The Big South Conference doesn’t get a lot of attention, but if you have been following it, you have received a treat. It has been arguably the most competitive conference in the country, and that’s saying something considering the CAA had a four-way tie for first and how bunched up the Patriot League standings were. And on Friday, the Big South reinforced this in stunning fashion in the quarterfinal round of its tournament in Conway, SC.
We start with the opener, where Longwood met the top seed, Charleston Southern. The Buccaneers gained the top seed by knocking off High Point in the regular season finale, and they won the tie-breaker. But it was the Lancers who first grabbed a 29-20 lead at halftime, then responded after Charleston Southern scored the first 12 points of the second half to take the lead with a 13-0 run of their own en route to a 68-60 win. Shaquille Johnson had a big game with 22 points and 15 rebounds to lead the way. The Buccaneers will be in the NIT.
Next up was a 4-5 matchup, one that usually promises to be a good one. Winthrop and Radford were in a defensive struggle, with Winthrop taking advantage of a six-minute stretch where Radford didn’t get a field goal to take a 56-49 lead. Radford then mounted a furious rally that included three three-pointers in the final minute, but it wasn’t enough as Winthrop held on for a 67-66 win and a date with Longwood on Saturday.
That wasn’t all, though. In a thriller, the No. 2 seed also went down in overtime, as Gardner-Webb beat High Point 72-71. Early on, it looked like High Point could run away with it, as they led by 13 late in the half before Gardner-Webb scored nine straight as part of a 13-2 run to close out the half and make it a two-point game at the break. Then, down 41-36, Jerome Hill and Harold McBride took over, leading a 10-0 run and later getting the lead up to nine. High Point would get the lead late, but after John Brown tied it with 1:02 left, Gardner-Webb missed two chances, sending the game to overtime. There, a three-point play by Hill gave Gardner-Webb the lead with 18 seconds left, and the teams combined to miss three of four free throws to give High Point one last chance at the buzzer.
Gardner-Webb will play the only high seed to advance on the day, and that’s the host school. UNC Asheville led Coastal Carolina at the half, but Elijah Wilson (29 points on 10-15 shooting) and the Chanticleers took over in the second half and won the only game that wasn’t close, beating the Bulldogs 74-57.
Although three of the top four seeds went down on the day, the only real shocker was the first one, as Longwood was 5-13 in Big South play. First place and seventh place were separated by just three games. In light of that, the conference tournament figured to be a dandy, and thus far it is certainly proving to be just that.
Conference Tournament Round-up
- In the CAA first round, Elon beat Towson 74-69 in overtime to get things going, then College of Charleston beat Drexel 56-48.
- The Horizon League Tournament had second round action in Valparaiso, with UIC edging Oakland in a big upset 72-69, then Cleveland State took care of Detroit 70-53.
- The Missouri Valley Tournament had one surprise in quarterfinal action, with No. 6 Loyola (Ill.) blasting No. 3 Indiana State 81-53 in a game that was never really competitive. Indiana State won both regular season meetings between the two teams by double digits. The higher seeds won the other three games.
- The Ohio Valley Conference had two thrillers in its semifinals. First, Murray State and Morehead State had a seesaw battle, trading big runs and leads before Murray State had the last big rally in an 80-77 win. In the nightcap, Belmont rallied to top Eastern Kentucky 53-52 after trailing by seven at halftime.
- In first round action in the Southern Conference Tournament, UNC Greensboro beat Samford 81-76 to get things going, then Furman built on an 11-point halftime lead in a 73-56 win over The Citadel.
- In first round action at the West Coast Conference Tournament, San Francisco edged Pacific 62-58, then Santa Clara blew out Loyola Marymount 85-54.
The Ivy League had its big showdown on Friday night, and just like in the first meeting, the road team came out on top. Yale built a double-digit lead in the second half, then had to hold off multiple rallies by Harvard en route to a 62-52 win. That clinches a share of the Ivy League title, and a win at Dartmouth or a Harvard loss against Brown on Saturday night will send them to the NCAA Tournament. Yale head coach James Jones is the longest tenured coach at one school who has not been to the NCAA Tournament, now in his 16th year.
Baylor stayed hot by rallying to knock off Texas Tech 77-74 in Waco. In the MAC, three teams finished with 12-6 records, though Central Michigan had a chance to claim the best record before Western Michigan beat them 74-62 in Kalamazoo.
Normally, a powerhouse program like Syracuse being in the news for the reason it was on Friday would be the top story, but the timing doesn’t lend itself as easily to that. There is more to write about it later, but the big news is that the NCAA announced its punishment for the program, and it’s significant. The program will be on probation for five years, head coach Jim Boeheim will be suspended for nine ACC games, the program will lose 12 scholarships (three each year for the next four years), and had to vacate 108 wins from 2004-07 and 2010-12. The football program was hit as well, but basketball is the news-maker. The NCAA said the violations included academic misconduct, extra benefits, drug testing issues and impermissible booster activity. Having to vacate the wins drops Boeheim to 858 career wins, which drops him from second to sixth on the all-time wins list.
The coaching carousel is underway, and it started with Liberty letting Dale Layer go a couple of nights ago. On Friday, Holy Cross fired Milan Brown after five seasons at the helm. The Crusaders were expected to contend in the very competitive Patriot League this season, especially after they beat Harvard to start a three-game winning streak to open the season, but injuries and a tough stretch late in non-league play that carried over hurt them. Brown, who had been the head coach at Mount St. Mary’s before this, was 56-67 in Worcester and led the Crusaders to a CIT appearance last season. (You can track all the coaching changes right here.)
Florida will have a full squad for a change on Saturday, as Michael Frazier II expects to return after missing seven games with a high ankle sprain. How much he will be able to play is in question, as he hasn’t practiced fully, but he will give them another outside threat even in limited minutes. The Gators play at Kentucky on Saturday.
It’s the next-to-last day of regular season games for some, while conference tournament play continues. In all, over 100 games are on tap, and we’ll start with the tournaments.
- The first NCAA Tournament bids will be official tonight, as the Ohio Valley Conference Championship game will feature Murray State in Nashville. A second bid could go to Yale as the Ivy League champion if they win at Dartmouth or if Harvard loses to Brown; a combination of Yale losing and Harvard winning would mean a one-game playoff between the two teams.
- The Big South has semifinal action in Conway, SC, as noted earlier.
- The CAA has quarterfinal action in Baltimore, with each game featuring a team that tied for the regular season title, while the MAAC has its quarterfinals in Albany.
- The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament has its semifinals in St. Louis, with Wichita State taking on Illinois State and Northern Iowa taking on Loyola (Ill.).
- The Northeast Conference has semifinal action with the battle of the Saint Francis schools in Brooklyn and Bryant traveling to Robert Morris.
- The quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Tournament take place in Asheville, NC, while the Summit League has its quarterfinals in Sioux Falls, SD, and the same round of the West Coast Conference Tournament takes place in Las Vegas.
- The big rivalry game highlights ACC action as Duke heads to North Carolina, while Louisville hosts Virginia in what should be a great undercard.
- Oklahoma hosts Kansas in a nice matchup, while two one-time bubble teams battle in Austin as Texas hosts Kansas State. Oklahoma State is at West Virginia in another key game.
- Butler travels to Providence in a battle for second place in the Big East, while Villanova hosts St. John’s.
- The Mountain West will be decided as Boise State and San Diego State enter the day tied atop the conference at 13-4 each. Boise State hosts Fresno State, then San Diego State hosts Nevada in the later game of the two.
- Stanford is probably not getting an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, but any remote hope of one means a win at Arizona this evening, while Utah tries to lock up the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament at Washington.
- Florida visits Kentucky as the Wildcats look to complete an undefeated regular season, while LSU visits Arkansas in a game the Tigers need.
- In a few leagues, there’s a game for all the marbles. In the Southland, Sam Houston State travels to Stephen F. Austin, who has a one-game lead. The Sun Belt’s regular season crown is on the line as Georgia State hosts Georgia Southern, with both sporting identical 14-5 conference records.