The 2013-14 season was a historic one for the Big South, and that included when it counts most. Once the postseason came, a good deal of history was made in the conference. While that didn’t mean an NCAA Tournament victory, as champion Coastal Carolina fell to Virginia after leading by five at halftime, it still meant some good history for the conference.
Coastal was part of some history, though, with their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 21 years. Head coach Cliff Ellis is now the 10th head coach in Division I history to take four different programs to the NCAA Tournament. In other tournament action, Radford picked up the first CBI win by a Big South program, then VMI reached the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. In doing so, the Keydets became the first Big South program to win multiple games in a postseason tournament.
In all, the conference had four teams win at least 20 games for the first time ever. The conference also tied a record with four teams reaching a postseason tournament, and they did so with one team in each of the four. Also of note is that High Point became the first team in conference history to win the regular season title after starting 0-2. They also had to overcome some adversity to get there, including a scary moment for forward Allan Chaney before he had to call it quits.
All of this is great news, but it gets better. A lot of the conference’s best talent will be back next year. The conference Player of the Year is a sophomore, another first team all-conference player is a junior and one is a freshman. Four of the top five and 14 of the top 20 scorers in the conference were underclassmen, and that was also true for four of the top six rebounders. Only two seniors ranked among the top 11 in the conference in assists as well.
It’s not all good news, however. VMI is leaving to return to the Southern Conference, and losing the Keydets is a hit. However, with some programs being on the rise, the conference is not in a bad position to absorb the defection.
The tournament was held in Myrtle Beach for the second year in a row. The first round saw just one lower seed advance, with Winthrop beating Liberty 77-65, Radford edging Presbyterian 78-73 before Charleston Southern was the lone lower seed advancing with an 81-71 win over Campbell. Gardner-Webb closed out the day with an 81-65 win over Longwood.
The quarterfinals began with the first division champion to fall as Winthrop knocked off High Point 62-60 on a three-pointer with less than a second to go. UNC Asheville beat Radford 96-87, then Coastal Carolina won a double overtime affair with Charleston Southern 73-68 and VMI beat Gardner-Webb 90-77.
Winthrop continued its attempt at a Cinderella run by eking out an 80-79 win over UNC Asheville in the first semifinal. Coastal Carolina slowed down VMI to advance to the final with a 66-62 win over the Keydets.
For Winthrop, the magical run would come to an end in the final. Coastal Carolina led nearly from start to finish, led by its junior backcourt of Warren Gillis and Josh Cameron, en route to a 76-61 win. Gillis took home tournament MVP honors.
Player of the Year: John Brown, High Point
Rookie of the Year: Andrew Rowsey, UNC Asheville
Coach of the Year: Scott Cherry, High Point
Defensive Player of the Year: D.J. Covington, VMI
John Brown, So. F, High Point
D.J. Covington, Sr. F-C, VMI
Javonte Green, Jr. F, Radford
Rodney Glasgow, Sr. G, VMI
Andrew Rowsey, Fr. G, UNC Asheville
- Four teams won at least 20 games, a conference record
- VMI became the first Big South program to win multiple tournament games in the same season
- Big South teams won four postseason games, a conference record
- UNC Asheville’s Andrew Rowsey, a freshman, led the conference in scoring, doing so by a wide margin in Big South games
What we expected, and it happened: High Point was expected to contend and was the regular season champion. The road was a bit bumpy early on, but they were a testament to the notion that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that matters most.
What we expected, and it didn’t happen: Charleston Southern was picked to win the South Division, but struggled to a 6-10 mark in conference play.
What we didn’t expect, and it happened: VMI was not expected to be a postseason team, but the Keydets finished right behind High Point in the North Division and made a great postseason run.
Team(s) on the rise: UNC Asheville. Andrew Rowsey is a nice building block, and he looks likely to be a four-time All-Big South player by the time his career is over. Also: Radford, as Mike Jones has the team poised to make a run next year with all the experience they have gained.
Team(s) on the decline: No one really stands out much here, but if one had to be chosen it would probably be Liberty since the Flames are losing a good deal in terms of personnel.
2014-15 Conference Outlook
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Coastal Carolina went dancing again. The Chanticleers return their starting backcourt and add Shivaughn Wiggins, who was the Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year in 2012-13 at Mount St. Mary’s. As such you can’t really go wrong if you pick them as favorites.
But there will be plenty of teams giving them a run for their money, starting with Radford. Mike Jones has steadily improved the program since taking over, all building up to next year as only one player departs from last season’s team. High Point loses a good deal but will bring back the reigning Player of the Year. UNC Asheville has more talent around young star Andrew Rowsey. And Winthrop brings back enough to suggest they could finish the job next year.
While losing VMI hurts, it’s far from being a deadly blow. The competitiveness will still be there and plenty of teams appear to be on the rise right now.