The Other 26: Week 15

Posted by KDoyle on February 26th, 2011

Kevin Doyle is an RTC contributor.

Introduction

And down the stretch they come! Just like a commentator of a competitive horse race fervently belches when the horses make the final turn, college basketball commentators, analysts, and enthusiasts alike all speak of the game with greater eagerness and zeal at this time of the year. Judgment Week—still am not sure what ESPN is trying to do with this—has passed us, Championship Week is nearly upon us, and we all know what comes after that: the Madness!

While the majority of Other 26 teams around the country still have one or two remaining games left in the regular season, there are a handful of teams out there who have completed the second part of their season. Many coaches, especially those coaching in perennial single bid leagues, break down their year into three seasons: 1) the non-conference, 2) conference play, 3) the postseason. The opportunity is presented for many teams that have struggled during much of the season to get hot at the right time and advance onto the greatest postseason tournament in all of sports.

At the beginning of conference play, I wrote in a previous article the concept of “three games in March” which is often the mentality of teams from smaller conferences who have to win three games, or four in some cases, to advance to the Dance—it is their only way in. Well, here is that opportunity.

The conference tournaments will officially begin in the middle of next week with a few of the smaller conferences going at it. If one really wants to get technical though, the argument can be made that the Ivy League has a season-long conference tournament that commences at the beginning of league play.

The Other 26 Rankings

Tidbits from the Rankings

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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is that Holmes fought with teammate Desmond Holloway, earning the suspension (and injuring Holloway), and has since withdrawn from the school.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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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 8th, 2011

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

A Look Back

  • Happy New Year? It Depends: For Liberty and Coastal Carolina, 2011 has the shine of bright possibility.  The Flames got through New Year’s Weekend with a pair of Big South wins on the road to rise to 4-0 in conference games.  The Chanticleers also got two wins to reach a league mark of 3-0.  For the Chants, that’s also an impressive ten consecutive wins overall.  On the other side of the coin, Gardner-Webb has gone into a bit of a tailspin of late, with a losing streak now at six games, while Radford has staggered to a league-worst 0-4 against Big South foes.
  • Double-Trouble: Coastal’s Desmond Holloway has scored in double figures for all 14 of his team’s games this season.  Holloway is the only player in the Big South this season who can claim that distinction.  In fact, he has scored at least 13 points every time on the floor this year.
  • No Sophomore Slump Here: VMI sophomore Stan Okoye leads the Big South in scoring (19.8 points per game), field goal percentage (.579), double-doubles (7), and is second in rebounding (9.6 per game, just 0.2 rpg off the lead) heading into Thursday night’s action.  If Okoye can keep up this pace, he has a tremendous shot at an exceptional feat: leading the conference in scoring, rebounding, and field goal percentage in the same season, something only accomplished by two players in Big South history (Danny Gathings, High Point 2002-03, and Art Parakhouski, Radford 2009-10).

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina (12-2 / 3-0)… the Chanticleers have been roosting here at the top spot all along, but the upcoming week could impact that, with a showdown at the Flames on the way.  The winning streak has run to ten coming into this road swing at VMI and Liberty, and the results may give us a feel for whether coach Cliff Ellis has this talented and deep group running at its best.  Hard to argue against that, given they are on the same pace that they were on last year in Coastal’s run to the regular season championship.
  2. Liberty (10-6 / 4-0)… yes, the Flames are hoping to demonstrate something when Coastal gets to town this weekend, but they have already taken a big step forward by sweeping the last two road games in the conference.  Teams that can demonstrate the ability to win away from home have been rare in the Big South so far this season, and that will be a necessary skill.  You have to be impressed with how coach Dale Layer has gotten his group to play above expectations.
  3. Winthrop (6-7 / 2-1)… I know we’ve said it before in this space, but the Eagles are going to keep lurking around.  Other teams will rise and fall around them, but they should always be in the mix.  For example, they would’ve been in the four-spot this week, but they just beat Presbyterian College head-to-head, so let’s give them the nod here.   That score was 53-51, another example of how Winthrop will “grind it out” on you, whether you like it or not.
  4. Presbyterian College (7-8 / 1-2)… oh, Blue Hose, which team do we get on what night?  The one that beat Navy last week and recently downed Auburn and Wake Forest as well, or the one that could only scrape together 51 points against the tough Winthrop defense?  There’s a lot of talent and experience here, and they’ll be a tough out on any given night, but regrettably it won’t matter much in the end since PC cannot play in the postseason (Division-I transition).
  5. VMI (9-5 / 2-2)… two decisive road wins in league play helped right the ship from a pair of home conference losses in early December, so the Keydets remain a viable contender, or at least a legitimate spoiler, in the Big South standings.  As long as Stan Okoye and talented freshman Rodney Glasgow keep doing what they’re doing, VMI should still have plenty to say.  We’ll have to see if they can advance their cause with Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina coming to town.
  6. Charleston Southern (8-7 / 2-1)… after waiting to see if the Bucs would start living up to some of their obvious potential, along comes a week with two solid wins in conference.  Senior guard Jamarco Warren had his shots falling, and that has a lot to do with the fortunes of CSU.  Like Coastal, CSU is hitting the Liberty-VMI road trip, and that could be a barometer for the relative strengths of those squads.  If the three-pointers are clicking, the Bucs have dark-horse potential, but those shots have a bad habit of drying up at inopportune times.
  7. High Point (5-8 / 2-2)… hmmm…the story keeps getting tougher for the Panthers each time we tell it in this space, doesn’t it?  High Point and Preseason Player of the Year Nick Barbour have both seen struggles this season, and now at five straight losses overall, including two in the Big South, things are not looking too bright.  The good news for HPU may be that there’s only one league game on the team’s schedule this week, and that’s against a down Radford squad.
  8. UNC Asheville (6-8 / 1-3)… Coach Eddie Biedenbach would love to see a fully healthy team, but that hasn’t been happening for the Bulldogs, and so Asheville has found the season to be rougher than anticipated.  For example, they dropped the last two home games–this after running up a double-digit home winning streak…not a good sign.
  9. Gardner-Webb (6-10 / 1-3)… speaking of injury-troubled teams, we present the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs.  The losing streak has mounted to six games now, and with leading scorer Jon Moore considered out “indefinitely”, help is needed to stop this slide for coach Chris Holtmann.
  10. Radford (3-11 / 0-4)… the hole is getting deeper for a team that ended 2008-09 with the NCAA Tournament, opened 2009-10 as a Big South favorite in the eyes of many, ended last year with a disappointing finish and has played below the level of the rest of the league all this season.  Winless in the conference and last in several key team stats, it may continue to be a rough ride for the Highlanders.

A Look Ahead

Four of the top five teams in the Big South standings are colliding this week while bringing in winning streaks (from two to ten games)… Saturday the 8th it’s CSU at VMI and Coastal at Liberty.  All those games should be both fun and informative.  Meanwhile, with several teams struggling with injuries, losing streaks, or both, there is also a race going on to see who can recover first and contend for the upper half of the standings.  Remember that for the Big South, the top four seeds will host first-round games in the tournament, and that can be a key stepping-stone to a championship and the NCAA berth that follows.

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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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RTC 2010-11 Impact Players – South Atlantic Region

Posted by rtmsf on October 11th, 2010

It’s October.  The leaves are starting to turn colors.  Halloween candy is already in the stores.  There have been a few nights where you may have even turned on the heat.  Midnight Madness is imminent and RTC is full bore into the 2010-11 Season Preview materials.  For the second October in a row, we’re bringing you our RTC Impact Players series.  The braintrust has gone back and forth on this and we’ve finally settled on a group of sixty players throughout ten geographic regions of the country (five starters plus a sixth man) to represent the who and where of players you should be watching this season.  Seriously, if you haven’t seen every one of these players ball at least once by the end of February, then you need to figure out a way to get a better television package.  As always in a subjective analysis such as this, some of our decisions were difficult; many others were quite easy.  What we can say without reservation is that there is great talent in every corner of this nation of ours, and we’ll do our best to excavate it over the next five weeks in this series that will publish on Mondays and Thursdays.  Each time, we’ll also provide a list of some of the near-misses as well as the players we considered in each region, but as always, we welcome you guys, our faithful and very knowledgeable readers, to critique us in the comments.

You can find all previous RTC 2010-11 Impact Players posts here.

South Atlantic Region (VA, NC, SC)

  • Kyrie Irving – Fr, G – Duke. To get an idea how highly touted Kyrie Irving is, consider this: coming off a season where Duke won the national title and only lost one key playmaker on offense, most people believe that the Blue Devils will run their offense through the talented freshman from New Jersey who many recruiting experts rank among the best to ever come from the state that has produced so many great college players, including Duke legends Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams. His development during his sophomore year of high school when ESPN analysts stated that he “would be a top 300 player nationally in the 2010 class” and then said a few months later “could be an impact player in the Atlantic 10 or a high-major role player” to his senior year when he was a top five recruit (#1 according to some services) and those same recruiting analysts were stating “it will be shocking if he isn’t an all-conference performer and possible all-american his freshman season” portends the potential for his development into a truly special player. Irving is one of the rare players who arrives on campus with the ability to both score and distribute the ball to his teammates. After all the talk about how Coach K had lost his edge in recruiting, Irving might be his most dynamic recruit since Williams arrived in Durham back in 1999. Despite only being on campus for a few months, his Blue Devil teammates have probably already begun to appreciate his high basketball IQ, competitiveness, and all-around ability.  Even though many will question his inclusion on our Impact Player team over his more proven teammate Nolan Smith, Irving has demonstrated a skill set in high school that goes beyond what Smith has demonstrated even with three additional years of experience under the watchful eye of Coach K. If Irving is able to make a smooth transition from the high school game to the college game (and having Singler, Smith, Seth Curry, and the Plumlees around should help), his game could make the Blue Devils heavy favorites to repeat when March arrives. With Irving’s game we don’t think it will be question of if but rather when he feels truly comfortable at the college level, so all the Duke haters should be preparing for a long season ahead.

Kyrie Irving Could be the Best Duke Guard Since J-Will

  • Malcolm Delaney – Sr, G – Virginia Tech. If you’re a Hokies fan and a Twitter fiend, back on May 8th you were probably just a little surprised but very happy that Malcolm Delaney tweeted that he was going to put off NBA riches for a year and return to school for his senior season. Nobody, however, could have been happier than Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg. We shudder to think at the number of blood pressure medications that man must be taking these days, having seemingly been the victim of more last-second heartbreakers and burst NCAA Tournament bubbles (are we allowed to refer to “the bubble” in October?) than any one man should ever be expected to endure, but the return of Delaney to Blacksburg should have lowered Greenberg’s systolic by about 20 points. It probably went back up over the summer, though, after Greenberg lost two of his forwards for the season — specifically presumptive sixth man J.T. Thompson to a left ACL tear and Allan Chaney to viral myocarditis (a condition slightly less than 0.6% of all people in America have) — and has another one in Cadarian Raines recovering from surgery in March to repair a re-fractured left foot. The importance of Delaney, then, and the impact he’ll have in this geographical region become obvious. VT will have to go small, and that means more touches for Malcolm, who we’re guessing will have no problem taking on more responsibility in terms of both scoring and rebounding, and we’re saying this about the top scorer in the ACC last season (20.2 PPG). He played an average of 35.8 MPG last year (4th ACC, 58th nationally) and we wonder if he’ll even sit at all this season. Most importantly, if the Hokies are going to attempt to return to only their second NCAA Tournament in the last 15 years (and what would be Delaney’s first), Greenberg will be counting on emotional and vocal leadership on the floor and in the locker room from Delaney, his RTC South Atlantic Impact Player and ACC Player of the Year candidate.

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RTC Conference Primers: #29 – Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 6th, 2010

Mark Bryant of Big South SHOUT is the RTC correspondent for the Big South Conference.

Predicted Order of Finish
  1. Coastal Carolina (14-4)
  2. Winthrop (13-5)
  3. UNC Asheville (11-7)
  4. Presbyterian College (10-8)
  5. High Point (9-9)
  6. Liberty (9-9)
  7. Charleston Southern (8-10)
  8. VMI (6-12)
  9. Radford (6-12)
  10. Gardner-Webb (4-14)

All-Conference Team

  • Nick Barbour (G) - High Point
  • Austin Kenon (G) – VMI
  • Jamarco Warren (G) – Charleston Southern
  • Al’Lonzo Coleman (F) – Presbyterian College
  • Chad Gray (F) – Coastal Carolina

Sixth Man

  • Keith Gabriel (G) – VMI

Impact Newcomer

  • Mike Holmes (F) – Coastal Carolina – Holmes comes to CCU after being dismissed from South Carolina last winter and won’t be eligible to play until a big tilt against LSU on December 13. The senior averaged 10.8 PPG and 7.4 RPG in his last full season in a power conference (2008-09), so he’s very capable of being a force in the Big South as long as he keeps his act together. Until he proves that, however, he’s something of a wildcard.
Cliff Ellis led Coastal Carolina to school records in regular season victories and wins in conference play, but had to settle for the NIT in 2010. Such is life in the mid-majors. (TSN Archive)

What You Need to Know

  • Most folks would probably still identify Winthrop as the team of note from the Big South, with that school still having provided the conference’s only NCAA Tournament first round victory (over Notre Dame in 2007). Although they represented the Big South last year, the Eagles did not do so unchallenged.  Coastal Carolina, bitter rival of Winthrop, asserted itself last year and won the regular season title before falling to the Eagles in the Conference Tournament.  Expect the two familiar foes to be dueling again throughout the upcoming year.  As for players to watch, with the departure of some hallmark big men from the league, outside shooting and guard play will likely generate the most excitement, thanks to contributors like Nick Barbour of High Point, Jamarco Warren of Charleston SouthernAustin Kenon of VMI and J.P. Primm of UNC Asheville, among others.

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Summer School in the Big South

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 6th, 2010

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

Around The Big South

  • Back to the Future for Gardner-Webb – The GWU Runnin’ Bulldogs called on a former assistant to get the program going back in the right direction with the departure of Rick Scruggs after a 15-year tenure in Boiling Springs.  New head man Chris Holtmann was with GWU’s staff from 2003-08, but his more recent time with Ohio University had him on the up-and-coming coach prospect lists — that performance by the Bobcats last year in winning the MAC Tournament and upending Georgetown at the NCAA Tourney opened lots of eyes to Holtmann’s contributions as lead assistant there.
  • Association Aspirations – While not impacting the upcoming season directly, two NBA storylines have gotten lots of Big South attention:  Art Parakhouski and Reggie Williams.  Parakhouski, a two-time Big South Player of the Year, was considered by many as a draftable prospect for the NBA, but did not get selected, missing what many thought was the Big South’s best chance to date of having someone taken in the modern two-round format for the first time.  The big man from Radford landed on the Celtics’ Summer League team, trying to work his way into a spot.  Meanwhile, that’s just what former Big South and VMI star Reggie Williams did.  Once college basketball’s leading scorer, he started doing the same thing in the NBA’s D-League, which will get you noticed.  He signed a ten-day deal with the Golden State Warriors, and then another, earning his way onto the team roster with lots of praise from teammates and coaches.

Kierre Greenwood is back to lead CCU to the top. (Ted Richardson/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)

Power Rankings

  1. Coastal Carolina – no one’s expecting the Chanticleers to crow through the season at last year’s astonishing pace (28-7 ,15-3, regular season champion), but here’s some consideration for them repeating a run at the title nonetheless.  CCU loses team leader and All-Conference forward Joseph Harris, but we suspect Chad Gray (also All-Conference First Team) will step into that role and get sufficient help from last season’s Freshman of the Year Kierre Greenwood.  Big South Coach of the Year Cliff Ellis seemed to finally get the pieces put together last year, and their tournament final loss may provide adequate motivation to reach the next rung on the ladder this time around.
  2. Winthrop - okay, so the Eagles lose a cornerstone in Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson from last year’s Big South Championship squad, but coach Randy Peele said it best when WU managed that upset title run: this team is built for tournament play.  In other words, there will be some ugly play along the way (as seen when the shooting ices over, like in the NCAA opening round game), but this team will stay in games and stay in the race and stay a thorn in the side of everyone else.  Just ask the Coastal fans who watched the Eagles celebrate on the CCU court this spring… can’t count Winthrop out, so let’s credit them with contender status here.
  3. High Point – If coach Scott Cherry can keep his team on its improvement pace, he’ll do even better than this spot, but let’s consider the Panthers as a notch better than last year’s 15-15, 10-8 squad.  That mark was an increase of six wins (conference and overall) over the previous season.  Granted, HPU has to bid farewell to big man and shot-blocker Cruz Daniels, along with the talented Eugene Harris, but they still have the offensive production of standouts Nick Barbour (All-Conference) and Tehran Cox.  For his senior year, Cox will also get the emotional boost of seeing his team play preseason games in his native Bahamas.  As for Barbour, beware when this shooter is on the mark – he can hit from anywhere. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big South Tournament Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 2nd, 2010

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

Standings

  1. Coastal Carolina           15-3 / 26-5
  2. Radford                        13-5 / 18-11
  3. Winthrop                      12-6 / 16-13
  4. UNC Asheville             11-7 / 14-15
  5. High Point                    10-8 / 15-14
  6. Liberty                         10-8 / 15-15
  7. Charleston Southern       7-11/ 13-16
  8. VMI                               5-13/ 10-18
  9. Gardner-Webb               5-13/ 8-21
  10. Presbyterian College       2-16/ 5-26

Top Storylines

Tournament Time.  The Big South races resolved themselves, the seeds have been set, and it’s time for the second season.  At the top, Coastal Carolina held its lead and held off all comers to win the regular season title with a remarkable 15-3 and 26-5 record.  Preseason favorite Radford defeated Winthrop in the season’s last game to settle the issue of seeds number two and three, while Asheville narrowly edged out High Point and Liberty for the right to be the final home team in the tournament’s first round.  At the other end of the line, VMI had the tiebreaker edge over GWU for the eighth and final tourney position.

Award Winners.  The Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the Big South were each well-deserved repeats of the previous season: Art Parakhouski of Radford and Mantoris Robinson of Winthrop, respectively.  Coach of the Year went to Cliff Ellis of Coastal, naturally, for his remarkable season with the Chanticleers.  Jeremy Sexton of CSU took the Freshman of the Year honor, while Phillip Martin of Radford earned the Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.

Big South All-Conference.  The First-Team All-Conference list matched four of the six (due to a tie for fifth) named in the preseason:

  • C Art Parakhouski-RU
  • F Joseph Harris-CCU
  • G Nick Barbour-HPU
  • G Jamarco Warren of CSU.

The new name to the squad was Harris’ Coastal teammate, F Chad Gray.  Of that lineup, Parakhouski and Harris are seniors, Gray and Warren are juniors, and Barbour is the lone sophomore.

Looking Ahead

The first-round match-ups look like this:

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by rtmsf on February 13th, 2010

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

Standings

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

Top Storylines

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

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

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

Looking Ahead

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

Looking Behind

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

Team Capsules

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

Posted by jstevrtc on January 23rd, 2010

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

Updated Standings:

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

Top Storylines:

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.

Team Breakdowns:

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.

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