As most of the eastern half of the country — including those of us here in the southeastern United States, unfortunately — digs out of a deep freeze and massive snow event, the Big South Conference nears the end of its first trip on its rotational axis.  The first round of “unique” games ends tomorrow, and league teams will commence round two against each conference foe.  This is the final year — for the foreseeable future, anyway — in which this will happen, as USC Upstate and Hampton join the league on July 1, bringing the number of basketball-sponsoring schools to 12.  Speaking of Upstate…

I covered Upstate’s game this past Saturday with North Florida, getting a second glimpse at one of the two newly-minted league members.  I’ve covered Upstate many, many times in the past (that honor — for now, anyway — now belongs to our Justin Mathis), and was privileged to see legendary coach Eddie Payne be the subject of a day full of cheers and love from the Upstate fans and his former players.  The game was a bit of a struggle, as the Spartans fell to 6-16 on the season and 1-4 in their final season in the A-Sun.  Kyle Perry’s club is 0-4 against Big South foes this season (Charleston Southern, Campbell, Asheville and Gardner-Webb), but year-to-year changes in the league are quite the common occurrence.

Big South standings (as of Tuesday afternoon):

Radford 6-2 13-8
Winthrop 5-3 11-8
UNC Asheville 5-3 12-9
Campbell 5-3 11-9
High Point 5-3 10-9
Gardner-Webb 5-3 10-11
Liberty 3-5 12-9
Longwood 3-5 6-15
Charleston Southern 2-6 7-12
Presbyterian 1-7 8-13

A quick reminder on a couple of things:

  • Tiebreakers are, for now, a complete mess.  They will get even more so as time goes along, and we will revisit those tie-breaking scenarios (with the help of the brilliant Mark Simpson and Brandon McGinnis) as the season winds down.
  • The top six teams earn automatic byes out of the play-in round.  If the season ended today — and thankfully, it does not — Presbyterian would play at Liberty and Charleston Southern would travel to Longwood on Tuesday, February 27.
  • Those winners advance to the quarterfinals, which are played March 1 and 2 at the site of the regular-season champ.  The highest remaining seed hosts the championship game on March 4.

This week’s conference awards, courtesy of the league office:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (– Winthrop senior forward Xavier Cooks (Wollongong, New South Wales) has been named the Big South Men’s Basketball Player of the Week, while Radford guard Carlik Jones (Cincinnati, Ohio) is the Freshman of the Week for games played Jan. 15-21, it was announced Monday.

Cooks led Winthrop to a 3-0 week with 17.0 points, 12.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.7 blocks.  He opened his week last Monday with a near triple-double of 17 points, 14 boards and eight assists in the Eagles’ victory over Gardner-Webb.  On Thursday in a nationally-televised win over UNC Asheville, Cooks had 15 points, 11 rebounds, five helpers and four blocks.  He capped his weekSunday with 19 points, 11 caroms and two blocks at Presbyterian.  Cooks was 20-of-37 from the field ( =54.1 percent) and 9-of-12 from the free throw line ( =75.0) in the three wins.

Jones posted averages of 13.7 points, 6.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.0 steals in three games last week.  He started with 14 points and six boards in the Highlanders’ 59-57 overtime win over Liberty last Monday, including two clutch free throws in the extra session to give RU a three-point lead with :30 seconds left.  Jones then led the Highlanders with 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds inThursday’s win over Longwood, and concluded his week with nine points and six helpers Sunday at Campbell in which he made a traditional three-point play to tie the game with :11 seconds remaining.

Also nominated for Player of the Week: Chris Clemons (Campbell), Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern), Jahaad Proctor (High Point), Georgie Pacheco-Ortiz (Liberty), Isaiah Walton(Longwood), Randy Phillips (Radford) and Ahmad Thomas (UNC Asheville)

Also nominated for Freshman of the Week: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (Charleston Southern) and Justyn Mutts (High Point).

Sunday’s results:

Campbell’s Chris Clemons again did Chris Clemons things in that victory over Radford.  Behold:

That shot was just cold-blooded.  It came just after Radford had tied the contest on its previous possession.  For those who wrote off Campbell after an 0-2 start, the Camels have bounced back to win five of their last six league games, and hit the road to play Liberty tonight.  Speaking of playing Liberty tonight…

This week’s schedule (all times Eastern and broadcasts on Big South Network, unless otherwise indicated):

Tuesday, January 23
Campbell at Liberty, 7 (LFSN/ESPN3)
Brian’s note:  Liberty will play without forward Isaiah Williams, who was indefinitely suspended by coach Ritchie McKay over the weekend.  The Flames will rotate a number of defenders into the paint, including Caleb Homesley and Ezra Talbert, to fill the void.  The Flames were outrebounded, 33-24, by Asheville in Sunday’s loss.

Wednesday, January 24
Radford at High Point, 7
Brian’s note:  In the dumbest stat you’ll see — maybe ever — the Highlanders have two Big South losses on the year.  Both were on the road, both were in North Carolina, and both came when Mike Jones’ club surrendered exactly 59 points.

Gardner-Webb at UNC Asheville, 7 (WMYA-TV 40)
Brian’s note:  The Runnin’ Bulldogs are 8-0 at home this season, but 2-11 on the road or at neutral sites.  Tim Craft’s club is 1-3 on the road in league play, and, as the league notes, is trying to avoid its first four-game road losing streak in league play in six seasons.

Winthrop at Longwood, 7
Brian’s note:  Winthrop’s defensive resurgence has fueled the Eagles’ four-game win streak.  After surrendering 75.3 points per contest in starting league play 1-2, Pat Kelsey’s charge are allowing just 61.5 per tilt since.  Longwood is just 12-for-42 from three over the last two games, and is averaging 59 points per in those back-to-back losses.

Presbyterian at Charleston Southern, 7
Brian’s note:  The Bucs are trying for back-to-back regular-season league victories, a feat they last accomplished last February 15 and 18.  Those victories came against Campbell and High Point by a combined total of four points.  PC’s last victory against CSU came nearly seven years ago, a 69-48 result in Clinton.

Saturday, January 27
Charleston Southern at Radford, 2 (Stadium)
Campbell at Winthrop, 2
Longwood at Gardner-Webb, 3
Liberty at Presbyterian, 4
High Point at UNC Asheville, 4:30 (ESPN3)

We’ll be covering the Campbell-Winthrop contest Saturday, so follow along for updates!

Brian – @sportsmatters
CHD Carolinas branch – @CHDCarolinas
College Hoops Digest – @NCAAhoopsdigest

Happy basketball, everyone!