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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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by jstevrtc on January 8th, 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        5-0  Big South ( 15-2 overall)
  2. Radford                      4-0    (8-5)
  3. High Point                  3-1   (7-6)
  4. Liberty                        3-1    (8-8)
  5. Charleston Southern  2-3 (7-8)
  6. Winthrop                   2-3    (6-9)
  7. VMI                             1-3    (4-8)
  8. UNC Asheville           1-3     (3-11)
  9. Gardner-Webb          1-3    (4-10)
  10. Presbyterian College  0-5     (2-15)

Top Stories

The Chanticleer’s Tale — Coastal Carolina is now the fastest team to 15 wins in Big South history.  In addition, the Chanticleers are 5-0 in conference for the first time since 1990-91.  It’s a storybook start to the season, appropriate for a mascot plucked from classic literature (if you’re not up on your obscure nickname trivia, it’s from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales).  But can Coach Cliff Ellis get this kind of production when it counts at season’s end?  Looks like we may have to finish the book to find that one out, but CCU is getting the right mix of dominant play from Joseph Harris and clutch shooting by Chad Gray, so they might be able to stay strong all the way through the campaign.

Art Show — Senior big man Art Parakhouski of Radford is starting to have more dominant performances more often this season, a dangerous sign for the rest of the league.  Radford’s success a year ago owed a great deal to Parakhouski getting better as the season progressed.  Now that he’s clearly in top form, as demonstrated by back-to-back 30-point performances in the last week, RU may keep rolling.

A Look Back

Life has been mostly good for the home teams since Christmas:  all 13 games involving Big South teams in the final week of December were won by the home team or on a neutral site — no road wins.  Turn the calendar to January and it gets only slightly better in the new year:  10 of 13 Big South games (these were all in conference play) were won on the home floor.  Last season was a fairly successful one for Big South road squads, but there definitely seems to be a stronger than usual home-court advantage in play right now.

The last significant batch of out-of-conference games didn’t really offer any major moments, but did include a win for Radford over George Mason, the only win for the Big South against the Colonial this year, and a victory for Coastal Carolina over Georgia Southern–making CCU not only 5-0 in the Big South, but 4-0 in the SoCon this year as well!

Conference play established an early schism in the group — there’s a top four and a bottom six at the moment: CCU/RU/HPU/LU are a combined 15-2, while CSU/WU/VMI/UNCA/GWU/PC are a combined 7-20 in the Big South.  Unless some patterns start to change, we already have contenders for hosting the first round games in the Big South Tournament, as those go to the top four seeds.

A Look Ahead

The top teams haven’t crossed paths much–of that leading foursome, only one game has matched any of those teams head-to-head: Coastal over Liberty on Dec. 5th.  That will start to change in the next two weeks; watch out for these important games:

  • 1/9         Radford at High Point
  • 1/14       Radford at Coastal Carolina
  • 1/16       High Point at Coastal Carolina
  • 1/21       Liberty at High Point

And if you’re looking for another team that could shake things up, that honor belongs to Charleston Southern — outside the upper group but certainly not out of contention at 2-3.  The Bucs’ schedule includes home games against High Point and Radford within the next two weeks, giving CSU the power to insert itself back in the race.  All of which would make the Jan. 23rd match-ups of CSU at CCU and LU at RU very interesting indeed.

Team Breakdowns

Charleston Southern — As cited just above, CSU is a pivot team right now…the Buccaneers have games in front of them that will allow them to climb the ladder, but could just as easily find themselves going the wrong way.  Jamarco Warren continues to put up points and is unafraid to take his shots every game.

Coastal Carolina — It just gets better for the Chanticleers every time we write them up so far… no one expected them to be quite this hot.  If/when they falter, how they handle that may be a critical factor in the season’s outcome, but right now we should all enjoy the ride.  CCU has won ten straight and has earned its position in the mid-major poll (currently 21st with Collegeinsider.com).  Meanwhile, Coach Cliff Ellis eclipsed the 650 career win mark this week.

Gardner-Webb — The Runnin’ Bulldogs have not been going the right direction lately, but finally eked out a win to end a ten-game skid, their longest since 2002-03. This is a team needing a break and a little momentum — something not to be found previously against the likes of Texas and other powers on the out-of-conference slate for GWU this season.

High Point — The Panthers have been doing more than lurking on the outside lately — this is a squad that will likely have a major say in the Big South race down the stretch and in the tournament.  The first big test along that path is with Saturday’s visit by Radford, when a lot of eyes will be on the Millis Center and how HPU handles that match-up.

Liberty — Year-in and year-out, you just can’t count out the Flames.   Even when they’re not at their best, this is always a squad that can bring it on any given night.  They’ve done just that in winning three of four to start Big South competition.  Jesse Sanders is doing a lot to keep the team going strong these days, ranking in the Big South’s top ten in both assists and rebounding.

Presbyterian — It’s widely known that PC is essentially saving itself for next year and the arrival of postseason D-I eligibility for the former D-II school, with prominent players redshirting this season to take advantage of the next.  That said, this is rapidly becoming a totally lost year for the Blue Hose, faltering to 0-5 in the Big South and only 2-15 overall.

Radford — The Highlanders have won them close and they’ve won them going away, but the bottom line is that they’re winning, at least when it comes to conference games.  RU scheduled strong outside the Big South and did not always get the better end of that set-up, but it has steeled them for competition among peer schools.  In addition to an unblemished Big South record this season, the Highlanders have a streak of 11 road wins in the league dating back to last year.

UNC Asheville — The Bulldogs played Coastal Carolina within a point on Thursday, but regardless of the margin, it’s still a loss, and makes three of those in a row in Conference play for UNC Asheville after the school’s surprising opening win in Big South play.  Coach Eddie Biedenbach’s group will work hard for every game, but it’s hard to say this team has enough to change its direction this season.

VMI — The pace continues to be blistering in VMI games, although it’s still not working out on a regular basis for the Keydets, even as they hold the top scoring rank in the country (again).  They can push the pace, but VMI opponents have not blinked.  Liberty beat VMI 110-102 last Saturday, and Winthrop took advantage of the high pace and cold shooting of the Keydets to streak to a 96-63 win on Thursday (only the third time in 12 games VMI has been held under 85).  Last year, that strategy propelled the Keydets one game short of the Big Dance, but the Holmes twins are not on this team to hit those shots any longer.

Winthrop — Still looking forward to finding out which Winthrop we’ve really got here…they pushed Radford to the brink earlier this year and ran VMI all over the floor this week, but that latter feat was done only after five losses in a row with fewer than 60 points in each game (ouch).

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by jstevrtc on December 26th, 2009

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 2-0 / 10-2
  2. Radford 2-0 / 5-4
  3. UNC Asheville 1-0 / 3-7
  4. Liberty 1-1 / 6-6
  5. Winthrop 1-1 / 5-6
  6. High Point 1-1 / 4-6
  7. VMI 1-1 / 4-6
  8. Gardner-Webb 0-1 / 3-7
  9. Charleston Southern 0-2 / 5-6
  10. Presbyterian College 0-2 / 2-10

Top Stories:

Rooster Crows

The Chanticleers have been the surprise so far this year, improving to 10-2. That’s the best start for Coastal Carolina since 1981-82.  That year, CCU opened 10-2 and dropped the next one, so this could be the school’s best launch ever if they can ruin Cornell’s beach trip on the 27th.  Coastal has won six in a row and has won all its games against SoCon foes, faring much better against the Southern than other Big South squads.  CCU even managed a vote in the rankings, yet inexplicably lost that vote in the following week without losing a game in that time.

Out-of Conference Woes

Nights like Tuesday (12/22) are really killing the Big South when it comes to other leagues.  That evening, Big South teams were 0-4 against outside foes — not going to help the profile of the conference with showings like that one.  There are ten conferences that have not lost to the Big South this season:  the ACC, A10, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Big West, C-USA, Horizon, Mountain West, and SEC are a collective 34-0 when facing the Big South this season (Big Ouch).  The record for the Big South is a more average mark of 14-10 against a collection of the A-Sun, MEAC, SWAC, MVC, OVC, Patriot, and SoCon.

Trading Blows

The ten teams of the Big South may take some solace in the fact that they can soon take out their frustrations on one another.  Every team got a taste of conference play with one or two games earlier in December, but it’s going to be full-tilt league games with the arrival of the New Year.  That said, they still have to get there — the last week of 2009 includes foes like Florida (for PC), Auburn (CSU), NC State (Winthrop), and, believe it or not, Texas (GWU).

Looking Ahead

Echoing the last item, the next steps for the teams of the Big South will be taken on the conference road.  The December match-ups gave RU and CCU a leg up at 2-0, while starting CSU and PC in a hole 0-2.  All the others are even or only one game up or down, so the jockeying for position has just begun!

Looking Behind

Did we mention the recent woes outside the conference?  Yeah, most of the squads will not want to look back on the recent weeks, although Coastal Carolina would likely be the exception to that.

Team Capsules:

Charleston Southern – sharpshooter Jamarco Warren is still the go-to guy for the Buccaneers, but Jeremy Sexton is drawing more attention, now a two-time winner of Freshman of the Week and showing a good deal of consistency on a team that could use it.

Coastal Carolina – as cited above, the Chants are on a roll.  CCU has taken six wins in a row and has turned some heads.  Joseph Harris has been the biggest producer, but don’t overlook Chad Gray, who has joined Harris as a Player of the Week honoree this season and is becoming a bigger factor in games.

Gardner-Webb – the opposite of Coastal right now, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are running the wrong way, with seven straight losses.  It’s not getting better for GWU, with the powerful Texas Longhorns on the schedule before starting Big South play.

High Point – the Panthers have been having a rough go of things lately, too…four losses in a row have the HPU faithful looking for a quick turnaround.  High Point always turns to the shooting of Nick Barbour and inside play of Cruz Daniels to make a difference.

Liberty – the Flames remain a relative question mark, since it’s hard to handicap when a squad falls to major foes and beats smaller ones as LU has.  Conference play will be especially telling for Liberty in the weeks ahead.

Presbyterian College — PC has mortgaged its future a bit by redshirting players for next year’s postseason eligibility, as they are still transitioning to D-1 now.  With that in mind, the Blue Hose are taking plenty of lumps this season as expected.

Radford – if there’s disappointment at the moment, it may be coming from the Highlanders.  RU has talent and size, but has not yet registered anything you could really consider a “signature” win, and had to scrap to get its two conference wins.  Radford’s success last year came in the middle and late season, so we’ll have to see if history repeats itself.

UNC Asheville – the start for the Bulldogs was a rough and winless one, but Asheville has gotten off the mat a bit with a pair of wins in recent weeks (and a 3-7 mark overall).

VMI – pinball numbers remain the rule for the Keydets, win or lose, you can always expect the scores to be at or near triple-digits for each side.  So the good news for VMI remains the team’s general ability to get teams to play at VMI’s pace, but the bad news for the Keydets is they get beaten at that speed just as often as they can run to wins.

Winthrop – like Liberty, we’re seeing a lot of losing to bigger squads and beating smaller ones, so we may need to see more peer play to get a proper handle on what Coach Randy Peele has to work with this season.

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ATB: The A-10 Rises. . .

Posted by nvr1983 on December 13th, 2009

atb
In our first college football-free weekend of the season (except for Mark Ingram’s Heisman and ESPN’s phenomenal documentary on “The U”) we had quite a few interesting story lines from the weekend, but one stood out on Sunday — the pair of upset victories by Atlantic 10 teams over highly ranked Big East teams in crosstown rivalry games (Temple against Villanova and Xavier against Cincinnati). Not only does it give those individual programs some bragging rights and a much needed boost on the recruiting trail, but it also gives a huge lift to the national perception of the Atlantic 10 and might cause some consternation amongst the Big East fans who like to promote their conference as the best in the nation for college basketball.

A great night for Xavier and the A-10 (Credit: AP/David Kohl)

A great night for Xavier and the A-10 (Credit: AP/David Kohl)

The A-10 Rising

  • Xavier 78, #19 Cincinnati 75 (2 OT). This might not be as shocking to the rest of the nation, but it might go down as the game of the year so far. It had a little bit of everything you could ask for in a game at this point of the season. Bitter rivalry? Check. Physical play? Check. Biting fan chants? Check (Brian Kelly). Big comeback? Check. Buzzer beater? Check (later waved off). National TV audience? Not so much thanks to ESPNU’s sparse national penetration, but RTC Live was there. In the end it was Terrell Holloway‘s 26 points and Jason Love‘s 19 rebounds that were the difference as the Musketeers overcame 22 points from Lance Stephenson in a game where neither team led by more than 4 points during the last 19 minutes of the game and that was only after the Bearcats fouled Xavier in an attempt to get the ball back when Dion Dixon missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied the game with 21 seconds left in the second overtime.  To get a really good feel as to how intense this game was, definitely read our accounting from RTC Live above and check the highlight package below.

  • Temple 75, #3 Villanova 65: The Owls used an 11-0 run to start the 2nd half to overcome a 6-point deficit at halftime to knock off the Wildcats. The story of the game was Juan Fernandez who scored 33 points including 7 of 9 from 3-point range to knock off the highest ranked Big East team coming into the weekend. While the casual basketball fan will consider this a huge upset, those of us who follow college basketball closely knew that this would be a tough game for Jay Wright‘s crew against a team that had only lost by one to Georgetown (still undefeated) and St. John’s (only one loss by nine against Duke). The Wildcats managed to keep it relatively close with 23 from Scottie Reynolds, 16 from Antonio Pena, and 14 from Corey Fisher, but in the end it wasn’t enough to overcome Fernandez, 20 points from Ryan Brooks, and 10 points and 17 rebounds from Lavoy Allen. The loss was just the 2nd loss for Villanova in their last 23 games against one of their Big 5 rivals. After the victory, the fans began chanting, “We want Kansas!” in reference to their upcoming game on January 2nd. We love what the Owls have done so far this season, but the student body might want to be careful what they wish for because they might just get it. One bright spot for Villanova fans: Reggie Redding (think he might have been helpful against Allen today?) will return to action against Fordham on Saturday in his first action since he was suspended ten games for his arrest for possession of marijuana and other drug paraphernalia.

In other action…

Saturday’s Games.

  • #1 Kansas 90, La Salle 65: The Jayhawks were able to overcame an off-night from Sherron Collins (1/12 FG) thanks to a season-high 31 points from Xavier Henry (the last KU freshman to score 30 points in a game was some guy named Paul Pierce) and a 12-point, 12-rebound effort from Markieff Morris. Cole Aldrich added 19 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 blocks while Tyshawn Taylor had 10 points and 6 assists with no turnovers. The Jayhawks’ next two games should be a bit more competitive as they face a pair of teams—Michigan (12/19) and California (12/22)—that have failed to live up to preseason expectations, but both have a lot of talent.

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by jstevrtc on December 11th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Updated Standings (Conference/Overall):

  1. Coastal Carolina  (2-0/7-2)
  2. Radford  (2-0/4-3)
  3. UNC Asheville  (1-0/1-6)
  4. VMI  (1-1/4-4)
  5. High Point  (1-1/4-4)
  6. Winthrop  (1-1/3-4)
  7. Liberty  (1-1/4-6)
  8. Gardner-Webb  (0-1/3-3)
  9. Charleston Southern  (0-2/4-4)
  10. Presbyterian College  (0-2/2-7)

Top Storylines:

Joseph Harris, Double-Double Machine —  Coastal Carolina’s Joseph Harris graduated last year (Biology), but still had a year of eligibility in his pocket from a medical redshirt season.  He almost took that off to grad school at UAB, but changed his mind to play one more year for Coach Cliff Ellis and the Chanticleers, who must be very grateful by now.  In the season’s first four weeks, Harris earned Big South Player of the Week honors three times.  You read that right–three PoW awards in just one month…not too shabby, huh?  Harris is the league’s top active scorer and rebounder, with more than 1,000 points and 900 rebounds.  He holds the #3 career spot in rebounding (919) and stands an excellent chance of taking the top position from Arizona Reid (1013) early in 2010.  Harris would join Reid as the only players in Big South history to surpass both the 1,000 point and 1,000 rebound plateaus.  Harris currently leads the conference in 20+ point games (six) and 10+ rebound games (seven) this season, just one game ahead of Preseason Player of the Year Art Parakhouski on both counts.

Home Court (Dis)Advantage? — The first weekend of Big South Conference games favored the travelers more than the hosts.  Of the nine games played, the road team won six.  Of those six, four wins belonged to Radford and Coastal Carolina, who each pulled down a pair of road victories.  RU, in fact, has run its Big South road victory streak to eleven games now, the longest such run since Winthrop reached 11 from Jan. ’05 to Jan. ’06.

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Checking in on… the Big South

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2009

checkinginon

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

Updated Standings

  1. Coastal Carolina      1-0  Big South ( 6-2 overall)
  2. High Point     1-0   (4-2)
  3. Radford      1-0    (3-2)
  4. Liberty      1-0    (4-5)
  5. Gardner-Webb    0-0    (3-3)
  6. UNC Asheville      0-0     (1-6)
  7. Charleston Southern    0-1   (4-3)
  8. VMI     0-1     (3-3)
  9. Winthrop    0-1      (2-4)
  10. Presbyterian College    0-1     (2-6)

Top Storylines

All-Conference Team Justifying Selections.  Players of the Week (or Co-Players) in the early going for the Big South: Nick Barbour (HPU), Art Parakhouski (RU), and Joseph Harris (CCU), all members of the Preseason All-Conference Team.  Fellow honorees Jamarco Warren (CSU) and Grayson Flittner (GWU) have been candidates for the award as well this young season.  The first ten 20-point/10-rebound games logged in the Big South this season all came from that same set of players — four each from Parakhouski and Harris, plus two from the other half of Radford’s twin towers, Joey Lynch-Flohr.  Right now we’ll take the position that these are great players having great games, rather than suggesting that there’s a lack of depth in the star production department beyond those six guys (six in all because of a tie in the vote).

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ATB: Weekend Wrap – Pac-10 and SEC Struggle Again

Posted by rtmsf on November 23rd, 2009

atb

It was an odd weekend of basketball.  The games weren’t all that interesting — at least when compared to Friday night, for example — but there was plenty to talk about when scores started rolling in.  Mainly, it was a weekend that had few storylines other than Pac-10/SEC incompetence and prep work for all of the holiday tournaments that start this week.

Pac-10 Nightmare Saturday.

  • Loyola Marymount 67, USC 59. Will this ultimately be the worst BCS team loss of the entire season?  LMU won a total of three games last season, and while the Lions are undoubtedly better, there is absolutely no excuse for them to beat a Pac-10 team on their homecourt.  Ever.  We understand that Kevin O’Neill has virtually no depth at his disposal, but come on…
  • Sacramento State 65, Oregon State 63.  Regression to the mean on OSU this year?  All the great work Craig Robinson put in to make a horrid team competitive seems to have gone by the wayside this year, as the Beavers laid another stinker against a team they should easily handle at home.  Down 22 at the half, OSU rallied back behind Seth Tarver’s 14/10, but it was too little too late.  The Pac-10 RPI continues to sink.
  • Portland 88, Oregon 81. This is actually the one loss that should have been expected, as Portland is likely to be the better team this year.  Nik Raivio had 24/8 and his frontcourt mate had 17/8 as they shredded the Duck defense for 53% from the field and 58% from deep.  This will end up being a win that Portland will look favorably upon later this season.

More Upsets This Weekend.

  • VCU 82, #17 Oklahoma 69.  This seemed like a trap game when reviewing schedules, and it turned out to be one.  Willie Warren had a disastrous game, shooting only 3-14 (0-8 from three) and committing six turnovers in the outing.  Freshmen Tiny Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin combined for 25/18/6 assts, but VCU’s stars Larry Sanders (17/4/3 blks) and Jay Gavin (20/5/3 assts) outperformed them in Jeff Capel’s return trip to his old coaching haunt.
  • Temple 71, Siena 67.  The Saints found themselves on the wrong end of a 13-0 second half run by Temple that gave up their hard-earned halftime lead.  Juan Fernandez led the Owls with 20/3 assts, but it was Siena’s poor three-point shooting (1-9) that ultimately doomed them in this game.  Alex Franklin had 22/6 and Ryan Rossiter had 8/11, but Siena will need to play better in coming weeks to make a push for an at-large should they not win the MAAC Tournament.
  • Vermont 77, Rutgers 71.  Vermont should be proud to have gone into a Big East arena of a team that some expect to make waves this season and get a big win.  Marqus Blakely did everything — 17/9/2 assts/4 stls/5 blks — as UVM gutted out a hard-fought victory in Piscataway.
  • Kansas State 83, #21 Dayton 75.  Really not much of an upset, but a good team was going to leave Puerto Rico 1-2, and Dayton is the unlucky recipient.  Jacob Pullen had 26/5/4 assts for K-State, while Dayton’s Chris Wright came through with 15/10 on the other side.

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The Race For 2,000 Wins

Posted by jstevrtc on November 12th, 2009

As I write this, the North Carolina men’s basketball team just finished off their second win of the 2009-10 season against North Carolina Central.  The University of Kentucky squad will play their first game this Friday, November 13th against Morehead State.  That means that as of right now, the UNC program has amassed 1,986 wins in its incredible history.  UK will start this season with 1,988.  From this, it looks like in the Race For 2,000, we have a real barnburner on our hands.

Well, if you’re a Tar Heel supporter and you’re reading this, I have some bad news.  We don’t.  To Wildcat fans:  you can fire up the sewing machines and start creating that banner.  Call the silkscreeners and start cranking out T-shirts.  I’m calling it.

The wins have occurred over time in such a way that both programs will get to the 2,000-win mark early in this season’s schedule, and we know the early part of any season is a time of the year when many teams load their schedule with a fair number of cupcakes and a few big non-conference names thrown in there for RPI/strength-of-schedule boosting.  UNC and UK have both done this for this season, and this is nothing new for anyone.  This season started with UK leading the race with 1,988 wins to UNC’s 1,984.  UNC’s early start this week pulls them to within two wins.  So let’s see how the rest of their schedules look up until December 5th, when Kentucky and North Carolina meet  up for a monumental clash at Rupp Arena:

North Carolina:  Valparaiso, Ohio State (in NYC), California OR Syracuse (in NYC), Gardner-Webb, Nevada, Michigan State.

Kentucky:  Morehead State, Miami (OH), Sam Houston State, Rider, Cleveland State, Stanford OR Virginia, UNC-Asheville.

For the sake of argument, let’s say both teams start the season perfectly up to this point.  That’s no guarantee; UNC-Ohio State, UNC-California/Syracuse, or even UNC-Nevada could be interesting.  Kentucky has it a little easier up to here, so we’re actually helping the Tar Heels by assuming a perfect start to the season.  But let’s say it happens — this would put the race at UK with 1,995 and UNC with 1,992 going into the head-to-head matchup.

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2009-10 Conference Primers: #23 – Big South

Posted by rtmsf on October 14th, 2009

seasonpreview

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:

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

 All-Conference Team:

  • 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)

big south logo

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 WarrenPresbyterian 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 ChampionRadford 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.

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NCAA Preview: Radford Highlanders

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2009

Radford (#16, South, Greensboro pod)
vs. UNC (#1)
Thurs., 3/19 at 2:55 PM
Vegas Line: Radford, +27

General Profile
Location: Radford, Virginia
Conference: Big South, Automatic bid
Coach: Brad Greenberg, 31-31
08-09 Record: 20-11 (15-3)
Last 12 Games: 11-1, won 3.
Best Win: At VMI, 97-90, on 2/21/09.
Worst Loss: At William & Mary, 53-73, on 11/25/08.
Off. Efficiency Rating: 100.5 (187th)
Def. Efficiency Rating: 101.2 (165th)

Nuts ‘n Bolts
Star Player(s): Artsiom Parakhouski (6’11” junior center), 16.3 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 1.5 blocks/game.
Unsung Hero: Amir Johnson (5’9″ junior guard), 9.6 ppg/4.7 rpg/5.3 apg and plays most minutes/game on the team (36.3).
Potential NBA Draft Pick: None yet — but Parakhouski’s big and you can’t teach size.
Key Injuries: No significant injuries.
Depth: 22.7% (320th nationally); percentage of minutes played by reserves
Achilles Heel: Turnovers. Radford averages 16.1 turnovers/game, 313th in the nation.
Will Make a Deep Run if…: They keep hitting the boards. The Highlanders are 4th in the nation in rebounding (37.9 r/g).
Will Make an Early Exit if…: They don’t take care of the ball. Tough to beat higher seeds if you don’t score on as many possessions as possible.

NCAA History
Last Year Invited: 1998
Streak: One year.
Best NCAA Finish: 1998 First Round.
Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): Not enough data (Minimum 8 bids)

Other
Distance to First Round Site: 137 miles
School’s Claim to Fame: It’s the first university in the state of Virginia to use wireless technology throughout its entire campus.
School Wishes It Could Forget: Their only previous NCAA appearance 11 years ago? A 36-point pounding by Duke in a 1-vs-16 game.
Prediction: First round and out.
Major RTC stories: 4 Tickets Punched, 61 To Go

Preview written by John Stevens of Rush The Court

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State Of The Big Blue Nation: Mood Indigo

Posted by jstevrtc on March 2nd, 2009

(OR, Why Rick Pitino Is Like School On Thanksgiving)

John Stevens is a featured writer for Rush The Court.

Kentucky basketball fans are wondering if they might have built their new state-of-the-art basketball practice facility on a Native American burial ground.

(credit:  Kentucky.com)
(photo credit: Kentucky.com)

As if the Wednesday night emasculation at South Carolina and yesterday’s home-court disappointment against LSU weren’t enough, two pieces of news are currently at the forefront of the collective mind of the Big Blue Nation, as Kentucky fans are known.  First, it looks like Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino has decided to take a giant crap on any good will he had left in the non-Louisville part of Kentucky by profiting off of one of the worst moments in Wildcat basketball history.  We’ll get to that in a moment.  Second, in addition to the growing possibility of watching this year’s NCAA tournament from their dorm rooms, this weekend the team and their supporters have had to deal with this now well-publicized incident in which sophomore forward A.J. Stewart, sick of watching from the pine as his team loses more games than they should, told everybody where they could go a few days ago and actually quit the Wildcat squad for about 24 hours after the aforementioned South Carolina loss.  He’s obviously been reinstated by his team, since he played in the home loss to LSU yesterday.

Reinstatement or not, Kentucky fans have to be wondering — what on EARTH have we done to deserve all of this?

“This” all started two years ago, specifically when Tubby Smith decided he’d had enough of (whether warranted or not) the second-guessing in Lexington and hit the road for Minnesota, which might have well been any place, as long as NCAA Tournament bids and occasional Sweet Sixteen appearances are acceptable goals there.  If you recall, it was at this time that the one coach in the country that just about every Kentucky supporter considered their Heir Apparent, Florida’s Billy Donovan, flirted very seriously with the Kentucky job before actually accepting the same position with the Orlando Magic…only to back out on THAT commitment 48 hours later to stay at Florida.  At that moment, Kentucky fans had to know — something was up.

Enter Billy Gillispie, not exactly the program’s first choice but a good selection for them since he had earned the reputation as the New Resurrector after his stints at UTEP and Texas A&M.  He made friends early by ensuring that the Tubby Smith-recruited Patrick Patterson would still attend UK, but then dropped games to the likes of Gardner-Webb and San Diego (both at home), causing much head-scratching.  Despite a tough season with injuries and personnel-juggling, Gillispie’s first UK team battled back, made the tournament (and it looked bleak for a while), and Gillispie won co-Coach of the Year honors in the SEC.  About twelve seconds after their first-round loss, Kentucky fans were looking forward to the next season, knowing it would be better once everyone was healthy and some new bad-ass recruits came into the fold.  The Billy Donovan snub was virtually forgotten.

One of those players returning to health in that off-season was versatile point guard Derrick Jasper.  Having gotten over all the physical and mental hurdles that come with microfracture surgery of the (left) knee, the 2008-09 edition of the Wildcats was his to lead.  Jasper was poised to be the floor general of one of the storied programs of college basketball.  It was to be “his” team.  But instead, in a move that nobody saw coming, after a mere two years of living in Lexington — citing “homesickness” — Jasper bailed on his chance to lead the program, choosing relative obscurity over an amazing opportunity.  He transferred to UNLV and left Kentucky high and dry with point guard problems that Gillispie hasn’t been able to solve with junior Michael Porter and freshman DeAndre Liggins.  How big was this loss?  Considering that the point guard handles the ball 60% of the time for any given team, is it a coincidence that Kentucky is 338th out of 341 Division I teams in turnovers per game?  Probably not.

Only 1 of these three remains at UK.  (daylife.com)
Only 1 of these three remains at UK. (photo credit: daylife.com)

Then came the home loss to VMI earlier this year, an inexcusable loss given the Gardner-Webb debacle from the year before and the alarming talent disparity between the two teams.  With that loss still stinging, a few games later (in a game Kentucky still won), Liggins refused to re-enter a close game against Kansas State in a protest about playing time.  For a day or so it looked like Liggins’ status with the team was tenuous at best, but (just like what’s happened with the current A.J. Stewart situation) the players voted to reinstate him.  This had to remind Kentucky followers of the Alex Legion strangeness from the previous season; Legion was a prize recruit with a nice outside shot, and who they were going to count on for some serious point production…but he didn’t even make it to Christmas in his first year at UK, leaving because he (and his mom) felt he wasn’t getting enough PT.  And now — this weekend’s situation with Stewart.

Kentucky fans are left wondering what has happened to the culture in their program.  Their obvious Heir Apparent in Billy Donovan declined to return even though he had been groomed for the job since the Pitino years; with inexcusable losses to comparatively talent-bereft teams (and not too many surprising wins) Billy Gillispie is starting to look like a good example of the Peter Principle; some important players have jumped ship, seemingly preferring oblivion over recognition and opportunity, and others choose unproductive ways to protest lack of playing time; and despite having two lottery picks on the team and some hard-working young role players, the Wildcats find themselves sliding down the bubble’s surface this season and are giving the tournament selection committee every reason to leave them off the bracket two weeks from now with these stretch losses.  This is a program that didn’t exactly weep when Tubby Smith left town; I’m not even saying they’re wrong about that, since after Smith’s 1998 title run with the Wildcats, he never returned to the Final Four in his next nine seasons — would UNC, Kansas, Duke, or UCLA fans put up with such a streak these days? — but keep in mind that, for unknown reasons, Billy Gillispie hasn’t even signed his contract at UK even though he’s basically got two seasons under his belt, now.  Many folks in Lexington wonder if he should even bother, with UK’s performance this year, even if the team slips into the tournament somehow.  And to make matters worse, if Kentucky fans have to watch this tournament without their Wildcats for the first time in 17 years, this is the time of year that a certain shot by a certain former Duke player gets played over and over again…

Oh, but if only that were the end of it for the Big Blue Nation.

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