Mark Bryant, Coordinator of New Media for the Big South Conference and writer of Big South SHOUT, is an RTC correspondent.
- Coastal Carolina 7-1 ( 17-3)
- Radford 6-2 (10-7)
- High Point 5-3 (10-8)
- Charleston Southern 5-3 (10-8)
- Liberty 4-4 (9-11)
- Winthrop 4-4 (8-10)
- UNC Asheville 4-4 (7-12)
- Gardner-Webb 3-5 (6-12)
- VMI 1-7 (5-12)
- Presbyterian College 1-7 (3-17)
Buccaneers Boarding. Can’t say we didn’t warn you–Charleston Southern is in the mix. If you read the last check on the Big South in this space, we told you the schedule was set up very well for the Bucs to make a mini-run into the top group. CSU closed the deal with home victories over High Point and Radford to reach 5-3 in conference play and set up a big-time match-up (again in Charleston) with leader Coastal Carolina on Saturday to possibly narrow the gap even further.
“Bieden” Down the Competition. Congrats to UNC Asheville’s Eddie Biedenbach, who now holds the all-time record for most regular season Big South wins (110, passing former Radford Coach Ron Bradley’s mark of 109). With 187 wins overall at Asheville, Biedenbach is also within reach of becoming the Big South’s all-time winningest coach, a distinction currently held by former Winthrop Coach Gregg Marshall (194 wins).
A Look Back:
The race for the lead both expanded (in number of teams) and contracted (in game separation) over the last couple of weeks. Coastal Carolina still holds the top spot, despite a home loss to Radford that ended the Chanticleers’ big win streak at 12. The Highlanders lurk one game behind, even after falling to CSU, and Radford’s not going anywhere–as evidenced by Thursday’s 22-point sprint past VMI. But then you have the traffic jam at 5-3 (CSU, HPU) and 4-4 (UNCA, WU, LU). That’s five teams with a total separation of one game, so this competition remains wide open with regards to contenders and tournament seeds.
A Look Ahead:
We’re at the turn: the midpoint of conference play. The big game ahead in the short run is certainly the CCU at CSU contest Saturday, but it is far from the only game that will have an impact. Radford hosts Liberty Saturday evening (televised on MASN), and then the Highlanders hit the road for a while. Fortunately for RU, the squad has been tough away from home–particularly in Big South games–but they need to prevent the travel from wearing on them. Handicapping the race now, we certainly feel Coastal Carolina and Radford will remain in a battle for the top, and also believe that High Point and Charleston Southern are legitimate teams in the fight. Don’t forget that, in the Big South, the top four teams at the end of the regular season all get to host first round games in the conference tournament. While the top four now could well be the top four then, it’s just as likely there will be more movement. If you’re looking for a candidate from the 4-4 group to break through, it seems more probable that UNC Asheville will emerge, rather than Winthrop or Liberty. The Bulldogs did lose four conference games in a row at one point, but look closer: after falling by eight at Radford, they lost by four at High Point, by one to Coastal, and by three in overtime to CSU…close games against the upper teams. Since then, they’ve had victories at VMI (by 13), at Liberty (4), and against Winthrop (13)–which includes wins over the peer group of hopeful contenders.
Charleston Southern — Last time in this space we called CSU a “pivot team.” Well, they’ve made the turn now into a legit contender. Give a healthy dose of credit to freshman guard Jeremy Sexton, who has become a difference-maker for the Buccaneers and a player to watch.
Coastal Carolina — Nothing lasts forever, so the Chanticleers found out with the end of a remarkable 12-game winning streak. Nonetheless, this is a team that is growing more playmakers. All eyes were on Joseph Harris coming into the year, but he was quickly joined by Chad Gray in another starring role, and now Mario Edwards is also grabbing his share of headlines. CCU should not be slowed down much by the Radford loss…and by the way, the rematch will be at RU on 2/13.
Gardner-Webb – A struggling team, but one happy to eke out a come-from-behind home victory in overtime over fellow struggler PC. GWU likely has more wins coming in the second half of the season, but not enough to change their position much, if at all.
High Point – The battle royale last week with CCU-RU-HPU-CSU produced splits for Radford and Coastal, a big pair of wins for CSU–and two painful losses for High Point. The Panthers had to take one step back from the fight for the lead, but can jump right back in with another surge like that with which they began 2010–a run that culminated in a win over Radford. Like Coastal, HPU has seen most of its success thanks to a trio of playmakers: Nick Barbour, Cruz Daniels, and Eugene Harris.
Liberty — Strong program, seeking identity: please submit answers to Lynchburg, VA. Not a lot of rhythm to the Flames’ season. Not unless you like the seasick up-down-up-down pattern on which they’ve been. Good news comes with bad; for example: Kyle Ohman reaches the 1,000-point career mark, then requires surgery that takes him out of play for a while. That’s LU this year in a nutshell.
Presbyterian — The Blue Hose can put up a fight; they’ve gone to overtime in three Big South games (losing two of them), but they can’t seem to break through. Again, some of their best players are redshirting right now, so next season can’t get here fast enough for the Presbyterian College crowd.
Radford — “Big Art” Parakhouski continues to get the lion’s share of attention–from the media, from opponents, from scouts. It’s well-deserved, as the inside force is the Big South leader in scoring (23.1), rebounding (12.9), and field goal percentage (.622). He’s not alone, though, as fellow big-men Lazar Trifunovic and Joey Lynch-Flohr also collect double-doubles for the Highlanders, and Amir Johnson has become RU’s all-time leader in assists.
UNC Asheville – As cited above, Coach Eddie Biedenbach knows about winning games, and his current edition of Bulldogs seems to be learning more about it all the time. If they can keep themselves from falling into another slide, they could sneak into the top four seeds.
VMI — It’s been another verse of the same song lately for the Keydets–they can dictate the style and speed of play to a degree, but they can’t seem to come away with the win. It’s nothing like the sensational start to last year, when VMI looked like it was ready to make national noise for a while…no, this year’s crew is still seeking its second Big South victory.
Winthrop – Three straight Big South wins in early January helped the Eagles regain their footing, but this WU team still hasn’t established itself as a threat to the upper teams this year. Team leader Mantoris Robinson may need to channel his best memories of Winthrop teams gone by to lift this group out of the middle of the pack.