Get ready for a big time match up in the Big South in Lexington, Virginia Friday night. It's rare that two Big South teams get the center-stage on national TV, but VMI and UNC Asheville will clash on ESPNU at 7PM. The Big South, now with twelve teams, is debuting a North and South divisional structure this year with two six team divisions. Conference play this weekend will be the last time teams play a cross-divisional opponent until the conference tournament (except for VMI because of a strange scheduling quirk with Charleston Southern).
VMI is coming off a much-needed win, as they thrashed Longwood 93-60 on the road Wednesday. There is no official word, but Longwood's gym may need new rims after the way Stan Okoye and D.J. Covington assaulted them with monster dunks. The two combined for 52 points in the win against the Lancers.
Why was the win much-needed? Well, after an opening conference play 4-0 the Keydets dropped three straight games by an average margin of 21 points. Duggar Baucom's squad finally seems to have things back on track after a one point win at Radford and the win Wednesday night. VMI now stands 6-3 in the Big South and 11-10 overall.
Of course, any time you hear VMI brought up the first name mentioned is that of Stan Okoye's. The Big South Preseason Player of the Year, Okoye is now leading the conference in scoring and rebounding with 20.6 and 9 per game. His running mate Covington is also having a solid season with nearly 14 points per game and 7 rebounds.
VMI's individuals aren't what will make this game a fun watch though. Duggar Baucom's up-tempo style is always fun to watch and has produced a star in the Charlotte Bobcats Reggie Williams. That style plus the atmosphere in Lexington should make for a great environment. VMI's students are sure to pack Cameron Hall and you likely hear about a thousand rings clanking on a bar. Every military school has unique traditions and atmospheres, and VMI is no different.
* * *
When Eddie Biedenbach's Bulldogs started the season 1-6, everyone was wondering what was up with the reigning Big South champs. Asheville then finally got things together and won five of their next six games, including wins on the road against Northeastern and St. John's. UNC-A has kept that hot streak going, and has won six straight conference games to reach an 8-2 mark in the Big South, which puts them half a game ahead of 7-2 Charleston Southern.
Asheville has six players that can catch fire at any time, but the real story has been a combo of two 6'4" players, Jeremy Atkinson and Keith Hornsby. Atkinson is now averaging over 17 points and 7 rebounds per game. Hornsby, the son of legendary musician Bruce Hornsby, will be coming home to his native state for Friday's match up. He is coming of a 21 point performance in a 69-56 win over Winthrop on Wednesday. Hornsby is now averaging 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists per game for the Bulldogs this year.
Prediction: VMI has struggled a bit this year when they can't generate offense off of defensive turnovers. The Keydets are trying to get back on a roll and the good news for them is that Asheville turns the ball over more than any other team in the Big South not named Longwood. I think VMI cracks their four game skid to Asheville and comes away with an 83-79 win on their home court.