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.
Mark Bryant is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference.
A Look Back
In and Out: Mike Holmes’ active time at Coastal Carolina turned out to be a short one, as the transfer from South Carolina went from newly-eligible arrival to high scorer to indefinitely suspended player to departed student in a brief span. There’s a mix of reporting on the subject out there, but the unofficial consensus is that Holmes fought with teammate Desmond Holloway, earning the suspension (and injuring Holloway), and has since withdrawn from the school. Coastal’s prognosis is a good one either way, but with the play of Holmes, it could have been great–on the court. It seems that this may be a positive change for Cliff Ellis and his team off the court.
Rapid Spread: As fast as the teams at the top are stringing wins together, the teams at the bottom are plummeting, making for a six-game spread after seven-to-eight games played in conference. The one-two punch at the top from Coastal (8-0) and Liberty (8-1) is balanced by the sagging performances of Gardner-Webb (2-6) and Radford (1-7). The middle remains a bit of a dogfight, of course.
Defying Convention: In the VMI Keydets’ first nine Big South games, the team has had four at home and five on the road, resulting in a 4-5 record. That’s the part that sounds reasonable…here’s the twist: VMI is 4-1 on the road and 0-4 at home in league play.
Coastal Carolina (17-2 / 8-0)… what can we say that hasn’t already been said in this space regarding the Chanticleers? Coastal continues its epic roll, now at 15 straight wins. We started them at the top, we’re keeping them at the top. Chad Gray has been living up to his role as team leader through everything the team has faced this year.
Liberty (14-7 / 8-1)… most seasons, this group would have enough to be in the number one slot, but obviously Coastal’s run cannot be denied–particularly since it includes a win over the Liberty on the Flames’ home court. That said, don’t take your eye off this bunch, with John Brown playing strong on both ends of the floor and playing like a rebound machine, plus Jesse Sanders runningthe floor and contributing in all phases, LU has great tools.
Charleston Southern (11-9 / 5-3)… you have to give it up for Charleston Southern, because CSU has been improving as the year has developed. We told you they had the talent, if they could just get the shots to fall–well, the percentages have been tilting back in the Bucs’ favor and that has resulted in some important Big South victories. If they can keep this going, they can host a first round game, but the question will be if they can produce with consistency.
UNC Asheville (9-9 / 4-4)… since the last time we wrote about the Bulldogs, they haven’t lost–three Big South wins in a row and a healthier complement of players mean that coach Eddie Biedenbach may have his group ready to play to their potential after all. Ah, but can they do anything with Coastal Carolina paying a visit this week?
VMI (11-8 / 4-5)… as noted above, this team is one that could use some balance in terms of home vs. road — and not in the typical sense. If the Keydets can start producing wins on the home floor, then VMI could make some noise in this race, given the velocity and volume of the scoring in any given game.
Winthrop (8-10 / 4-4)… the faith in Winthrop’s late-season prowess and tournament savvy may soon be put to the test. The Eagles have dropped the last two conference games, putting them a little lower on the list than their fans are probably comfortable with, but they’ll need to turn this around on performance, not reputation.
Presbyterian College (7-9 / 1-3)… the Blue Hose are starting to hit a pattern of close, but not close enough in game after game, and with Al’Lonzo Coleman hurt now, PC is going to have to work even harder to get results–all on a team that knows it won’t be playing postseason ball..
High Point (5-11 / 2-5)… beware of freefalling Panthers. HPU’s story gets worse with every telling, and coach Scott Cherry needs his team to grab a win somehow just to stop the fall–eight straight losses overall, and five straight in conference, including a loss to Radford, RU’s only Big South win this year.
Gardner-Webb (6-13 / 1-6)… the Runnin’ Bulldogs are also runnin’ downhill fast right now–nine straight losses this season and five straight in league play (with the only Big South win coming against Radford). Maybe some home cooking will help, as GWU has only played four home games so far this season.
Radford (4-14 / 1-7)… despite snaring their first conference victory, the outlook remains pretty bleak for the Highlanders. The team stats show some unkind numbers, and the opposition has not exactly been sympathetic to their plight.
A Look Ahead
The astute observer may note that the Power Rankings listed above match the current conference standings, which may seem to show a lack of imagination on my part, but I believe that the order this week is an accurate reflection of their relative strengths right now. Obviously there’s still plenty of room for ebb and flow in there, but these teams have played enough games to give us a good feel for what level they are playing at on any given night. With the top five teams all on winning streaks and the bottom five teams all on losing streaks, someone will have to break the ranks and shift this order.
Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
A Look Back
Happy New Year? It Depends: For Liberty and Coastal Carolina, 2011 has the shine of bright possibility. The Flames got through New Year’s Weekend with a pair of Big South wins on the road to rise to 4-0 in conference games. The Chanticleers also got two wins to reach a league mark of 3-0. For the Chants, that’s also an impressive ten consecutive wins overall. On the other side of the coin, Gardner-Webb has gone into a bit of a tailspin of late, with a losing streak now at six games, while Radford has staggered to a league-worst 0-4 against Big South foes.
Double-Trouble: Coastal’s Desmond Holloway has scored in double figures for all 14 of his team’s games this season. Holloway is the only player in the Big South this season who can claim that distinction. In fact, he has scored at least 13 points every time on the floor this year.
No Sophomore Slump Here: VMI sophomore Stan Okoye leads the Big South in scoring (19.8 points per game), field goal percentage (.579), double-doubles (7), and is second in rebounding (9.6 per game, just 0.2 rpg off the lead) heading into Thursday night’s action. If Okoye can keep up this pace, he has a tremendous shot at an exceptional feat: leading the conference in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage in the same season, something only accomplished by two players in Big South history (Danny Gathings, High Point 2002-03, and Art Parakhouski, Radford 2009-10).
Coastal Carolina (12-2 / 3-0)… the Chanticleers have been roosting here at the top spot all along, but the upcoming week could impact that, with a showdown at the Flames on the way. The winning streak has run to ten coming into this road swing at VMI and Liberty, and the results may give us a feel for whether coach Cliff Ellis has this talented and deep group running at its best. Hard to argue against that, given they are on the same pace that they were on last year in Coastal’s run to the regular season championship.
Liberty (10-6 / 4-0)… yes, the Flames are hoping to demonstrate something when Coastal gets to town this weekend, but they have already taken a big step forward by sweeping the last two road games in the conference. Teams that can demonstrate the ability to win away from home have been rare in the Big South so far this season, and that will be a necessary skill. You have to be impressed with how coach Dale Layer has gotten his group to play above expectations.
Winthrop (6-7 / 2-1)… I know we’ve said it before in this space, but the Eagles are going to keep lurking around. Other teams will rise and fall around them, but they should always be in the mix. For example, they would’ve been in the four-spot this week, but they just beat PresbyterianCollege head-to-head, so let’s give them the nod here. That score was 53-51, another example of how Winthrop will “grind it out” on you, whether you like it or not.
Presbyterian College (7-8 / 1-2)… oh, Blue Hose, which team do we get on what night? The one that beat Navy last week and recently downed Auburn and Wake Forest as well, or the one that could only scrape together 51 points against the tough Winthrop defense? There’s a lot of talent and experience here, and they’ll be a tough out on any given night, but regrettably it won’t matter much in the end since PC cannot play in the postseason (Division-I transition).
VMI (9-5 / 2-2)… two decisive road wins in league play helped right the ship from a pair of home conference losses in early December, so the Keydets remain a viable contender, or at least a legitimate spoiler, in the Big South standings. As long as Stan Okoye and talented freshman Rodney Glasgow keep doing what they’re doing, VMI should still have plenty to say. We’ll have to see if they can advance their cause with Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina coming to town.
Charleston Southern (8-7 / 2-1)… after waiting to see if the Bucs would start living up to some of their obvious potential, along comes a week with two solid wins in conference. Senior guard Jamarco Warren had his shots falling, and that has a lot to do with the fortunes of CSU. Like Coastal, CSU is hitting the Liberty-VMI road trip, and that could be a barometer for the relative strengths of those squads. If the three-pointers are clicking, the Bucs have dark-horse potential, but those shots have a bad habit of drying up at inopportune times.
High Point (5-8 / 2-2)… hmmm…the story keeps getting tougher for the Panthers each time we tell it in this space, doesn’t it? High Point and Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour have both seen struggles this season, and now at five straight losses overall, including two in the Big South, things are not looking too bright. The good news for HPU may be that there’s only one league game on the team’s schedule this week, and that’s against a down Radford squad.
UNC Asheville (6-8 / 1-3)… Coach Eddie Biedenbach would love to see a fully healthy team, but that hasn’t been happening for the Bulldogs, and so Asheville has found the season to be rougher than anticipated. For example, they dropped the last two home games–this after running up a double-digit home winning streak…not a good sign.
Gardner-Webb (6-10 / 1-3)… speaking of injury-troubled teams, we present the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. The losing streak has mounted to six games now, and with leading scorer Jon Moore considered out “indefinitely”, help is needed to stop this slide for coach Chris Holtmann.
Radford (3-11 / 0-4)… the hole is getting deeper for a team that ended 2008-09 with the NCAA Tournament, opened 2009-10 as a Big South favorite in the eyes of many, ended last year with a disappointing finish and has played below the level of the rest of the league all this season. Winless in the conference and last in several key team stats, it may continue to be a rough ride for the Highlanders.
A Look Ahead
Four of the top five teams in the Big South standings are colliding this week while bringing in winning streaks (from two to ten games)… Saturday the 8th it’s CSU at VMI and Coastal at Liberty. All those games should be both fun and informative. Meanwhile, with several teams struggling with injuries, losing streaks, or both, there is also a race going on to see who can recover first and contend for the upper half of the standings. Remember that for the Big South, the top four seeds will host first-round games in the tournament, and that can be a key stepping-stone to a championship and the NCAA berth that follows.
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Former US olympian Karch Kiraly would even be impressed by this rejection from St. Louis’ Jordair Jett (talk about living up to your name)…