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.
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:
Winthrop (19-10, 13-5)
Radford (17-12, 12-6)
Gardner-Webb (16-13, 11-7)
Liberty (16-15, 11-7)
High Point (15-14, 9- 9)
Charleston So. (13-16, 9- 9)
VMI (13-16, 8-10)
Coastal Carolina (14-16, 7-11)
UNC Asheville (11-18, 6-12)
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.
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 Flames. Anthony 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:
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.
One of the cooler stories we posted last year involved the emergence of the ridiculously oversized 7’7, 360 -lb Kenny George at UNC-Asheville. He gained notoriety for his well-publicized duel with UNC and Tyler Hansbrough early last season (dropping 14/11 on UNC in a relatively close loss), and we kept an eye on him the rest of the year. Led by George’s 12/7/3 blks on nation-leading 69% FG shooting, UNCA had its best season in a generation, winning 23 games and the Big South’s regular season championship. We were rooting very hard for the Bulldogs to make the NCAAs, but they got upset in the Big South title game by conference stalwart Winthrop. Notwithstanding the comical interest we had in George based on his cartoonishly freakish features, we also wanted to see him succeed due to the chronic injuries that a person his size has sustained (multiple knee problems resulting in several missed seasons). Now comes the sad news that George underwent surgery in September for a staph infection that reportedly resulted in the amputation of part of his right foot, and is definitely out this season (if not for good). From the AP report:
The source said the amputation, which occurred three weeks ago, was the result of George’s battle with MRSA, a difficult-to-treat and sometimes life-threatening antibiotic-resistant staph infection. In August, George returned to his Chicago home from Pete Newell’s Big Man Camp in Las Vegas with an infection in his foot. Doctors there suggested that George immediately see a specialist. He’s been hospitalized in Iowa since then, the source said, enduring several surgeries and at one time battling for his life. He’s expected to remain in the hospital for at least another month. “This is a terrible setback for his basketball life but there is so much more to him than basketball,” [UNCA coach Eddie] Biedenbach said. “The students at this school think the world of Kenny George outside of basketball. We’re looking forward to him coming back second semester — that’s what he wants to do — and complete his degree. At that point, we’d still like him to be a part of our basketball program and part of this school.”
We’re Really Rooting For The Big Guy (photo credit: Inside Carolina)
We love Biedenbach’s positivity here, and we’re certainly not a member of the medical profession, but we have to believe that having a partial foot amputation effectively ends George’s basketball career. We love the underdog stories (inasmuch as George could be considered an under-anything), but this is really disheartening news, and we’ll just leave it at that (along with a couple of ESPN features on George from last year).
Still trying to get caught up on newsworthy items from the last few weeks…
Coach K, fresh off his gold medal coaching victory with Team USA, says that from now on, he’s going to enjoy wins at Duke more.
Kansas’ best returning player, Sherron Collins, apparently showed up for KU’s Labor Day trip to Canada fat and out of shape. Bill Self was not pleased, benching the point guard for the trip. The good news for Self and KU is that their highly-regarded twin recruits, Marcus and Markieff Morris, were declared eligible to play this season.
Smart, fellas. KU national champions Mario Chalmers and Darrell Arthur got some greenery and some females up in their rooms at the NBA Rookie Transition Program (where the dangers of such issues as greenery and females are ostensibly discussed), leading to a $20k fine for each of them.
Oklahoma freshman Willie Warren has already made an impression with his mouth, apparently.
New Mexico State’s itinerant forward, Herb Pope, will transfer to Seton Hall. He is asking for a medical waiver (the “Tyler Smith Rule”) so that he can play this season. Mizzou’s Keon Lawrence is also transferring to Seton Hall.
Well, that’s disappointing. UNC-Asheville’s 7’7 behemoth Kenny George will likely miss the season after another foot surgery.
Jeff Goodman checks in on Pat Knight as he begins his first full season as the head man at Texas Tech.
Gary Parrish has a nice insight piece on how mid-major programs strategize recruiting against the big boys on the summer circuit.
Not quite the SEC deal, but get ready to see more WAC basketball on ESPN beginning next year
Kenny George. Yeah, UNC won the game 93-81, Asheville kept it reasonable, and all the other stuff (Psycho-T: 23/9; Lawson: 17/5/7 assts)…
But all we really want to talk about is the sheer enormity that is Kenny George. This was the first time we’d actually seen him standing near other players, and to say that he dwarfed the rest of them is to insult the word itself. George absolutely miniaturized them. It was like some gentle giant had been released from his cave to mortify and terrorize the citizens of Far Far Away or Whoville. Look, for the college game, Tyler Hansbrough is a beast of a guy – 6’9, 250 lbs and cut like a Rodin sculpture – but he looked like a little snot-nosed kid when standing next to George (which isn’t to say that George could handle the Psychotic One – taking advantage of his superior quickness (a hint right there that George is um, rather, lumbering), Hansbrough had a nasty cram below right in George’s mug).
George is listed at 7’6, 360 lbs on the UNCA roster, but we’d like to take a look at the calibration of that scale. He looks more like four bills to us. The thing is, unlike some supersize-me players we’ve seen in the past (Shagari Alleyne and Escalade, er, Troy Jackson come to mind), this guy may actually have a little game. He’s contributing 13/9/5 in just over 22 mins per game (14/11 against Carolina), which is more than double his output from last year. Who knows – with a little more conditioning… he might just redefine the damn sport.
Other interesting games.
Tennessee 85, Ole Miss 83. Looks like Ole Miss is better than we thought. The Rebs were very close to winning this game, and UT has become a difficult place for opponents to win games. Does Cincy regret letting Andy Kennedy get away yet?
Charlotte 82, Clemson 72. Here we go! The annual Clemson collapse is now under way…
Arizona St. 64, Arizona 59 (OT). Hmm… ASU is now quietly 13-2 while Arizona is 10-5. Maybe Herb Sendek can coach a little bit after all?
Dayton 92, Rhode Island 83. The Flyers draw first blood in what will be an exciting and competitive A10 this year.
Mississippi St. 61, LSU 39. Clearly John Brady’s charges were partying all week with the football team. This was in Baton Rouge too.
Vandy & Memphis also remained unbeaten last night, so there are five remaining (+UNC, Kansas and Wazzu).
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 MarymountVMI 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.