By: Josh Neighbors
March has begun and for college basketball fans, that means the big dance. But before the big tournament begins the field must be set. For most conferences, a couple teams have already secured their tournament spots, but for conferences like the Big South, only one member will represent the conference in the field of 68. While only one team will go, the conference tournament gives all 11 teams hope that they will be the one who plays on. Let’s preview the Big South tournament.
High Point University (19-9) overall (13-5) Big South: The good news is The Panthers road a 6 game winning streak to close out the season with a share of the conference championship and the number one overall seed in the conference tournament. The bad news is that the player they have been riding to get there, senior forward and potential Big South player of the year, John Brown is out for the remainder of the season with a broken foot.
Coach Scott Cherry will have to hope red hot senior guard Adam Weary stays that way if the Panthers will have any chance to win the conference tournament. Weary has scored at least 23 points in three of the last four games and was named conference player of the week last week after scoring 24 in a senior night win against Winthrop and 24 against Presbyterian to close out the season. That number one seed gives High Point a first round bye and gives them the easiest road to the finals, which is very beneficial for them without Brown.
Winthrop Eagles (21-8) overall (13-5) Big South: The Eagles boast three of the conferences ten top scorers. Most impressive of which is the conferences second leading scorer, 5-7 Junior guard Keon Johnson who averages nearly 20 points a game. He showed his scoring ability in a 36 point performance where he went 10 for 13 beyond the arc. The Eagles second leading scorer is 6-3 senior guard Jimmy Gavin has averaged 25.7 points per contest the last three games, including a 31 point effort in their season ending win against Campbell this past Saturday.
The Eagles offensive assault ranks 10th in points per game nationally. This team is my favorite to take home the conference title. With a variety scoring options this team is poised to take home the conference crown.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (18-10) overall (12-6) Big South: The Chanticleers look to make it three straight Big South tournament championships and three straight births in the NCAA tournament. This is not Cliff Ellis’ most talented team, but their ten conference wins come against all ten of their conference foes demonstrating an ability to truly beat anyone in their conference.
This teams success is thanks to coach Cliff Ellis who has constructed a program which can lose its’ two best scorers, like they did after last season, and are able to maintain success. Even when great programs have bad years, they always have a shot because they have experience with success and thats why Coastal Carolina can make the big dance.
Liberty Flames (13-18) overall (10-8) Big South: This Liberty team started off 3-13. They did not beat a division I program until January 6th. But they got hot and were able to finish above .500 in the conference earned themselves a 5th seed. If they win their first round matchup, they will probably face a John Brown-less High Point. It is not inconceivable the Flames sneak into the Big South Championship game.
Prediction: I believe there will be no stopping Winthrop’s three-headed scoring monster. Without Brown I think the High Point Panthers will navigate their way to the championship game, but the Eagles are just too talented. The Winthrop Eagles are the clear favorite to represent the Big South tournament in the NCAA tournament, and I think they will raise the conference trophy at Campbell University on Sunday March, 6.