Gardner-Webb v North Carolina

Big South Conference Tournament Preview

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The race for the Big South’s automatic bid took an unexpected turn last week when High Point freshman forward John Brown went down for the remainder of the season with a broken foot. Senior forward Allan Chaney, whose career nearly ended due to a heart ailment, will have to lead the way for a team that is down to two double-digit scorers (guard Adam Weary being the other). Corey Law scored 14 points in their 63-62 win over Campbell, and he has give High Point consistent offense if the Panthers are to win three straight games.

However a possible quarterfinal matchup with host Coastal Carolina looms, and the two-seed from the South (Gardner-Webb) is also capable of knocking off High Point. South Division champion Charleston Southern, led by point guard Saah Nimley, averaged nearly 75 points per game in Big South play while also leading the league in field goal percentage defense. VMI, as the second place finisher in the North, received the other first-round bye in the top half of the bracket but don’t be surprised if UNC Asheville knocks them off in the quarters. Eddie Biedenbach’s team won ten league games, with one being a 90-79 win at VMI on February 9.

(CLICK HERE to browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

Where: HTC Center (Conway, South Carolina)

When: March 5, 7, 9-10

Final: March 10, 12:00 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Gardner-Webb 

The Runnin’ Bulldogs didn’t win their division (Charleston Southern did) but they did sweep the regular season series between the two teams. Chris Holtmann’s team enters the conference tournament in good form as they’ve won ten of their last 11 games, with the lone defeat being a surprising 57-54 loss at Presbyterian.

Guard Tashan Newsome (14.0 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and wing Donta Harper (12.9 ppg) lead the way offensively, and if Gardner-Webb can control tempo (they average 65.5 possessions/40 minutes, per statsheet.com) the Runnin’ Bulldogs are capable of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time as a Division I member.

And if they lose? Charleston Southern did win the South, the tougher of two two divisions, and in Saah Nimley they have the league’s best point guard. In total four players average double figures for the Buccaneers, who led the conference in both scoring offense and field goal percentage defense. Jeremy Atkinson and Keith Hornsby lead the way for UNC Asheville, but the Bulldogs enter the conference tournament having lost five of their last six. High Point still has Chaney inside but losing a player of John Brown’s caliber at this point in the season may be tough to overcome.

Sleepers: Look no further than the host team, Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers lost just one conference home game this season, falling by seven (70-63) to Gardner-Webb on February 16. Anthony Raffa is capable of getting hot, and fellow guard Kierre Greenwood’s no slouch either. Another possibility is VMI, which averaged 74.7 points per game in conference play and is led by the league’s best player in senior forward Stan Okoye.

Studs:

– F Stan Okoye (VMI): The Big South Player of the Year, Okoye is averaging 21.5 points and 9.2 rebounds per game. And Okoye enters the conference tournament hot, as he averaged 33.0 points and 13.5 rebounds per game in wins over Liberty and Longwood.

– F Jeremy Atkinson (UNC Asheville): Atkinson’s only 6-4 but that didn’t stop him from being one of the league’s best front court players, averaging 17.7 points and 7.0 rebounds per game and earning first team All-Big South honors.

– G Saah Nimley (Charleston Southern): One of two underclassmen (Brown) to earn first team All-Big South honors, Nimley posted averages of 16.0 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds per game. The 5-8 floor general is one reason why Charleston Southern won 12 league games.

Prediction: Nimley and Arlon Harper take over the weekend, leading Charleston Southern past Gardner-Webb in the final.

Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

BUBBLE BANTER: Key Atlantic 10, Big East bubble games

Kelan Martin, Kyle Alexander
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This post will be updated throughout the night.

Butler (KenPom: 41, RPI; 67) at Seton Hall (KenPom: 31, RPI: 37), 6:30 p.m.
LSU (KenPom: 53, RPI: 76) at South Carolina (KenPom: 45, RPI: 28), 7:00 p.m.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (KenPom: 51, RPI: 62), 7:00 p.m.
Saint Joseph’s (KenPom: 48, RPI: 30) at George Washington (KenPom: 71, RPI: 34), 7:00 p.m.
Missouri at Vanderbilt (KenPom: 35, RPI: 58), 9:00 p.m.
No. 14 Iowa State at Texas Tech (KenPom: 59, RPI: 51), 9:00 p.m.
Michigan (KenPom: 46, RPI: 56) at Minnesota, 9:00 p.m.
Washington (KenPom: 80, RPI: 57) at Utah (KenPom: 44, RPI: 16), 9:00 p.m.
San Diego State (KenPom: 65, RPI: 47) at Fresno State, 11:00 p.m.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Ben Simmons, LSU get tested at South Carolina; more important bubble matchups

FILE - In this Nov. 24, 2015, file photo, LSU forward Ben Simmons (25) drives downcourt as teammate Antonio Blakeney (2) follows in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against North Carolina State in New York. For all of his gaudy numbers, Simmons is still trying to figure out the best way to put the Tigers in position to win. And now the schedule gets harder, starting with Tuesday night's, Dec. 29, 2015, tilt against Wake Forest, followed by the opening of Southeastern Conference play against Vanderbilt and No. 10 Kentucky. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)
(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: LSU at South Carolina, 7:00 p.m.

LSU attempts to stay atop the SEC standings when they travel on the road to face South Carolina. The Gamecocks have been very tough at home this season and they’re trying to form a potential four-way tie in the conference standings if they’re able to win this one (and Texas A&M wins tonight). It will be intriguing to see how Ben Simmons fares against South Carolina’s stingy defense.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: Saint Joseph’s at George Washington, 7:00 p.m.

An important game in the Atlantic 10 as Saint Joseph’s heads to the Smith Center to play surging George Washington. The Colonels have won three straight games as they try to stay with VCU and Dayton and make a move to tie the Hawks in the league standings. CBT’s Rob Dauster will be in the building for this one, so make sure to follow him on Twitter for updates.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

  1. No. 21 Baylor will have a tough one in the Big 12 when they go on the road at Kansas State. The Wildcats just knocked off Oklahoma and the Octagon of Doom is a very tough place to play, even if Kansas State is struggling in the standings.
  2. No. 16 SMU will try to stay in the lead in the American as they host Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane could really use a road win like this for its postseason chances.
  3. An intriguing Pac-12 contest tips as Washington heads to Utah. The Pac-12 standings are a mess right now, but these two teams still have a chance to make one final move for the regular season title if they start building momentum now.
  4. In the SEC, Alabama hosts No. 15 Texas A&M, a team that has lost three of its last four games. The Aggies will be favored in this road contest, but this one could be interesting because of Avery Johnson’s unique connection to Texas A&M. Avery Johnson Jr., a transfer guard sitting out this season at Alabama, played for the Aggies last season, so he could have some useful tips for his dad on slowing down Texas A&M’s potent offense.
  5. No. 20 Providence will be looking for revenge when they head to Milwaukee to face Marquette. The Golden Eagles currently sit eighth in the Big East standings, but they did win on the road by a point over the Friars earlier this season.