The Big South Tournament kicks off this in Buies Creek, North Carolina, site of the last seeded Campbell Fighting Camels. It's once again a wide open race in the Big South and here are the key storylines for each team heading into the tournament.
1. High Point Panthers
On the surface, it seems like the Panthers should be riding high into the Big South Tournament. They are close to home, wrapped up a regular season title, and are riding a six-game winning streak. With that being said a cloud looms over Scott Cherry's squad who is 0-3 in the Big South Tournament in the John Brown era losing by one shot in each game. Also, there is the question of Brown himself who has suffered a foot injury against Winthrop last week. No one knows Brown's status, but rumors are swirling regarding the seriousness of his injury.
2. Winthrop Eagles
Winthrop would've locked up the number one overall seed last week, but they fell to High Point by two on the Panthers home court. Pat Kelsey has the conference's most complete team with Keon Johnson, Jimmy Gavin, Xavier Cooks, and others. The biggest question coming into the tournament is whether or not the Eagles high paced, bombs away offense can fire on all cylinders for three straight days. Probably the best news for Eagles' fans is this tournament isn't in Conway, South Carolina and there is no way they'll see Coastal Carolina in the finals.
3. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
This is the Chants last stand in the Big South, and they still will challenge for a third straight conference title. A slew of veterans in Shivaughn Wiggins, Elijah Wilson, Badou Diagne, and Jaylen Shaw make the Chants dangerous, and most members of this squad know what it takes to win in this tournament. The biggest difference this year is the black and teal won't enjoy the tournament from the comforts of home.
* Update: Cliff Ellis said today it's unlikely Badou Diagne participates in the conference tournament.
4. UNC Asheville Bulldogs
I think it's fair to say that Asheville is one of the conference's most well coached but strangest teams. The Bulldogs feature a lineup basically without a point guard or a big, but that is loaded with smart basketball players. UNCA has struggled down the stretch though going just 3-3 in the month of February. The best news for Bulldogs' fans is that they open on Friday against Liberty, a team they swept and just crushed by 17 last week.
5. Liberty Flames
Liberty has been the surprise team in the Big South this season with the return of Ritchie McKay. While they certainly aren't the conference's most athletic or talented team, they are far and away the most well coached. The Flames have lost three out of their last four after winning seven straight, but they are still dangerous if they can get John Dawson, Caleb Homesley, AC Reid, and Ryan Kemrite bombing it from outside.
6. Gardner-Webb Bulldogs
Gardner-Webb started the conference season 5-1 but has gone 5-7 since then and lost a lot of steam. They also have the difficult matchup of playing a home team in a 6-11 seed game and a team they just lost to a few weeks ago. Tim Craft still has talent on his roster with Tyrell Nelson, Harold McBride, and crew. If they can squeak by Campbell, then they'll have a good shot at Coastal Carolina, who they have already beaten once this year.
7. Radford Highlanders
No team lost more on Saturday than the Highlanders. They had Longwood down 20 with about ten minutes to play on Saturday and ended up losing to the Lancers and also relinquishing a tournament bye. That's been kind of the story for a high-octane squad this year that seems to keep building big leads and fails to step on opponents throats. You have wonder where this team is at after such a devasting loss, not to mention Mike Jones' 1-4 mark in the Big South Tournament.
8. Longwood Lancers
Opposite from Radford, Longwood shot up from the last seed to the eighth seed after their historic comeback win against the Highlanders. The Lancers made noise last year knocking off top-seeded Charleston Southern last year on their way to the semifinals. Saturday's win has seemingly reinvigorated a Lancers team that doesn't have a lot of depth but does have the conference's best big man in Lotanna Nwogbo and a solid senior core featuring Shaquille Johnson and Tra'Vaughn White.
9. Charleston Southern Buccaneers
The Bucs limp into Buies Creek losing nine of their last ten but they do have the revenge card in their favor. Longwood knocked them out of the tournament last year, and the Lancers also beat them in a double overtime thriller in North Charleston last month. Whatever team comes out of the 8-9 game will feel like they have a good chance with the John Brown injury situation.
10. Presbyterian Blue Hose
Is Gregg Nibert's job on the line Thursday? The school's all-time winningest coach has been at the helm for the Blue Hose since 1989, but patience seems to be wearing thin for a squad who just posted their eighth straight losing season in the Big South. PC has beaten Radford before this season and doing it again Thursday afternoon would go a long way for the Nibert. Expect the Hose to lean on all-Big South performer DeSean Murray.
11. Campbell Camels
Speaking of the hot seat, we give you Kevin McGeehan at Campbell. The former Richmond assistant is just in his third year, but chatter is flying after the program has seemingly regressed from the Robbie Laing era. McGeehan is just 15-37 in conference play over his three seasons, and you have to wonder if the Camels would move on if they get embarrassed on their home floor Thursday? The good news is the Camels have matched up well against Gardner-Webb this season.