It’s day three of Championship Fortnight and with three more conferences tipping off today, what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the Big South, NEC and OVC get started.
Dates: March 5, 7-9 Site: HTC Center (Myrtle Beach, S.C.)
What to expect: Chaos. The Big South Tournament might be the most unpredictable conference tourney in the nation. Just two games separated first place from seventh place in the league standings, and it wouldn’t come as a surprise for any of those teams to earn the automatic bid. Remember that Liberty, a squad that finished 6-10 in the league a season ago, won last year’s bid. With the parity in this conference, it could be just about anybody. Pick a name out of a hat for this one.
Favorite:High Point. The Panthers won the league by a single game with a record of 12-4. They could have been a legitimate Cinderella threat had former Florida Gator Allan Chaney not had his career cut short in December due to heart complications. Still, the regular season champion features sophomore John Brown and his 19.6 PPG and his 7.9 rebounds per contest on the inside, and won’t be easy to beat.
Every Friday throughout the rest of the season, the Other 26 Microsite will dig into some of the top storylines featuring those leagues from the previous week.
1. O26 Teams Make Statements Against Power Conference Teams
George Washington’s Joe McDonald and Maurice Creek turned heads with a buzzer-beating win at Maryland (washingtontimes.com)
Saturday: New Mexico cruises at home, handing Cincinnati its first loss, 63-54; Green Bay’s Greg Mays and Keifer Sykes each contribute 20+ points to defeat Virginia, 75-72
Sunday: Maurice Creek’s buzzer-beater lifts George Washington to a big win at Maryland, 77-75
Tuesday: After trailing nearly the entire game, Gonzaga surged ahead late to win at West Virginia, 80-76
Wednesday: North Dakota State’s Marshall Bjorklund scored 26 points to lead the Bison over Notre Dame, 73-69
Near misses: Arizona 63, UNLV 58; Xavier 85, Bowling Green 73 (OT); Washington State 67, Idaho 66; Kansas State 64, South Dakota 62; Xavier 63, Evansville 60.
2. Chances For More Statements to Come
With only a few weeks remaining before conference play gets into full swing, opportunities are winding down for Other 26 teams to trip up power conference opponents. Some of this week’s most intriguing match-ups:
I. Renko is an RTC columnist. He will kick off each weekend during the season with his analysis of the 26 other non-power conferences. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.
As the calendar turns to March, let us declare: Let the Madness begin. The NCAA Tournament is still three weeks away, but the fight to get there begins in earnest this coming week, as 12 mid-major conferences will kick off their tournaments. The Big South and Horizon League will have the honor of kicking things off on Tuesday night, with their first round tournament games. Ten more conferences will follow suit with the first auto-bids being awarded a week from today in the Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley.
We’ll be back next week with updates on all the action, but until then, there is still the homestretch of the regular season to attend to. So let’s move on to our updated Top 10 rankings, weekly honor roll, and (regular season) games to watch this week.
The Honor Roll is our weekly fixture highlighting the teams, players, and performances that impressed us in the past week.
Georgia Tech had the best night out of all the ACC teams, beating a pretty good Georgia team in Athens. The Yellow Jackets, in addition to putting together their usual solid defensive effort, displayed a versatile and balanced offense that saw five different players score in double figures while the team shot 52.1% from the field. If Georgia Tech can put together some more nights like this one, they will easily exceed expectations.
Georgia Tech Won in Athens For the First Time in a Long Time (AP/C. Compton)
Wake Forest and Maryland both nearly took losses but managed to get the win in games that should not have been that close. The Demon Deacons faced the white-hot fury of High Point‘s Nick Barbour who went nova and scored 35 points and hit 7 threes from beyond the arc. Wake Forest also struggled on the boards, allowing High Point to grab twelve offensive rebounds while only securing two of their own. The net result of this rebounding difference helped to create a significant shot disparity where Wake Forest shot the ball only 48 times compared to the High Point’s 63 attempts. That Wake Forest won this game despite these factors is almost impressive. The Demon Deacons were hyper-efficient on offense, shooting 58.3% from the field and making 18 free throws. That this team could turn in such an impressive offensive performance and still come within four points of losing to High Point isn’t a great sign for the future, though. Maryland’s close win had a similar flavor as bad defense nearly undermined a clicking offense. The Terrapins put together a nice evening on offense, including a truly solid game from Nick Faust that included 13 points on five field goals while leading the team with six rebounds, five assists and two blocks. The narrow three-point margin of victory, however, is far from comforting to Terrapin fans.
Virginia soundly beat George Mason in a game where rebounding machine Mike Scott only managed two boards. Was Scott having an off night? Hardly. There just weren’t a lot of misses in the game with Virginia shooting a ridiculous 60.5% and the Patriots managing to make 47.5% in a relatively slow game. Sammy Zeglinski shined as a starter with 18 points on 11 shots and four steals. Meanwhile, North Carolina unceremoniously stomped Evansville, holding the Aces to 25.8% shooting as no starter played more than 25 minutes. In what I thought would be the game of the night, Memphis’s Will Barton put on a show as the Tigers torched an undersized Miami team. Barton scored a ridiculous 27 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and managed four steals. Miami continues to look out of sorts on offense, which is bad news for a team that has really struggled to defend.
Tonight we have a full slate of games, though it’s unclear if the majority of them will be even close to competitive. Still, there are lots of options and a few choice offerings.
An In-State Rivalry!
It's a Peach State Battle in Athens Tonight
Georgia Tech at Georgia at 7:00 PM on ESPN3.com
Despite Georgia’s current three game slide, the Bulldogs have shown flashes of real talent in the early going with a notable win over Notre Dame. Georgia Tech has lost to Saint Joseph’s, Northwestern, and Tulane. Neither of these teams are great, but each has shown great aptitude on the defensive end. While the Yellow Jackets will probably have a tough time handling Georgia at home, this Georgia Tech team is, if nothing else, an outstanding rebounding team and that will keep them in the game as long as the Yellow Jacket scorers aren’t totally shut down.
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.
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
Despite a minor kerfuffle over Andy Glockner dinging Duke‘s schedule for not playing “true” road games, I think that we can all agree that non-conference road games are a thing of beauty. While old conference rivalries are their own distinct joy, and an on-going series between non-conference foes can be reliably entertaining (Kentucky vs. North Carolina, for example), there is something special when a team goes somewhere it has never been before and takes on the challenge of playing in hostile territory. And while prime time showdowns between two big schools in power conferences are entertaining, it is almost always better when Goliath comes to visit David.
This season, we have more than a few of these lopsided showdowns in the ACC. And, again, apologies to schools who scheduled great games at semi-neutral sites, but we will be focusing on the “true” road games. Sorry, Duke. It is great that you are playing Temple, but it’s a shame that it is at the Wells Fargo center. Sorry, Maryland. It’s even cooler that you are taking on Temple at the Palestra, but for now, let us give credit to teams that are willing to go head first into the belly of the (mid-to-low-major) beast.
Coming Off A NCAA Tournament Appearance, UNC Asheville Will Take On North Carolina at Home
After last season’s atrocious showing, a loss to just about anyone would not be too surprising for Wake Forest. That said, the showdown with neighboring High Point University in High Point could spell trouble if the Panthers smell weakness and decide to go for the weakened Deacons’ collective jugular. Fellow ACC basement-dweller Georgia Tech has scheduled a whole host of road games on hostile courts. While they should be able to take on the not-so-terrifying lineup of Tulane, Savannah State, and Fordham, a loss to any one of these teams could put an end to any modicum of momentum Georgia Tech might hope to carry into the conference season. The Citadel gets points for sheer chutzpah by scheduling Clemson for their home opener, and Clemson gets kudos for accepting. Getting the most dominant basketball school in South Carolina to come to your house to open the season is a bold move. There is no doubt that the Bulldogs and their fans will be amped for this game, and the Citadel will certainly give Clemson their best.
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.
It was a busy night Thursday, and that meant thirteen more eliminations from the national title race. You can start to see a few holes in the below Circle of March, as Jacksonville, High Point, St. Francis (NY), St. Francis (PA), Mt. St. Mary’s, Wagner, UT-Martin, Illinois State, VMI, UMBC, Southeast Missouri State, Lipscomb and Drake are now all looking forward to next season. With last night’s losses, there are now 289 teams still alive for the 2011 national championship.
Coming next: Huge Friday night of eliminations, with 21 games knocking out one team or another.
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.
Mark Bryant is the RTC correspondent for the Big South.
A Look Back
Showdown Results: Coastal Carolina and Liberty have made it abundantly clear they are the top two teams in the Big South Conference this season, with both teams setting a blistering pace and staying three-plus games ahead of all other teams. But the squads have now faced off twice this season, with the Chanticleers getting the better of the Flames both times, extending Coastal’s win streak to 19 and keeping CCU undefeated in conference as of this writing
Traffic Jam: After those top two teams, there is quite the clog in the middle of the standings: five teams sport records from 7-5 to 5-7, all playing contender roles for making the upper half of the conference tournament field. UNC Asheville and Charleston Southern hold the high ground at 7-5 each right now, with Winthrop pacing at 6-6 and VMI and High Point trying to stay alive at 5-7.
Strugglers and Stragglers: If we grant that the leaders and contenders listed above account for seven spots in the Big South Championship field coming up in March, that leaves only one slot in the competition for the remaining three teams. Given that Presbyterian College (4-8) cannot participate due to NCAA division transition rules, that leaves Gardner-Webb and Radford (each 2-10) fighting for one remaining seed (and likely a date at Coastal Carolina on March 1st).
Bracketbusters!: The Big South aligned itself with the ESPN Bracketbusters event as an “all-in” conference before the year, but granted Coastal Carolina an exemption to participate in another tournament event early in the season, one which would preclude playing in the BB game. Oh, the value of hindsight…knowing now that Coastal is top ten in the mid-majors polls and receiving votes in the overall national polls, running a huge string of wins, certain to be a TV game contender…it could have been a boon for all, but instead, the Chants took their only two losses in that other event, and they’ll sit while the rest of the league plays. There will be one TV game, with Iona playing at Liberty February 19 at 3pm on ESPNU.
Coastal Carolina (21-2, 12-0) – The Chants would still hold this position regardless of Thursday’s result, but with a season sweep over Liberty now, CCU has reinforced its stranglehold on the summit. The fastest Big South team ever to cross the 20-win plateau (22 games), Coastal seemingly remains on cruise control. Riding the 19-game winning streak that has turned 2-2 into 21-2, the question becomes, “when might this team stumble?” Coach Cliff Ellis will work hard to be sure it’s NOT the conference final again, where last year’s promising run was cut short.
Liberty (16-8, 10-2) – It’s become a source of frustration now for the Flames (at least for their fans), playing such a sensational season but unable to catch or defeat Coastal Carolina. Unless things take a turn for the Chanticleers, if the Flames are going to come out on top in the end, it would likely have to come against CCU on Coastal’s floor in the tournament. Liberty does have a chance to gain some attention of its own with a national TV appearance in the ESPN Bracketbusters event.
UNC Asheville (12-10, 7-5) – The Bulldogs and Bucs will likely keep trading off in the 3-4 spots on this list down the stretch, but it sure feels as if things are headed the right direction for coach Eddie Biedenbach. The last win, a rout over PC (88-55), demonstrates that Asheville means business. The experience and shooting are coming together for a squad that boasts three career 1000-point scorers on the floor in J.P. Primm, Matt Dickey, & John Williams.
Charleston Southern (13-11. 7-5) – It doesn’t always come easy for CSU: get pushed to overtime in defeating Radford, drop a close one to High Point–but then the Bucs can put a hundred on VMI in one of the Keydets’ standard run-and-gun games. The quest for consistency may never get answered by this club, but all they may need is a couple of their “on” games in a row to do some damage.
Winthrop (10-12, 6-6) – The Eagles keep inviting folks to shovel dirt on them, then toss the dirt right back off. We remain fascinated by the ability WU has to lurk on the perimeter in recent seasons. It’s not quite like the team’s role of frontrunner and dominator of years not so long ago, but it can be just as dangerous at times–as Coastal found out to its regret in last year’s title game.
VMI (12-10, 5-7) - Oh, VMI, that familiar pattern of putting up 90 points per night but surrendering a hundred. The Keydets are poison to any team that can’t keep up with the pace or that finds its shots not going one day, but the lack of defense by VMI and the awareness of how to play along with this style by the Big South competitors has kept the Keydets from being a serious contender to this point.
High Point (8-13, 5-7) – It’s still not the HPU team we expected to see at the start of the season, but the slide has at least been slowed down. Now if we can just see HPU get its momentum running in a positive direction for a change, we might see junior guard Nick Barbour and company climb back up the ranks.
Presbyterian College (10-14, 4-8) - Credit to sophomore guard Khalid Mutakabbir, one of the Blue Hose giving all-out efforts despite knowing there can be no postseason play for PC. They have done their best to push teams–such as the 76-74 overtime win over Winthrop, but for every one of those games, you can often find a close loss and a big loss in its vicinity. The spoiler role will have to suffice for PC, it seems.
Gardner-Webb (7-17, 2-10) – As much as a 58-50 win over CSU must’ve felt like a relief, in ending a brutal nine-game losing streak, the Runnin’ Bulldogs got headed right back in the wrong direction, currently riding a new four-game skid.
Radford (5-17, 2-10) - The Highlanders surprised some folks by edging past Winthrop this week, but what would really be a surprise would be a road win–Radford is the only Big South team this season without a single win away from home.
A Look Ahead
It’s worth bringing up again, given the Big South’s unusual tournament format: the top four squads will all host first round games, the regular season champion’s site hosts the semifinal games, and the top-seeded survivor to the finals will host that game. So there are two critical races going on, involving most of the teams in the Conference. The battle for the top appears to be a two-horse race, with one of those horses sporting a strong lead (two games plus tiebreaker, essentially a three-game edge with six to play). Given the assumption that those two teams, Coastal and Liberty, are hosting games, with the probability that CCU holds the top seed, we then see that Asheville and CSU have the current edge for the other hosting positions, but that Winthrop, VMI, and High Point all have the potential to get in that mix. As cited above, the only other “intrigue” would be whether Radford or GWU gets the final entry to the field. One more note–look closely at the top contenders to host: three of the four have notoriously small gyms–Coastal, Asheville, and CSU. Those facilities make for tough tickets and for inconveniences to TV, but hold decent home court advantages for the teams themselves.
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.