If there is any conference in the country that is looking to get a win in March Madness, it is the Big South. Since 1985, the Big South has produced one win in the round of 64. That lone win was in 2007 when the 11 seed Winthrop upset the 6 seed Notre Dame 74-64. The conference is looking for a school to get the rust off of the conference and make a Cinderella run. The top few schools in the conference are very close in the standings, and the automatic bid is for the taking for just about anyone. Here is my breakdown of the Big South Conference and my predictions for the seeding in the conference tournament. Note: All stats and records are as of 1/18.
1) Longwood (14-6 Overall, 6-1 Conference)
Overview: Last season the Lancers made school history, making the March Madness tournament for the first time. Unfortunately, they ran into the buzzsaw that is the Tennessee Volunteers and saw a quick first round exit. The good news for Longwood is they are returning a good majority of their squad from last year’s team, including four out of the five starters. This has shown on both ends of the court as the Lancers are scoring 73.6 ppg (2nd in conference, 97th in CBB), while only giving up 67.3 ppg (107th in CBB). Senior guard Isaiah Wilkins has been very solid for the Lancers thus far, leading the team with 13.1 ppg and 6.1 rpg. To add to their chemistry-filled, veteran-led team, the Lancers got guard Walyn Napper from Southern Miss in the transfer portal, and he has made an impact, averaging 10.1 ppg and 3.6 apg. Now that the first-time jitters are out of the way, Longwood is looking to repeat as Big South champions and make a back-to-back appearance in the big dance.
2) UNC-Asheville (14-6 Overall, 6-1 Conference)
Overview: The Bulldogs started the season with a massive exclamation point by defeating UCF 98-95. Things got shaky following that, as they lost three of their next five games that they played. However, UNC-Asheville have proven all season that they are not a team to mess with, as four of their six losses have come by 7 points or less with the other two losses came to Dayton and a ranked Arkansas squad. A main reason for their success this season has come from senior forward Drew Pember. Last season, Pember finished runner-up for the Big South Player of the Year award but still earned First-Team honors. Not getting POY might be fueling Pember’s season, as he has been playing phenomenal basketball, averaging 19.2 ppg (leads conference) and 9.7 rpg (leads conference). He also has a teammate who gains attention defenses in senior guard Tajion Jones. Although not having a season like Pember, Jones is still having a solid season, averaging 14.0 ppg and shooting 48% from behind the arc. With the talent the Bulldogs have this season, it will be tough for anyone in the conference to stop them. For that reason, they are my pick to win the Big South Conference Tournament.
3) Radford (11-9 Overall, 5-2 Conference)
Overview: There is often a phrase heard by announcers that is said about some schools that goes “if they are cold from behind the arc, this game will be a blowout.” This is the perfect way to describe Ratford this season. The Highlanders have shot an impressive 37.1% from 3 this season, 43rd in the NCAA. They got a lot of production out of their guards, as their top four leading scorers are guards. Leading the way is guard DaQuan Smith, averaging 12.9 ppg and shooting 42% from three. However, do not let that guard-play and stats fool you into believing that the Highlanders do not have a big man that can beat teams. Sophomore big man Justin Archer was the leading scorer in Ratford’s last game, as he scored 15 points in a win over Campbell. It seems that it is mentioned every year during March Madness time that for a team to go far in the big dance, guard play has to be on point. If the Highlanders can prove me wrong and win the conference, they could very well be a team that pulls off a big upset and busts a lot of brackets!
4) Gardner-Webb (8-11 Overall, 3-4 Conference)
Overview: It cannot be stated enough how gut-wrenching of a season the Runnin’ Bulldogs have had if you look at the scores of their games. Of their 11 losses, nine of those losses came by 6 points or less, including a six point loss to North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Nearly every game that Gardner-Webb has played in this season, they have been in until the very end. They are holding their opponents to 66.8 ppg, which is 95th in the NCAA. A trio of scorers lead the way for the Runnin’ Bulldogs with junior guards DQ Nicholas and Anthony Selden and senior forward Kareem Reid leading the team with 11.8, 11.2, and 11.1 ppg respectively. As stated before, the only main concern for Gardner-Webb going forward is their inability to close out games. However, if they can find a way to finish games and play good for all 40 minutes, Gardner-Webb can and will beat anybody. They are a dark horse team for the conference tournament that can surprise some teams come March.
5) Charleston Southern (7-11 Overall, 3-4 Conference)
Overview: Following a season where they found themselves at the bottom of the Big South, Charleston Southern is having a bounce back-year, especially in the conference. They have played the two top seeds in the Big South close this year (lost to Longwood by 5 and UNC-Asheville by 10) and have three wins in the conference thus far. The Buccaneers are getting a big boost out of 2021 Big South All-Freshman team member Claudell Harris. Following his first year of averaging a mere 10.3 ppg, Harris is leading the team and is third in the conference with a scoring average of 19.0 ppg. However, he is not the lone scorer on the team, as both forward Taje’ Kelly and guard Tahilik Chavez are averaging 11.4 and 11.2 ppg respectively. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, they are a liability defensively, giving up 77.0 ppg, which is 316th in NCAA. After finding a way to get themselves out of the basement of the Big South, Charleston Southern will be looking for bigger things now, as the regular season continues on.
6) USC Upstate (9-9 Overall, 4-3 Conference)
Overview: The Spartans have once again found themselves in the middle of the Big South this season. They have had a fair record thus far, so some of you are probably wondering why I have them so low in the seedings. A big reason is the Spartans are getting outscored by an average of six points per game, scoring a mere 67.1 ppg and giving up 73.7 ppg, both outside of the top 200 in the NCAA. Simply put, their defense hasn’t been playing great, and their offense has been playing worse than their defense. However, the one person that I cannot criticize on the Spartans is their best player in sophomore (and also 2021 Big South All-Freshman Team member) Jordan Gainey. The second-year man has shown that he will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come, as he is averaging 16.4 ppg (5th in the conference) and 1.8 spg (leading the conference). It does seem that he is a majority of the production that the Spartans have offensively this season. If he can get some help from his teammates moving forward, they may find themselves higher than I predict.
7) Winthrop (8-12 Overall, 3-4 Conference)
Overview: With the loss of the 2021 Big South Player of the Year, DJ Burns, transferring to NC State, the Eagles have been trying to find their go-to guy for this season. They do have four out of their five starters and their sixth man averaging double digits in scoring, with forward Kelton Talford leading the way with 16.6 ppg. They do not seem to have a problem scoring the basketball, and normally, that would make teams nearly unstoppable. However, Winthrop has the record that they do because they are VERY poor defensively. The Eagles are giving up 77.4 ppg (35th worst in the NCAA), and even that number is slightly skewed. They played two Division II teams, who each scored in the fifties on them. Every Division I team but two has scored seventy or more points on this Eagles defense. If they want any remote shot at competing in the Big South this season, that defense has to get cleaned up.
8) Campbell (7-12 Overall, 2-5 Conference)
Overview: For what their record shows, the Camels have actually had some bright spots this season. They narrowly were defeated by NC State on the road, they defeated Appalachian State on the road, and they narrowly lost to Georgia Southern on the road. A big focus for the season thus far has been on the defensive end, as Campbell is giving up only 68.5 ppg. However, in college basketball, a good defense will get the job done for you some games, but some kind of offense is needed to win the big games. Offense just hasn’t seemed to be found thus far, as the Camels are scoring a mere 65.8 ppg. A positive for them offensively is they have established their go-to guy on offense in senior guard Ricky Clemmons. The guard is leading the team in points (13.1 ppg), assists (3.1 apg), and steals (1.6 spg – 3rd in conference). Most teams in the Big South need to find an answer defensively to get success in conference play. However, this is not the case for Campbell, as they need to find someone other than Clemmons to score the basketball to get success moving forward.
9) High Point (10-9 Overall, 2-5 Conference)
Overview: If you are looking for a team to bet overs on, the High Point Panthers are a team that you may want to consider for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, they are an absolute unit offensively this season, scoring an average of 74 ppg (leads the conference and and 87th overall). The Panthers have the conference’s second-leading scorer on their team in junior guard Jaden House. House, who only averaged 12.3 ppg last season, has been feeling it offensively this season, averaging 18.9 ppg and 4.2 rpg. They also have guard Abdoulaye Thiam and forward Zach Austin averaging 14.2 and 12.4 ppg respectively to make for a dynamic trio offensively. However, the Panthers are also good at covering overs because they are atrocious defensively, giving up 78.1 ppg (Worst in conference and 25th worst in NCAA). The lack of defense has costed them several games in the conference thus far, and, if things do not improve, a first round exit in the conference tournament seems to be very likely.
10) Presbyterian (5-15 Overall, 1-6 Conference)
Overview: Rounding out our Big South schools is the Blue Hose of Presbyterian. The simplest way to describe their season thus far is that 8 of their 15 losses have come by double digits, and the remaining losses were simply due to not ending games as they should. Their losses have come to them not having confidence on the offensive end of the court, only scoring 63.0 ppg (worst in the conference, 33rd worst in the NCAA). A big reason for their lack of identity on offense has to do with their leading scorer from last year and 2022 All-Big South Second Team player Rayshon Harrison transferring to Grand Canyon (averaged 17.6 ppg last season). This year, their leading scorer, junior guard Crosby James, is only averaging 11.1 ppg. Unfortunately for the Blue Hose, it is going to take nothing more than a miracle for them to win any more conference games this season, let alone get a win in the conference tournament.
The battle for the top of the Big South is VERY close, with the top three teams only being one game apart from each other. The current top two teams, Longwood and UNC-Asheville, play the very last game of the season and that last game could easily determine who the top seed is. That game alone could change everything when it comes to the conference tournament. Although I do see one of the top four seeds getting the automatic bid to March Madness, it is very possible that a low seed pulls off an upset in the first round of the conference tournament. One thing is for sure: The Big South champion is going to be ready to make people everywhere put some respect on the Big South’s name come March Madness time.