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Big South tournament preview: A league of chaos has two clear favorites at the top

Radford looks to host all three of their conference tournament games

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 24 Charleston Southern at Radford Photo by Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Big South is consistently a league of chaos. Winthrop started conference play 12-0, and it seemed all but certain that the conference tournament would be in Rock Hill, South Carolina. The Eagles finished 3-3 though, allowing Radford to jump them in the standings and moving the conference tournament to Radford for the first time for consecutive rounds in 11 years. Both these teams are leaps and bounds better than the rest of the league.

First place might not even be the biggest story in the conference. Fourth through 11th place was decided by just three games and Longwood, which began conference play 0-4, is the 4h seed.

Bracket

Schedule

All times Eastern.

First Round (Tuesday March 3)

Broadcast: ESPN3
Site: Higher seed

Game 1: No. 9 Presbyterian at No. 8 Charleston Southern, 7 p.m.
Game 2: No. 11 Campbell at No. 6 UNC Asheville, 7 p.m.
Game 3: No. 10 High Point at No. 7 USC Upstate, 7 p.m.

Quarterfinals (Thursday March 5)

Broadcast: ESPN3
Site: Radford

Game 4: Game 3 winner vs No. 2 Winthrop, Noon
Game 5: Game 2 winner vs No. 3 Gardner-Webb, 2:30 p.m.
Game 6: Game 1 winner at No. 1 Radford, 6 p.m.
Game 7: No.5 Hampton vs No. 4 Longwood, 8:30 p.m.

Semifinals (Friday March 6)

Broadcast: ESPN+
Site: Radford

Game 8: Game 4 winner vs Game 5 winner, 6 p.m.
Game 9: Game 6 winner vs Game 7 winner, 8:30 p.m.

Finals (Sunday March 8)

Broadcast: ESPN
Site: Higher seed

Game 10: Game 8 winner vs Game 9 winner, 1 p.m.

The Favorites

Radford (20-10, 15-3): No matter the record, if you’re hosting the conference tournament or are the closest team to the site of the tournament, you’re a clear favorite with the fans on your side. The Highlanders have now hosted the conference championship two years in a row and return quite possibly the most impactful player on those teams with Carlik Jones. Jones is KenPom’s Big South Player of the Year, and he ranks in the Top 100 of four national categories. In RU’s upset victory over bubble squad Richmond, he had a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists. That was one of four for the guard this season. Not only that, but he has only scored single-digits in one game during the season. The Highlanders split the season series against Winthrop and are the 11th-oldest team in the country. They are also 52nd in the nation in eFG% at 52.9.

Winthrop (21-10, 15-3): After a victory over Saint Mary’s in non-conference play and a 12-0 start in league play, the Winthrop Eagles started to gain some national attention. Once that came, though, the Eagles started to slump. WU finished conference play 3-3 and head coach Pat Kelsey sat down star D.J. Burns for a game for behavioral issues. On Saturday, the favorite for Big South Freshman of the Year returned against High Point. He wasn’t himself, playing 12 minutes and scoring two points. Otherwise, Winthrop is known for its fast offense. The Eagles have the 16th-fastest possession length and 40th-quickest adjusted tempo in the country. They’re also the 11th-best in OReb% and 31st-best in two-point percentage. On defense, the Eagles rank in the top 100 of five categories. If Winthrop can find its January form, it could scare a team come the big dance.

The Dark Horses

Gardner-Webb (15-15, 11-7): Last years champs are the hottest team in the league, but lost everyone from last year including 2019 Preseason Player of the Year Jose Perez. He left the team due to personal issues, but was the team’s leader through the first three months of the season. On the bright side, the Runnin’ Bulldogs are 6-2 since he left and there has been a new key contributor every night. In their two games against potential semifinal matchup Winthrop, they won in regulation and lost in triple overtime.

Longwood (14-17, 9-9): The Lancers have won five of seven and their coach is no newcomer to March. In March2018, head coach Griff Aldrich helped the UMBC Retrievers pull off the first-ever 16 over 1 upset. Watch out for him and his star guards Shabooty Phillips and Juan Munoz to make some noise.

The Long Shots

Hampton (13-18, 8-10): The Pirates’ backcourt of Jermaine Marrow and Ben Stanley rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the conference in points per game. They also combine to rank in the top eight of some national categories. The big problem for HU is that it’s in the 300s nationally of seven defensive categories.

Charleston Southern (13-17, 7-11): It beat Missouri, and its go-to-guy Phlandrous Fleming is fourth in the league in points and first in rebounds per game.

High Point (9-22, 6-12): National Championship winning coach Tubby Smith has a young and hungry squad. Watch out for John-Michael Wright. He has scored 20+ nine games this season.

Players to Watch

Per game averages in parenthesis

  • Carlik Jones – Radford (19.7 PTS, 5.5 ASTS, 5.1 REB, 49.3% FG%)
  • DJ Burns – Winthrop (12.5 PTS, 4.1 REBS, 58.7% FG%)
  • Jermaine Marrow – Hampton (24.3 PTS, 40.2% FG%)
  • Ben Stanley – Hampton (22.5 PTS, 7.4 REBS, 57.7% FG%)
  • Tajion Jones –UNC Asheville (14.2 PTS, 4.2 REBS, 52.4% FG%)
  • Phlandrous Fleming –Charleston Southern (17.6 PTS, 8.5 REBS, 3.5 ASTS, 43.7% FG%)
  • John-Michael Wright –High Point (14.4 PTS, 5.4 REBS, 39.6% FG%)
  • Cory Hightower –Presbyterian (13.2 PTS, 6.1 REBS, 44.3% FG%)
  • Cedric Henderson Jr –Campbell (12.3 PTS, 4.4 REBS, 58.4% FG%)

Prediction

Both Campbell and High Point swept their first-round matchups in their season series, so we could have two big seeding upsets early. After that, I think the only upset you’ll see is a five over four. If I have to guess in this always crazy league, I’d play it safe and go chalk, having Radford host the whole thing and make the dance for the second time in three years. Jones has continued playing great ball, and the Highlanders have all the momentum right now. Winthrop is slumping, but watch it win two close games to make the finals.