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Big South Notebook

February 17, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Big South Notebook

by Michael Protos

Rediscovering the Big South, and a team that wishes that its game actually counted

When we left our Big South heroes, they prepared to take on the treacherous conference season. And by mid-February, several teams have vanquished the pretenders leaving a tight contest atop the standings.

Winthrop, Liberty, UNC-Asheville and Charleston Southern occupy the top four spots and are separated by a mere game and a half. Coastal Carolina, Elon, Radford and High Point round out the remaining Big South teams, at least the ones eligible to compete in conference play this season. Huh?

The Birmingham Southern Panthers are completing their trial run in the Big South conference this year, meaning that they get to play the conference games without tallying a record. In theory, the team joining the conference should be inferior in competition and need a couple of seasons to become a threat. Wouldn’t ya know it… Birmingham Southern would be 8-5 in conference play if the games counted. And the Panthers have a 4-3 record against the Big South’s top four teams.

Coming down the stretch, the Panthers would have a realistic chance at claiming the regular season crown. The rest of the Big South is off the hook this year, but watch out next season. The Panthers regularly play ten men and will lose only three to graduation.

Most teams have three to four games remaining on their schedule, except for Liberty, which gets to play five more games. Let’s take a look at the standings to understand who has a realistic shot at winning the Big South.

Winthrop: 8-3 Conference, 16-9 Overall
Liberty: 7-3 Conference, 12-11 Overall
UNC-Asheville: 7-3 Conference, 12-12 Overall
Charleston Southern: 6-4 Conference, 12-11 Overall
Coastal Carolina: 4-6 Conference, 12-11 Overall
Elon: 4-6 Conference, 8-14 Overall
Radford: 4-7 Conference, 6-17 Overall
High Point: 2-10 Conference, 6-17 Overall
Birmingham Southern: 0-0 Conference, 15-9 Overall

So, with only a couple of weeks left before the conference tournament, the top four teams can significantly shift positions. Here’s why:

Winthrop (3): Liberty, Charleston Southern, at UNC-Asheville

Liberty (5): Coastal Carolina, at Winthrop, Birmingham Southern, at High Point, at Radford

UNC-Asheville (4): at Elon, at Coastal Carolina, at Charleston Southern, Winthrop

Charleston Southern (4): at Radford, at Winthrop, UNC-Asheville, Coastal Carolina

Winthrop has a favorable schedule down the stretch, with two home games out of three total games. Winthrop has been hot recently as winners of eight of their last ten games. Those three games are against the other conference leaders, so Winthrop controls its own destiny.

The same can be said of Liberty, however, which plays five more games, including at Winthrop. Sweep the final five, win the conference title.

UNC-Asheville has the same number of losses as Winthrop, but it must play three of its final four games on the road. And UNC-Asheville suffers from a severe case of homesickness, winning only a single road game all season. And that one remaining home game happens to be against Winthrop in the season finale, which could determine who wins the Big South.

Charleston Southern has a mixture of road and home games to conclude the season and two of the games are against the weaker conference teams. But the Buccaneers have been anything but dominant lately, losing four of five games.

Not to ignore the rest of the conference, fans of these schools can look forward to the following concluding games:

Coastal Carolina (4): at Liberty, UNC-Asheville, Elon, at Charleston Southern 4-6 in last 10

Elon (4): UNC-Asheville, Radford, at Coastal Carolina, at High Point 4-6 in last 10

Radford (4): Charleston Southern, at Elon, Birmingham Southern, Liberty

High Point (3): at Birmingham Southern, Liberty, Elon

Birmingham Southern (4): High Point, at Liberty, at Radford, Savannah State

Of these teams, several trends are noteworthy. First, Birmingham Southern is a good, tough team that has won seven of its last ten games. The game at Liberty could become a spoiler game as Liberty cannot afford to lose a single game the rest of the way.

Next, Radford is fading at the wrong time of the year. The Highlanders must call upon their inner strength to overcome a five game losing streak and to discover a morsel of hope for the conference tournament.

Fortunately for Radford, High Point is by far the worst team in the division and appears ready to lose to any team that would otherwise seek to occupy the Big South’s cellar. These Panthers have lost eleven of their last twelve games and finish with some tough games against Birmingham Southern and Liberty.

Conference Tournament notes

In the Big South Conference, the winner of the conference tournament receives an automatic invitation to the Big Dance. So what’s the point of playing well in the regular season, other than a little pride?

Good question, with noteworthy answers. First, the top four teams of the conference get to host the opening round of the conference tournament on Tuesday, March 4. Home-court advantage is crucial in the regular season, so it goes without saying that playing a one-and-done round at home gives the home team a huge advantage.

The final two rounds of the tournament will occur Friday, March 7, and Saturday, March 8. Liberty has the great fortune of hosting the tournament this season, which means the Flames have to be the Big South favorite to win the automatic bid. But Liberty must finish strong to maintain home-court privileges in the opening round. And the Flames must fight off Winthrop, which is heating up at the right time of year.

Individual Accolades

No matter how poorly the rest of his High Point teammates play, sophomore forward Danny Gathings refuses to give up. He leads the Big South in scoring and rebounding at 19.0 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. Opponents have only denied him double-digits three times. And he has seven double-doubles. I want him on my team.

Charleston Southern’s junior point man Ed O’Neil leads the Big South in assists with 5.4 per game. The junior is guilty of 2.9 steals per game as well. And he doesn’t turn it over more than 2.5 times per game. Add about nine points a game and you have a great contributor that Charleston Southern can be proud to bring back next year to lead the team.

Radford’s freshman guard Whit Holcomb-Frye deserves recognition for his successful first year in college. He has racked up 13.4 points per game and 4.3 assists per game, which is second and first on the team, respectively. Radford has a good foundation to build on for next year with a solid point guard to guide the team.

What to look for this week

Thursday, Liberty travels to Winthrop to battle for first place in the Big South. Winthrop won the first meeting 74-64 and looks to sweep the Flames to create some separation on top of the standings. On Saturday, Winthrop hosts Charleston Southern in the second attempt to create separation on top of the standings. Charleston Southern must win to preserve its position as home-court host in the opening round of the conference.



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