Another season of absolute wackiness in the Big South is nearing its conclusion, and, as every year, the final 48 hours of the league slate is filled with exciting propositions.
Sure, it was a no-brainer that Winthrop/Asheville part deux would end up on the ESPNU wildcard broadcast (7:00pm Eastern Thursday night – check it out), and, despite their respective wobbly starts, most saw these two teams playing for the regular-season crown, yet again. The Eagles flew away from the Bulldogs in their first meeting this year in Rock Hill, but expecting another 27-point result — on either side — is probably a fool’s errand. Winthrop came out the aggressor in that matchup and forced Asheville into rushed possessions. That is highly atypical of a Nick McDevitt-coached squad. These are the two hottest sides in the league, winners of nine (Winthrop) and eight (Asheville) of their last ten, and we appear poised for another classic in front of a national audience.
There are still a number of unanswered questions going into the final weekend, and we’ll do our best to answer what we can in just a bit. First, though, the league’s superlatives:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (www.BigSouthSports.com) – UNC Asheville senior guard Ahmad Thomas (Danville, Va.) 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 Feb. 12-18, it was announced Monday.
Thomas averaged 26.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.0 steals in two overtime contests last week. He opened his week with 30 points last Thursday against Liberty — including 19 in the second-half — to rally the Bulldogs back from a 15-point deficit and brief lead before the Flames tied it at regulation and prevailed in the extra session. Thomas then scored 23 points with seven boards in Asheville’s five-point OT victory at Charleston Southern on Sunday. For the week, he was 17-of-34 from the field ( =50.0 percent) and made 4-of-6 from long range ( =66.7).
Jones averaged 14.5 points, 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds to help the Highlanders to two victories and a first round bye in the upcoming Big South Championship. He scored a team-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting with six rebounds and five assists in Radford’s win over Campbell on ESPNU. Jones than added 12 points in the Highlanders’ overtime win Sunday vs. Presbyterian. For the week, he was 11-of-18 from the floor ( =61.1 percent).
Also nominated for Player of the Week: Chris Clemons (Campbell), Christian Keeling (Charleston Southern), Scottie James (Liberty), Damarion Geter (Longwood), Reggie Dillard (Presbyterian College) and Xavier Cooks (Winthrop).
Also nominated for Freshman of the Week: Phlandrous Fleming Jr. (Charleston Southern) and Elijah Cuffee (Liberty).
Thomas and Jones are mainstays in these awards. At this stage of the season, it’s really hard to question any of these choices. Clemons is — well, Clemons — and Keeling has been his usual outstanding self for the Bucs. James has developed into an absolute monster in the paint for the Flames, and trails only Cooks in the league’s double-doubles leaders category. Geter is a largely unheralded player for the Lancers, but he’s carried much of the load in the paint for a Longwood club again challenged by injury and other attrition. Dillard has seemingly been at PC forever, but his veteran presence has been a vital steadying factor for the Blue Hose in coach Dustin Kerns’ first year in Clinton.
And then there’s Cooks.
The Aussie senior had one of the most dominant single games of the year in a big Winthrop win at Gardner-Webb a week ago, notching a double-double in the second half (23 of his 36 points and 12 of his 16 boards, along with all six of his swats), inspiring Runnin’ Bulldog coach Tim Craft to dub him “virtually unguardable”.
Worthy selections, all.
Fleming has lived up to the hype given him entering his freshman season off a tremendous prep career in Georgia, and Cuffee has been a stabilizing force for a Flames club that has seen its share of challenges. Cuffee’s numbers don’t immediately jump off the page — just 5.5 ppg for the season — but he has been a defensive stalwart in his 10 starts. Both draw continual raves from their coaches, and have bright futures in this league.
Okay, time to make your head — and, more likely, my head hurt. Math time! (We’ll update this again on Friday, so tune back in at that point.)
What We Know
- If Winthrop defeats Asheville Thursday night, it wins the league. Full stop. Saturday’s result would be inconsequential, as Winthrop’s 2-0 record against Asheville would give it the tiebreaker advantage.
- Presbyterian and Longwood will be on the road for play-in games next Tuesday. Should a tie occur, the Blue Hose have the head-to-head advantage, having won twice. This means PC would need to fall Thursday against Gardner-Webb and Saturday at Campbell, while Longwood needs to win at High Point Thursday and at home against Radford Saturday for these seeds to flip.
- Winthrop, Asheville, and Radford have clinched “byes”, meaning they advance to next Thursday’s quarterfinal round. Winthrop would win the league with a win Thursday, while Radford and Asheville could still potentially tie. Those teams would be 1-1 against each other, reverting to the second tiebreaker of record against teams atop the standings. In that scenario, Radford went 1-1 against Winthrop, with Asheville going 0-2, breaking that tie and vaulting the Highlanders into the two seed.
- A Winthrop loss would require the Eagles to beat Charleston Southern Saturday, Gardner-Webb to defeat Asheville Saturday, and one of the wackier tiebreaking scenarios imaginable to unfold. More on that in a minute.
What We Don’t Know
- Pretty much everything else.
Let’s break this down, team by team (to the best of my abilities, anyway, prior to Thursday night’s results). In order of current standings:
Winthrop: Regular-season champs with a win at Asheville Thursday night. Could finish second or third, depending on tiebreakers and Radford’s finish. Winthrop and Radford would finish even in tiebreakers with Asheville and Campbell, having each split with those clubs. Radford already has a win over Liberty, while the Eagles went 0-2 against the Flames. Winthrop went 2-0 against High Point, while Radford went 1-1, which would break the tie in the Eagles’ favor.
Asheville: A Bulldog win would all but seal the league for McDevitt’s club. Two of Asheville and Winthrop’s tiebreaker scenarios would end in a stalemate (Radford, each other), one would go the way of the Bulldogs (Liberty), and the fourth would favor the Eagles (High Point). Therefore, Winthrop needs High Point to finish ahead of Liberty for a tiebreaker to fall its way, while Asheville needs the reverse.
Radford: All but set in the third seed. Mike Jones’ Highlanders can’t win the league, but could finish second if Liberty finishes ahead of High Point.
Campbell: The Camels and Radford would split a tiebreaker with Winthrop, but Radford would take the tiebreaker against Asheville. Therefore, the easiest path for Campbell to move up would be to go 2-0 this weekend, while the Highlanders finish 0-2. They could still plummet a bit, depending on finish. Campbell and High Point split, while they own the tiebreaker against Liberty.
Liberty: The Flames play Radford and High Point Thursday and Saturday, both at home. Ritchie McKay’s side will be the focus of scoreboard watching around the league.
High Point: The Panthers close at home against Longwood and at Liberty. High Point has the tiebreaker with Liberty, so if both win or lose Thursday, the Panthers would be playing for seeding in Lynchburg Saturday.
Charleston Southern: The Bucs are in a really interesting spot here. Barclay Radebaugh’s side has won six of nine, and is in position to possibly work its way out of play-in range. Campbell travels to the Buc Dome tonight, with a date at Winthrop looming to close the regular-season slate. That game at Winthrop could be inconsequential for the Eagles, but it could mean everything in a logjam scenario for CSU.
Presbyterian: The magic number for the Blue Hose essentially stands at one. A win — or a Longwood loss — would place the Hose ninth and have them traveling to the eighth-seeded club Tuesday evening.
Longwood: The most likely outcome is that the Lancers end up tenth and traveling to the seventh-seeded team for a Tuesday play-in contest. A 2-0 week for Jayson Gee’s charges, however — assuming PC loses twice — would change the standings and travel itinerary up in Farmville.
The doomsday scenario: After tonight, the possibility exists that there could be four 8-9 teams on Friday morning. Two of those clubs would play each other Saturday (High Point travels to Liberty), and that one game could decide half the bracket. Also, if that occurs, two of those four teams would advance to the league quarterfinals, while the other two would host play-in games.
I was told there would be no math in journalism. That was a false claim.
Got all of that? Friday could present a number of mind-bending scenarios, or most of the consequence could be in the middle of the league’s pack. We’ll take a look again in this space after everything blows over tonight. Speaking of those scenarios…
League Schedule (all times Eastern and broadcast on the Big South Network, unless otherwise noted)
Thursday, February 22
Winthrop at UNC Asheville, 7, ESPNU
Gardner-Webb at Presbyterian, 7
Longwood at High Point, 7
Radford at Liberty, 7, LFSN/ESPN3
Campbell at Charleston Southern, 7:30
Saturday, February 24
Charleston Southern at Winthrop, 2
High Point at Liberty, 2
Radford at Longwood, 3
UNC Asheville at Gardner-Webb, 4:30, ESPN3
Presbyterian at Campbell, 4:30
Tuesday, February 27
#10 seed at #7 seed (play-in), 7/7:30
#9 seed at #8 seed (play-in), 7/7:30
Happy watching, everyone!