Predicted Order of Finish:
- High Point (18-8) (10-4)
- Winthrop (18-9) (10-4)
- Coastal Carolina (14-14) (8-6)
- VMI (15-11) (8-6)
- UNC-Asheville (15-14) (7-7)
- Liberty (12-17) (6-8)
- Charleston Southern (12-17) (5-9)
- Radford (7-22) (3-11)
WYN2K. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. The Big South has not traditionally been a very good league. The only thing keeping it from the conference dregs along with the likes of the MEAC and Atlantic Sun has been the ascendence of Winthrop (seven of the last nine conference NCAA appearances) as a legitimate mid-major program. During the last three years the Big South has gone 87-171 (.337) against nonconference opponents, but nearly a quarter of those wins (20) belong to the Eagles (including all four conference wins over BCS opponents). With coach Gregg Marshall’s move up the food chain to Wichita St. and the loss of three key starters (not to mention the untimely death of DeAndre Adams in a car accident in May), the Big South championship just might be open to an enterprising suitor no longer cowed by Winthrop basketball.
Predicted Champion. High Point (#16 seed NCAA). We believe that there is too much turnover (eight new players + a new coach) and potential turmoil for Winthrop to hang on to their crown this season, but we also think it will be a very tight race at the top (predicting both teams to finish tied in the regular season, with HP taking the tournament title). High Point returns conference POY Arizona Reid and two other starters to a second-place Big South squad that was 14th in the nation in 3pt% defense last year. More importantly, High Point was the team that played Winthrop the toughest during its 14-0 conference run last year, losing by a single point at home and twelve on the road (no other team had a lower combined margin of -13 points).
Others Considered. Should High Point stumble, we know that Winthrop will be there to pick up the pieces. We also think Coastal Carolina, with new coach Cliff Ellis, could make a run at the conference title. Ellis inherits Jack Leasure, the 2006 conference POY, in addition to Joshua Mack, the 2007 conference ROY, so clearly he has some talent to work with. We’re not ready to jump on the
Loyola Marymount VMI bandwagon just yet (101 ppg), but their surprising run to the conference finals and scare of Winthrop (VMI lost 84-81) raised some eyebrows. Reggie Williams alone (28.1 ppg, 53% FG) might be worth the price of admission. UNC-Asheville returns four starters, but six straight losing seasons doesn’t exactly inspire confidence despite the presence of 7’7 mantree Kenny George, who averaged decent numbers (5.5 ppg; 3.5 rpg) in only ten minutes per game.
Games to Watch. One-bid league = one important game.
- Big South Championship Game (03.08.08). ESPN2.
RPI Booster Games. As we alluded to above, the Big South doesn’t perform very well when facing BCS teams (2-23, .080 in 2006-07). In fact, all four wins against BCS opponents in the last three years have come at the hands of Winthrop (big surprise there) – Mississippi St. (2007), Notre Dame (2007), Marquette (2006), and Providence (2005). Still, there are a few opportunities for Big South teams to win against bottom-feeder BCS teams this year.
- Coastal Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.16.07)
- Auburn @ Charleston Southern (11.19.07)
- VMI @ Ohio St. (11.25.07)
- Winthrop @ Mississippi (12.13.07)
- Winthrop @ Miami (FL) (12.29.07)
- High Point @ Florida (01.02.08)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. None. Winthrop would have trouble getting a bid as an at-large last year had it lost the title game, and nobody is going through this league unbeaten this year.
Neat-o Stat. Gotta be VMI, right? The Keydets set NCAA records for threes made (442), threes attempted (1383), threes per game (13.4) and total steals (490) in a season. Coach Duggar Baucaum‘s philosophy is for his players to take over 100 shots a game (half of which are 3s). All he needs now is a Hank Gathers and a Bo Kimble and he’ll be all set.
64/65-Team Era. The Big South began participating in the NCAA Tournament in 1991, and the league has gone 2-16 (.111) during this period, with one of those wins being the 2003 PiG (UNC-Asheville defeated Texas Southern). The other win, of course, was last year’s #11 Winthrop over #6 Notre Dame 74-64. Part of this is due to seeding, as the league has averaged a 15.2 seed over the era. In fact, the only three times that the league has gotten a seed better than #15 were all Winthrop (2000 – #14, 2005 – #14, 2007 – #11). So what does this mean for a non-Winthrop team such as High Point who might make the NCAAs this year? Probably not much – the last two times another school made it (2003 – UNC-Asheville; 2004 – Liberty), they both got #16 seeds and were blitzed by twenty in the first round. So for now, let’s just enjoy highlights of last year’s upset over the Irish.
Note: video cannot be embedded, so double-click on the YouTube logo above to get it to play.
Final Thought. This season will be the test to determine whether Winthrop has staying power like its fellow mid-major sister schools Gonzaga and Southern Illinois, to name a couple. Gonzaga survived the loss of its coach and architect Dan Monson without missing a beat, and SIU did the same when Bruce Weber left Chris Lowery at the helm in 2003. Let’s sit back and see what Randy Peele can do.