Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
Coastal Carolina 1-0 Big South ( 6-2 overall)
High Point 1-0 (4-2)
Radford 1-0 (3-2)
Liberty 1-0 (4-5)
Gardner-Webb 0-0 (3-3)
UNC Asheville 0-0 (1-6)
Charleston Southern 0-1 (4-3)
VMI 0-1 (3-3)
Winthrop 0-1 (2-4)
Presbyterian College 0-1 (2-6)
All-Conference Team Justifying Selections. Players of the Week (or Co-Players) in the early going for the Big South: Nick Barbour (HPU), Art Parakhouski (RU), and Joseph Harris (CCU), all members of the Preseason All-Conference Team. Fellow honorees Jamarco Warren (CSU) and Grayson Flittner (GWU) have been candidates for the award as well this young season. The first ten 20-point/10-rebound games logged in the Big South this season all came from that same set of players — four each from Parakhouski and Harris, plus two from the other half of Radford’s twin towers, Joey Lynch-Flohr. Right now we’ll take the position that these are great players having great games, rather than suggesting that there’s a lack of depth in the star production department beyond those six guys (six in all because of a tie in the vote).
Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
Predicted Order of Finish:
UNC Asheville (12-6)
High Point (9-9)
Coastal Carolina (7-11)
Charleston Southern (6-12)
Presbyterian College (3-15)
Jamarco Warren (G), Jr., Charleston Southern
Grayson Flittner (G), Sr., Gardner-Webb
Joseph Harris (F), R-Sr., Coastal Carolina
Joey Lynch-Flohr (F), Sr., Radford
Art Parakhouski (C), Sr., Radford
6th Man. Nick Barbour (G), Soph, High Point
Impact Newcomer. Lazar Trifunovic (F), Jr., Radford (transfer from Binghamton)
What You Need to Know.Ask any of the Big South coaches right now who’s on top and the answer you’ll get is Radford. The Highlanders are the preseason favorite for the first time in a decade with good reason: the defending conference champs (regular season and tournament winners) still have their skilled twin towers combination of 6-8 Joey Lynch-Flohr and 6-11 Art Parakhouski. RU center and dominant force Parakhouski in particular has the size, strength, and game needed to dominate the opposition (for perspective, last year he averaged a double-double against Big East and ACC competition), playing his way into Player of the Year honors last season and the Preseason POY award for this year. Beyond Radford, the race should be very tight among a few schools with questions to answer: Asheville – can the Bulldogs win away from the Justice Center this year (11-3 home, 4-13 on the road a year ago); Winthrop – can the Eagles return to their once-familiar position of dominance in the Big South with 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson now as the unquestioned team leader; and Gardner-Webb – can the Runnin’ Bulldogs and playmaker Grayson Flittner iron out some consistency so that they turn their big wins into streaks? Meanwhile, two recent contenders will definitely be rebuilding: VMI – where Coach Duggar Baucom no longer has the Holmes twins to rely on in his rapid-fire scheme; and Liberty –where star player Seth Curry and Coach Ritchie McKay both departed Lynchburg, leaving new Coach Dale Layer to get the Flames burning again. High Point should fit in around where VMI and Liberty fall in the standings, with Coastal Carolina in that mix as well, while Charleston Southern is likely to trail that group despite the sharpshooting of Jamarco Warren. Presbyterian College remains ineligible for a championship as the transition to D1 continues, but PC doesn’t have the tools to contend yet in any case, so look for the Blue Hose at the bottom of the standings.
Predicted Champion. Radford Highlanders (NCAA Seed: #15). Last year RU passed early front-runner VMI in the regular season and then knocked the Keydets out in the Big South Championship. The reward for the Highlanders? A #16 seed and a lethal draw against eventual National Champion North Carolina (an experience Parakhouski describes as “short, but amazing”). This season Radford should draw a little more attention and could easily play into a #15 spot, which opens the possibility of getting a potentially favorable match-up down low given the size RU can bring to the post. With that, it’s not out of line to think the Big South could see a first round win for the first time since Winthrop’s memorable upset of Notre Dame in 2007.
Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South conference and writer for Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
Predicted Order of Finish:
Winthrop (19-10, 13-5)
Radford (17-12, 12-6)
Gardner-Webb (16-13, 11-7)
Liberty (16-15, 11-7)
High Point (15-14, 9- 9)
Charleston So. (13-16, 9- 9)
VMI (13-16, 8-10)
Coastal Carolina (14-16, 7-11)
UNC Asheville (11-18, 6-12)
Presbyterian (6-23, 4-14)
What You Need to Know (WYN2K). When the preseason balloting of the media and coaches produces seven teams with first-place votes (out of ten teams overall), it’s a pretty good clue that the race is wide open and/or that nobody really knows how it’s going to shake out. Why the mystery? Well, player losses may be cyclical for everyone, but the hits were hard across the board for Big South teams: a high number of star seniors, career record-holders, and all-conference representatives have departed (see: Arizona Reid, Reggie Williams, Chris Gaynor, and Jack Leasure, among many others). That turnover has left several coaches wondering what they have to work with this season—for example, Winthrop draws its somewhat traditional slot at the top, but as Head Coach Randy Peele pointed out, that’s without any Eagles on the preseason All-Conference team and with only 18 ppg returning this year! If Media Day interviews are to be taken at face value, the majority of Big South coaches believe the greatest talent pool likely belongs to Radford, so the Highlanders may make some noise. New member Gardner-Webb won’t be able to sneak up on anyone, a by-product of last year’s epic upset of UK at Rupp Arena. Liberty’s Anthony Smith has the skills to play anywhere, and he has earned preseason Player of the Year honors as he begins his senior campaign. The middle of the pack could finish in any order, with High Point, Charleston Southern, VMI and Coastal Carolina all working on their identities for 2008-09—only VMI and its trademark up-tempo offense offer a good sense of what may come this season. Between senior departures and the loss of 7-7 center Kenny George to injury, UNC Asheville will not be expected to duplicate last year’s surprising run to the top. Presbyterian is working through its transition to D1 and will have its work cut out for it just to stay off the bottom this year.
Predicted Champion.Winthrop Eagles(#14 NCAA). Last year’s top three scorers may be gone, but enough pieces are still there—including tournament experience and skilled coaching. WU has won the last four conference tournaments and the Eagles grabbed a first round NCAA win for the Big South in 2007 by toppling Notre Dame, so there are still plenty of guys in Rock Hill who know all about winning when it counts. If players like Charles Corbin and Mantoris Robinson step into the leadership void with some authority, the team will be fine—but they will be challenged by others who think there may be room at the top this year. Look for Winthrop to be touch-and-go for 20 wins, maybe coming up just short and finding a #14 seed in the works when the brackets are announced. Below are some highlights of Winthrop’s most recent Big South championship game.
Radford Highlanders. Forward/center Joey Lynch-Flohr gives RU a strong presence in the middle and the Highlanders certainly have their share of talent, but Coach Brad Greenberg will have to catch some breaks to pass Winthrop and break Radford’s poor postseason history (only Big South Tournament Championship: 1998).
Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. All-Conference junior guard Grayson Flittner is a complete player, and GWU returns most of the team that pulled off the upset heard ‘round the nation (over UK), but the Bulldogs fell flat after that early win and there’s nothing to indicate that they will be better off this time out.
Liberty Flames. Anthony Smith is sensational, and you have to keep your eyes on a team that has an asset like that, but there are still too many unknowns for Coach Ritchie McKay in his second season at LU—look for the Flames to keep improving and to produce for McKay after this building year with its wave of freshmen.
Important/Key Games & RPI Boosters. A year ago, teams in the current Big South knocked off multiple teams in the ACC and the SEC, so where could that come from this year? There are games on the slate against the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big East, Big 12 and other significant out-of-conference foes—plus the opponents still to be announced for the ESPN Bracketbusters games with Gardner-Webb, Liberty, and Winthrop. Here are a dozen to watch:
VMI @ Kentucky (11/14/08)
Radford @ Virginia (11/21/08)
Winthrop @ Davidson (11/21/08)
Gardner-Webb @ Oklahoma (11/22/08)
High Point @ NC State (11/22/08)
Liberty @ Virginia (11/25/08)
Gardner-Webb @ South Carolina (11/25/08)
Liberty @ Clemson (12/7/08)
UNC Asheville @ Ohio State (12/22/08)
Winthrop v. Florida (12/28/08)
Virginia Tech @ Charleston Southern (12/29/08)
Radford @ Wake Forest (12/30/08)
Honorary Big South members among majors this year? Try Virginia (3 games), South Carolina (3), Florida State (2), Clemson (2), Cincinnati (2), NC State (2), and Virginia Tech (2). Additional opponents in the RPI hunt for the Big South: Duke, UNC, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, Minnesota, Iowa, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Kansas St., West Virginia, and USF, among others.
Here are a half-dozen games to watch in Conference play:
Radford @ Gardner-Webb (12/4/08 – December showdown for the challenger and the newcomer)
Winthrop @ Radford (12/6/08 – a very early barometer of the potential duel for first)
Liberty @ Winthrop (1/3/09 – gauge to see if Liberty will make a 2009 charge)
Radford @ Winthrop (2/2/09 – will it be a fight for first or a battle to stay in the race?)
VMI @ Liberty (2/24/09 – old rivalry may determine if either will be contender)
Did You Know?
the Big South Conference is marking its 25th Anniversary this season
star recruit Seth Curry (bother of Stephen) will play for Liberty this year…the son of former NBA player Dell Curry is not the only Big South newcomer with a pro pedigree—GWU adds junior transfer Roy Hinson III, son of the NBA’s Roy Hinson
VMI has led the nation in scoring for two consecutive years, only the 11th team to ever accomplish that feat (and a 3-year run has only been done twice before)
as alluded to above, the 2004-05 All-Freshman Team has departed, but its members have left their marks on the Conference record book: Reggie Williams (all-time leading scorer), Arizona Reid (all-time leading rebounder), Jack Leasure (the Big South 3-point record-holder), and Chris Gaynor (Conference career marks for assists and steals).
games against Presbyterian will count in the regular season standings, and the Blue Hose can compete for the regular season title, but PC is ineligible for any postseason play (as part of its transition to D1)
two coaches in the Big South have major conference head coaching experience: Coastal Carolina’s Cliff Ellis (Clemson, Auburn) and Liberty’s Ritchie McKay (Colorado State, Oregon State, New Mexico)…plus Radford’s Brad Greenberg has been an assistant in the NBA (Knicks, Clippers)
65 Team Era. UNC Asheville was the first to win an NCAA Tournament game, with its PiG win over Texas Southern in 2003. Winthrop has been the Big South representative for four consecutive seasons, and was the first to advance past the first round with its win over Notre Dame in 2007. In two other years (2005 and 2006), the Eagles gave #2 Tennessee (63-61) and #3 Gonzaga (74-64) all they wanted in first round matchups.
Final Thoughts. There are those outside the region who will overlook the Big South as a one-bid league without a history of deep tournament runs, but that would be short-sighted. The conference has now been around for a quarter-century; its caliber of coaching has improved and its competition for recruits has stepped up; its teams have demonstrated the ability to take down foes like Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Miami (FL) and other teams from the major conferences. With this year’s conference race believed to be an open playing field, any team could get hot at the end of the year if it finds the right chemistry among its young players and then perhaps enjoy an extra turn (or two?) at the Dance. It should definitely be fun to watch unfold over the course of the season.
Is it safe to say that Billy Gillispie’s honeymoon at Kentucky is already over? Before we can even start talking about what happened there tonight (since we didn’t see it! thanks again, ESPNU), we should give a little historical perspective.
Consider that UK was a 25.5 point favorite and lost by 16 points for a spread difference of 41.5 pts. We know that Stanford was a 39 point underdog vs. USC in football when the Cardinal won 24-23 this year, but at least those teams are in the same conference, right? Honestly, we can’t remember another spread reversal quite so large in basketball.
Then consider that Gardner-Webb (9-21 in 06-07) was by all objective measures one of the worst teams in America last year (#279 Pomeroy; #265 RPI; #300 Sagarin), and was picked to finish near-last in the Atlantic Sun among its NCAA-eligible teams. The Bulldogs from Boiling Springs, NC, lost to UNC by 53, Georgia by 29, Wisconsin by 58 and Wake Forest by 32 pts last season, and its entire conference was 0-34 as a whole against BCS teams in 06-07.
Coach Gillispie Has Bigger Problems Now than His Sordid Past
Gardner-Webb scored the game’s first 14 points, led by as much as 16 and took a 38-27 lead at intermission. The Runnin’ (and thinkin’) Bulldogs played with one purpose and repeatedly got good scoring opportunities. Backdoor cuts nullified UK’s pressure defense. Plain scrappiness netted other scoreboard rewards. At times, the Cats looked like the same disjointed team that so frustrated former coach Tubby Smith and the fans in recent seasons.
Gardner-Webb took immediate charge of the game. Grayson Flittner, a 6-foot native of Sharpsville, Ind., who walked on the Gardner-Webb team because his girlfriend played on the women’s team, scored 22 points. He hit a pair of three-pointers in the 14-0 run. Thomas Sanders, who was home schooled until college and came to Gardner-Webb through an “Availables Game” designated for unsigned junior college players, added 21 points and 10 rebounds. Kentucky responded with too many solo flights of fancy. None were more ugly than Joe Crawford’s leaning, one-hand flip shot [airball] that evoked thoughts of a YMCA pickup game.
All that gladhanding and backslapping that Coach Gillispie has been getting in the Bluegrass State for the past seven months is over – the good-time wagon has lost a wheel and the pioneers are pissed. As far as we can tell, the much-maligned Tubby Smith’s worst loss in ten seasons at the helm of UK was to Western Kentucky at home in 2001-02, and WKU made the NCAAs as a #14 seed that year. What must ole Ten-loss Tubby be thinking right now? Obviously, G-W is far beneath WKU in historical status considering they just joined D1 in 2000. This is probably UK’s worst loss in almost twenty years, dating back to a 1989 home loss against SW Louisiana in the old UKIT during Rick Pitino’s first year at the helm – of course, he was playing with essentially a bunch of walk-ons, some chewing gum and silly putty that year, so that loss was none too surprising.
After the game, Gillispie had this to say:
You can’t just show up on the court and think you’re going to beat somebody because you wear a certain jersey. We didn’t play like a hunter tonight.
Well, Coach, UK fans were already booing tonight, and with good reason. You’re going to have to figure out how to become Daniel Boone in a hurry, or things could get very ugly for you there.
For a tough-love assessment of this upset from a fan’s perspective, A Sea of Blue gives it to Gillispie for his lack of um, coaching logic in this game.