Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

Updated Standings:

  1. Coastal Carolina        7-1  ( 17-3)
  2. Radford                            6-2    (10-7)
  3. High Point                      5-3   (10-8)
  4. Charleston Southern  5-3 (10-8)
  5. Liberty                             4-4    (9-11)
  6. Winthrop                        4-4    (8-10)
  7. UNC Asheville             4-4     (7-12)
  8. Gardner-Webb            3-5    (6-12)
  9. VMI                                     1-7    (5-12)
  10. Presbyterian College  1-7     (3-17)

Top Storylines:

Buccaneers Boarding. Can’t say we didn’t warn you–Charleston Southern is in the mix.  If you read the last check on the Big South in this space, we told you the schedule was set up very well for the Bucs to make a mini-run into the top group.  CSU closed the deal with home victories over High Point and Radford to reach 5-3 in conference play and set up a big-time match-up (again in Charleston) with leader Coastal Carolina on Saturday to possibly narrow the gap even further.

Bieden” Down the Competition. Congrats to UNC Asheville’s Eddie Biedenbach, who now holds the all-time record for most regular season Big South wins (110, passing former Radford Coach Ron Bradley’s mark of 109).  With 187 wins overall at Asheville, Biedenbach is also within reach of becoming the Big South’s all-time winningest coach, a distinction currently held by former Winthrop Coach Gregg Marshall (194 wins).

A Look Back:

The race for the lead both expanded (in number of teams) and contracted (in game separation) over the last couple of weeks.  Coastal Carolina still holds the top spot, despite a home loss to Radford that ended the Chanticleers’ big win streak at 12.  The Highlanders lurk one game behind, even after falling to CSU, and Radford’s not going anywhere–as evidenced by Thursday’s 22-point sprint past VMI.  But then you have the traffic jam at 5-3 (CSU, HPU) and 4-4 (UNCA, WU, LU).  That’s five teams with a total separation of one game, so this competition remains wide open with regards to contenders and tournament seeds.

A Look Ahead:

We’re at the turn: the midpoint of conference play.  The big game ahead in the short run is certainly the CCU at CSU contest Saturday, but it is far from the only game that will have an impact.  Radford hosts Liberty Saturday evening (televised on MASN), and then the Highlanders hit the road for a while.  Fortunately for RU, the squad has been tough away from home–particularly in Big South games–but they need to prevent the travel from wearing on them.  Handicapping the race now, we certainly feel Coastal Carolina and Radford will remain in a battle for the top, and also believe that High Point and Charleston Southern are legitimate teams in the fight.  Don’t forget that, in the Big South, the top four teams at the end of the regular season all get to host first round games in the conference tournament.  While the top four now could well be the top four then, it’s just as likely there will be more movement.  If you’re looking for a candidate from the 4-4 group to break through, it seems more probable that UNC Asheville will emerge, rather than Winthrop or Liberty.  The Bulldogs did lose four conference games in a row at one point, but look closer: after falling by eight at Radford, they lost by four at High Point, by one to Coastal, and by three in overtime to CSU…close games against the upper teams.  Since then, they’ve had victories at VMI (by 13), at Liberty (4), and against Winthrop (13)–which includes wins over the peer group of hopeful contenders.

Team Breakdowns:

Charleston Southern — Last time in this space we called CSU a “pivot team.”  Well, they’ve made the turn now into a  legit contender.  Give a healthy dose of credit to freshman guard Jeremy Sexton, who has become a difference-maker for the Buccaneers and a player to watch.

Coastal Carolina — Nothing lasts forever, so the Chanticleers found out with the end of a remarkable 12-game winning streak.  Nonetheless, this is a team that is growing more playmakers.  All eyes were on Joseph Harris coming into the year, but he was quickly joined by Chad Gray in another starring role, and now Mario Edwards is also grabbing his share of headlines.  CCU should not be slowed down much by the Radford loss…and by the way, the rematch will be at RU on 2/13.

Gardner-Webb –  A struggling team, but one happy to eke out a come-from-behind home victory in overtime over fellow struggler PC.  GWU likely has more wins coming in the second half of the season, but not enough to change their position much, if at all.

High Point –  The battle royale last week with CCU-RU-HPU-CSU produced splits for Radford and Coastal, a big pair of wins for CSU–and two painful losses for High Point.  The Panthers had to take one step back from the fight for the lead, but can jump right back in with another surge like that with which they began 2010–a run that culminated in a win over Radford.   Like Coastal, HPU has seen most of its success thanks to a trio of playmakers: Nick Barbour, Cruz Daniels, and Eugene Harris.

Liberty — Strong program, seeking identity: please submit answers to Lynchburg, VA.  Not a lot of rhythm to the Flames’ season.  Not unless you like the seasick up-down-up-down pattern on which they’ve been.  Good news comes with bad; for example: Kyle Ohman reaches the 1,000-point career mark, then requires surgery that takes him out of play for a while.  That’s LU this year in  a nutshell.

Presbyterian — The Blue Hose can put up a fight; they’ve gone to overtime in three Big South games (losing two of them), but they can’t seem to break through.  Again, some of their best players are redshirting right now, so next season can’t get here fast enough for the Presbyterian College crowd.

Radford“Big Art” Parakhouski continues to get the lion’s share of attention–from the media, from opponents, from scouts.  It’s well-deserved, as the inside force is the Big South leader in scoring (23.1), rebounding (12.9), and field goal percentage (.622).  He’s not alone, though, as fellow big-men Lazar Trifunovic and Joey Lynch-Flohr also collect double-doubles for the Highlanders, and Amir Johnson has become RU’s all-time leader in assists.

UNC Asheville –  As cited above, Coach Eddie Biedenbach knows about winning games, and his current edition of Bulldogs seems to be learning more about it all the time.  If they can keep themselves from falling into another slide, they could sneak into the top four seeds.

VMI — It’s been another verse of the same song lately for the Keydets–they can dictate the style and speed of play to a degree, but they can’t seem to come away with the win.  It’s nothing like the sensational start to last year, when VMI looked like it was ready to make national noise for a while…no, this year’s crew is still seeking its second Big South victory.

Winthrop –  Three straight Big South wins in early January helped the Eagles regain their footing, but this WU team still hasn’t established itself as a threat to the upper teams this year.  Team leader Mantoris Robinson may need to channel his best memories of Winthrop teams gone by to lift this group out of the middle of the pack.

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by jstevrtc on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

Updated Standings (Conference/Overall):

  1. Coastal Carolina  (2-0/7-2)
  2. Radford  (2-0/4-3)
  3. UNC Asheville  (1-0/1-6)
  4. VMI  (1-1/4-4)
  5. High Point  (1-1/4-4)
  6. Winthrop  (1-1/3-4)
  7. Liberty  (1-1/4-6)
  8. Gardner-Webb  (0-1/3-3)
  9. Charleston Southern  (0-2/4-4)
  10. Presbyterian College  (0-2/2-7)

Top Storylines:

Joseph Harris, Double-Double Machine –  Coastal Carolina’s Joseph Harris graduated last year (Biology), but still had a year of eligibility in his pocket from a medical redshirt season.  He almost took that off to grad school at UAB, but changed his mind to play one more year for Coach Cliff Ellis and the Chanticleers, who must be very grateful by now.  In the season’s first four weeks, Harris earned Big South Player of the Week honors three times.  You read that right–three PoW awards in just one month…not too shabby, huh?  Harris is the league’s top active scorer and rebounder, with more than 1,000 points and 900 rebounds.  He holds the #3 career spot in rebounding (919) and stands an excellent chance of taking the top position from Arizona Reid (1013) early in 2010.  Harris would join Reid as the only players in Big South history to surpass both the 1,000 point and 1,000 rebound plateaus.  Harris currently leads the conference in 20+ point games (six) and 10+ rebound games (seven) this season, just one game ahead of Preseason Player of the Year Art Parakhouski on both counts.

Home Court (Dis)Advantage? — The first weekend of Big South Conference games favored the travelers more than the hosts.  Of the nine games played, the road team won six.  Of those six, four wins belonged to Radford and Coastal Carolina, who each pulled down a pair of road victories.  RU, in fact, has run its Big South road victory streak to eleven games now, the longest such run since Winthrop reached 11 from Jan. ’05 to Jan. ’06.

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

Updated Standings

  1. Coastal Carolina      1-0  Big South ( 6-2 overall)
  2. High Point     1-0   (4-2)
  3. Radford      1-0    (3-2)
  4. Liberty      1-0    (4-5)
  5. Gardner-Webb    0-0    (3-3)
  6. UNC Asheville      0-0     (1-6)
  7. Charleston Southern    0-1   (4-3)
  8. VMI     0-1     (3-3)
  9. Winthrop    0-1      (2-4)
  10. Presbyterian College    0-1     (2-6)

Top Storylines

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).

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Checking in on the… Big South

Posted by nvr1983 on February 6th, 2009

Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.

The Big South had a small tremor at the top, but it still divides out into three tiers as we work through early February:

The Dynamic Duo
VMI and Radford are on top of the heap these days and rightfully so. With VMI’s rapid-fire assault and Radford’s inside-outside game, they have been the two teams to beat in Big South play this season. VMI’s hold on the lead took a blow with a surprising home loss to UNC-Asheville (103-95) that, coupled with a Radford win at Winthrop the same night (59-55), created a deadlock at 9-2. Strangely enough both the Keydets and Highlanders have suffered a pair of home losses yet they remain spotless on the road in conference play.

Fight to the Finish
The middle ground in the Big South battle finds five teams clustered together as we march into the second half of the conference schedule. Don’t forget that the top four teams will host quarterfinal games in the conference tournament so getting one of those four seeds carries a lot of weight. If one assumes that two of those slots belong to VMI and Radford (a sensible assumption although still far from a lock), that means only two of these five will earn the bonus home game. Presbyterian College’s ineligibility for postseason play this year bumps the Blue Hose from the group, so here’s who’s in the hunt: Liberty (7-5, fresh off of a 95-90 loss at GWU), Gardner-Webb (also 7-5, thanks to that big win over the Flames), UNC-Asheville (6-6, with a clutch win over VMI on the resume now), and Winthrop (struggling at 5-7 but the four-time defending champ is still in the discussion).

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2008-09 Season Primers: #22 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2008

 

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:

 

  1. Winthrop               (19-10, 13-5)
  2. Radford                  (17-12, 12-6)
  3. Gardner-Webb        (16-13, 11-7)
  4. Liberty                   (16-15, 11-7)
  5. High Point              (15-14, 9- 9)
  6. Charleston So.     (13-16, 9- 9)
  7. VMI                         (13-16, 8-10)
  8. Coastal Carolina      (14-16, 7-11)
  9. UNC Asheville         (11-18, 6-12)
  10. 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. 

 

 

Others Considered. 

  • 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 FlamesAnthony 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:

  • UNC Asheville @ Liberty  (11/18/08 – part of ESPN’s 24 hours of basketball special)
  • 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.

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