After winning the conference championship in 2009, Radford appeared stacked entering this season. And for a while, the Highlanders looked like they were on pace to repeat as champions. Player of the Year Artsiom Parakhouski was unstoppable night in and night out, helping Radford finish second to surprisingly dominant Coastal Carolina in the regular season. However, the Highlanders fell victim to Winthrop’s suffocating defense in the Big South Tournament’s semifinals.
Winthrop proved why the Eagles are a perennial conference contender by playing excellent defense throughout the season. The Eagles reaped the dividends of their efforts on defense by storming through the Big South Tournament for another championship. The Eagles captured the conference’s automatic bid, which ended up being an invitation to the play-in game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff from the Southwestern Athletic Conference. In that game, Winthrop’s poor shooting spoiled another solid defensive effort, as the Eagles bowed out without playing a game in the field of 64.
But at least Winthrop reached the NCAA Tournament, a place Coastal Carolina had in its sights after winning the regular-season title. However, the Chanticleers couldn’t continue their success in the conference championship game. Coastal Carolina dropped the final bout at home as Winthrop’s defense knocked the Chanticleers out of rhythm throughout the game.
Big South Conference Tournament
For the ninth time in 12 years, Winthrop won the Big South championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles upset No. 2 Radford and No. 1 Coastal Carolina en route to the conference championship. In the championship game, Winthrop won its second game of the season against the Chanticleers, taking out the hosts 64-53.
After Winthrop gave up 72 points to No. 6 Liberty in the quarterfinals, the Eagles turned up the defensive pressure, holding Radford to 46 points and Coastal Carolina to 53. Senior forward and Defensive Player of the Year Mantoris Robinson paced Winthrop to the championship with 14 points against Coastal Carolina, including a solid 8-of-10 from the free throw line.
The most thrilling game of the tournament was Radford’s 64-61 overtime victory against No. 7 Charleston Southern. Charleston Southern rallied from eight points down in the final minutes of regulation but ran out of steam in overtime. The Highlanders built a six-point cushion to start overtime and held on for the win.
Big South Awards
Player of the Year: Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford
Coach of the Year: Cliff Ellis, Coastal Carolina
Freshman of the Year: Jeremy Sexton, Charleston Southern
Defensive Player of the Year: Mantoris Robinson, Winthrop
Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford
Joseph Harris, Coastal Carolina
Nick Barbour, High Point
Chad Gray, Coastal Carolina
Jamarco Warren, Charleston Southern
Joey Lynch-Flohr, Radford
Austin Kenon, VMI
Kyle Ohman, Liberty
Mantoris Robinson, Winthrop
John Williams, UNC-Asheville
Jeremy Sexton, Charleston Southern
Stan Okoye, VMI
Evan Gordon, Liberty
Kierre Greenwood, Coastal Carolina
Blake Smith, Radford
4 Things We Saw Coming
1. Radford’s Artsiom Parakhouski dominated the conference on his way to Player of the Year honors.
2. Radford’s size propelled the Highlanders near the top of the conference.
3. VMI once again led the nation with the fastest pace. The Keydets also finished dead last in defensive efficiency, contributing to the team’s 19 losses.
4. New High Point coach Scott Cherry has the Panthers playing a faster pace and moving up the standings, finishing in the middle of the Big South pack.
4 Things We Thought We’d See
1. After shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from three-point range in 2008-09, Winthrop was supposed to be better, not worse, on offense this season. That didn’t happen as the Eagles regressed to 38.0 percent from the field and 24.8 percent from long range.
2. Gardner-Webb was supposed to be better after putting up 13 wins in 2008-09 and returning four starters. But the Bulldogs struggled, winning only eight games. Inconsistent guard play led to more than 18 turnovers per game and derailed the season.
3. With Liberty losing Seth Curry and other key contributors, the Flames were supposed to struggle big time this season. But coach Dale Layer found a way to keep Liberty in the top six.
4. To start the season, UNC-Asheville’s backcourt appeared to be the team’s strength. But the Bulldogs ended up averaging about 17 turnovers per game, worse than last season.
4 Things We Didn’t See Coming
1. With Winthrop’s shooting woes, the Eagles didn’t appear to be able to take out Radford in the conference semifinals. But Winthrop found a way to win and got past regular-season champ Coastal Carolina for the conference championship.
2. Coastal Carolina’s ascension to the top of the Big South standings was surprising, especially considering that the team relied mostly on freshmen and sophomores.
3. Coastal Carolina’s Chad Gray, a transfer from South Carolina, did more than just contribute some productive minutes for the Chanticleers. He led the team to the regular-season title with 14.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. For his efforts, he received first-team all-conference honors.
4. Charleston Southern’s Jeremy Sexton stormed through the Big South in his freshman campaign, earning the Rookie of the Year award. He averaged 12.7 points and 2.3 assists per game and shot better than 38 percent from three-point range.
Teams on the Rise:
The Buccaneers finished near the bottom of the pack this season. But they will return nearly their entire lineup, including freshman of the year, Jeremy Sexton. If Charleston Southern can continue to cut down on the turnovers, the Buccaneers could move up as a couple of other teams rebuild.
Under new coach Scott Cherry, the Panthers played better than expected this past season. If Cherry can keep this team on an upward trajectory, the Panthers should approach the top of the conference next season. The Panthers return six out of their top eight players, including leading scorer Nick Barbour, who averaged 18.9 points per game and will be a candidate for player of the year in 2010-11.
Team on the Decline:
The Eagles won the conference championship with an outburst of just-good-enough shooting and excellent defense. But Winthrop will lose the defensive player of the year, Mantoris Robinson, from a team that relies almost entirely on defense. The Eagles actually shot worse this season than they did last season. There’s no reason to expect this team to turn into excellent shooters all of a sudden, and if the team’s defense falters, the Eagles will plummet in the Big South standings.
The Highlanders will have to learn to succeed without Artsion Parakhouski, which promises to be a tall order next season. The player of the year averaged 21.4 points and 13.4 rebounds per game for Radford this season. In addition, Radford will lose two others starters who averaged at least 32 minutes per game. Radford’s lineup figures to undergo major changes by opening night next season, and it could be a difficult season.
This season and next season promise to look totally different in the Big South.
With the player of the year and defensive player of the year graduating, several top teams figure to move down the standings. Radford is in danger of making the biggest drop after Artsiom Parakhouski graduates. The player of the year was spectacular, but the Highlanders will have to find a way to win without him. Most likely, that’s not going to happen very often.
Winthrop will likely join Radford among the teams falling in the standings, unless the Eagles figure out how to shoot better. Winthrop won the conference championship with a great defense and mediocre offense. With the graduation of Mantoris Robinson, Winthrop loses the defensive player of the year. That has to hurt the team’s defensive prowess, which will likewise hurt the team’s win total.
In their place, several young teams, like Coastal Carolina, Charleston Southern, Liberty and High Point will be ready to move up the standings. Coastal Carolina already earned a regular-season title, and the Chanticleers figure to remain competitive for the league title. Charleston Southern, High Point and Liberty want to build on some success from this past season by moving into the top half of the conference next season.