By Garrett Jones
When the 2020 Big South men’s basketball conference tournament tips Tuesday, there probably won’t be a lot of national eyes on it. Even so, there’s still loads of intrigue.
Radford (20-10, 15-3 conf.) enters as the heavy favorites; indeed a team to watch. Each game in the tournament is hosted by the higher-seeded school, and after a fierce run at the end of the conference season secured a chance to host the tournament for consecutive rounds for the first time in school history.
Radford’s scoring punch is led by Big South player-of-the-year Carlik Jones. He ranks top-100 natioanlly in a whopping four different categories. Jones leads an experienced group as the unquestioned player to watch in the tournament, averaging a cool 19.5 points and 6.0 rebounds per contest.
If the tournament would’ve started on Feb. 3, Winthrop would’ve been the clear favorite. The throwback Atlanta Hawks logo-doppelgangers raced out to a 12-0 start in league play including a win over Radford, but stumbled down the stretch to a 3-3 finish that included a loss to the Highlanders, resulting in a tie for the regular-season conference title.
All that considered, there surely won’t be any lack of motivation for Winthrop, a clear sleeper in the tournament. Star freshman D.J. Burns sat out a few of the losses after head coach Pat Kelsey sat him because of behavioral issues. Burns returned Saturday and figures back into the fold of things for the tournament.
Missouri basketball fans won’t be pleased to learned Charleston Southern, whom upset the Tigers on Dec. 3 at Mizzou Arena, ended up finishing just 13-17 in the regular season. Even after the wild win, the Buccaneers don’t figure into the tournament picture. The winner of the championship game guarantees a bid to the NCAA Tournament, so there’s no shortage of opportunity on the line.
That’s why Radford will be the tournament champion. Winthrop will likely give them a good fight, but in the end, teams hot in March are remembered. A sour taste in its mouth after a loss to Gardner-Webb last year will be enough to will them to the dance.