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The Morning Dish – Sunday, November 9, 2014

by - Published November 9, 2014 in The Morning Dish
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More conference quick looks as we near the start of the college basketball season…

The Big Sky has typically been the domain of Weber State and Montana in recent years, and it may be again-Weber State in particular looks capable of continuing its excellence. But watch for Eastern Washington and Sacramento State. The Eagles return four starters, including high-scoring Tyler Harvey, while Sac State looks to have its best team in more than 20 years in Division I.

Coastal Carolina is a relatively big favorite in the Big South, and with good reason-the Chanticleers feature a high-quality backcourt (Josh Cameron, Warren Gillis, Elijah Wilson) that gets even better with Mount St. Mary’s transfer Shivaughn Wiggins. The Chants also have some nice size up front, but this still should be a good conference race. Radford returns everyone, Winthrop has become a tough out under Pat Kelsey, and High Point is the conference’s defending champion and has its best player in John Brown.

… Continue Reading

2013-14 Big South Post-Mortem

by - Published June 4, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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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.

… Continue Reading

How the conferences shake out as 2014 approaches

by - Published December 31, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is just about over at this point. Conference games are ready to take over the rest of the slate, with a few having an “opening day” of sorts, including the Big East with its well-publicized day of five games on Tuesday. A few have already had early conference games, with the West Coast Conference having its opening day on Saturday.

How are the conferences shaping up? Which ones look like we thought and which ones look nothing like what we thought before the season? Here is a look at all 32 conferences as conference play beckons.

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How the conferences shake out as 2013 approaches

by - Published December 28, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops
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Non-conference play is almost over, and it has been quite a stretch. We’ve learned a good deal about a lot of teams, while some are still a mystery for various reasons – injuries, suspensions, ineligibility and a light schedule are all possible reasons. In addition, a few conferences have already seen a game or two mixed in with the non-conference schedule.

Conference play is right around the corner, and while a non-conference resume doesn’t tell the whole story, it does shed some light on teams and conferences. In conference play, there is more familiarity since teams play each other every year, although the changing landscape is starting to diminish that factor a bit. That’s one reason why we see some teams put forth a very good non-conference showing, including some good wins, then go on to have a mediocre showing in conference play.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how every conference in America shapes up.

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Mike Jones tries to get Radford going early

by - Published November 24, 2011 in Columns
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Radford had a tough weekend in Connecticut, losing both games in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off at Mohegan Sun Arena. The Highlanders have had some bright spots so far, but new head coach Mike Jones knows there’s a lot of work yet to do with this team.

 

Radford came to Connecticut with a 3-1 mark, with a couple of wins against non-Division I teams. Jones didn’t like the effort they had on Saturday, when they lost to a good Long Island team, but felt they responded better on Sunday, where they led for much of the first half before Marist took the lead. The Highlanders never really got untracked in the second half of that game, and that wasn’t the first time they got into a slump like that.

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Big South Season Recap

by - Published June 15, 2011 in Columns

We’ll never know how special this season could have been for Coastal Carolina and the Big South.

In mid-February, the Chanticleers were 24-2 overall and 15-0 in the conference, and they were crushing just about everyone. The team had caught the attention of pollsters, who had Coastal Carolina just outside the top 25 in the Associated Press’ and coaches’ polls. Based on votes, Coastal Carolina was the No. 27 or 28 team in the nation, depending on whether you prefer to trust writers or coaches.

And then everything fell apart.

… Continue Reading

Big South Notebook

by - Published December 15, 2010 in Conference Notes

We’re about a month and a half into the season, and the Big South appears to be following many preseason expectations.

Faced with a mix of non-Division I opponents and power conference favorites, Big South teams notched a respectable 42-40 record thus far against non-conference teams. Coastal Carolina will look to carry momentum from a couple of big wins into the Big South schedule. The Chanticleers claim wins against LSU of the SEC and Charlotte of the Atlantic 10.

Every Big South team has played at least one conference match up so far, and High Point and Liberty sit atop the standings at 2-0. High Point figures to remain in competition for the Big South title while Liberty is supposed to fade toward the middle of the pack. But don’t tell that to the Flames, who have tallied wins against Presbyterian and Winthrop. … Continue Reading

2010 Big South Post-Mortem

by - Published May 27, 2010 in Conference Notes

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.

Final Standings

Team Overall Big South
Coastal Carolina 28-7 15-3
Radford 19-12 13-5
Winthrop 19-14 12-6
UNC-Asheville 15-16 11-7
High Point 15-15 10-8
Liberty 15-16 10-8
Charleston Southern 13-17 7-11
VMI 10-19 5-13
Gardner-Webb 8-21 5-13
Presbyterian 5-26 2-16

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

First-Team All-Conference:

Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford

Joseph Harris, Coastal Carolina

Nick Barbour, High Point

Chad Gray, Coastal Carolina

Jamarco Warren, Charleston Southern

Second-Team All-Conference:

Joey Lynch-Flohr, Radford

Austin Kenon, VMI

Kyle Ohman, Liberty

Mantoris Robinson, Winthrop

John Williams, UNC-Asheville

All-Freshman Team:

Jeremy Sexton, Charleston Southern

Stan Okoye, VMI

Evan Gordon, Liberty

Kierre Greenwood, Coastal Carolina

Blake Smith, Radford

Season Highlights

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:

Charleston Southern

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.

High Point

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:

Winthrop

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.

Radford

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.

Next 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.

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.

Final Standings

Team Overall Big South
Coastal Carolina 28-7 15-3
Radford 19-12 13-5
Winthrop 19-14 12-6
UNC-Asheville 15-16 11-7
High Point 15-15 10-8
Liberty 15-16 10-8
Charleston Southern 13-17 7-11
VMI 10-19 5-13
Gardner-Webb 8-21 5-13
Presbyterian 5-26 2-16

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

First-Team All-Conference:

Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford

Joseph Harris, Coastal Carolina

Nick Barbour, High Point

Chad Gray, Coastal Carolina

Jamarco Warren, Charleston Southern

Second-Team All-Conference:

Joey Lynch-Flohr, Radford

Austin Kenon, VMI

Kyle Ohman, Liberty

Mantoris Robinson, Winthrop

John Williams, UNC-Asheville

All-Freshman Team:

Jeremy Sexton, Charleston Southern

Stan Okoye, VMI

Evan Gordon, Liberty

Kierre Greenwood, Coastal Carolina

Blake Smith, Radford

Season Highlights

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:

Charleston Southern

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.

High Point

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:

Winthrop

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.

Radford

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.

Next 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.

Big South Preview

by - Published November 3, 2007 in Conference Notes



Big South Conference 2007-08 Preview

by Phil Kasiecki

For quite a while now, the Big South has largely been Winthrop’s to lose. They have had challenges, even serious ones like those from Birmingham Southern before they left Division I and Coastal Carolina a couple of years ago, but they’ve prevailed in the end each time. Finally, last March the Eagles broke through in the NCAA Tournament and won a game after several close calls, including in 2005 when they were a controversial No. 15 seed and almost knocked off Tennessee, a controversial No. 2 seed.

Now, those familiar with the Big South will see how much of Winthrop’s success was simply the work of Gregg Marshall and whether or not it can be sustained. After interviewing for several head coaching vacancies, Marshall ultimately left to take the head coaching job at Wichita State. His former assistant of the past four years, Randy Peele, takes over. Peele has been a head coach before, as he led UNC Greensboro from 1995 to 1999. Included was a Southern Conference championship in 1996, his first season. The Eagles have lost star players before, and they lose a couple this time around from last season’s team, but now the coach has changed and that is different from losing players.

If this opens the door for others, who will walk through? The top candidate looks to be High Point, a team with good veterans and the conference’s top returning player, as well as something Winthrop still does have: a solid and underrated floor leader. A team that almost knocked off the Eagles in 2005-06, Coastal Carolina, also has the personnel to do it. That year, the Chanticleers beat the Eagles both times in the regular season, but the Eagles won when it counted in the Big South championship game.

Winthrop wasn’t the only school that changed coaches, as three others will also have new faces patrolling the sidelines this season. Buzz Peterson left Coastal Carolina to take a job with the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA, rejoining longtime good friend Michael Jordan. Cliff Ellis, most recently the head coach at Auburn, replaces him. Radford replaced Byron Samuels with Brad Greenberg, the older brother of Virginia Tech head coach Seth and most recently his top lieutenant.

Preseason Awards
Player of the Year:
Arizona Reid, High Point
Top Newcomer: TeeJay Bannister, Liberty
Top Freshman: Tovi Bailey, Charleston Southern
Defensive Player of the Year: Travis Holmes, VMI
Best NBA Prospect: Jack Leasure, Coastal Carolina

All-Big South Team
Chris Gaynor, Sr. G, Winthrop
Michael Jenkins, Sr. G, Winthrop
Jack Leasure, Sr. G, Coastal Carolina
Arizona Reid, Sr. F, High Point
Reggie Williams, Sr. F, VMI

Winthrop Eagles (29-5, 14-0 Big South)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Chris Gaynor (7.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.5 spg)
Sr. G Michael Jenkins (14.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.3 spg)
Sr. G Antwon Harris (5.5 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
Sr. F Taj McCullough (7.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.3 spg)
Jr. C Andy Buechert (junior college transfer)
Schedule Highlights: The Eagles open the season in the Paradise Jam, taking on Illinois-Chicago and either Georgia Tech or Charlotte in the second game. Six home games are on tap in the non-conference schedule, including good matchups with Missouri State, MAC contender Akron, Colonial contender Old Dominion and a BracketBusters game. Among the road games are trips to West Virginia, Mississippi, Miami (Orange Bowl Classic) and improved Marshall. In Big South play, they get an immediate test against a contender as they head to High Point for the opener. A few weeks later, they play three straight on the road.
Outlook: There’s a new leader in town, but the key players aren’t new and know how to win. New head coach Randy Peele has won before as a head coach and now takes over after being an assistant for four years, so everything appears to be in place for the Eagles to win again. They won’t be big, as there’s not much size on the roster, but McCullough should anchor the inside along with junior college transfer Andy Buechert. Freshmen Chris Malcolm, Charles Corbin and George Valentine provide depth inside. The perimeter is where this team will win, as Jenkins will be the go-to guy and Gaynor just simply wins at the point. Gaynor will be counted on to score more while being the consummate floor leader that he is, and he led the conference in assist/turnover ratio last season. Sophomore Mantoris Robinson also returns and will play on the wing. The Eagles were the best defensive team in the conference last season, and expect Peele to emphasize more of the same this season as the key to another championship.

High Point Panthers (22-10, 11-3 Big South)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Mike Jefferson (13.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.3 spg)
So. G Eugene Harris (8.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.0 spg)
Sr. F Jerald Minnis (8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Sr. F Arizona Reid (21.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg)
So. C Cruz Daniels (3.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 2.0 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Panthers will have six non-conference home games, including part of in-season home-and-homes with Longwood and Savannah State. They open the season at Charlotte before departing for Washington in the NIT Season Tip-Off, where they play Utah and either the hosts or New Jersey Tech. Other notable road games are at Dayton and Florida. Big South play will give an early measure of this team’s chances to take the title, as they open with Winthrop at home as the first of three home games in a four-game stretch.
Outlook: If personnel losses and the coaching change make Winthrop vulnerable, the Panthers are sure to be right there to take their place atop the conference. Reid gets much of the publicity, but Jefferson is as much a key to this team as anyone as he runs the show and is the prime complementary scorer. Harris could take some of that burden off him after a nice freshman season, while Minnis helps Reid out inside along with Daniels, who looks to have a high ceiling as well. Right now, Daniels is mainly needed to be a defensive presence, and his ability to block shots will do just that. Tim Burns and Melvin Crowder add backcourt depth, while the frontcourt has several holdovers who haven’t played much and would get a good boost if Josh Lamons bounces back from an injury that limited him to four games last season. Only Winthrop was a better defensive team than the Panthers last season, and expect them to hang their hat on that once again this season.

Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (15-15, 7-7 Big South)
Projected Starters:

So. G Joshua Mack (12.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.5 spg)
Sr. G Jack Leasure (15.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.5 spg)
Sr. G Everage Richardson (7.0 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.2 spg)
Jr. F Joseph Harris (8.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.4 spg, 1.3 bpg)
Jr. F Matt Brennan (2.4 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Six home games plus a neutral site game against Georgia State are on tap in non-conference play. After two home games to open the season, they head on the road to play at Cincinnati, then later play at Southland contender McNeese State and Conference USA contender Houston. They have an in-season home-and-home with UNC Wilmington. After two straight home games to start Big South play, they get tested with three straight road games, starting at High Point and finishing at Winthrop.
Outlook: Buzz Peterson has moved on to an NBA job after bringing the Chanticleers close to the NCAA Tournament a couple of years ago and becoming a consistent contender in the Big South. He didn’t leave the cupboard bare, as a solid perimeter trio returns led by Leasure and Mack. Leasure is set to close out an excellent career, while Mack made an instant impact in his freshman season. Richardson complements both on the wing, and the three played well together last season. There isn’t much size in the frontcourt, but Harris plays bigger inside and Brennan will be asked to do more. Junior college transfer Derek Gillam and freshman Jon Pack, who stand 6’11” and 6’10” respectively, were brought in to add size to the front line. Opponents shot over 46 percent from the field against the Chants last season, so an improvement on defense will be a key to success.

UNC-Asheville Bulldogs (12-19, 6-8 Big South)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G K.J. Garland (12.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.5 spg)
Sr. G Bryan Smithson (14.6 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.9 spg)
Sr. F Vincent James (9.2 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.2 apg)
Sr. F Garrett Moles (3.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Jr. F Reid Augst (6.3 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Bulldogs will play nine non-conference home games, all of them coming in bunches. They open with three straight at home and have consecutive home games three more times. Most notable on the non-conference slate are trips to Virginia Tech, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. Three of the first four Big South games are at home.
Outlook: The senior-laden Bulldogs qualify as the dark horse in the conference, especially with the solid senior backcourt of Garland and Smithson. Both can score, with Garland’s ability to score keeping defenses honest, and both are good defensively. The frontcourt has steady veterans in James and Moles, while Augst has the inside track for the other starting spot, although they wouldn’t be very big with that threesome. Transfer Matt Kittrell is a skilled forward who should play right away, and they bring back the tallest player in college basketball in 7’7″ junior Kenny George, who blocked more than two shots per game in 23 games and 10 minutes per game. The Bulldogs will need to improve primarily at the offensive end, as they tied for the worst field goal percentage in the conference and tied for next-to-last in turnovers.

VMI Keydets (14-19, 5-9 Big South)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Adam Lonon (2.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.6 apg, 1.4 spg)
Jr. G Chavis Holmes (19.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.1 apg, 2.8 spg)
Jr. G Travis Holmes (15.0 pg, 4.9 rpg, 3.2 apg, 3.4 spg)
Sr. F Reggie Williams (28.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 4.4 apg, 1.7 spg)
Jr. F Willie Bell (5.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.5 spg)
Schedule Highlights: The Keydets will play seven non-conference home games, including a visit from improved James Madison. They open the season in the Air Force Classic in Colorado Springs, and after that the most difficult game by a good margin is at Ohio State. Three of the first four Big South games are on the road.
Outlook: Dugger Baucom’s team led the nation in scoring thanks to a game plan that emphasized quick possessions, but such a game plan also brings issues like turnovers and defense. The Keydets didn’t do well in the latter area, allowing teams to shoot a whopping 53 percent from the field and allowing more points than any other team by far, and they were out-rebounded by over 10 per game. There is plenty of firepower returning, as Williams declared for the NBA Draft after leading the nation in scoring but returns, and the Holmes twins (one of two pairs of twins in Division I with that last name) also return. Seven-footer Stephen Sargent will add some size inside, but expect this team to try and play at the same speed and try to out-gun teams again this season. With a year together, some improvement would seem likely, and if that happens the Keydets may be able to hit .500 in Big South play.

Liberty Flames (14-17, 8-6 Big South)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G TeeJay Bannister (transfer from Virginia)
Jr. G Anthony Smith (11.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Sr. F Rell Porter (2.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 1.1 apg)
Sr. F Alex McLean (14.5 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 1.0 apg)
So. F-C Tyler Baker (4.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Flames host seven home games in non-conference play, highlighted by part of an in-season home-and-home with Longwood and a visit from defending MAAC champion Niagara. They open the season at the World Vision Classic at Fresno State, where they will play San Diego State in addition to the host school and Portland. Later road games include trips to Kentucky, Virginia Tech and George Mason.
Outlook: New head coach Ritchie McKay takes over a team that lost its top two scorers, but the cupboard isn’t entirely bare. Bannister is eligible and will boost the backcourt, and his presence should help Smith now that he’ll be the most proven backcourt player. McLean leads the frontcourt after a quietly solid junior season, while Porter is a capable player who should give them more and Baker has some good upside. Junior Justin Holland gives them some depth at the point, while senior Russell Monroe is the most experienced frontcourt reserve. With over 35 points lost from the departures of Larry Blair and Dwight Brewington, the Flames will be hard-pressed to be second in scoring again, so cutting down on their 15 turnovers per game and riding the frontcourt holdovers to another good rebounding margin will go a long way towards another .500 or better season.

Charleston Southern Buccaneers (8-22, 2-12 Big South)
Projected Starters:

Sr. G Chris Moore (14.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.9 apg in 16 games)
So. G Shelton Carter (6.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.1 apg)
So. F Marquise Duvall (4.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg)
So. F Brandon Macklin (4.0 ppg, 3.5 rpg)
Jr. F Giedrus Knysas (8.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Buccaneers have eight home games in non-conference play, two of which (Tulane and Auburn) will be played at the North Charleston Coliseum. They play a third game, against cross-town rival College of Charleston, at the North Charleston Coliseum. Also on tap is an in-season home-and-home with Gardner-Webb, with other notable road games being trips to play Florida and Virginia Tech. About halfway through Big South play is a tough five-game stretch that has Winthrop and High Point at home sandwiched around a three-game road swing.
Outlook: Injuries didn’t help the Buccaneers last season, as Moore missed half the season and Knysas missed time at the end of the season due to injuries. Moore will need to stay healthy even more now that Dwayne Jackson and Donnell Covington are gone, and they’ll be counting on Shelton Carter for more in his sophomore year. The guards will be pushed by younger talent, as the Bucs signed good guards in Jamarco Warren, Tovi Bailey and Omar Carter, and all three could get good minutes this season. Knysas keys the frontcourt, with Duvall and Macklin showing some promise last season. The Bucs were last in the conference in scoring last season and lost their top two scorers, so that’s a major area of concern entering this season. In light of that, it will be imperative that they not repeat last season’s defensive effort, when opponents shot 46.5 percent from the field against them.

Radford Highlanders (8-22, 3-11 Big South)
Projected Starters:

So. G Amir Johnson (11.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.7 apg, 2.0 spg)
Jr. G Kenny Thomas (9.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.0 spg)
Jr. G Martell McDuffy (9.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. F-C Duane Ricks (1.3 ppg, 1.5 rpg)
So. C Joey Lynch-Flohr (2.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: A mid-December date with West Virginia is the highlight of six non-conference home games. They have in-season home-and-homes with Presbyterian, Campbell and Gardner-Webb. Notable road games include the season opener at Michigan, Air Force, Georgetown and South Carolina. Three of the first four Big South games are on the road, and the one home game is against Winthrop, so it won’t be easy out of the gate.
Outlook: The Highlanders struggled down the stretch last season and continued to hit a rough patch after some success early in the decade. New head coach Brad Greenberg will try to reverse that trend, and he has a few holdovers to start with. The perimeter trio of Johnson, who looks to be the point guard for the next three seasons, along with Thomas and McDuffy, will be a good start. The latter two should reach double figures this season, and they’ll have to for this team to succeed because there’s not much firepower in the frontcourt. Ricks is one of just three seniors, so Greenberg can build for more than just this season with the core of this team. The Highlanders led the conference in turnovers last season, and with the backcourt needing to carry this team, improving on that will be essential.

Conference Outlook

For the first time in a while, Winthrop enters the season not being a clear favorite to win the conference. But they still have plenty of talent and experience returning, and their holdovers have done a lot of winning, so they’re still the team to beat until someone knocks them off. High Point should be next in line with their solid inside-outside combination of Arizona Reid and point guard Mike Jefferson, and Coastal Carolina figures to be a little further back as Cliff Ellis takes over for Buzz Peterson. UNC-Asheville and VMI are dark horses, the former with a senior backcourt to lead the way.

At the bottom of the conference are a couple of rebuilding teams, although Charleston Southern has young guards with talent that could surprise some people and finish higher. The Bucs have just three seniors and only one among their starters, so they could be a year away.

     

Birmingham-Southern Leaves Division I

by - Published July 31, 2006 in Columns




Short Division I Tenure May Be Instructive

by Jerry Hinnen

It’s a debate that may very well have started as soon as intercollegiate athletics were invented. Perhaps right there on the sidelines of Princeton and Rutgers’ historic 1869 football clash, faculty and students alike were already wondering: can an institution of higher learning succeed at the highest levels both academically and athletically?

Put another way, can universities serve two masters – as the saying goes, and as opponents of big-budget athletics might phrase it, both God and mammon? As NCAA Division I athletics have become bigger and bigger business, the answer to that question has, over time, seemingly become a firmer and firmer “No.”

There are always exceptions, of course. But whether it’s a power forward gaining admittance to St. Bonaventure on the strength a welding certificate, the perennial football futility at Rutgers or Temple, or the “Last Amateurs” of the Patriot League finally playing for scholarship money, the majority of evidence has indicated that schools (particularly smaller ones) can either uphold their academic standards or their athletic standards – or join the difficult, never-ending struggle to do both. This June, that struggle claimed its most recent victim, now former Big South Conference member and future Division III participant Birmingham-Southern College.

Birmingham-Southern, or BSC as the school is often referred to, has had a long and distinguished athletic tradition. Its football teams routinely lined up against Auburn and Alabama before World War II. Its proud men’s basketball program peaked during the 1990s as under head coach Duane Reboul the Panthers took both the ’90 and ’95 NAIA national titles. By the mid-’90s Brian Shoop and Preston Goldfarb had turned BSC’s baseball and men’s soccer teams, respectively, into national championship contenders as well.

Academically, under the leadership of longtime president Dr. Neal Berte BSC emerged from a period of uncertainty to become one of the Southeast’s leading liberal arts colleges. A substantially increased endowment helped the small campus on Birmingham’s west side see a construction boom in the mid-to-late ’90s, with dedications for a number of state-of-the-art buildings and plans finalized for a new multi-million dollar science building.

Amidst these kinds of successes, it’s not surprising that Berte’s 1999 announcement that the Board of Trustees had approved a plan to move BSC from NAIA to NCAA Division I was met with ample – if not unbridled – optimism. The school would have to dramatically increase its athletic budget, remodel and expand nearly all its facilities, find a conference, and spend the requisite several years wandering the post-seasonless wilderness of ‘provisional’ NCAA membership. Some wondered if the intangible rewards of competing in Division I – a raised national, regional, and city-wide profile, fielding the best athletics team possible for a school of BSC’s size – were worth the very tangible millions of dollars it would take to make the leap.

But with images of the Panthers taking the court or field in various NCAA Tournaments creating excitement throughout the BSC community, the leap was made. And on the surface, things went perfectly according to plan. New athletic director (and Jefferson-Pilot SEC hoops color analyst) Joe Dean Jr. helped BSC quickly find membership in the Big South Conference. Expansion projects involving the soccer, baseball, and basketball facilities were each completed on time. The baseball team provided the perfect sending-off by winning the NAIA national title in their final year of eligibility.

And once BSC started Division I play, the Panthers’ on-court successes were beyond what almost anyone expected. The brand-new women’s basketball team was immediately competitive, as were other several other new sports. The baseball and men’s soccer teams immediately put their stamp on both the Big South and national scene, with baseball qualifying for the school’s first NCAA Tournament in 2004. Women’s soccer followed suit the following season. The previous winter, in only their first year of full NCAA membership, the men’s hoops team had shared the Big South regular season crown and earned ESPN.com’s endorsement for the league’s first NIT bid. For the next two years, despite being Division I’s fourth-smallest institution, BSC appeared to be the model for a successful transition: successful programs across the board, growing fan interest, popular coaches, national press.

Then, last May, the Division I program BSC had put so much effort and money into building came suddenly crashing down.

Dr. David Pollick, sworn in as BSC’s new president in summer 2004, started taking a closer look at BSC’s debt-fueled and increasingly threatening cash crunch in the early stages of this year. He claims that he found a much darker side to BSC’s apparently seamless move to D-I: that the school’s athletics department was reportedly running a staggering $5-5.7 million yearly deficit, nearly equal to the department’s $6.5 million entire annual budget.

According to Pollick, expenditures for building and maintaining the D-I program had run far beyond the school’s initial estimates. He recommended to the Board of Trustees that the school shelve its budding top-level programs and move to non-scholarship NCAA Division III.

When the news broke that the Board of Trustees was poised to dismantle the Division I program, only a few short days before the deciding vote reaction was fierce on either side of the debate. Students and athletes protested in favor of saving the program, various Panthers telling news cameras they would likely not have attended BSC without their athletic scholarships. The BSC faculty voted in favor of the move, pointing out that the school could hardly claim to cherish academics while spending more on athletic scholarships than academic. Dean and the shocked athletics department prepared a presentation for the Board and vocally opposed the move. Pollick pointed out that BSC’s academic peers were not the large universities that made up the Big South but the liberal arts colleges like Rhodes, Centre, and Sewanee, that made up its likely new home in Division III, the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. Opponents responded that quality, i.e. scholarship athletics had always had a special place at BSC that they did not at long-time DIII schools.

In the end, the Board sided with Pollick. Current and ex-athletes ripped the President in the pages of the Birmingham News. “This is a very poor decision motivated by one man’s – David Pollick’s – selfish agenda,” said one former baseball player. Dean expressed his disappointment but promised to soldier on. The parent of one recruit blasted Pollick for keeping the financial deliberations secret while his daughter made her plans to enroll at what she believed would be a Division I school. Angry letters to the editor appeared in the News almost immediately.

The BSC athletics department predictably splintered within days. Shoop moved across town to coach the UAB Blazers, taking a number of his BSC players with him. (The blog of one former BSC baseball player changed its background colors from BSC’s black-and-gold to UAB’s green.) Players from virtually every team on campus transferred out in droves. Dean was forced to announce that due to the transfers, neither the baseball nor men’s basketball teams would compete in 2006-2007. And on July 13, Reboul stepped down after 17 years on the BSC sidelines, admitting that the “changes” in the program’s direction had led to his decision.

So what does Birmingham-Southern have to show for their six years of effort and dedication to the ideal of competing at the highest athletic level? Mounting bills for state-of-the-art facilities that will be out-of-place and unnecessarily large in Division III. A divided and in many cases disgruntled alumni base. The loss of several talented coaches. A president that many in the BSC community no longer trust. And for fans of Reboul and his basketball team, the bitter taste of knowing how attainable the now-abandoned goal of an NCAA Tournament berth had already become.

A quick scan of U.S. News and World Report‘s rankings of top liberal arts colleges show that not many of these top academic schools take their athletics Division I seriously. Following BSC’s decision, only 9 of the top 100 compete at the D-I level. But that number is about to return to 10: in a move unrelated to BSC’s departure, Presbyterian College of South Carolina is readying for a move into the Big South.

Presbyterian’s decision is, certainly, based on a desire to pursue excellence athletically as well as academically. Balancing those two pursuits as an institution will be, as always, a noble goal. But if PC is doing any double-checking as to how realistic that goal is, contacting schools like St. Bonaventure and Tulane and Vanderbilt, they should make sure to look up the connection to a certain school in Birmingham as well.

     

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