of NAIA’s Cumberland College, but his 622 as the top man at South Alabama, Clemson, Auburn and CCU puts him currently at #8 on the list of active coaches, ahead of such names as Rick Pitino and Mike Montgomery. Ellis always struck us a little bit as a guy who would be happy so long as he was coaching anywhere, but he’s turned the Chanticleer program into a powerhouse in the Big South (64 wins in the last two-plus years), and with a solid core led by Anthony Raffa and Chris Gradnigo, we don’t think he’s going to retire anytime soon.
President Barack Obama made headlines on Tuesday with a speech he gave in Osawatomie, Kansas, yesterday, when he referred to the steadily-shrinking American middle class as having reached “a make or break” moment in its history. Harking back to a speech given 101 years ago by Teddy Roosevelt in the same spot, Obama stated that the crisis of income inequality and opportunity in America was the “defining issue of our time.” We won’t speculate on the merits of his argument, but it’s curious that he delivered one of the more notable speeches of the third year of his presidency immediately after meeting Kansas head coach Bill Self. Perhaps the leader of the free world felt so burned by KU’s NCAA Tournament meltdowns the last two seasons that it stirred up the orator in him to make a compelling speech.
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.
Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor and the Patriot League correspondent. Each week he will examine the other 26 non-power conferences in college basketball. You can find him on twitter @KLDoyle11.
Well this is refreshing, isn’t it? College basketball on the tube every night, several Other 26 teams already knocking some ranked BCS teams off of their high horses, and a whole lot of goodness upcoming with more early season tournaments and games. There is not a specific theme that has made itself apparent to open the season — I will usually try to hone in on a theme during the introduction of each column — but business has been usual to open the season. We have seen two major upsets with Long Beach State and Cleveland State shocking Top 10 teams — both have crawled into our Top 10 as a result — and we have not seen The Jimmer all over ESPN routinely hitting shots from 35 feet, something that was all too common last year. Rest assured though, as more and more games are played, storylines and themes will naturally develop. For now, let’s dig into the Top 10 teams for the week.
Mark Bryant oversees multimedia at the Big South Conference. You can follow his updates on Twitter @BigSouthSports.
The Week That Was
New Gym, Part One: YES… UNC Asheville got its opportunity to show off the new Kimmel Arena with a marquee match-up against the top-ranked North CarolinaTar Heels on ESPNU. EddieBiedenbach’s Bulldogs played with a tenacity befitting their nickname, hanging tight most of the way before falling, 91-75.
New Gym, Part Two: NO, but that’s OK… Coastal Carolina had once hoped that this past Tuesday would be the chance for the Chants to unveil their own shiny new room, but delays in construction may mean that’s a year away. No matter: CCU welcomed LSU from the SEC to small Kimbel Arena in Conway — then proceeded to pull off the 71-63 upset.
Meet The New Member, Same as the Old Member: Campbell is back in the Big South. The Fighting Camels were a founding member of the conference and played hoops with the Big South from 1983-94. CU was 129-128 in those seasons–and stays on the plus side with wins in the first three games this year.
UNC Asheville Opened Up Its New Digs, But With A Loss To North Carolina
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.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Big South correspondent, Mark Bryant.
New Kids On The Block: The most obvious changes from last hoops season to the one upcoming are the new faces in the Big South Conference. First and foremost, there’s a whole new team to account for this year, as the Campbell Fighting Camels have returned. CU was a founding member of the Big South in 1983, but left in 1994. Now the boys from Buies Creek are back where they belong, nestled in among more geographic rivalries and familiar old foes. And while it’s not as dramatic as a whole new team, plenty of eyes will be on the new head man at Radford, where Mike Jones will be in charge of a rebuilding process for the Highlanders.
Old Faces, New Places: And while every conference sees plenty of shuffling among assistants from year to year, the Big South had a couple notable arrivals–particularly for those who have followed SEC hoops in the past. Charleston Southern added former South Carolinastandout B.J. McKie to the coaching staff. McKie joins coach Barclay Radebaugh, who was on the USC bench in BJ’s days as a guard to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, up the beach from Charleston, Coastal Carolina and head coach Cliff Ellis have added their own familiar name in Mamadou N’Diaye, who played at Auburn for Ellis before launching his NBA career.
Changes of Scenery: Big South basketball locales will take on different looks both at home and away this year, as UNC Asheville and Coastal Carolina are putting the finishing touches on entirely new facilities, while several schools are hitting the road less traveled and going abroad. Summer trips will take Presbyterian College to Italy, Gardner-Webb to the Bahamas, and Libertyto Belgium and France, plus once the season begins, we will see Winthrop head off to the Virgin Islands.
What do Asheville's Matt Dickey (2) and JP Primm have in store for an encore after last season's NCAA Tournament bid?
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
The final Saturday of the regular season is also the best of the year. Epic would be one way to describe the schedule today. Bids will be clinched, bubbles will burst and conference titles will be decided. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#2 Kansas @ #21 Missouri in progress on CBS (****)
It's Title Time (Again) For Markieff and KU, Though We Don't Expect the Tigers To Go Quietly
The Jayhawks can clinch the Big 12 title with a win here or a Texas loss at Baylor this evening. Through Texas’ surge and preseason projections brandishing Kansas State and Baylor, we learned one thing in this conference in 2010-11: the conference title goes through Lawrence until proven otherwise. Missouri will be in the NCAA Tournament win or lose, but a win here would really improve their seeding and give them confidence heading into the postseason. The Tigers are a different team at home and should give KU all they’ve have in front of their raucous crowd and a national television audience, looking to complete their home slate undefeated. Kansas will need to protect the ball and dominate in the paint and on the glass in order to win on the road. Missouri’s preference for a quick pace means rebounding is a vulnerability, and the Morris twins should be able to pull down a lot of missed shots assuming they stay out of foul trouble.
RTC’s Kevin Doyle, author of the weekly column, The Other 26, and the Patriot League Correspondent, will be providing conference tournament previews for all non-BCS conferences. Up first are the Big South and Horizon League.
Being the “Other 26” guy around these parts, I deemed it appropriate to give a quick look into all 25 (the Ivy, of course, has no tournament) of the non-BCS conference tournaments prior to their commencement. I will bring you these previews for each conference on the day their first round games are slated to be played. We kick things off with the Big South and the Horizon League. Both will unquestionably be interesting tournaments as Coastal Carolina’s recent issues and allegations regarding NCAA violations have opened the door for the rest of the conference. Unlike the Big South which was dominated by Coastal for nearly the entire year, the Horizon League had great parity at the top of the conference with six teams reaching ten wins or better.
The Favorite: Coastal Carolina—dare I say it—no longer the favorite to win the Big South tournament? After coming up just short last year as Winthrop dashed their hopes of advancing to the NCAA Tournament, Coastal came out with a vengeance this year to take back what they thought should have been theirs. They won 22 straight games—14 of them coming in the Big South—and appeared untouchable. But, amidst recruiting violations and eligibility issues, Coastal’s chance at advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993 has taken a serious hit. Now, the league is wide open with Liberty, and UNC-Asheville also vying for the coveted auto-bid. I like Asheville as they have won three straight heading into the conference tournament with one of the wins coming in dramatic fashion against Coastal at the buzzer.
Dark Horse: They score a whole lot of points, but also give up a ton as well. Clearly, I am referring to the VMI Keydets. The scoring ability of Austin Kenon with his deadly shot is an aspect of VMI’s game that always makes them a threat to win games.
Who’s Hot: VMI happens to be the hottest team entering the tournament having won five of their last six games.
Player to Watch: Now that Coastal Carolina’s Desmond Holloway has been ruled ineligible, there is no other obvious player to keep an eye on. Austin Kenon for VMI is certainly one to keep tabs on as he can light up the gym maybe better than anyone in the conference, but I believe Matt Dickey of UNC-Asheville is poised for a big tournament. If Dickey’s name sounds familiar it is due to his heroics as he miraculously stole Coastal Carolina’s inbounds pass and hit an off-balance three to propel his Bulldogs to a big win.
Mark Bryant is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference. Get up to speed for the Big South conference tournament with the RTC conference wrap-up and tournament preview before it tips Tuesday night.
Power Rankings/Tournament Preview
The Big South tournament winner could receive as high as a 13-seed if Coastal Carolina parlays its regular season success into an automatic Tournament bid, but if there’s an upset along the way, a 16-seed could be more probable.
1. Coastal Carolina (26-4, 16-2) – Cliff Ellis and The Chanticleers plowed through the season’s first few months, garnering AP poll consideration, before dropping two games in February. A dark cloud formed after a story by the New York Times led the NCAA to investigate the recruitment of star guard Desmond Holloway. With Holloway ineligible while the matter is resolved, the team has also had to persevere through Kierre Greenwood‘s ACL tear and a prior suspension of Mike Holmes. Winning the Big South tourney is still in the cards, but the uncertainty would weigh heavily against any chances of pulling a first-round NCAA Tournament upset.
And down the stretch they come! Just like a commentator of a competitive horse race fervently belches when the horses make the final turn, college basketball commentators, analysts, and enthusiasts alike all speak of the game with greater eagerness and zeal at this time of the year. Judgment Week—still am not sure what ESPN is trying to do with this—has passed us, Championship Week is nearly upon us, and we all know what comes after that: the Madness!
While the majority of Other 26 teams around the country still have one or two remaining games left in the regular season, there are a handful of teams out there who have completed the second part of their season. Many coaches, especially those coaching in perennial single bid leagues, break down their year into three seasons: 1) the non-conference, 2) conference play, 3) the postseason. The opportunity is presented for many teams that have struggled during much of the season to get hot at the right time and advance onto the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports.
At the beginning of conference play, I wrote in a previous article the concept of “three games in March” which is often the mentality of teams from smaller conferences who have to win three games, or four in some cases, to advance to the Dance—it is their only way in. Well, here is that opportunity.
The conference tournaments will officially begin in the middle of next week with a few of the smaller conferences going at it. If one really wants to get technical though, the argument can be made that the Ivy League has a season-long conference tournament that commences at the beginning of league play.
The Lede. It was an interesting night of games out there in the college hoops nation, but the most intriguing part of the evening came from a Divison III school with a grand total of 950 undergraduate students, every one of whom could undoubtedly use our SAT scores back in the day as toilet paper. Pasadena, where you at?
Caltech Celebrates Its First Conference Win in 26 Years (LA Times/G. Friedman)
Your Watercooler Moment. Caltech Ends 310-Game Conference Losing Streak. If there was ever a time for a fan base to RTC, it was tonight at Caltech’s Senior Night. We typically don’t delve down into Division III very often unless a D-I team is going slummin’, but something like this is definitely worthy as the WC Moment. The last time the Beavers won a game in its Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, January 23, 1985, none of its current players were even born yet (the school ended an overall 207-game losing streak back in 2007; things are looking up!). The losing streak had extended to a stunning 310 games in the intervening 26 years, but the lovable losers from one of the nation’s most prestigious universities put an end to it tonight when Ryan Elmquist hit one of two free throws with three seconds left to give his team a one-point lead. The ensuing half court shot by Occidental College was off the mark, Caltech won the game, 46-45, and the RTC was on. Congrats to the Beavers on their Senior Night. Let’s just not make it another generation until the next one, ok?
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Matt Dickey’s Fifteen Seconds. Well, actually 2.8 seconds, as that’s all it took for the junior UNC-Asheville guard to steal a long inbounds pass at halfcourt, take one dribble, and drop a leaning thirty-footer to beat Big South leading Coastal Carolina at the buzzer. If he isn’t already, he’ll be all over the ESPN highlight packages this week for this play. Wow. CCU is still a full game ahead of second-place Liberty in the loss column of the Big South, but that was a terrible way to lose at home right there.
Bruce Pearl With His Dander Up. It seemingly never fails. As soon as the flames start licking at Bruce Pearl’s feet, his team comes up big with a win that nobody expects. A 29-9 run to close out the last twelve minutes of the game in Memorial Gymnasium is almost unheard of for a visiting team, yet Pearl’s guys came from eleven down to win by nine in a shocking display of defensive prowess over the last third of tonight’s game. Pearl getting notice of allegations from the NCAA today didn’t cause Vanderbilt to go ice cold from beyond the arc (Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins combined for 1-9 from distance), but if we’ve learned anything about this man’s career, there seems to be a strong correlation between other teams playing badly at precisely the time we stop believing in him. UT isn’t a lock for the NCAA Tournament just yet, but tonight’s win will go a long way toward that end. Who here wants to bet against Pearl?
If you are a true fan of Mid-Major basketball, then this is the weekend for you. Many fans who find a whole lot of joy in watching teams from the smaller conferences compete, share the common gripe that there is not nearly enough coverage of these teams. Well, at no other point during the season will you see ESPN dedicate an entire Saturday of basketball almost exclusively to the best Mid-Major teams around the nation.
Playing against the same faces within a team’s conference can become monotonous, but the BracketBuster weekend enables 114 teams around the country a brief recess before the final stretch of the regular season and tournament time to play an opponent they would otherwise never play. Although many of these games will have little meaning in the grand scheme of things, there are a select few that have serious implications as several Mid-Major teams partaking in the BracketBuster weekend sit squarely on the bubble.
Brace yourself for a great day of college hoops on Saturday. With so many of the top Mid-Major teams in the country playing—George Mason, Utah State, St. Mary’s, Cleveland State, Old Dominion, Missouri State, and Wichita State—you can bet that at least one of these teams, if not more, will be wearing Cinderella’s slipper come March.