Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 29th, 2010

Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.  [ed. note: this post was written prior to the Nov. 26-28 games]

A Look Back

  • V = 5: For the first time in modern era play, VMI has opened its season 5-0.  While none of these victories have been great shockers or eye-openers, it remains an attention-grabbing start—the best opening run in the Big South this year.  That jumpstart will be tested with a road trip to West Virginia.
  • Hello, There!: The Big South has had a few surprises in store early this season:  UNC Asheville won at Auburn in overtime (70-69), Winthrop defeated Wake Forest in Winston-Salem as part of the NIT Tip-Off (83-74), Presbyterian College downed Princeton (69-67), and two members have taken down Charlotte — Gardner-Webb in the opener (78-70) and Coastal Carolina in double overtime (79-75).  Radford hopes that trend continues—the Highlanders have Charlotte next.
  • Feasting on Home Cooking: Admittedly, the schedule-making is a little tilted at the start of the season, generally with tougher opponents on the road or at neutral sites in tournaments, as opposed to mostly (but not completely) softer opposition at home.  That said, how about this: the Big South is undefeated at home so far this season (19-0) …nice start.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (5-2 / 0-0)…  Okay, so the Chanticleers opened with two giant wins over small colleges, which doesn’t tell us a whole lot, but let’s get a look at the second week.  CCU had a four-game week at the Charleston Classic, dropping games to the host, College of Charleston, and to Big East power Georgetown, before bouncing back with two victories—including a 2OT thriller over Charlotte in what was the team’s fourth game in six days.  The early lessons of resilience should serve the Chants well as the year progresses.  And while plenty of eyes are on Chad Gray and Kierre Greenwood, junior guard Desmond Holloway asserted himself this week by averaging 20 points per game in that tough four-game stretch.
  2. VMI (5-0 / 0-0)…  I was not going to elevate the Keydets to this spot without a little more weight behind those victories, but upon further reflection, VMI is out to the best start of anybody in the conference—AND they’ve got that running, gunning offense rolling right out of the gate.  So for the moment, let’s not take anything away from the fact that VMI has done what it wants so far.  Once again VMI will bid for the nation’s best scoring average–the Keydets are averaging over 90 points per game so far, and they have led all teams in scoring for each of the last four years.  Through five games, VMI’s Stan Okoye and Keith Gabriel each average better than 20 points per game to help power that engine.
  3. UNC Asheville (2-2 / 0-0)…  Coach Eddie Biedenbach may have the right combination working for him right now, as the Bulldogs have demonstrated their talents early on this season: D.J. Cunningham is among league leaders in rebounds and blocks, J.P. Primm is the Big South steals leader, and Matt Dickey is near the top in scoring.  Only VMI is scoring more per game this year, and Asheville’s come-from-behind effort to force and win overtime at Auburn shows the grit that goes with the skill.  Watch this team carefully.
  4. Winthrop (2-3 / 0-0)…  Call this pick the benefit of the doubt, but coach Randy Peele’s Eagles know how to “grind it out” (Peele’s favorite phrase), and they already boast a win over an ACC team on its own floor this season.  While Wake Forest may not be as well-armed this season, that’s still nothing to sneeze at, and Winthrop will do what it always does: frustrate opponents and make every game a fight to the finish.
  5. High Point (2-2 / 0-0)…  The Panthers have had an unremarkable beginning to the year, but they also get some credit for having Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour, who can be a difference-maker on any night.  HPU opened with two home wins against lesser teams and two road losses to more credible opponents.  The good news for upcoming games: two home conference contests.  The bad news: NO home games from December 5 – January 12.
  6. Gardner-Webb (3-2 / 0-0)… The Runnin’ Bulldogs have come out on the positive side so far under first-year coach Chris Holtmann.  Like High Point, they have two home victories against small schools and two road losses—in this case, both at major programs (Florida State and Michigan).  The tipping point for GWU this year is winning a game they would likely have lost a year ago: the opener at Charlotte.
  7. Presbyterian College (2-4 / 0-0)…  So will the real PC please stand up?  Is this the team that got blown out at Vanderbilt (88-47) or the one that hung with Kansas State before getting caught at the end (76-67)?  The one that beat Eastern Kentucky and Princeton in close games, or the one that got handled by Bucknell and James Madison?  That’s the problem here—the bottom few teams in the Big South all have questions.  Unfortunately for the Blue Hose, even if they’re the Jekyll and not the Hyde here, they still won’t be able to play any postseason games as they continue their transition to Division I play.
  8. Liberty (2-4 / 0-0)…  The Flames have the same familiar pattern: home wins they should have, and road losses that were probably expected.  Liberty has shown the ability to bounce back from aggressive scheduling losses before, so let’s not drop them to the bottom just for falling to the likes of Notre Dame, Texas Tech, and South Florida.
  9. Radford (2-2 / 0-0)…  Same early issues for the Highlanders as most of their peers: expected home wins and road losses, and that’s how this season has begun.  This team will not get its due until it makes it clear that they’ve found a way to plug that (literally) big hole left behind by the departure of center Art Parakhouski.  The lack of RU presence near the tops of most league leader boards right now shows that they may still be looking.
  10. Charleston Southern (2-3 / 0-0)…  It seems painful to drop the Buccaneers to the bottom, but someone has to hold this spot.  CSU has a lot of talented players and a good mix of experience (Jamarco Warren) and youth (Jeremy Sexton, Sheldon Strickland)—plus they certainly can beat anybody if the threes are falling, because this team can bomb with the best of them.  All that said, the Bucs have not been able to wow anyone in the early going—consider this rank a challenge for the team to pick itself up for a run up the list.

A Look Ahead

While there are a number of games across the conference for the Thanksgiving weekend, the real deal for the upcoming weeks is the first glimpse of conference play.  The way the season is structured, the Big South has two early December games as part of the schedule for most teams.  Given the tilt toward home teams so far, here’s where the squads will be for those two games on the December 2nd and 4th.

  • HOME: High Point, Liberty, Radford, VMI, Coastal Carolina (12/4 only)
  • ROAD: Gardner-Webb, PC, Asheville, Winthrop, CSU (12/4 only)

All those games will help shape early perception of the Big South race, but one game that has me intrigued is the contrasting style in the Winthrop at VMI clash: will VMI be able to push its desired pace and continue its early season roll or will Winthrop be able to get in the way, slow things down and “grind out” another win?  That’s among the early answers the December conference games will offer—should be a fun sequence of games.

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by rtmsf on February 13th, 2010

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

Standings

  1. Coastal Carolina           11-3 / 21-5
  2. Radford                        10-4 / 14-10
  3. Winthrop                        9-4 / 13-10
  4. UNC Asheville               8-6 / 11-14
  5. High Point                      7-6 / 12-12
  6. Liberty                           7-6 / 12-13
  7. Charleston Southern       6-8 / 11-13
  8. VMI                               4-10/ 9-15
  9. Gardner-Webb               4-10/ 7-17
  10. Presbyterian College       2-11/ 4-21

Top Storylines

Coastal Holds Serve, Radford Keeps Pace. No, the Chanticleers couldn’t make it through unscathed, but they’re still rolling strong in the lead at 11-3 in the Big South.  As of February 12th, Coastal had not yet lost consecutive games this season—but will that still hold by Valentine’s Day?  CCU’s earlier 12-game winning streak ended at Radford’s hands January 14th, and those teams meet again February 13th—with Coastal Carolina coming off of a loss at High Point, trying to avoid back-to-back defeats.  And the Highlanders seek the opportunity to wrest first place away, as RU would hold the tiebreaker with a win and a sweep over the Chants.

Eagles Soar.  Can we say no one really saw this one coming?  Naturally you can never write off a program of Winthrop’s strength and tradition, but this was a team see-sawing between winning and losing runs in the early part of the season—and now we see WU with five straight wins and eight of the last nine to fly up the standings into third.  If Winthrop can hang on, it means postseason basketball would return to Rock Hill after an uncharacteristic absence in 2009…but the schedule won’t make it easy: WU will finish the season with three games in five days against Asheville, High Point, and Radford, the last two on the road.

The Three Races? Naturally there’s a battle for first place, one likely to remain between Coastal Carolina and Radford, as it has for most of the season…and there’s the important fight to be in the top four, because that means hosting in the first round, and there are four teams in a tight tangle for fourth right now…but we have one more standings stand-off: the difference between eighth and ninth.  The Big South Championship takes eight teams—VMI and Gardner-Webb are tied for eighth (at 4-10), trying just to get in…and Thursday night, VMI defeated GWU to force that tie.  The Keydets would rather not fall from second last year to non-qualifier this year.

Looking Ahead

With only four to five Big South games remaining for every team, and with no seeds locked down yet, each game becomes that much more significant to how the whole season will be viewed for these teams.  Late season matchups pitting foes in close races will shape the Championship field, such as Coastal @ Radford, CSU @ Liberty, Winthrop @ HPU, and UNCA @ Winthrop.

Looking Behind

Rises and falls, rises and falls…while Coastal Carolina and Radford have been the steady pace-setters, others have had surges at the leaders and cooled down—first High Point, then Charleston Southern, and more recently UNC Asheville.  Currently Winthrop is still on the upswing, so we’ll see if the Eagles can hold on to the higher spot—third at the moment.  Those up-and-down teams cited: HPU, CSU, & UNCA, are three of the four squads fighting for the fourth spot (along with Liberty, who has maintained its slow-and-steady pace hovering around the cut line throughout).

Team Capsules

  • Charleston Southern – The Bucs need to right the ship: January started with five wins in six games, but CSU has balanced that by losing five of six since then.  On any given day, the team expects to rely on scoring from Jamarco Warren and rebounding from Kelvin Martin, but it’s the contribution from freshman guard Jeremy Sexton that has been a pleasant surprise.
  • Coastal CarolinaJoseph Harris remains among the league leaders in scoring, rebounding, and shooting percentage to be the fuel for Coastal’s run, but he’s not alone out there.  In fact, the Mario Edwards-to-Chris Evans alley-oop combination against GWU hit the #7 position on the SportsCenter Top Ten one night!  Thanks in part to back-to-back 30+ point wins over GWU and UNCA, CCU leads the Big South in scoring margin with a whopping +15.6.
  • Gardner-Webb – the Runnin’ Bulldogs have been the Strugglin’ Bulldogs for most of the season, but the Conference season still had possibilities before their most recent stretch of five losses in six games.  Now GWU is in a fight just to make the Championship field, as noted above.  C.J. Hailey is the only GWU Bulldog in the Big South’s top 25 scorers, averaging 13.0 ppg.
  • High Point – the Panthers can bomb away some shots—looking only at Conference play, HPU has the Big South’s best 3-point shooting percentage (.371) and its top 3-point scorer in Eugene Harris (with 3.0/game).  Harris joins teammate Nick Barbour in the top four in scoring for Big South games this season.  And home is sweet for High Point: overall, the Panthers are 9-1 at home and only 3-11 on the road.
  • Liberty –  how close are the Flames to dead-even?  One game under .500 overall, one game over in the Big South…in 25 total games, LU has been outscored by merely 15 points and in 13 Conference games, outscored by just 6…and no streaks in Big South play, win or lose, longer than two games.  Given all that, Liberty has been up and down, but the average is pretty much a flat line.
  • Presbyterian College – It’s certainly a dubious honor to lead the nation in minutes played by freshmen (3410 of a possible 5075 minutes), but that’s the situation at PC this season.  In Big South games, the highest minutes/game average belongs to Khalid Mutakabbir of the Blue Hose—and yes, he’s a freshman (with 35.5 min./game).
  • Radford“Big Art” Parakhouski remains the focal point for RU (and for NBA scouts): he is the Big South leader in scoring (21.7), rebounding (13.4 – including leads in both offensive (5.38) and defensive (8.00) boards), and also shooting percentage (.589).  Meanwhile, teammate Amir Johnson leads the conference in assists (5.73/game).
  • UNC Asheville – it’s all about teamwork in Asheville: the Bulldogs have no one among the top 19 scorers in the Big South this season, but they have four of the top 25—J.P. Primm, John Williams, Matt Dickey, and Chris Stephenson, all averaging between 10-12 points per game. The Bulldogs lead the Big South in blocks, with 5.8 blocked shots per game.
  • VMI – the song remains the same this year for the Keydets: VMI leads the Big South in scoring offense with 89.7 ppg, but comes in dead last in scoring defense, with 96.8 ppg.  More good news/bad news: tops in the Conference in steals (11.00/game), but last in rebounding margin (-12.3).  Those disparities have resulted in games played at a dizzying pace, but not in favor of the Keydets.
  • Winthrop –  in its current five-game winning streak, Winthrop has held each opponent under 40% shooting.   WU has won eight of the last nine—holding three opponents under 50 points during that span.  Another win will extend the Eagles’ Big South record for most 10-win Conference seasons—to ten.
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2009-10 Conference Primers: #23 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2009

seasonpreview

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

Predicted Order of Finish:

  1. Radford (14-4)
  2. UNC Asheville (12-6)
  3. Winthrop (12-6)
  4. Gardner-Webb (10-8)
  5. VMI (9-9)
  6. High Point (9-9)
  7. Liberty (8-10)
  8. Coastal Carolina (7-11)
  9. Charleston Southern (6-12)
  10. Presbyterian College (3-15)

 All-Conference Team:

  • Jamarco Warren (G), Jr., Charleston Southern
  • Grayson Flittner (G), Sr., Gardner-Webb
  • Joseph Harris (F), R-Sr., Coastal Carolina
  • Joey Lynch-Flohr (F), Sr., Radford
  • Art Parakhouski (C), Sr., Radford

6th Man. Nick Barbour (G), Soph, High Point 

Impact Newcomer.  Lazar Trifunovic (F), Jr., Radford (transfer from Binghamton)

big south logo

What You Need to Know.  Ask any of the Big South coaches right now who’s on top and the answer you’ll get is Radford.  The Highlanders are the preseason favorite for the first time in a decade with good reason: the defending conference champs (regular season and tournament winners) still have their skilled twin towers combination of 6-8 Joey Lynch-Flohr and 6-11 Art Parakhouski.  RU center and dominant force Parakhouski in particular has the size, strength, and game needed to dominate the opposition (for perspective, last year he averaged a double-double against Big East and ACC competition), playing his way into Player of the Year honors last season and the Preseason POY award for this year.  Beyond Radford, the race should be very tight among a few schools with questions to answer: Asheville – can the Bulldogs win away from the Justice Center this year (11-3 home, 4-13 on the road a year ago); Winthrop – can the Eagles return to their once-familiar position of dominance in the Big South with 2009 Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson now as the unquestioned team leader; and Gardner-Webb – can the Runnin’ Bulldogs and playmaker Grayson Flittner iron out some consistency so that they turn their big wins into streaks?  Meanwhile, two recent contenders will definitely be rebuilding:  VMI – where Coach Duggar Baucom no longer has the Holmes twins to rely on in his rapid-fire scheme; and Liberty –where star player Seth Curry and Coach Ritchie McKay both departed Lynchburg, leaving new Coach Dale Layer to get the Flames burning again.  High Point should fit in around where VMI and Liberty fall in the standings, with Coastal Carolina in that mix as well, while Charleston Southern is likely to trail that group despite the sharpshooting of Jamarco WarrenPresbyterian College remains ineligible for a championship as the transition to D1 continues, but PC doesn’t have the tools to contend yet in any case,  so look for the Blue Hose at the bottom of the standings.

Predicted ChampionRadford Highlanders (NCAA Seed:  #15).  Last year RU passed early front-runner VMI in the regular season and then knocked the Keydets out in the Big South Championship.  The reward for the Highlanders? A #16 seed and a lethal draw against eventual National Champion North Carolina (an experience Parakhouski describes as “short, but amazing”).  This season Radford should draw a little more attention and could easily play into a #15 spot, which opens the possibility of getting a potentially favorable match-up down low given the size RU can bring to the post.  With that, it’s not out of line to think the Big South could see a first round win for the first time since Winthrop’s memorable upset of Notre Dame in 2007.

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Checking in on the… Big South

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2008

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

The launch of the 2008-09 season has seen some national attention and notable success for the Big South, mixed in with some results below expectations as well.  Here’s the rundown:

Out of Conference…

After well over a dozen games so far against major conference squads, most have naturally gone to the favorites on their home courts, but Big South squads certainly turned heads with two quality upsets.  VMI struck first by dumping Kentucky 111-103 at Rupp Arena.  It was the first win for the Keydets against a team from the SEC since 1975-76 (Tennessee).  Of course, it’s the second consecutive year for the Wildcats to fall to a current Big South school: Gardner-Webb defeated UK as an Atlantic Sun team last year.  Heading into the Thanksgiving holiday, Liberty added a notch in the upset column for the Flames by upending the Virginia Cavaliers 86-82.  UVa had already collected wins over VMI and Radford, but the ACC’s Cavs failed to sweep the Virginia set of Big South hoopsters thanks to LU.  Outside of those two big games, there were some close results, but let’s not resort to discussing any clichéd “moral victories” versus the big boys of the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, etc.  (Note—major upcoming match-ups between Thanksgiving and Christmas include a trio of biggies for UNC Asheville: North Carolina, Tennessee, and Duke!)

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ESPN Marathon of Hoops Live Blog, Part II

Posted by jstevrtc on November 18th, 2008

10:02 am – OK, back for more.  A little Drexel-Penn for your Tuesday morning.  Come on, is ESPN serious about this this stuff?  They don’t even have a GameCast going for this one.  Amateurs!  OK, I’ll stop.  Right now I have to give props to the Drexel students, because they have stepped up, here.  They’re in full face/body paint, wigs, etc.  Even for the ones who are just in their “Fear the Fire” t-shirts, they’re there in force.  They’ve filled that arena.  It’s rare that ANY college student is gonna get up at 10am for anything, so to show up like they have for a game at this time of day — even if it is a Big Five game — has got to earn some props.  This looks just like a night game in terms of the crowd behavior.  What this really is, is a total bonanza for any professors at Drexel who might be the attendance-taking type.  They could literally just pause the broadcast periodically and check off truant students on their roll sheets by the dozen.  I hated those professors…

10:26am — Drexel is the better team so far.  They’re outhustling Penn, who actually does look tired.  Drexel is up 8 with 12 minutes to go in the first half and this could get out of hand for the Quakers in short order if they don’t get their heads in it.

10:30am — Drexel extends…up ten at the under-8 timeout.

10:35am — Drexel is doing this with defense and hustle.  They’re winning every loose ball.  This is a Penn squad who only lost to UNC by 15, and they’re already down 14 to the Dragons and we’re coming up on the under-4 timeout.

10:41am — The first hyping of UNC-Kentucky.  I’m reminded of the time in 1995 when CBS was broadcasting an elite eight game involving those two teams (the one where Rasheed Wallace got choked — I don’t mean he CHOKED, I mean he GOT choked by Kentucky’s Andre Riddick during a scuffle early on) and Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery showed up in tuxedos, given the history of the two programs.  I think whoever’s calling tonight’s game should do the same, especially with the almost constant hype.

10:51am — Halftime…34-27, Drexel.  This could have been worse for Penn who are in full sleepwalking mode.  Drexel decided to chuck (and miss) some threes late in the half; they have the better athletes but a couple of ill-advised shots and a couple of hand-checking fouls let Penn back into this.  If Penn wakes up at halftime, things could get interesting.

Right now, I’m actually a little impressed with Drexel.  Bruiser Flint has got his team mentally ready, except for that hiccup at the end of the half, and I’m gonna repeat my props to the crowd.  Drexel doesn’t look like a team playing their first game of the season, they look like they’re on number five or six.

I’m not complaining (heh heh….) but I’m starting to realize that maybe grabbing a nap before starting this endeavor may have been a good call, instead of working a whole day.  Oh, I’m not goin’ anywhere…but the coffee machine is now operational.

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