The Other 26: Week 13

Posted by KDoyle on February 11th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

In last week’s article I touched on the notion of parity and how great it is within the world of sports. After analyzing many of the Other 26 conferences this week, I could not help but notice how in several of the conference there is not one team that has distinguished themselves from the pack yet, and we are already nearing mid-February. In some cases, there are not even two or three teams that are running away with the league. Competitiveness or mediocrity? Well, does it really matter? All this means is that conference tournament week becomes that much more unpredictable and exciting. Here are a few of the conferences that are still completely wide open:

  • Atlantic 10: Four teams—Xavier, Duquesne, Temple, and Richmond—have records between 8-2 and 8-1.
  • CAA: Four teams—George Mason, Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, and Hofstra—have records between 12-2 and 10-4.
  • The A10 and CAA are both very similar as each have four teams in legitimate contention, and both appear to be two-bid leagues at the moment.
  • Conference USA: Six teams—UTEP, Southern Mississippi, UAB, Memphis, SMU, and Tulsa—have records between 6-2 and 7-3.
  • Horizon League: Five teams—Valparaiso, Cleveland State, Wright State, Butler, and Wisconsin Milwaukee—have records between 10-3 and 9-5.
  • MAC: Eight teams—Kent State, Buffalo, Miami (OH), Bowling Green, Akron, Ohio, Ball State, and Western Michigan—have records between 7-2 and 5-4.
  • Southern Conference: Four teams—Charleston, Furman, Wofford, and Chattanooga—have records between 11-2 and 10-3.
  • Southland Conference: Nine teams—Northwestern State, McNeese State, Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State, Texas State, Stephen F. Austin, Sam Houston State, UTSA, and Texas Arlington—have records between 7-3 and 5-4.

Very elaborate, I know. But, it is pretty remarkable the balance in the leagues. Of these seven conferences, there are a total of 40 teams who can still say they are capable and have a legit shot at winning their conference. What does this all mean? A great week of basketball during the conference tournaments, followed by more weeks of deliciousness during the NCAA Tournament. Enjoy.

The Other 26 Rankings

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 4th, 2011

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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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The Other 26: Week 12

Posted by KDoyle on February 4th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor

Introduction

Parity is a great thing in sports. Not many enjoy watching a league where one team consistently dominates the competition and all the others are simply happy to compete with the top team. In the West Coast Conference this was the case for years. Gonzaga would roll right on through league play, win the conference championship, and then head onto the NCAA Tournament. Sure the ‘Zags would be upset on occasions, but those occasions were few and far between. This year, that is hardly the case in the WCC. St. Mary’s is the current leader, but there are a few other teams that are capable of knocking off the Gaels—Portland already has. The WCC is not the only conference where there is parity. How about the wacky Conference USA? It seems that every team in that conference has a shot to win it. The Atlantic 10 and CAA both have a couple teams at the top, but there are several others right below them that are just waiting for the right time to pounce on the top dogs. The MAC is the perfect instance of parity this year. You may call it mediocrity, but you cannot say that 11 teams with records ranging from 3-5 to 6-2 is not parity.

One can argue that parity is essentially synonymous with hope. Fans of every team that is right in the thick of things within their conference have legitimate hope that their guys will pull through and be the last one standing come the conclusion of their conference tournament.

Parity…Hope…Sports

The Other 26 Rankings

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ATB: The Day After

Posted by jstevrtc on January 28th, 2011

The Lede. Hopefully everyone was over their Jimmer hangovers by the time the games started tonight. Judging by Twitter, and…well, pretty much every sports outlet in the nation, the transitive verb “to Jimmer” has entered the American sporting lexicon with some serious impact. We can’t remember when a college baller’s name has ever been used in this fashion; nobody ever said “You got Turnered/Walled,” or “He Morrisoned them,” or “They Hansbrough’d the heck out of that poor team.” And the only name we can think of that contains a reverent “The” at the beginning that’s in regular use today belongs to U2 guitarist The Edge, though — and credit to Seth Davis for starting the trend — “The Jimmer” is now commonplace usage in referring to just about everybody’s favorite player.

Darius Morris and Crew Start the Celebration (J.Gonzalez/Detroit FP)

But enough of that for now. We’ll have many chances to discuss him later. Tonight we saw three tough conference road wins, two of them in games involving bitter rivals. We have a couple of RTCs we have to weigh in on, and a pair of outstanding tweets from the Gonzaga vs St. Mary’s game. First, though, we start…with Sparty.

Your Watercooler Moment. On the halftime coverage of ESPN2’s St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga game, when asked about how dire the situation was for Michigan State this year after their loss to Michigan tonight, even the understated Dan Dakich hesitated for effect and said gravely, “Well…it’s pretty serious.”

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 21st, 2011

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.

Power Rankings

  1. 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.
  2. 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 running the floor and contributing in all phases, LU has great tools.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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..
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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The Other 26: Week 9

Posted by KDoyle on January 14th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

The non-conference is often times a good barometer for determining how strong a team will be and how they will perform within their respective conferences during league play. There are times, of course, when a team will challenge themselves by scheduling many BCS opponents and tough mid-majors, and compile a poor OOC record. Despite the lackluster record, they still may be a quality team. In some instances, however, it simply takes teams longer to gel and come together—conference play is when they finally peak. Likewise, there are always a handful of squads that will play nothing but cupcakes with extra frosting on the top, and run up many wins throughout the first half of the year, only to flounder during conference play. After witnessing teams play several games against conference opponents, let’s take a look at who may be exceeding expectations based on a struggling OOC record, and who has fallen flat on their faces after soaring through the OOC:

Surprising

  • Binghamton (6-10, 3-0)—Although they have beaten three of the weaker teams in the America East, the Bearcats are out to a nice 3-0 start nevertheless and have one of the best pure scorers in the league in Greer Wright. If Binghamton can knock off Vermont and Maine—two of the top teams—then they will be taken as a serious threa
  • Hofstra (11-5, 5-0)—Any team with Charles Jenkins has a fighter’s chance. Jenkins has the Pride as the last unbeaten team in the CAA, but a crucial game looms with ODU this weekend.
  • Wagner (8-8, 4-1)—Don’t bet against the Hurley family. Dan and Bobby Hurley are both in their first year with the program, and have already brought in some great recruits and wins to go along with it.
  • Holy Cross (3-13, 2-0)—Gone are the days where the Crusaders would breeze through the Patriot League en route to the NCAA Tournament. Now, Milan Brown has the daunting task of building Holy Cross back into the mid-major power they once were. After a disastrous non-conference, HC has won their first two league games.

Falling

  • Cleveland State (15-3, 4-2)—The Vikings look to be a notch below the upper tier teams of the league. After winning their first 12 games, Cleveland State had a rough weekend this past losing to Butler and Valpo.
  • Loyola Chicago (10-8, 1-6)—Similar to Cleveland State, Loyola Chicago looked like they could be a force in the Horizon League, but have lost all their games to the top five teams in the Horizon. They began the year 7-0, and their first loss was only by two points to Butler
  • Northern Iowa (12-6, 3-3)—After defeating New Mexico to win the Las Vegas Classic, UNI looked like they would challenge Wichita State and Missouri State in the Missouri Valley. They are just 3-3 in their last six games, with the most disappointing loss coming in a lackluster effort against Indiana State where they lost 70-45
  • San Jose State (9-7, 1-4)—Adrian Oliver, a transfer from Washington, may be the best player in the WAC, but his Spartans have not been able to follow suit. San Jose State went 8-3 in the non-conference, but have gone onto lose four of their last five games.

Granted, conference play is still very young, and no team has even gone through the first go-around of games against their counterparts, so there still is ample time for many things to happen. With that being said, the preceding 10 teams certainly did stick out when analyzing their play in the non-conference and comparing it to their performance in their league.

The Other 26 Rankings

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by rtmsf on December 25th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • Giant Killers?!?  Presbyterian College defeated Auburn and Wake Forest on the road in consecutive games over the past week, while Coastal Carolina notched a big-time win at Louisiana State recently… put those up alongside earlier ACC-SEC upsets, with UNC Asheville toppling Auburn and Winthrop downing Wake Forest, and the conference has a growing list of notable wins.  The wins over Charlotte by CCU and Gardner-Webb also moved up a notch once the 49ers upended Tennessee (although in fairness, Charlotte beat Winthrop).  So yes, Auburn and Wake would each be 0-2 in the Big South right now… go figure.
  • Return to Earth.  And while the Big South’s brief ownership of a winning record against the SEC was enjoyable (at 3-2 through 12/20), two days quickly turned that back to reality, with a High Point loss at Georgia on the 21st and losses by Winthrop at Kentucky and Radford at Florida to bring the season mark to 3-5.  That still smacks of respectability, as does the 2-4 mark against the ACC,  particularly when compared to records vs. other power conferences: the Big East (0-6), Big Ten (0-2), Pac-10 (0-1) and Big 12 (0-4), a cumulative 0-13.  Still, that can be understood, but far more troubling is a 1-10 total against the Colonial (Liberty’s win over William & Mary the lone bright spot there).
  • Greetings! Coastal Carolina’s Mike Holmes, a transfer from South Carolina, became available last week and made the most of his entrance.  Holmes came off the bench for the Chanticleers in Baton Rouge and put up a double-double against LSU in his debut (14 points, 10 rebounds).  No doubt the others in the Big South took notice of the arrival of a significant new player to watch.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (10-2 / 1-0)… the Chanticleers have made it eight in a row and sit idle until New Year’s Eve with struggling Radford coming to CCU’s floor.  The hallmark win is the overtime victory over LSU, but this is undeniably a team on a roll, and one that just got better with the addition of Mike Holmes to the active roster.  You have to say that Coastal is the team to beat right now.
  2. Presbyterian College (6-6 / 1-1)… where do I get off vaulting a team I had low last time, and one with a .500 record,  into the second spot?  Show me another squad here that knocked off back-to-back power conference teams on the road and I’ll consider them for this slot… frankly, this week, PC has earned the “number two with a bullet” position after wins at Auburn and Wake Forest (even if those teams are apparently having down years).  By the time most folks read this, we’ll know if the Blue Hose added a win at Old Dominion to cement their right to this space or if they are easing back down the list.
  3. Liberty (7-6 / 2-0)… aside from bringing PC from the bottom to the top, the rest of the order pretty much stays the same, as we haven’t seen much to change opinions–most teams had something disappointing along the way, or simply wins over lesser opponents.  For Liberty, the disappointment remains the inability to win a true road game.  Home or neutral: 7-1.  Road: 0-5… including the last loss to Hampton.  The Flames would drop, but other than PC, no one’s ready to jump.
  4. High Point (5-5 / 2-0)… for the Panthers, the last home game was 12/4 and the next one is not until 1/13/11.  Like Liberty, that doesn’t bode well for a team with a bad home-road split: 4-1 at the Millis Center, 1-4 everywhere else.  But also like the Flames, HPU is 2-0 in conference play, so we’ll keep them in the upper group for now.
  5. Winthrop (5-7 / 1-1)… uneven and inconsistent early season play–we’ve said that about Winthrop before… last year, in fact.   Somewhere in the middle of conference play a season ago, the Eagles lit a fire and got where they needed to be and made it all the way to the NCAAs.  It may take a little more to overcome Coastal again this season, but I never count Winthrop out of the running.
  6. VMI (7-5 / 0-2)… standard operating procedure continues–pile up points and hope it’s enough.  So far this year, it’s worked more often than not, but not in the Big South games.  Heading back into league competition, it will be interesting to see what the Keydets will really bring to the table.
  7. Gardner-Webb (6-8 / 1-1)… life for the Runnin’ Bulldogs will depend greatly on when they can have leading scorer Jon Moore back from injury.  Without him, the team lacks some of the intensity and certainly the scoring threat they need to be a contender.
  8. UNC Asheville (5-6 / 1-1)… here’s another squad with sweet home cooking–the Bulldogs have won 12 in a row at the Justice Center (dating back to last season).  Asheville could be ready for a rise, given the next two Conference games will both be in that intimate gym.
  9. Charleston Southern (5-6 / 0-1)… looking for an identity still from a team that has gotten its wins by pounding small schools, often scoring more than a hundred in those games, and losing to large schools and peer programs.  The “best” win CSU has is probably the one over The Citadel.  Until we see evidence that the Bucs can hang with stiffer opposition, they hang near the bottom.
  10. Radford (2-9 / 0-2)… run that losing streak to nine for the Highlanders…yes, that’s right, they won the first two and haven’t notched a W since 11/14.  Things have not been looking so rosy for RU lately, and is may not be getting better, with the next game at a red-hot Coastal Carolina team on New Year’s Eve.

A Look Ahead

Okay, we made it: conference play time is here for real.  We had that early December appetizer of Big South games, but the men’s teams launch the league schedule in earnest on New Year’s Eve with a full complement of games.  Play continues on January 2 and rolls on a regular calendar from there to the end.  Contenders, pretenders, champions, also-rans… some of that has been hard to peg of late, but now we will know where these teams stand head-to-head.  And THAT will make this a Happy New Year!

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on December 12th, 2010

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

A Look Back

  • Sneak Preview: Early December brought a glimpse of conference play, as all teams got in some Big South action, with most playing two games inside the league.  Liberty, High Point, and Coastal Carolina can all enjoy undefeated conference records until the full league schedule begins, while Charleston Southern, VMI, and Radford still seek their first Big South wins (and Gardner-Webb, Winthrop, UNC Asheville, and Presbyterian College all sit in the middle at 1-1).
  • Small Teams, Big Numbers: The trend of beating up on smaller schools continued recently, with Charleston Southern crushing Toccoa Falls 120-43 and VMI sprinting past Central Penn College by a remarkable score of 151-92…that’ll certainly help the famous VMI scoring average.
  • Conference Calls: While the Big South has mounted appropriate marks of 3-3 against SoCon foes and 2-2 vs. A-Sun opponents so far this season, other records may not reflect as well on the league, most notably an 0-6 total against the Colonial–and throw in a combined 0-4 vs. teams from the MEAC, MVC, and Patriot.

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (7-2 / 1-0)… the Chanticleers have rattled off five in a row, they are undefeated at small but spirited Kimble Arena (5-0),  and won their first Big South game on a Chad Gray dunk with 1.6 seconds to go against Charleston Southern.  Things have been working out early for the defending regular season champions, and they get the nod at the top of the list.
  2. Liberty (6-4 / 2-0)… this time, let’s give Liberty the benefit of the doubt we afforded VMI last time (more on them in a moment).  The Flames handled Presbyterian and held off Winthrop to net two conference wins, running their overall win streak to four.  Liberty seems to be making the necessary improvements to contend, save one:  LU needs to demonstrate it can get a road win.  The Flames are 6-0 on home or neutral floors, 0-4 on the road, not a recipe for success in crunch time.
  3. High Point (5-3 / 2-0)… earlier, we wondered when we would see the expected performances of Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour and his supporting cast with HPU–apparently that was coming in Big South play.  The Panthers got off to a 2-0 start by pulling out two close home victories, by two over GWU and three over Asheville.  HPU also got some high praise and national recognition for Shay Shines’ dunk against Asheville that made the top spot on SportsCenter’s Top Plays last weekend:
  4. Winthrop (4-4 / 1-1)… we will keep saying it because it’s true: beware the lurking Eagles.  Coach Randy Peele believes in building for the tournament and knows that winning a few games at the right time can mean everything–but that doesn’t mean Winthrop sits back in the regular season.  Winning in overtime at VMI in a high-scoring game was a test the Eagles passed with flying colors, only to falter at Liberty two days later.  To move up the list, we’ll need to see more of the former and less of the latter.  Robbie Dreher and Andre Jones have become a formidable tandem for the Eagles: they combined for 93 points in the two conference games.
  5. VMI (6-4 / 0-2)… the Keydets keep piling up points, but spoiled their hot 5-0 start by losing three of the last four games.  Stan Okoye is the league’s only player averaging over 20 points per game for the season, with teammate Keith Gabriel not far behind with more than 18 PPG.  Not to be overlooked, freshman Rodney Glasgow has been a strong contributor this year and throws in better than 13 PPG as well.  Nonetheless, you have to say VMI’s conference start was a disappointment.  Losing in overtime against Winthrop should not be held against them, but it seems as if they should have been able to give PC more of a fight.
  6. Gardner-Webb (6-6 / 1-1)… would you believe the Runnin’ Bulldogs are already approaching last year’s win total?  It’s true, thanks to coach Chris Holtmann waking up the potential at GWU and getting off to a good start.  The Bulldogs won a road game they needed to get at Radford and fell at HPU by just a basket, so it seems as if GWU may have some bark and some bite this season.
  7. UNC Asheville (3-5 / 1-1)… it remains hard to peg this Asheville squad, although it seems fairly certain the injury to John Williams has hurt the squad’s overall performance.  The Bulldogs hit the road and crushed Radford by 20, but followed that up with a three-point loss at High Point. They have a losing record overall, but with a win at a Big Six team in hand (even if it’s Auburn), so which team is this?  Answers will likely come when full conference play rolls in soon.
  8. Presbyterian College (3-5 / 1-1)… another team playing to mixed reviews on the early conference swing, falling to Liberty by nine but downing VMI by double-digits (and setting a PC record against Division-I opposition with 92 points in that game).  Khalid Mutakabbir has found his shooting stroke, leading the Big South in 3-point field goal percentage (.680, 17-25).
  9. Charleston Southern (4-5 / 0-1)… the Buccaneers have also had their ups and downs in the early going.  CSU thought it might be able to sneak out of Conway with a win over Coastal, but fell by just two points.  That’s a fair start, but still a loss–and that game will sit as the only Big South contest for a few weeks.
  10. Radford (2-6 / 0-2)… it can’t be encouraging that in seven games, the Highlanders have only broken 60 once (83 vs. Methodist).  Opening Big South play with a 20-point home loss sure doesn’t help the outlook for Brad Greenberg’s squad, now with six losses in a row.

A Look Ahead

  • Until all league teams get into the regular conference schedule beginning December 31, it remains a motley collection of home contests against smaller schools, road games versus major conference opponents, and  a smattering of match-ups against comparable programs.  Right now, the most encouraging thing is knowing that these teams will be going head-to-head soon and can truly sort out their identities from this rollercoaster mix of high-scoring wins and crushing defeats.
  • If you’re looking to catch the Big South in action against the nation’s top teams, you’ll have a few chances with Presbyterian matching up against Missouri (12/11), Gardner-Webb at Louisville (12/18), UNC-Asheville visiting Ohio State (12/21) and Winthrop against Kentucky (12/22).
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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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In Their Words: Life at the Mid-Major Level (part eight)

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2010

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Pac-10 and Mountain West Conferences and an occasional contributor.

To read the entire In Their Words series, click here.

Part Eight: MARKETING

Over the summer, we’ve spent time hearing about some of the next big-name recruits on their way to college basketball: Jared Sullinger and Harrison Barnes, Anthony Davis and Michael Gilchrist. We’ve heard the big-time schools announce their high profile games on their upcoming schedules: Kentucky going to the Maui Invitational and visiting North Carolina, Michigan State hosting Texas and going to Duke. But for the vast majority of Division I programs, they’ve been flying under the radar. There are at present 73 teams that participate in basketball in the six BCS conferences, but there are 347 total programs in Division I. Of those other 274 programs, there are certainly quite a few big-name programs: last year’s national runner-up Butler comes to mind immediately, as does Gonzaga, Memphis and a handful of other schools in conferences like the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West. But, we were also interested in how the other half (or really, how the other three-quarters) lives, so we spent some time talking to coaches, athletic directors and other people around the country affiliated with some of those other schools — those non-BCS schools, those “mid-majors” — and we asked them about how they recruit, how they create a schedule, how they market their programs, and quite a few other things. Over the next eight weeks, we’ll let them tell you their story, in their own words.

To begin, let me introduce and thank this week’s cast of characters:

  • Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine BluffRoberts runs a tight ship at UAPB as the sole full-time member of the Sports Information Department.
  • Eric Brown, Assistant Athletic Communications Directory, Liberty – Brown is a graduate of Liberty University and former sports editor at the student newspaper, the Liberty Champion.
  • Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: Lang has been the beat writer for Liberty University since 2005 after having spent eight years as the Sports Editor at the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff, Arizona.
  • Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC – Dickson has been in her current position, where she oversees marketing and promotions for UMKC, for just over three years.
  • Larry Williams, Athletic Director, Portland: Williams has been the AD at Portland for six years now following a five year stint as the head of licensing and product marketing at his alma mater Notre Dame. Williams was a two-time All-American offensive lineman with the Irish before starting 44 games in the NFL.
  • Kevin Keys, Associate Athletic Director for External Operations, Liberty – Keys is a ’77 Liberty graduate who enters his sixth year back on campus in charge of Liberty’s licensing, promotions and marketing.
  • Chris Caputo, Assistant Coach, George Mason – Caputo is entering his sixth season as an assistant coach for the Patriots after spending the previous three seasons as an administrative assistant and video coordinator under head coach Jim Larranaga.
  • Eric Reveno, Head Coach, Portland – Reveno heads into his fifth season at Portland having turned around a program from a team that was 18-45 in his first two seasons to a team on the rise with a 40-24 record over the last two seasons. Reveno spent his previous nine seasons as an assistant at Stanford, his alma mater where he was a Pac-10 Conference All-Academic Team selection as a senior.

So far, in regards to marketing, we’ve touched on the differences in the size of athletic budgets and the size of the media markets between some rather disparate programs classified as mid-majors. But regardless of the size of the program or the size of the market, a big key for mid-major programs is to get consistent media coverage. Coverage from their local media not only can keep the program in the minds of their fans and keep them up to date, but it can also introduce the team to new fans. Not surprisingly, schools in smaller markets generally have an easier time of getting local media coverage.

Media Coverage, Especially at the Local Level, is Important

Andrew Roberts, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information, Arkansas-Pine Bluff : Arkansas Pine Bluff is in a unique situation, because we have a local newspaper, the Pine Bluff Commercial, that does an outstanding job of covering the UAPB athletic department top-to-bottom, all sports, they all receive excellent coverage in our local paper. And then, there is a paper in Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette and they cover football and men’s basketball extensively throughout the year. They’ll assign us a beat writer and he’ll cover us. The coverage was great.

Eric Brown, Assistant Athletic Communications Directory, Liberty: Our main media affiliates would be our local TV station here in Lynchburg, WSET. They do a good job of covering us since they’re right here in our area, and then our local newspaper Lynchburg News & Advance, they’re real good also. They’ve got a beat writer that covers us all the time.

Chris Lang, Writer, Lynchburg News & Advance: With basketball, we’re trying to cover all the Big South road games this year, where in the past we had covered mostly just home games. We don’t do a ton with the out-of-conference road games, because honestly Liberty is very unlikely to win many of those. I mean, if they go out to Florida, what’s the point of us traveling down there to watch them lose by 35 points or something. We do try to treat it like it’s a big time program, it’s the one program that’s right in our city and our backyard. We cover Virginia, Virginia Tech as well, but they are both an hour, an hour and a half away. Liberty is a growing program, it’s grown a lot in the five years I’ve been here for sure, it’s grown big-time, so we try to treat it as such.

Brown: Outside of that, there’s not a whole lot that will cover us regularly. The thing is, Charlottesville’s not too far away, but they’re gonna be focused on UVA. Roanoke is close, but they’ll be focused on Virginia Tech. So we’re kind of always competing with them, or in their shadow a little bit, because we may not get looked at as much in those areas because the focus is on Virginia and Virginia Tech. We’ll have a few other outlets cover us from time-to-time based on what we’re doing, but mostly it is the TV station and the newspaper.

In larger markets, getting consistent media coverage can be much harder, but it does happen.

Jessica Dickson, Assistant Athletic Director for External Relations, UMKC: Surprisingly enough, we are extremely lucky with the media coverage we have. Blair Kerkhoff (Kansas City Star) is who covers us the most and he really does seem to see the importance and the value of promoting UMKC, because we are the only Division I basketball program in Kansas City. He does a great job covering us. Now, where maybe Kansas or Kansas State or Missouri, the three Big 12 schools closest to us, don’t need to pitch stories to the local newspaper or to the radio stations or TV stations, that’s the difference with us, we do need to give Blair a call and say “hey we’ve got this student-athlete with this great story, can we get you in touch with the coach to talk about it”. And we work around his schedule and absolutely understand that where we thought something would run this week, it might get bumped because of something else and run the following week. But beyond the print, our media partner as far as broadcasting is Sports Radio 810, a fabulous all-sports radio station here in Kansas City. They cover us wonderfully, not only is that the home of our men’s basketball games, but our color commentator is Steven St. John, who hosts the morning show for the station and he’s a UMKC grad and covers us really well. They include us in their SportsCenter update, when they’re talking about what’s going on in the city. If we’ve got a game coming up that night, they’ll make sure to plug us. Anytime that we’ve got a game coming up where we want to get one of our coaches on the air, they’re more than happy to get them on for an interview. And then we’re extremely lucky in Kansas City to have a 24-hour local sports TV station called Metro Sports, they’re owned by Time-Warner cable and that’s been our television home since we went Division I and they’ll televise 15-17 of our men’s and women’s basketball games, and we get our coaches out to the studio on a weekly basis to do shows from their studio. So, we, for a mid-major school, get fabulous media coverage, especially when compared with some other schools.

While local media coverage is very important, getting on national television on a semi-regular basis is a goal as well for many of these programs, not only as a way to get the university’s name and brand out there, but as a way to build awareness for potential recruits.

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