The Big South is about as typical as it gets for a mid-major league.
They have a powerhouse program in UNC-Asheville that rose to the top of the league. The Bulldogs won the conference by a whopping four games, an impressive number for a league that actually is fairly balanced. The second place team — Coastal Carolina — finished the year four games out of first place and just four games ahead of Winthrop, who finished in ninth place.
Without question, UNCA is the heavy favorite to make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament, which was the cause for one of the prevailing story lines of the season. After the play-in rounds of the Big South Tournament, which take place Monday night on the campus of the higher seeds, the next two rounds will be hosted by UNCA in their brand new Kimmel Arena. But the title game will take place on the campus of the higher-seeded team. The problem? UNCA reached an agreement with the Southern Conference to host their women’s tournament which created a scheduling conflict with the Big South’s title games.
In other words, with neither side willing to budge, it looked, for a while, like UNCA would not be able to host the Big South’s title game. Luckily, about a month ago, cooler heads prevailed and the SoCon opted to reschedule their games should the need arise. It would have been a shame if UNCA hadn’t been able to defend their tournament title on their home floor.
Where: Campus sites for the first round, UNC Asheville’s Kimmel Arena for the second and third round, higher seed for the title game
When: Feb. 27th-Mar. 3rd
Final: March 3rd, 12 p.m., ESPN2
Favorite: UNC Asheville
The Bulldogs are clearly the favorite to win the automatic bid, just the way they were picked in the preseason. Not only did they tie a conference record with 16 wins, they did it in fairly dominating fashion, winning the conference by four games and becoming the first team to clinch their league title two weeks ago. UNCA is led by a dynamic back court of Matt Dickey and JP Primm and spread the floor using a starting lineup that doesn’t feature anyone taller than 6’5″. The Bulldogs can score, and when they are shooting the ball well, they are going to be tough to beat. Catch them on a bad night, however, and they are suspect enough defensively and on the glass that an upset can be had.
And if they lose?: Coastal Carolina
The Chanticleers struggled down the stretch of the season, at one point losing five out of six games. But they still managed to finish in second place in the league standings, which should give you an idea of where this team was prior to that losing streak. It should be noted that win CCU lost five of six, the one team they beat was UNC-Asheville. So there’s that.
Sleepers: Charleston Southern was the only other team in the conference to knock off UNC-Asheville, and they did it in Kimmel Arena back on January 19th. The Buccaneers, who won four of their last five games during the regular season, are the four-seed and would get UNC-Asheville in the semifinals. Campbell is another team to watch out for. The Fighting Camels have some size and athleticism that you don’t often see at this level, although they have lost three in a row and six of their last nine.
– JP Primm and Matt Dickey, UNC-Asheville: Arguably the most dynamic mid-major back court in the country, these two combined to average 31.8 ppg and 8.7 apg on the year.
– Nick Barbour and Shay Shine, High Point: High Point had the highest scoring back court tandem in the league, as Barbour and Shine combined to average 36.3 ppg.
– Eric Griffin, Campbell: Griffin is probably the most athletic player in the conference, playing the same role for the Camels that Andre Roberson does for Colorado.
– Anthony Raffa, Coastal Carolina: Raffa scored 20 in CCU’s win over UNCA.
– Kelvin Martin, Charleston Southern: In his last six games, Martin is averaging 20.3 ppg and 10.8 rpg.