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:
UNC Asheville (12-6)
High Point (9-9)
Coastal Carolina (7-11)
Charleston Southern (6-12)
Presbyterian College (3-15)
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)
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 Warren. Presbyterian 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 Champion. Radford 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.
Mark Bryant, the Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer for Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
A Conference Upside-Down?
Here we are approaching the middle of December, each Big South team with one or two conference games under its belt, and already the plot has taken unexpected twists that could signal a changing of the guard.. The top three teams in the standings have yet to take a loss in conference play, even though none of those squads was forecast to finish in the upper half this year: VMI (2-0), Presbyterian (2-0), and Charleston Southern (1-0). At the same time, three teams with largely higher expectations have not scratched out a conference win so far: Coastal Carolina (0-1), High Point (0-2), and Winthrop (0-2).
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.
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.
Ron Wellman’s decision to elevate Dino Gaudio to the head coaching position at Wake Forest has been universally lauded by the hoopsnascenti over the last couple of days as a great hire. Nobody will dispute that this decision makes sense in terms of continuity for the program, the players and the university. But if you’ll indulge our playing of devil’s advocate for a moment, we ask the question – is this a good hire from a basketball standpoint?
This is a significantly tougher question to address, largely because Gaudio will be evaluated on games yet unplayed. We can point to his unimpressive records at Army and Loyola as evidence of coaching mediocrity; or, we can just as easily dismiss those situations as tantamount to coaching graveyards, where only the truly special of the business can succeed.
So we thought it could be interesting to see how elevating an assistant from within a program tends to work out, historically speaking. We took a look at all the mid- and high-major programs the last three offseasons (2004-06) that elevated an assistant from within its shop to the head coaching position. FYI – there have been six such examples in 2007 – Butler (Brad Stevens), Frank Martin (Kansas St.), Randy Peele (Winthrop), Jeff Reynolds (Air Force), Bob Nash (Hawaii), and Dino Gaudio (Wake Forest).
In 2004, there were four such instances. Three of those new head coaches have gone on to great success at their programs, and the fourth had a solid first year at his before moving on up the ladder the following offseason.
Mark Fox – Nevada (following Trent Johnson) : rode Nick Fazekas to an 81-18 record the next three seasons, including two NCAA second round appearances. Contrastingly, his predecessor Johnson has largely struggled over on The Farm.
Doc Sadler – UTEP (following Billy Gillispie) : Sadler continued the Texas Western renaissance for two seasons there, going 48-18 with one NCAA and one NIT appearance.
Sean Miller – Xavier (following Thad Matta) : Xavier has continued to flourish under Miller, going 63-32 with two NCAA appearances, including the can you top this game vs. Ohio St. in the second round of 2007 that XU should have won.
Chris Mooney – Air Force (following Joe Scott) : in his only season at AF, he was 18-12 (a slight drop from 22-7 the year prior) before taking a new job at Richmond.
Can Mark Fox continue his Reno Magic w/o Fazekas?
In 2005, there were only two instances. Here too both could be fairly qualified as successful transitions.
Dave Rose – BYU (following Steve Cleveland) : in two seasons, Rose has taken the Cougs to one NCAA appearance and one NIT appearance, going 45-18 over that period.
Andy Kennedy – Cincinnati (following Bob Huggins) : Kennedy enjoyed a 21-13 season in his only at the helm after Thuggins was fired, but what’s most telling is the utter collapse in the season after Kennedy was released by UC. The Bearcats were an atrocious 11-19 overall and dead last in the Big East (2-14) in 2006-07. Great decision there.
Last offseason there were four instances, and in a weird coincidence, two of those assistants were coach’s sons who had been formally groomed to take over the program. In one case, the new coach far exceeded his predecessor; in the others, it was largely status quo.
Sean Sutton – Oklahoma St. (following Eddie Sutton) : Sean’s first year at the helm for the Pokes was up-and-down. OSU started strong, winning 16 of its first 17 games, but limped into the finish with an overall record of 22-13 (6-10) and losing in the first round of the NIT at home. This was still an improvement over his dad’s final season (17-16) (6-10), however.
Tony Bennett – Washington St. (following Dick Bennett) : this was the feel-good story of the year, as son Tony updated his dad’s offense and took the Pac-10 and nation by surprise, going 26-8 (13-5) – a fifteen win improvement – and making the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1994.
Ben Jacobson – Northern Iowa (following Greg McDermott) : this very solid mid-major program had its first non-NCAA appearance in four years during Jacobson’s first season at the helm, as his team sputtered to a pedestrian 18-13 campaign in the very competitive MVC.
Fred Hill – Rutgers (following Gary Waters) : Hill’s first season is one he’d like to forget, we’re sure. The Scarlet Knights were 10-19 (3-13) and battled with Cincinnati for the distinction as worst team in the Big East all season long. Waters’ final season ended at 19-10, which was a cause for celebration with Rutgers basketball.
Tony Bennett is the Model for Gaudio
Obviously, it’s tough to draw a persuasive conclusion from this sample size, and we also realize that every situation involves different factors. Nevertheless, we find it striking that in seven of the ten instances above, the assistant coach who was elevated either outperformed his predecessor or kept the program at the level of success it already enjoyed (or not enjoyed, as with Oklahoma St.). In two cases, there was a slight dropoff from previous levels, and in only one case of a single season sample there was a significant decrease.
The problem with analyzing Gaudio’s situation at Wake in this light is that status quo means that he’ll be regularly finishing in the cellar of the ACC. With the recruits he has arriving one year from now, he’ll be expected to significantly outperform what Prosser accomplished during the last two seasons. Put another way, Deacon faithful will be satisfied with nothing less than challenging for the ACC title and annual NCAA appearances – much like the first four years of Prosser’s tenure. This is a high bar, but if the recent history of Gaudio’s peers is any indication, he may have a great shot at clearing it.