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Big South Notebook

March 3, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Big South Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Big South Regular Season Coronation

The Big South conference’s regular season concluded Saturday with the Winthrop Eagles finishing at the top. Again.

The Eagles won their third regular season conference title in five years. And it really wasn’t a close contest this season as Winthrop finished 11-3, three games better than the second-place team, Liberty, which finished 8-6. The Flames faded at the end of the season to allow Winthrop to run away with the conference title.

And to the victor go the spoils. Winthrop’s regular season prize is the top seed in the conference tournament and favored status to capture another bid to the NCAA Tournament. Besides winning the conference title, Winthrop earned its favored status by winning eight of its final ten games. Last week, Winthrop tuned up for the conference tournament by defeating UNC-Asheville 76-65.

Perhaps most impressively, Winthrop won six of its last seven road games, which reflects the presence and leadership of this team. Junior forward Tyrone Walker led the Eagles this season with 13.3 points per game and 7.9 rebounds per game. Senior guard Pierre Wooten is the only other Eagle to average double-figures in points, but the team features great depth, rotating about ten players regularly.

Winthrop led the Big South in team defense while finishing third in team scoring. Solid defense and balanced scoring are good ingredients for a conference championship and an NCAA bid. But nothing is automatic in the post-season.

Winthrop starts its campaign to the Big Dance Tuesday against 8th-seeded High Point (3-11, 7-19 overall). The game will be at Winthrop, where the Eagles have lost only three times this season. And High Point has only won twice away from home.

Liberty, Charleston Southern and Elon are the other three teams claiming home-court advantage for the first round of the Big South tournament. Elon streaked past UNC-Asheville in the standings by winning four straight games to end the season. Last week, the Phoenix defeated two opponents on the road. First, Elon invaded Coastal Carolina and captured an 84-74 victory, then pounded High Point Saturday, 80-46.

Two huge victories equal home-court advantage with UNC-Asheville’s recent struggles. The Bulldogs have lost four straight games and slipped from the top of the standings to the #5 seed. That means UNC-Asheville must travel to Elon in the first round of the tournament. And the Bulldogs are the Big South’s worst road team, finishing 1-14 away from home.

Liberty limped into the post-season by losing both its game last week. The Flames dropped road games to the Big South bottom-feeders Radford and High Point. Liberty claimed the 2nd-seed by virtue of a tiebreaker with Charleston Southern and Elon, despite the fact all three teams finished 8-6 in conference play.

The regular season yields to the miracle season of March Madness. The conference tournament offers each of these teams a chance to erase the bad memories of regular season failures and an opportunity to build upon the successes. Every team has a positive point that will allow die-hard fans to hang their faith on until the final buzzer sounds.

It’s March. It’s tournament time. May the best team win!

Big South Player of the Week:

High Point senior forward Dustin Van Weerdhuizen saved his best for last. The senior dumped 38 points on Liberty and added seven rebounds in the Panthers’ 72-68 victory.

Big South Rookie of the Week:

Radford freshman guard Whit Holcomb-Foye averaged 17.5 points and 4.5 rebounds in two games last week, including an 81-56 shellacking of Liberty that helped propel Radford above Coastal Carolina in the standings to end the season.

Conference Tournament Crystal Ball:

This year, every quarterfinal game will occur in the home gym of the lower seed. Home-court games provide a documented advantage for teams. Any advantage a team can get over competition in the post-season is tremendous. That’s why Liberty must be excited by the opportunity to host the semifinals and championship game. But the Flames must turn around a dismal finish.

Despite the fact Liberty finished with the No.2 seed and hosts the final two rounds, its recent struggles will likely produce a disappointing end to the season. But the home-court advantage may allow the Flames to slip into the championship game. Based on recent history and the season’s results, they would likely face Winthrop.

The Eagles look to repeat last year’s dominating performance in the tournament. Winthrop claimed the No.1 seed and never looked back en route to the conference championship and the automatic NCAA bid. This year, Winthrop is playing the best basketball of the season at the end of the season. So watch out. The Eagles appear determined to grind any team into the dust if it dares oppose a fifth consecutive NCAA appearance. And I’m a believer, too.

Conference Tournament Schedule

Quarterfinals

Tuesday, March 4, all games at 7 p.m.:

Game 1: No.1 seed Winthrop vs. No.8 seed High Point

The rematch of last year’s championship game. The Eagles on paper look to have what it takes to capture a fifth straight BSC
title. Winthrop has tourney experience, depth, and momentum that makes for a
tough opponent. High Point, on the other hand, has had a very disappointing
season. The Panthers started off the season hot, winning at Radford, but
couldn’t manage to mesh together as a team. WU better not take HPU lightly
though; High Point was the No. 7 seed last year and upset UNCA in the first round
and slipped past Radford in the second round to get blown out in the title
game.

Game 2: No.2 seed Liberty vs. No.7 seed Coastal Carolina

Will Coastal be this year’s Cinderella? One would think that Liberty, who gets to host all three rounds of the
tournament at their home court, would have the best chance at winning the
tournament. The catch is: the Flames haven’t been playing their best
basketball as of late. The Flames, losers of four straight, played close with
Winthrop on Feb 22 in what was the biggest game of the year, but from then on
have fallen apart. Stopping the Chant’s star Torrey Butler will be the key if
Liberty wants to fair well in the tourney. They must forget about the 25
point loss to Radford on regional television, and must also forget about what
happened to last year’s No. 2 seed.

Game 3: No.3 seed Charleston Southern vs. No.6 seed Radford

Seasons of streaks and injuries. This game could be one of the closer ones of the tournament. While CSU has
struggled a bit recently, Radford has been red hot. But the Bucs have Ed
O’Neil back and that could spell trouble for the Highs who must have a strong
inside game from Kyle Zaharias, Aaron Gill, and Chris Prince. The last time
the two team met was in RU a few weeks back when the Highs snuck on by,
winning by two. The Bucs were without O’Neil and the Highs were without star
senior guard Peanut Arrington and rebounding machine in Gill.

Game 4: No.4 seed Elon vs. No.5 seed UNC-Asheville

Overrated versus underrated. Almost no one expected UNCA to be lower then a three seed this year. And
almost no one thought Elon would be hosting a first round playoff game this
year. Nevertheless, the Phoenix, in their last year as members of the Big
South Conference are one of the Big South’s hottest teams as of late. Elon
has won their last five conference games, including beating UNCA in their
second meeting (75-72). The Bulldogs won the first game of the match up,
using 2 overtimes to defeat Elon 93-87. If UNCA wants to dance longer then
last year’s try, Big South preseason player of the year Andre Smith, must step
up.

Semifinals

The semifinals and final will be played in the Vines Center on the campus of
Liberty University. The only Big South team to beat Liberty this year at the
VC is Winthrop. The semi-finals will be taken place on Friday night and the championship on Saturday on ESPN2.

Friday, March 7

Game 5: Winthrop/High Point winner vs. Elon/UNCA winner, 6 p.m.
Game 6: Liberty/Coastal Carolina winner vs. Charleston Southern/Radford winner, 8:30 p.m.

Championship

Saturday, March 8

Game 7: Winner of game 5 vs winner of game 6, 2 p.m.

Special thanks to Doug McKinney, who contributed to this report

     

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