Monday, January 30, 2006

The Adventures of Bucky McMillan & the Misleading Box Score (BSC 70, Radford 57)

There’s a reason this site isn’t titled “Big South Wonk,” a la certain better-read (and better-written, better-researched, better-etc.) stats-first blogs out there. That reason is that while statistics and I are on very, very good terms, I sure ain’t about to ask them to the prom anytime soon.

I mean, look at the way they treat Bucky McMillan. A glance at the box score for BSC’s 70-57 win over Radford Saturday says that McMillan had a nice offensive game, with 5-7 shooting for 14 points. But it also points out he missed 3 of his 6 free throws, had only one assist (in 30 minutes) to a pair of turnovers, and failed to make anyone’s eyes pop with his steals (2) or rebounds (3) total.

In short, there’s no way to know from statistics the truth about Bucky McMillan, which is that he was the best player on the court Saturday. He ran an offense that finished the game shooting 51 percent overall and 44 percent from deep. He spearheaded a perimeter defense that held a good three-point shooting team to 28.6 percent (6-of-21) from outside and 39 percent overall. He drew fouls. He also made the undisputed play of the game, the play with 3:35 to play that finished off MacRadford for good: after taking a feed from Powe or Paul (not sure which) on a backdoor cut down the center of the lane, McMillan’s usual path-to-a-layup was blocked by Chris Oliver. So he tossed a behind-the-back no-look wrap-around hella-sweet dish to Ed Horton out in the corner. The three was good, the crowd was bonkers, the score was 65-50 and the game was JCCW-certified over.

And all the stats say about the play is that he had an assist on a Horton three. Thanks to work like Wonk’s, stats are cooler to hang out with than they used to be. No one's asks who invited them when they show up at the happening New Year's party. But they’ve still got a ways to go to catch up with the Buckies of the world.


--The shooting of every BSC player who wasn’t Dwayne Paul or LeCory Ruffin. Take away those two players’ combined 5-of-17, and BSC shot 18-of-28 (64 percent) from the floor. Likewise, toss out Paul’s and Ruffin’s combined 0-4 from outside the arc and BSC shot 8-of-13. Beautiful.
--Dwayne Paul. As I said, not his shooting. Radford’s size seemed to bother him more than even Alabama’s, and the officials let a number of plays go that could have been fouls when Paul muscled his way inside and drew contact. (To their credit, they called it this way on both ends.) But Sir Paul picked up 13 big rebounds, hit all five of his free throws, and despite his shooting woes still led the team in both points and boards. (A 15-and-13 dub-dub.) He’s like Avis--he's not as tall as his opponents, so he just works harder.
--The Panthers’ glasswork overall. A 40-24 rebounding advantage against a team with Chris Oliver on it is pretty doggone good.
--Dan Ross. On a day when BSC collapsed into a zone around Oliver and Whit Holcomb-Faye seemed like he’d rather eat a double-portion of Brussels sprouts than shoot the 3, Ross stepped up and hit 5-of-12 from deep to keep the Highlanders in the game in the late first half and early second. Sure, he fouled out and didn’t contribute much else (2 RBs, 0 assists) but at least he was aggressive.
--Coach Reboul. Radford’s starting C Duane Ricks picked up a quick second foul early in the first half (one very subtly relayed to the scorer’s table by the official, who stood in the back of the court rather than approaching the scorer’s table … this may be why Byron Samuels didn’t remove him from the game immediately). Next trip down, Reboul calls a play, executed perfectly, that gets the ball to Powe deep in the post and gives Ricks no choice but to foul. Ricks finished the game with eight minutes played (12 below his average), 1 rebound, and zero points. Reboul also made the productive decision to promote…
--Josh Bailey. The senior power forward has been the last-guy-off-the-bench his entire career, but with Viglianco in foul trouble he came on for five big minutes at the end of the first half, grabbing three boards and hitting a free throw. Freshman Kyle Rowland had been getting those minutes and is unquestionably the more talented of the two, but he’s been hoisting an awful lot of ill-advised threes and I’m guessing Reboul finally decided to go with Bailey’s effort over Rowland’s athleticism.
--The anonymous 10-year-old heckler who repeatedly serenaded Chris Oliver with the “O-ly-ver! O-ly-ver!” chant from the musical “Oliver!” Hilarious.
--Holcomb-Faye’s vision. After McMillan’s wraparound special, the next three or four prettiest assists on the day were all Holcomb-Faye’s. His drive-and-dishes were the only way for Radford to pick up points in the paint against the Panther zone.


--Holcomb-Faye’s everything else. The official MacRadford site reports he was hampered by an injury, but for whatever reason Whit looked very little like a guy capable of leading the conference in scoring. He passed up open looks only to force others (3-of-12 from the field), he missed half his free throws (4-of-8), and picked up only one rebound. The BSC defense had a lot to do with that, of course, but he also just had an off-game against an opponent he couldn’t afford to.
--Viglianco’s forays inside the three-point line. OK, OK, I give up: Viglianco should just play the 3. Outside the arc, he went 3-of-4, shooting directly over the top of the much smaller defenders Radford was running at him. On what seemed like his first three trips inside the arc, he a) traveled b) got called for a charge c) committed a silly over-the-back foul. Whenever two of Powe, Paul, or Ihirim were on the floor, Viglianco was playing small forward, and while it seems weird to deploy our tallest player on the perimeter, the way the Masters P are playing down low I have to admit that’s probably the right move. TV’s quick enough to guard most Big South 3’s on the defensive end and at 6-9, he’s a complete mismatch on the offensive end for any conference small forward not named “James Shuler.”
--Radford’s team effort on the glass. The Highlanders had three players record 2 or more rebounds. BSC had eight.


For someone whose name has foretold his future occupation since birth, Radford coach Byron Samuels (yeah, like a “Byron Samuels” was ever going to, say, manage a hotel) sure didn’t show a lot of know-how in dealing with officials Saturday. After a fairly steady stream of abuse over several minutes, one of the officials T’d him up with just under 5 minutes to play. Because Samuels hadn’t said anything especially foul just at that moment, the official told him he’d been T’d for being outside the coach’s box—despite the fact that Samuels hadn’t left the sideline and wasn’t more than a step or two towards the scorer’s table than technically allowed. Samuels knew, and the official knew, that the T wasn’t for him being outside the box—it was for him being a general ass over the last few minutes and the official having reached the tipping point. But this didn’t stop Samuels from mocking the ref by first pointedly toeing the line and asking if this was OK, then suddenly pointing at Reboul and saying “He’s outside the box! He’s outside the box!” (Reboul wasn’t.) When Reboul gently edged over the line two minutes later to complain about a call, Samuels screechingly pointed out so again, and deservedly got his walking papers. Reboul just chuckled … True conversation from a row behind me: Guy 1: “So which one’s Bucky?” Guy 2: “That’s him with the ball, No. 8. He’s my godson.” Guy 2, whoever and wherever you are, congratulations on doing your part to raise an outstanding point guard … I found out that Auburn won their first SEC game of the season by staring over the shoulder of the man in front of me as he checked the score on his Blackberry. 'Tis an amazing age we live in … BSC’s loudest hecklers are a pair of students in the “Panther Pit” section, located behind the basket closest to the opposing bench. With plastic mini-megaphones in hand, they do an excellent job of heaping endless noise on the opposing players and coaches, even I think some of the taunts (about player’s sisters, for example) are kind of in bad taste even for student hecklers. Their sustained vigor, however, is tremendous (especially since, unlike their counterparts in the ACC or Big East, they are pursuing this endeavor without feeding off of the energy of an entire section of likeminded fans) and I wondered if they managed it with the help of some pre-game liquid courage or purely on the overflowing ebullience of their BSC spirit. I got my answer when, standing in line for a urinal at halftime, one of them burst in, did a slightly more mature version of the “cha-cha” for a second or two, asked politely if he could cut in line, then proceeded to take the longest leak I can remember in my 27 years of attending sports arena men’s rooms. Good on ‘im.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Saturday! Saturday, Saturday! Saturday! (apologies to my boy EJ)

Quickie score: MacRadford dominated the freshly nicknamed Keydet Cops 101-77 Thursday. The wheels are flying off of VMI’s metaphorical vehicle at this point: Reggie Williams finished with 7 points and 2 (!) rebounds. Matt Murrer shot only 4 times and only hit 2. The one thing VMI does do well--rebound--they didn’t do: the Highlanders had a 35-24 edge. After starting 2-1, VMI has lost five straight.

As for Radford, well, this game didn’t prove much for them except that their whole offense will click like hell (62 percent FG, 139.2 offensive efficiency, 8 assists for Whit) if you don’t defend.

Now, for Saturday slate linkage:

Mike Perrin shows his questionable grasp of tempo-free statistics by calling Radford "the league's second-best offense" while implying that BSC is getting by on toughness and rebounding. Check the efficiency numbers, Mike: BSC leads the conference (107.3) while Radford is a not-so-shabby-but-still third (102.9). MacRadford has yet to win in Bill Battle (0-4 all-time) and the Saturday afternoon tip-off means more fans than usual. Both teams are playing top-shelf basketball (the two longest winning streaks in conference) but it's a long way from Radford to Birmingham in only two days and the adjustment from VMI's Go! Team pace to BSC's Tortoise pace won't be easy.
Predix: BSC 63, Radford 59

Remember when "old school" was some pretty dope slang? Yeah, if it wasn't dead already, for some reason I think it coming out of Gregg Marshall's mouth officially kills it. Still, "old school" Marshall = angry Marshall = angry Winthrop = poor Othern Southern. Charleston clearly didn't spend their time in Scheduling Gods confessional during the offseason.
Predix: Winthrop 77, Charleston 50

UNC-Asheville hosts High Point at the best-named arena in the league, the Justice Center. (No word on whether superheroes Flash, Green Lantern, or Robert Shapiro stop by.) Ye olde "teams going in opposite directions" cliche applies here--UNCA has gotten healthy (in Chad Mohn's case, literally) against Liberty and VMI while High Point has lost three in a row to the top three teams in the Big South standings. Expect their respective escalators to keep headed in the same direction: they wouldn't be Asheville without a late-season charge, would they?
Predix: UNCA 73, High Point 67

The Myrtle Beach Sun asks "Was the Winthrop win a fluke?"--a legitimate question. They then suggest that a home win over Liberty would be an response in the negative--in this case, not a legitimate answer. How bad is it in Lynchburg? Even the Liberty women lost this week. Coastal's Winthrop win loses "fluke" status when the Fakecocks beat BSC or Radford, or UNCA or High Point on the road. Not before. The Liberty game will give Leasure a chance to sharpen his shooting and bump the number under "W" up by one. But that's it.
Predix: Coastal 81, Liberty 65

Thursday, January 26, 2006

UNCA-LU and Big South linkage

Well, at least that incomprehensible upset thing only lasted a day. The drama of UNC-Asheville's 77-65 victory over Liberty was summed up by the Citizen-Times' beautifully oxymorornic headline, "UNCA holds on, blows out Liberty." What they mean, I guess, is that the Misses Peacock held on to the double-digit lead they'd held since the opening tip after Liberty had made a serious, threatening, pulse-pounding run that with 57 seconds to go cut the lead to 11.

Just an ugly game for Liberty: Blair scores 29 but takes 26 shots and 7 free throws to do it, while G Evan Fisher and C Doug Stewart combined went 0-7 from the field and 0-5 from the line, for zero total points in 35 minutes. The Flyin' Falwells shot 35 percent for the game.

The big news for UNCA, aside from Oliver Holmes' 19-and-8, was that Chad Mohn returned from injury for 13 minutes of action. He made good use of them--8 points, 5 boards.


Gary McCann of Rock Hill's Herald observes that in the long run, Winthrop's loss to Coastal could be a "blip on the screen" that will mean as much to the Eagles meeting or not meeting their goals this season as what color shoelaces they wear. He's right, it could be. But the loss could also be the difference between a 12-seed in the NCAAs, playing a ripe-for-the-upset 5, and facing the uphill climb of the 14-seed line. It could be the difference between Big South opponents who take a second-half lead on the Eagles a) doing a funny little dance and yelling "Look at me! Look at me! I'm ahead of Winthrop!" or b) expecting to have that lead and responding levelheadedly (and effectively). Those things might not happen, but if they do, that Coastal loss will be a pretty gosh-darned big deal in the end. The jury, as they say, is still out.

Geoff Wilson's Big South notebook for the Charleston Post and Courier kindly focuses on BSC's rise to the co-top of the Big South. Of note is Reboul's quote on being picked fifth preseason instead of first: "It's always easier to play the underdog role instead of the top-dog role." Well, looking at BSC's last two seasons, obviously. (Wilson also trots out the old "former NAIA powerhouse" description that BSC might as well make part of the school's official name: the Birmingham-Southern Former NAIA Powerhouse College Panthers.)

In other BSC news, keep an eye on the Justin Jonus saga. The 6-5 guard just walked out on Alabama due, his Pops says, to Mark Gottfried drastically cutting his minutes without explanation. Why is this BSC news? Because Reboul recruited Jonus, and the school's January "Interim" term means if Jonus wriggled out of his scholarship now he could transfer to 'Southern and get an extra semester of eligibility. His Dad even specifically mentions BSC as a possible transfer destination. Given that the timing of Jonus's decision could not possibly be worse for the Tide--they now have precisely one guard on scholarship--you have to wonder if the "Interim factor" factored into it.

Now, hotshot recruits who abandon struggling teams in midstream while Daddy goes on a media whine-a-thon (and, most notably, accuses the Tide coaching staff of reverse racism) aren't really the first players I'd pick for the Panthers. But Gottfried's had so, so many players transfer out of his program that I'm not ready to just pin this all on Jonus (unlike certain shockjock national columnists who get their jollies mercilessly trashing the character of 20-year-old kids). We'll see.

Apaprently VMI coach Duggar Baucom's heart problems were more serious than previously known. He's due back in mid-February.

The Big South Choice Hotels Rivalry Series debuts Saturday on Fox Sports South with Winthrop's annihilation of Charleston Southern. Former Auburn coach Cliff Ellis will be on hand to provide color commentary and mysteriously bring down the two schools' graduation rates by his presence alone.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Anyone need a used pedestal? (CCU 64, Winthrop 57)

If your horses suddenly started rearing up and trying to break out of their stalls last night, and your dog started barking at air and whimpering for no reason, and your goldfish wouldn’t eat its flakes of dead goldfish*, fear not! I have your reason right here: Coastal Carolina 64, at Winthrop 57.

How shocking was this? Here is a list of teams Coastal has failed to defeat on the road already this season: Jacksonville St. (RPI 215), Eastern Kentucky (169), High Point (222) and … wait for it… the VMI Keydet Cops (301). All told, Coastal was 0-8 on the road.
Until, of course, they walked into Rock Hill and took a game from the strongest team ever to play in the Big South. Nobody ever said basketball had to make sense, but is it too much to ask for it to stay out of Hunter S. Thompson territory?

The next question: How did they do it? Big picture, Winthrop was too good to go undefeated in the Big South.

I know, I know, it sounds like the hygienist left the nitrous oxide on just a wee bit too long at my last check-up. But when a team dominates a conference the way Lord Winthrop has dominated the Big South the last two seasons--the Eagles had won 24 straight Big South games until last night--each game they play becomes a Win-or-Die-Trying season-defining event to their opponents, while to Winthrop there’s no difference from Game A to Game B. Only a massive disparity in talent could nullify that edge in focus for the length of an entire conference season.

Until the High Point game, I thought that disparity existed. Afterwards, I wouldn’t have been that shocked if UNC-Asheville, BSC, or even Coastal won at home. But Coastal on the road?

The specifics of how it happened aren’t really that exciting: Coastal simply played better defense and shot better. Rebounds (31 to 29 CCU), turnovers (13 to 14), free throws converted (9 to 8), steals (9 to 3) and offensive balance (four players in double figures) all gave the Fakecocks little edges here and there. But the bottom line is that Coastal shot 50 percent for the game, taking 50 shots and hitting 25 of them; Winthrop took 52 shots and only hit 19, for 37 percent. In a game that’s a stone’s throw from statistically dead even everywhere else, six more field goals makes, quite literally, all the difference.

The relevant media are jumping up and down about Coastal’s zone forcing Winthrop to take too many threes, but the Eagles shot better from behind the arc (39.3 percent) than they did inside it (33 percent). Maybe Winthrop should have taken more threes? The zone likely did help limit James Shuler’s production (2-of-9, 4 points), but so did his recent ankle injury, I’ll wager.

Other points:

1. Want to see the practical upshot of teams willing to sell their first-born children to beat Winthrop? Check that rebounding margin again, 31-29 in favor of Coastal, who happened to enter the game dead last in the league in rebounds per game. CCU center Moses Sonko went for 6 points and 4 boards at home against Charleston Southern last week. And on the road against Winthrop, he has a 10-and-11 double-double. You figure it out.
2. If you’re out and about and see Winthrop’s real backcourt, let Gregg Marshall know. He’s looking for it. The true Chris Gaynor came back against Coastal, posting his first positive assist-to-turnover ratio in three games (7 to 2) but this time Torrell Martin was replaced by some poor-shooting look-alike that went 6-of-17 overall, 5-of-14 from three, and committed 5 turnovers to 1 assist.
3. It may be time for Marshall to get concerned about his bench. Four Eagles came off the pine to combine for 7 points and 2 (!) rebounds in 41 minutes. (The worst offender? Guard Michael Jenkins, who hoisted up 7 shots in his 9 minutes, hitting only one.) By contrast, CCU--not exactly known for being the deepest team in the conference--got 12 points and 4 boards in 39 minutes. (Though big C Matt Brennan disappeared again.)
4. The best news for Fakecocks fans? They won despite Leasure staying firmly in the midst of his shooting slump--he went 4-of-12 (though he did hit the biggest bucket of the night, a late three that forced Winthrop to start fouling). Unheralded senior guard Colin Stevens took up his slack, hitting 5-of-11 for 13 points while adding 6 assists, 5 boards, and only two turnovers. Give credit, too, to Leasure and Paelay for their dishwork: CCU’s three-headed backcourt finished with a 15-to-6 assist-to-turnover ratio.

The fallout? Could swing two ways: either Coastal’s win will puncture the Eagles’ balloon of intimidation and faced with confident (as well as fired up) opponents, Winthrop will suddenly find a much, much tougher run to the conference title than they expected. Or Winthrop will simply smell the “Hey, we’re better than these guys, let’s play like it again” coffee and go back to blowing people out by 40 points.

It’ll probably, of course, be somewhere in the middle. Some close games for the Eagles, some blowouts, maybe one more loss somewhere along the way. The big question is, can BSC and/or Radford win enough to challenge Lord Winthrop for home-court advantage? Craig Bradshaw evidently thinks so: "It's really disappointing," he told the Herald. "We looked at (the standings) before the game. Now, we're 6-1 and they're (Birmingham-Southern) 6-1. It's going to be a dogfight to the end."

Let that dogfight begin.

*If your cat was suddenly hissing at you and clawing the furniture, well, this only proves that you have a cat.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Monday, good to me BSC (and Radford)

Before anything else, let all Birmingham-Southern fans come together now and make a burnt offering of Savannah St. guarantee checks, Karl Hobbs's cell phone, and the ticket stubs from Gerry McNamara’s homecoming game as a sacrifice to the Scheduling Gods, who delivered High Point unto our basketball team only two days after their most emotional, most grueling, most heartbreaking loss of the year. We thank and praise you, Scheduling Gods! (Now, if you could get us that game with Samford we’ve been hoping for, that’d be swell.)

I don’t want to suggest that a 74-58 victory in which the winning team never trailed and never led by less than eight in the second half was purely a product of being in the right place at the right time. The performance BSC put on Monday night—arguably its best of the year, given the opponent—would have trumped the I Can’t Believe They’re Not Panthers! nine times out of 10. But the margin of victory and ease with which BSC handled HPU (on the road, no less) wasn’t all Panther brilliance. I mean, Winthrop only won there by three, and any ‘Southern fan who’s ready to say BSC is 13 points better than Winthrop needs to have a cold towel administered to their forehead and lie down for a little while.

With that said, until Saturday at least it's basically impossible to argue any team besides Birmingham-Southern as the Big South’s second-best. BSC is 6-1 in Big South play with the only loss coming at Winthrop, three of those wins coming on the road, and all six by double-digit margins. A win at home vs. Radford Saturday would open up at least a three-game spread between BSC and all other challengers for that second spot.

And there was, as they say, much rejoicing. (Also—shhh! keep it down! I don’t want to jinx things!—but if BSC beats MacRadford, it’s time to start contemplating how close the Panthers would be to an NIT bid. But don’t tell anybody I told you.)


BSC: After another scintillating outing from coach Reboul’s Georgetown-esque offense (after last weekend, I’d rather be associated with the Hoyas than the guys who invented it)—scroll through the play-by-play and see how many times BSC scores via lay-up—BSC is now the undisputed Big South king of offensive efficiency. Get past the Panthers’ 109.5 points-per-100-possessions, and only Winthrop is even in the picture … Panther Line of the Night? Unquestionably the 4-of-6 for 11 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 turnover performance from Bucky McMillan. 7 rebounds for Bucky McMillan! If a flock of pigs just landed in your willow tree out back, you know why … Six BSC players all saw between 25 and 32 minutes and all six scored between 8 and 14 points, five of them in double figures. The Flying Wallendas weren’t this balanced. … Especially impressive is that BSC rolled with Sir Paul having an off-night. He shot 3-11 and turned the ball over 3 times. Of course, he also had 8 boards, so we’re quibbling.

High Point: If you’re a High Point fan, I think you can basically just write this game off for the above-mentioned scheduling reasons (which is what we BSC fans are happier and happier to do with the ‘Bama-hangover-induced Winthrop catastrophe). But it still can’t be good to see the team’s offense go so completely in the tank because Easy AZ Reid had one bad game. Saying “As Reid goes, so High Point goes” can’t be any truer than it is now, when HPU’s leading scorer shoots 4-of-14, and instead of taking up the slack everybody else just follows right along. The other four HPU starters shot 9-of-27, including second-leading scorer Akeem Scott’s 1-of-7 from three… The bright spot? Issa Konare, the league’s leading shot-blocker, had five more. Too bad that exceeded his points total by one.


Now THAT—Holcomb-Faye popping for 24, the red-hot Oliver tossing up a 28 and 8 while combining for three assists—is the MacRadford we’ve all come to know and love. (Well, at least we love the nickname.) Obviously he can’t really complain, seeing as how the Highlanders won handily, but what’s it like to be Dan Ross—score 23 points one game, a goose egg three games later? (Ross did have 4 steals and 5 boards, mind you, so it’s not like he didn’t contribute.)
It was a very, very good night for victorious point guards in the Big South: McMillan’s 8 dimes were only one better than the 7 put up by MacRadford’s Andre Bynum, who failed to commit a turnover despite an Othern Southern lineup that started four guards. Scary.
But the biggest reason for the Radford win? Good old-fashioned free throw shooting. The Highlanders went 23-of-28; the Bucs went an unsightly 15-of-26, good for 56 percent. CSU should be commended (and coach Barclay Radebaugh does so here) for out-rebounding Radford 39-32 on a night when due to injury and suspension 7 of the 9 Buc players seeing 10 minutes or more were guards. But that kind of atrocious shooting from both the stripe and the field (37 percent overall), combined with a porous defense (115.4 defensive rating), means that their cleaning of the glass is not that different from mopping a floor just before walking over it in muddy boots.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Saturday in the Big South

All right, let’s just get this out of the way up front, because my boasting muscles are going nuts and if I don’t stretch them soon, I’m going to have a bigger headache than Bo Ryan. From my previous post: “Predix for tonight: UNCA 82 VMI 70, BSC 71 Liberty 65, Winthrop 83 High Point 77, Radford 70 Coastal 69.”

May I have the envelope for the Radford-Coastal game please. And the final score is … Radford 70, Coastal 69.

I’d be even more pleased with myself if “Predicting Big South conference results” was a skill that didn’t rank somewhere between “balancing a spoon on your nose” and “being able to name and rank every Rolling Stones album, even the ‘80s and ‘90s crap” on the scale of practical application. But hey, it’s something. On to the recaps:


If I had one question to ask God Duane Reboul, it’d be this: “Which Thomas Viglianco do you prefer, the one that leads the team in scoring while bombing away from outside, or the one that scrapes his points at the free throw line while scooping up rebounds and dropping dimes?”

His answer would probably be along the lines of “the one in the middle,” but the JCCW (as has likely been made clear by now) would rather shake the hand of the latter. That’s the Viglianco the Panthers got Saturday—his 7 points were his lowest total since the Winthrop game and his four shots his fewest attempts in who-knows-how-long, but he more than made up for it with 7 boards, 5 assists, and only one turnover. The way Paul and Powe are playing, BSC is going to be better inside than their Big South peers (save one) even when Viglianco is prowling the perimeter. But when he moves inside, the combination of the three of them (6-9, 6-7, 6-5-but-plays-three-inches-bigger) basically ensures domination of the glass.

And that’s exactly what won the Liberty game. BSC didn’t shoot the ball all that much better (46.7 percent to 44), committed one more turnover, got an off-game from Collins (0-4 from three) and shot a disturbing 55.6 percent from the free throw line. But the Panthers also outrebounded the Flyin’ Falwells 36-26, including 11 demoralizing offensive boards (as Lynchburg’s News and Advance points out beautifully in their description of one three-board sequence).

Other notes:

BSC: With the Panthers back on the road Reboul went back to the freshman-free de facto six-man rotation he used at the end of the nonconference season. After seeing a combined 39 minutes the last two contests, LeCory Ruffin saw 6 vs. Liberty … Horton’s heating up. He’s now 6-of-9 from downtown the last two games, both of which he finished in double-digits … There’s no stopping the Masters P these days. Powe and Paul combined for 35 points and 14 boards while shooting a beautiful 14-of-21 and only turning the ball over twice. The Panthers have now won five straight (all five admittedly coming against the Big South’s five “C” division members) and those guys are the single biggest reason why.

Liberty: Same old story: Larry Blair puts forth Herculean effort (26 points, 6 boards, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover), frontcourt puts forth French military-esque effort (5 players, 103 minutes, 10 points, 15 rebounds) . If you see Larry Blair, give him a hug. … The Liberty bench recorded more personal fouls (7) than either points or rebounds (4 and 6, respectively) in its 44 total minutes. … Bright spot: Anthony Smith had a solid game playing Bullet to Blair’s Red McGibbon, shooting 6-of-10 for 15 points and notching 3 assists to 1 turnover.


Good news, Big South: Like Daft Punk, Lord Winthrop is human after all. James Shuler’s ankle injury may have something to do with it (he shot 1-7 from the field Saturday) but the biggest reason behind the Eagles’ apparent return to mortality is their sudden inability to take care of the ball: vs. High Point their turnover ratio was an unbe-expletive-lievable 34.9 percent. Chris Gaynor, previously far-and-away the Big South’s best point guard in assist-to-turnover ratio, has now turned the ball over 9 times to only 8 assists in two games while his backup, De’Andre Adams, managed 5 giveaways in only 13 minutes Saturday.
Thanks to the Eagles’ generosity, the I Can’t Believe They’re Not Panthers would have taken the game had they not turned the ball over 22 times themselves and not shot a Pontiac Aztek-ugly 4-of-16 from deep (compared to Winthrop’s 11-of-24).
Which is the flip side of the “Look, they’re not invincible” coin. Winthrop hit eight fewer shots; allowed their opponent’s best player (Easy A.Z. Reid) to go for 24 and 11; recorded fewer assists and steals and committed more turnovers; were on the road in front of as big and hostile a crowd as they’ll see in the Big South; and they still won. Human, yes, but barely.


It’s official: the 2006 Big South can be neatly divided into three divisions. There’s the “A” division, made up of Winthrop; the “B” division, made up of BSC, High Point, and Radford; and the “C” division, home to the conference’s other five teams. As of today Division “A” is 6-0 against the other two and Division “B” is 10-0 in their last 10 games against Division “C,” including (more impressively) a 4-0 road record.
This has been the closest in those 10 games Division “C” has come to a win. And when you see that the height-impaired Fakecocks outrebounded Radford 35-30, out-assisted them 19-10 while committing the same number of turnovers, and got 37 bench points to Radford’s zero (!), you have to think it should have been one.
But Coastal can’t put it all together. Usually the problem is that CCU’s frontcourt can’t keep up with Leasure and Paelay in the backcourt; this time, while doghoused backup center Matt Brennan was going for 14 and 9 in only 18 minutes, their star guards went 5-22 overall and 3-15 from three, combining for 19 points in 72 minutes. When those two guys put up those kind of numbers, it’s essentially impossible for Coastal to win.
So why were those two so off? Some credit has to go to the Highlander D, and it wouldn’t have even mattered without another ho-hum 28-point effort from Whit Holcomb-Faye, but Buzz Peterson wants you to know it’s a) his players’ fault for whining about how tired they were b) his assistants’ fault for listening to the whines and arguing for a light practice c) his own fault for listening to his assistants. Please Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em.


VMI assistant coach Daniel Williams is filling in for head man Duggar Baucom while Duggar recuperates from surgery. If Williams wants to become his own head man someday, he’d better work on his halftime pep talks: this is the second straight game the Keydets have been dive-bombed after the break. The Colonels Mustard went from up three at the break against UNCA to trailing 70-56 with 6:19 to play. Could VMI’s Indy 500 pace be wearing themselves out instead of their opponents?
At least VMI finally got Matt Murrer, the nation’s leader in FG percentage (you read that right) more shots than the five he took against BSC. He got 12. Too bad he only hit five of them.
And while VMI’s struggling at the moment, since it broke a four-game skid UNCA’s more than willing to take the win, especially with F Chad Mohn still out via injury. Joe Barber took up the slack with an 18-and-15 dub-dub.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Big South linkage

Some links to get you ... or possibly, just me... primed for Saturday night's Big South slate.

This write-up is about Samford, but you could make the identical argument this season for Birmingham-Southern as well, since BSC also has a January term and has been dominant its last four games. (Though BSC's Jan-term is called "interim term" and based on the comments in Perrin's piece and past conversations with Samford students, BSC takes theirs much more seriously.) Will be interesting to see how BSC responds (as well as the Bulldogs) come the start of the new semster.

With the SoCon down to an unsightly 11 teams (if it's not unsightly, why is it still the Big Ten?) and their future commissioner already scoping possible new memebrs, they may pick off a Big South member (or two?) to expand, says Ian Guerin. Guerin clearly hopes the Fakecocks are the ones making the jump, and quite frankly it'd be hard to argue that Coastal wouldn't be the SoCon's first Big South choice--since the SoCon requires a football program, Coastal, Charleston, VMI, and Liberty are the only candidates and CCU clearly has the best overall athletic resumay of the four. The Myrtle Beach Sun also breaks the startling revelation that basketball teams have better playing records playing nobodies at home than tough teams on the road. Next week, a shocking expose on how a higher field goal percentage is DIRECTLY tied to higher scoring.

Turn out Lord winthrop's James Shuler missed the Liberty win with an ankle injury and may not play against High Point. It shouldn't matter, but you never know--look at what happened when Torrell Martin sat a game.

I'm highly surprised more of the conference's official team sites haven't made more out of this. I have no clue, for instance, what ESPN did for BSC. (I'm guessing the NAIA titles, but if it had to be a DI highlight...uh, scaring Vandy as an Independent?) I wish I'd seen Coastal's, which I'm assuming was highlights from probably the most famous individual perfromance in Big South history--Brian Penny's 13-of-15 for 34 points vs. Indiana in the first round of the '91 NCAAs.

Predix for tonight: UNCA 82 VMI 70, BSC 71 Liberty 65, Winthrop 83 High Point 77, Radford 70 Coastal 69.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Big South W/Th

Scores and Linkage from Wednesday and Thursday in the Big South:


That tugging sound you hear is the rest of the league loosening their collar after watching MacRadford beat the league's arguably second-best team by 20 points...with Holcomb-Faye only scoring 14. Chris Oliver went for 25 and 9, but the difference was that the Highlander role players had their best collective game of the conference season so far: Dan Ross stroked 7 threes (on 14 attempts) and finished with 23, Andre Bynum had 9 assists, and Kenny Thomas came off the bench to go for 10 and 4 in only 8 minutes! Maybe the "If you shut down Whit, they might as well quit" book on Radford isn't as good a read as previously thought.

AZ Reid did his usual yeoman's work for High Point (18 and 12 on 8-of-13 shooting). But when the rest of the team goes 17-of-51--contrast here with the Radford supporting cast--while allowing the opponent to score 38 points in less than 13 second-half minutes, well, 96-76 is what happens.

ALSO: The Roanoke Times congratulates Radford on scoring more against High Point than Kentucky did. Obviously they haven't seen Kentucky recently, since this isn't much different from congratulating them for tying their shoes.

Charleston's Post and Courier makes the curious decision to publish a "Look at High Point!" article the day after their worst loss of the season. Not that the I Can't Believe They're Not Panthers don't deserve one: leading the league in FG percentage while keeping up their jackrabbitesque pace (second in the league, 25th in the nation) can't be easy. Geoff Wilson also makes an interesting point about the league having so many guys with 20-points-plus per game (four), but fails to cite the Big South's preference for up-and-down games as a possible reason.


Consider this a game of Can-You-Top-This, but on Opposite Day. Coastal's Jack Leasure starts the bidding with a 1-of-11 three-point shooting night. Charleston answers with leading scorer Trent Draft's zero FGs and 4 points in 31 minutes. Coastal says "Oh yeah? 25 total rebounds and a minus-12 rebounding margin!" But Charleston finally goes over the top with 18 turnovers to CCU's 7 and wins/loses. The Fakecocks manage to get the W despite shooting 18 percent from outside (4-22) and 37 percent overall.

There are some bright points here: Chris Moore continued to carry the Othern Southern in Big South play, scoring 20 points (though it took him 20 shots to do so) and grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds (why is a 6-1 guard leading the team in boards?); Leasure went inside when he couldn't get his outside shot to fall and went 6-of-7 on 2's to still finish with 17.

But if Charleston doesn't the handle the ball better (26.4 percent TO rate) and if Coastal doesn't find some rebounds somewhere, neither team will offer much of a threat to the powers-that-be.

ALSO: So how bad are things in the frontcourt at Coastal? They're starting a 6-4 true freshman string bean at the 4... and he led them in boards Thursday with 6.


Yawn. Interesting only in that the Flames may have stumbled across the best way to keep the Winthrop offense under 70: find a way to make James Shuler a late scratch, and then come across as so completely unthreatening Marshall empties his bench early and often. You know it's a snoozer when the official Winthrop recap cites a series of plays that extended a completely safe second-half lead from 12 to 20 as the game's pivotal moment. When Venus pops up in tomorrow night's sky, expect the rest of the Big South to wish that Chris Gaynor's unusual 1:1 A:TO ratio (he had four of each) is the start of a long trend. Guys, just go ahead and crap in the other.

ALSO: James Shuler: World's Subtlest Smack Talker. Winthrop's unstoppable (except for surprise nightss off) small forward had this to say about putting team goals ahead of individual goals: "We have guys who could go for 37 or 40 a night ... and lose, but that's the sacrifice we make to win." it just coincidence, then, that the number of points Shuler picks out of thin air to equate with selfishness--37--is the exact same number MacRadford's Whit Holcomb-Faye scored against the Eagles in their loss last week? You tell me.

Three-for-all (BSC 75, VMI 53)

Call it a “contrast in styles,” a “contest of wills,” “irreconcilable differences,” or whatever you like, but when a team that plays at the nation’s second-fastest pace—the VMI Keydets--visits the team with the nation’s 320th-fastest pace—the Birmingham-Southern Panthers—only one team is going to end up playing in its “comfort zone.”

A 69-38 lead in the second half sounds pretty comfortable to you, doesn’t it?

That’s not only four straight wins for the Panthers, but four straight dominant performances. Yeah, they’ve come against four of the league’s five weaker teams and the last three have been at home. But when you haven’t trailed in the second half of any of those games, have held second-half leads of (in order) 22, 19, 17, and 31, you’re doing something very right. This team is playing—and I mean this as the highest compliment—the way BSC fans expected last year’s bunch to.

The JCCW caught the game via the new old-fashioned way of internet radio. Here’s your blow-by-blow recap:


--19-minute mark: Yes! Your head referee for tonight’s game: Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuce Benedict! Having the Braves’ catcher from my formative years on the whistle shouldn’t increase my faith in the officiating tenfold, but it does. Wonder if they’d let him wear zebra stripes the color of the Braves’ ‘80s road baby blues?
--17-minute mark: Differences of philosophy in action as BSC winds the shot clock under 5 seconds before a Viglianco three-point miss, followed by a VMI basket (by reigning Big south Player of the Week Reggie Williams) approximately .3 seconds later.
--16-minute mark: The Viglianco inside-outside pendulum appears to have swung back towards the three-point arc. He starts 0-3 from the field, all of them from outside. Just keep reminding yourself Thomas, I’m 6-9, I’m 6-9, I’m 6-9…
--13-minute mark: Back-to-back threes by Collins and Ruffin break open up a 15-9 BSC lead. 12 of those points are off threes. It’s all about the eFG, baby.
--BSC radio man Kevin Henslee gives us the Duke-N.C. State score, and I wonder exactly how many hoops fans with the option of watching that game with Dickie V have instead chosen BSC-VMI with Kevin. Probably two or three at the most, and I can’t decide if that makes me hopelessly cool or just a little on the pathetic side.
--7-minute mark: McMillan drains yet another three to put BSC up 26-20. Kevin has used the phrase “The clock goes under…” to indicate a dwindling shot clock half-a-dozen times on BSC’s end. By contrast, he’s had trouble a couple of times even finishing his call of the last play by the time VMI’s possession is over. I keep expecting him to say, “Checking in for VMI, Bo Kimble…”
--5-minute mark: Dear God, Horton just hit his third three of the half just after Paul (!) drained his first try from outside (Kevin lets us know that Paul’s shooting less than 30 percent from out there, which tells you what kind of shooting night BSC is having). Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if BSC had even hit a two-point FG at this point. 32-22 Panthers.
--3-minute mark: The first-half in microcosm: Horton hits from downtown again (he’s got 12 points already) and before poor Kevin can even look up from his stat sheet VMI’s Travis Holmes finds Matt Murrer underneath for lay-up. The Keydets have had plenty of great looks and are shooting well, but when your baskets count for two points and your opponents count for three, 36-28 deficits are going to happen. Plus…
--1-minute mark:…Powe is abusing them on the offensive glass. He gets a tip-in off a Paul miss before Paul scores the last basket of the half by putting back his own miss. The Masters P wrap up the half by scoring BSC’s last three baskets and the Panthers lead at the break by 12, 42-30.
The Keydets’ rebounding is Exhibit A why you can’t always trust standard “per-game” stats: they lead the Big South in rebounds-per, but based on the evidence of the first half, it’s purely from jacking up more shots to chase down.
BSC’s first-half shooting stats, as expected, show the kind of long-distance commitment usually reserved for AT&T. 24 of their 31 FG attempts were threes (they hit 10) and they went nearly 14 minutes (from 15:20 to 1:32) without a two-point basket.


--16-minute mark: More of the same as BSC’s first three baskets are two lay-ups off of offensive rebounds and a Collins three. It’s now 51-34, and as comebacks start on the defensive end—where VMI has played the kind of intensity that should earn them a sponsorship from C-Span—I suspect this game is over.
--14-minute mark: Suspicions confirmed. Ehirim has a rejection-ferocious dunk (“He rocked the rim on that one!” Kevin yells)-rejection sequence followed by…wait for it…trust me, it’s a hell of a shock…a three-pointer, this one from Collins to push the lead to 22, 56-34. Pack your bags, gentlemen.
--12-minute mark: BSC’s already entered their get-the-freshmen-minutes phase (marked by 6-7 frosh Kyle Rowland getting a little too inspired by that first-half display and hoisting a couple of ill-advised threes), but the lead grows anyway as the VMI offense, never exactly complicated, has regressed to pure, undiluted, YMCA-style jacking.
--8-minute mark: Josh Bailey sighting! Josh Bailey sighting! The senior Birmingham native and career 12th-man-off-the-bench hits two free throws, extending the lead to 31 and making it an official SACS-accredited Humiliation.
--Also 8-minute mark: VMI’s Matt Murrer hits a three. He’s gone 5-for-5 on the evening for 12 points while most of his teammates have spent the half trying unsuccessfully to throw the ball in the ocean. Here’s a tip for the VMI coaching staff: Before the next game, make sure Matt introduces himself to the rest of the team. Firm handshakes are important.
--2-minute mark: A layup for Bailey, giving him a career high. (Yes, it’s a career high of four points, but the first person to crack wise about it gets my foot up their ass, and there’s something about Kevin’s enthusiasm in relaying this information that suggests he feels the same way.)
--Game mercifully over, 75-53. In his post-game interview Reboul praises Powe’s glasswork and dishwork, and at Kevin’s urging gives Bailey some serious love. "It's unbelievable how hard Josh works in practice. In fact, he works so hard we're forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines to the Department of Labor, but it's worth it for Josh," Reboul says. (I'm paraphrasing.)


BSC: Right now, the single biggest thing separating BSC from the Big South’s lesser lights is how well the Panthers take care of the ball. Despite facing a team whose pace makes the term “frenetic” seem inadequate, BSC turned the ball over only eight times and posted a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio as a team. That’s damn, damn good. By contrast, the Keydets has the exact inverse ratio, turning the ball over 16 times to 8 assists … Line of the Night belongs to Sir Paul, who finished with 15 points on 7 of 13 shooting, 6 boards, 2 assists, a steal, and zero turnovers in 22 minutes. Did anyone besides Reboul know he was going to be this good? ... Will be interesting to see how many minutes LeCory Ruffin draws in the tight games that will eventually come. The freshman has loads of talent, but he’s in a slump, having shot 1-10 over his last two games. Last night he finished with three points in 21 minutes and had three of those eight BSC turnovers (to one assist) … Every player on the BSC roster got double-digit minutes and scored. Mmmmm, blowout. Tasty.

VMI: You see that Reggie Williams shot 6-12 for 15 points with 10 rebounds, and you’d think he had a solid game. But he played 34 minutes, put up some, uh, highly questionable shots when BSC was pulling away in the second half, and had 1 assist to 4 turnovers. The 6-9 sophomore is obviously a terrific player, but this wasn’t his best game, by a long shot … Coach Duggar Baucom clearly isn’t about to let the Keydets become a halfcourt team, but VMI has to be more team-oriented on offense. None of the five starters registered more than one assist and the team-high was two … Turns out “Duggar” is pronounced “doo-ger” (at least according to Kevin) and that the VMI coach has missed a few games (last night’s included) recovering from surgery. (The Keydets were headed up by an assistant.) Get well soon, coach. What conference doesn’t need a “Duggar” roaming the sidelines?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Clue: Big South Detective

Last night in the Big South, Winthrop continued to prove that any conference loss will be an upset just a notch short of Chaminade-Virginia, and Coastal predictably got their first Big South win at home over a UNC-Asheville team in the kind of freefall usually associated with science classes, open windows, and oranges.

But it’s a good bet that 99 percent of current and potential JCCW readers—hell, 99 percent of the fans of the above mentioned teams—wouldn’t be able to put those results or any of my cutting-edge analysis (cough) in any kind of context. So Coastal Carolina beat UNC-Asheville … is that a surprise? Is it expected? Was that a battle for the cellar, a battle for the right to be Winthrop’s right-hand man, or a battle for the right to host a first-round game in the Big South tournament? And see, if you didn’t know that unlike most mid-major conferences--who reward good regular season play with a bag of Tootsie Rolls and a rubber finger puppet--the Big South plays its entire tourney at the homes of the higher-seeded teams, you wouldn’t even know that last possibility was a factor.

Fortunately, I got yer context right here. Think of the Big South as an enormous English manor. This manor is currently owned, lock, stock and barrel, by Lord Winthrop. No one else, as things currently stand, can even pretend to make a claim. (That's what happens when one team has arguably the best player in the league at all five starting positions.) And when the Big South tournament—the only party really worth attending at Big South manor--rolls around, it’s going to be Lord Winthrop handing out the invites and everybody else hoping to make it home with their dignity intact.

But what if the unthinkable happens? What if Lord Winthrop dons a funny nametag reading “Mr. Boddy,” the power goes out, and when the lights come back on the Master of the House is found with its NCAA Tournament hopes suddenly, shockingly dead? Why, you’d hear the screams from Rock Hill from here.

But who could have done such a dastardly/wonderful deed? Here’s the JCCW’s detective’s notebook on each team, with potential suspects listed from most to least suspicious of pulling off what would be, unquestionably, the biggest upset of Championship Week.

Plus I’ll just add my own silly Tuesday Morning Quarterback-style nicknames for each team, for easy future reference.

1. Colonel Mustard (Birmingham-Southern Panthers)

The Evidence: Of course I’m biased. But facts is facts: No team in the conference outside of Winthrop had a more impressive non-conference performance than BSC’s last-minute lead against an Alabama team that still had Chuck Davis. No team in the conference has started 3-0 in non-Winthrop games, winning all three by double-digits. And arguably no team is improving the way BSC is; since their season’s ugliest performance, a 79-70 loss to an awful Centenary team Dec. 17, the Panthers have won six of eight DI games with the losses coming at Bama and Winthrop. There’s also the kind of players you can read about here, playing a close-to-the-vest (read: annoying as hell) Princeton-style offense that gives them a puncher’s chance against nearly anyone, even Winthrop.
The Alibi: That style sure didn’t do much in the team’s first meeting (an 84-43 loss), did it? And BSC hasn’t played either of the two apparent contenders for this spot. The trumpets shouldn’t quite be sounded yet.
The JCCW Nickname: N/A

2. Miss Scarlet (Radford Highlanders)

The Evidence: High Point might finish above them in the rankings, but no team in the league has a one-two punch like Whit “Big-Points Batman” Holcomb-Faye (23.4 ppg) and Chris “Rebound Robin” Oliver (10.3 rpg)—lightning just waiting to be captured in the bottle of one tournament game. The pre-season book was that the Highlanders would have their kilts pulled to their ankles in the post, but only VMI rebounds the ball better and despite his gunner’s reputation Holcomb-Faye makes sure the ball’s spread around, too (a league-leading 4.7 assists a game). Plus, plaid’s in always in fashion.
The Alibi: Some of the above stats are inflated from a Billy Tubbs-quality pace. Guys like undersized junior F Reggie McIntyre (8.3 and 5.3 a game) are having good seasons, but they’re not about to make Radford anything close to “balanced” on offense. Oh yeah: they gave up 87 points to UNC-Asheville and lost at home.
The JCCW Nickname: MacRadford, capable of consuming the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.

3. Professor Plum (High Point Panthers)

The Evidence: The most impressive Big South non-conference victory that isn’t Winthrop beating Marquette? High Point’s 73-70 road victory over current SoCon leader Elon. (Come to think, that says something about what the rest of the league did outside of conference, doesn’t it?) Behind sophomore F Arizona “A.Z.” Reid, a potential future conference Player of the Year who’s leading the Panthers in both points (20.5 a game) and rebounds (8.6), the Panthers have also gotten off to the second-best non-Winthrop start in conference play (winning at VMI and dismantling CSU and Coastal at home). But that was after …
The Alibi: …losing to the just-this-side-of-terrible Flyin’ Falwells. High Point has only one senior, too—not exactly the full tablespoon of experience the recipe for storming Winthrop’s gym in the postseason calls for.
The JCCW Nickname: As there’s only one set of real, USDA-approved Panthers in the conference, these are I Can’t Believe They’re Not Panthers!

4. Miss Peacock (UNC-Asheville Bulldogs)

The Evidence: So the Bulldogs are 1-4 in conference and 3-12 overall. So Winthrop already beat them like pack animals once. They still returned everybody up to and including the waterboys from last year’s team; they always peak late in the year; and Eddie Biedenbach has shown before his ability to coach the Bulldogs to a surprise tournament run. Plus, in 6-9 Joe Barber, 6-8 Chad Mohn, and 6-10 Brent Warner, UNCA actually has the kind of size that could conceivably bug the Eagles. Senior G Omar Collington has shown an intriguing ability to explode on any given night, too, after going for a combined 50 in back-to-back games vs. Radford and BSC.
The Alibi: 1-4 in conference is still 1-4 in conference. At some point it’s not underachieving any more; it’s just that the Bulldogs aren’t as good team as advertised pre-season. They certainly haven't been when it comes to getting stops--they rank dead last in the league in defensive efficiency.
The JCCW Nickname: You know, I think I’m sticking with the Misses Peacock.

5. Mr. Green (Coastal Carolina Chanticleers)

The Evidence: We’re leaving the land of reality now and getting to the suspects who, if they do in fact kill Lord Winthrop, may very well bring about at least some form of lesser Apocalypse. The Chanticleers do have the talent to give Famine a ring: they have the reigning Big South Player of the Year in senior guard Pele Paelay. They have the reigning Big South Freshman of the Year in sharpshooter Jack Leasure. They have former white-hot coaching commodity Buzz Peterson.
The Alibi: They don’t appear yet to have anything else. And given how both Paelay and Leasure were more explosive last year and Peterson’s career seemed to peak around the same time as the Baha Men’s, they may not even have them.
The JCCW Nickname: the Fakecocks.

6. The More Appropriate Colonel Mustard (VMI Keydets)

The Evidence: Well, picking up only one fewer conference victory in four games as they did in all of 2005 is a plus, right? Soph. F Reggie Williams is developing beast-like qualities, 6-7 Matt Murrer shoots better than 50 percent from outside while still picking up 7.8 boards a game, and their first-year coach is named “Duggar.”
The Alibi: They’re VMI. I reserve the right to take them seriously when they break through that four-win ceiling. Plus, the Red Bull chugging contests before each game might boost how fast the Keydets get to and from the offensive end--they play at the country's third-fastest pace--but it's not helping them once they get there (a pedestrian sixth in the league in offensive efficiency).
The JCCW Nickname: The Colonels Mustard works well enough for now.

7. Dr. Navy* (Charleston Southern Buccaneers)

The Evidence: Well, soph. G Chris Moore has been a house afire in conference play, and the Bucs knocked off the College of Charleston and the Citadel to win the City Championship of a very, very cool city. Terrell Brown is a steady senior hand on the perimeter that averages 4.4 assists a game.
The Alibi: Still the same program whose coach was able to parlay the Bucs’ surprise run to the 2005 Big South title game into … an assistant’s position at Army (team motto: “Sir, we’re almost good enough for the SWAC, Sir!”). I have seen them in person, and they have the kind of presence in the post that logical, balanced argument has on talk radio.
The JCCW Nickname: The Othern Southern.
*Yes, I made this up.

8. Mrs. White* (Liberty Flames)

The Evidence: Poor Larry Blair--probably the conference’s best guard--could always drop 60 on Winthrop, hope the rest of his teammates got together for 20, get a terrible shooting night from the Eagles, and Liberty might still lose by 10.
The Alibi: Take your pick: the 321 RPI, the 13-point loss to Longwood, the 16-point loss to VMI. Whether this team beating Winthrop at Winthrop in the conference tournament would be more or less surprising than Falwell coming out of the closet and throwing his support behind the Democratic Party, I don’t know. But hey, you never, ever know...
The JCCW Nickname: The Flyin’ Falwells.
*You know, white like you’ve been cleansed by holy flame, and stuff.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Saturday in the Big South

Remember when I blamed some anonymous fan for Birmingham-Southern's downturn in the second half of their harder-than-it-had-to-be win over Charleston Southern? (And if you're a regular reader of this blog and you don't...well, God bless you, but you need your memory checked by a professional. It was only four days ago).

Anyway, it's possible...not likely, now, just possible...I might have been a bit quick to assign blame.

Because BSC's modus operandi when playing overmatched Big South opponents at home, for several seasons now, has been to take huge leads before deciding to give the fans their money's worth by relinquishing the bulk of it. That was the case yet again Saturday against Coastal Carolina, as the Panthers led 60-43 with 10 minutes left and only 62-57 six minutes later, before pulling away for a 77-64 win. I'd make a crack about it not being good for coach Reboul's heart, but then again by now it's probably adapted some sort of candy-coated anti-thrilling-comeback shell.

Despite the Panthers' up-high-down-low-too-slow second-half routine with their opponents, consider the JCCW's previously shaken confidence back to, oh, 85 percent capacity. High Point and Radford are still to come, of course, but being 3-1 in the Big South with the only loss at Winthrop and all three victories coming by double-digits ain't shabby. Every other team in the conference besides BSC (Lord Winthrop excepted, of course) already has at least one questionable loss.


BSC: Does Thomas Viglianco read the JCCW? Of course not--I don't think even the Google tentacles have found me yet--but a game after I called him out for taking 9 threes to 1 two, he took 7 shots from inside the arc and only 3 outside. Result? 16 points despite not hitting a triple and a big uptick in rebounds and free throws taken. Que bueno! ... James Collins abused the Fakecocks' allegedly super-duper backcourt, going for 21 on 5 of 10 three-point shooting and tossing in 2 assists, 2 steals, and block without a turnover in 34 minutes. Five bucks says BSC doesn't lose a game this season when Collins scores 20 ... If you want to know why Collins is the straw that stirs the Panthers' drink, check the three-point shooting from Saturday outside of Collins and Dwayne Paul's 1 of 1: Viglianco 0-3, McMillan 0-3, Horton 0-3, Ruffin 0-5 (!). Glad to get that kind of fluky day out of the system at home against a struggling opponent, though Ruffin will want to do better if he wants to keep seeing 15-plus minutes against better teams ... Paul played only 18 minutes thanks to foul problems, but still had 11 points and 7 boards. Ifi Ehirim only played 17 minutes thanks to being a freshman, but still had 8 points (on 4-5 shooting) and 6 boards. Nice.

Coastal: Jack Leasure and Pete Paelay combined for 11 points on 5-18 shooting, including an oh-fer from downtown for Leasure, in 67 combined minutes. Kudos to the BSC defense, but if Coastal doesn't get three or four times that level of production when they return to the beach (CCU has yet to play a conference game at home), they'll finish bottom of the league ... By my count, Buzz Peterson became the second-most recognizable coach the work the opposite sidelines in Bill Battle since the move to DI, possibly ever, I guess. The first? Thad Matta, who brought Butler to BSC in 2000 before moving on to Ohio St. and putting together the King of All Recruiting Classes.

Elsewhere in the Big South...

Charleston Southern comes back from 10 down with 8:20 remaining to beat UNC-Asheville 70-68. The Bulldogs somehow contrived to lose despite out-rebounding CSU 41-25, and that "somehow" is 24 turnovers and sending the Othern-Southern to the line 28 times in the second half. It didn't help that starting forward Chad Mohn left after five minutes with an ankle injury. UNCA should still finish in the league's top half, but a 1-3 start will make things complicated.

Lord Winthrop let Whit Holcomb-Faye go off for 37 and gave up 75 total to Radford. They still won by 15. On the road. First Big South to lose to the Eagles by less than double-digits gets cookies!

Coastal now gets a buddy to pass notes to in Blown Out by the Keydets After-game Detention, thanks to the Flyin' Falwells 84-68 loss on the road at VMI. New Keydet head coach Duggar Baucom already has half as many Big South wins as Bart Bellairs had in 2004 and is within one of Bellairs' record in 2005. You can blame the surge on weaker Big South competition, or credit it to the development of sophomore forward Reggie Williams (who went for 30 and 12 in the Liberty win), but I think it's only the natural improvement you get when you hire a coach named "Duggar."

Auburn's sked cred

Friday's B'ham News reported that AU football is looking to move their 2006 LSU home game from Oct. 21 to Sept. 16. The principal reason being, that Tulane scheduled LSU and Auburn for the same day. Yep. 12 games, and they still couldn't manage to keep them straight.


If the move happens--and seeing as how both AD's think it's the best idea since peanut butter was introduced to jelly, I bet it does--that would give Auburn the following schedule:

Sept. 2 Washington State
Sept. 9 @ Mississippi State
Sept. 16 LSU
Sept. 23 Temple
Sept. 30 @ South Carolina
Oct. 7 Arkansas
Oct. 14 Florida
Oct. 21 Tulane
Oct. 28 @ Ole Miss
Nov. 4 Arkansas State
Nov. 11 Georgia
Nov. 18 @ Alabama

Cool things about that sked: 1. A non-conference opponent with a reputable name that will ward off "cupcake" cries from the national media, while at the same time not actually threatening at all to win. 2. No unsightly I-AA teams, but still the absolute closest thing available in Temple. 3. LSU earlier in the season, when we do better against them (check the Advocate article again if you didn't read it through...and it doesn't even go back to the Bowden days, when the same truism applied in early-season upsets in the 1993 undefeated season and the 1997 SEC West title season) 4. The three toughest games on the entire schedule--LSU, Florida, and UGA--are ALL at home (not that that necessarily means anything in Georgia's case).

The biggest drawback (as pointed out by NOLA-based pal Marcus elsewhere on the Internets) is that there are no true open dates on the schedule. It's 12 games in 12 weeks. But the Reasonable Substitute for an Open Date games (Temple, Tulane, Ark. St.) are nicely spread out. The way I look at it, there's three mini-seasons: the Wash St.-Miss. St.-LSU season, the SC-Ark.-UF season, and the UGA-Bama season. Think of it in Super Mario terms: Worlds 1-1, 1-2, and 1-3, bonus level, followed by Worlds 2-1, 2-2, and 2-3, then a special three-part super-easy "bonus" World, and then the final deathtrap castle of 3-1, 3-2, and Bowser in the SEC title game. (And if Auburn actually gets through all of that unscathed, it turns out--surprise!--there's actually one more unseen level to go before you can win the national, rescue the Princess).

All in all, I'd approve. Here's to hoping things work out.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Big South linkage

It's Big South week for ESPN mid-major traveloguist Kyle Whelliston. Any plebian who wishes to read his account of watching the Flyin' Falwells take on High Point alongside the head Flyin' Falwell can, but only Insiders get his take on Buzz Peterson's Coastal Carolina taking on High Point, and Winthrop's bludgeoning of UNC-Asheville.

If you're not an Insider, I'll sum up the points of each article for you: 1. The Big South is an up-tempo-but-chaotic-not-up-tempo-in-the-good-Bruce-Pearl-way league. ("Watching a Big South Conference contest is like pouring a huge bagful of sugar down your throat, then chasing it with a two-liter bottle of Jolt...but the Big South usually is much more crash than sugar high," he writes.) 2. Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall ain't going anywhere.

In response to article #1, I would say that since Whelliston's own site often refers to Birmingham-Southern's pace as "Excruciating" and that UNC-Asheville traditionally takes its sweet Carolina time getting up the court, I'd say he's being a bit too generalizing. Then again, even the BSC-UNCA game was 80-66 and High Point did beat VMI 100-90 just last night. So maybe he's got a point.

In response to article #2, I would say "Oh crap."

Speaking of Winthrop, stathead Ken Pomeroy lubs him some Eagles, saying they should be ranked instead of Louisville. He also repeats that they shouldn't lose a Big South game, which irks me, but which I also have no convincing argument against.

Yet another Winthrop note: Joe Lunardi seems to think the Eagles are a 14 seed, which seems awfully low for a team that has a 52 RPI, a road win over Marquette, and whose "worst" loss RPI-wise was on the road to an SEC team (Alabama). I don't agree with a lot of this guy's bracket (Iona's in?), but I think he's got Winthrop where they belong. (Also, his site's excellent even if he did make a mistake in picking the "Wacked-out Green" blogger template.)

Interesting link here, where a writer for the Myrtle Beach answers various Coastal Carolina questions submitted by readers. He says Buzzball can't just live off the buzz forever, but more interestingly he tells some jerk who think the Fakecocks are "dominating" the Big South (despite the fact that football is a toss-up, men's hoops is owned by Winthrop, and women's hoops is owned by Liberty) that a move to the SoCon will happen eventually. Uh-huh. Guys, I don't think your britches are that tight yet.

The bus has been warm since they got here (BSC 73, CSU 61)

Karmic retribution: there's asking for it, there's begging for it, there's sending it an engraved invitation with a pre-stamped RSVP envelope, and then there's what one Birmingham-Southern fan did in the 73-61 BSC win over Charleston Southern the JCCW witnessed Wednesday night.
The Panthers led 45-25 at the break, thanks to both a fine offensive performance and Charleston Southern kindly playing Jack-a-Three all half. The game was over, done, more finished than Maurice Clarett's career.
But in the third row of the "Panther Pit," the student-fan-friendly seating section behind one basket, one misguided BSC fan starting jangling his keys at the visitors … LESS THAN TEN SECONDS INTO THE SECOND HALF.
Look, I'm a fan of the "Warm up the bus!" key jangle. It takes me back to rooting for BSC as a student. As both simultaneous celebration and taunt, it's efficient. A whole section of jangling keys also has a seriously interesting visual surreality to it—like a crowd demanding a gladiator’s death on one of those Like Earth, But Weird planets from Star Trek.
Still--the key jangle is for use only at the end of a close game your home team has sealed up. It is not for use (I swear I have seen this) when you are the road team, and the bus you are asking to be warmed up is technically your own. It is not for use at any time during a blowout—in these cases (as it was Wednesday) the bus never stopped being warm. And it for damn sure isn’t for use when there’s still an entire half to be played.
I mean, it doesn’t really give the basketball gods any choice, does it? Of course 'Southern starts missing free throws (12 of 21 despite shooting 68 percent on the year as a team) and of course Charleston starts hitting threes and of course BSC starts trying to thread passes into spaces they couldn’t have dished a tennis ball into. Result? CSU pulled within eight, 65-57, with six minutes to play.
Fortunately, even karma can only do so much sometimes. Especially when one team shoots better, rebounds better, assists better … yeah, just is better.
And maybe next time, Mr. Premature Ejangleation knows better.

--Ed Horton. Horton finished with BSC’s Line of the Night: 12 points on 4 of 6 shooting, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals in 30 minutes. Picked his shots well and was all over the boards. More nights like this and I’ll rescind my assumption that Collins should be playing some of his minutes.
--45 points in the first half. Sure, the Bucs’ D had more holes than Independence Day’s plot. 45 points in a half is 45 points.
--BSC’s possession with 18:00 left in the second half. Inbound to Viglianco in the right corner. Three sharp passes around the perimeter (passing up decent shots), McMillan to Paul to Horton. Paul immediately cuts to the basket and Horton finds him with a perfect lob for the layup. Pretty, pretty, pretty stuff.
--Powe and Paul’s Post Presence. The Masters P combined for 23 and 17 (Powe went for a double-double) and shut down the Bucs’ interior game.
--Ifeanyi Ehirim. My first look at the freshman from Toronto, who got a DNP in the Bama game. 2-2 FG 2-4 FT for 6 points, 3 boards, 1 steal all in only 11 minutes. Very aggressive around the basket and looked athletic as hell. I’ll gladly take four years of “Ifi,” thanks.

--Charleston Southern. Just completely out of joint on offense for the last 15 minutes of the first half and BSC’s slower second-half scoring pace was much more missed free throws and general farting around than good defense. With the exception of C Fernando Cain’s half-pulse, completely nonexistent post presence. For reasons only known to God and coach Barclay Radebaugh, CSU’s leading scorer Dwayne Jackson played all of four minutes. (The Bucs’ website is no help, and to boot whines about the team being “road weary” when they’ve played three games in the last 14 days. Please.)
--Thomas Viglianco. I shouldn’t be hard on him. He did lead the team in scoring, with 14. He does stretch opposing defense in ways few players at the Big South level can. For all I know (i.e. very, very little) he’s doing exactly what Reboul asks of him. But is the coaching staff really happy when they look at the box score and see that their 6-9 power forward had two rebounds, no blocks, and no steals in 32 minutes? Should our tallest player really shoot 9 of his 10 field goals from beyond the arc? I have to wonder.
--Bucky McMillan. I was going to apologize for neglecting to give him his props for his wicked 2.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and of course vs. Charleston he records one assist and two turnovers in 31 minutes. It’s a total fluke, but still.
--CSU’s freshman 6-9 “power” forward Giedrius Knysas, from Lithuania. I have never seen anyone look so miserable while playing NCAA Division I basketball. He looked as if he had once been having a fine time on the shore of the Baltic Sea until someone gagged him and threw him in the cargo hold of an old Russian steamer, and when he woke up he was wearing a basketball uniform and being screamed at to box out. I kept wanting to yell, “Giedrius! You don’t have to play basketball if you don’t want to! This is America!”

--My usual mode of encouragement is to yell “Let’s go, ‘Southern!” followed by a series of handclaps. But is this the same thing Charleston Southern fans yell? I mean, Lord knows no one at BSC games yells “C’mon, Birmingham!,” so is calling them “Charleston” for short a misnomer? Bottom line is, next time, I want to be sure I’m rooting for my team and my team alone.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

The gripes get Lowder

ESPN throws up a front-page story naming Bobby Lowder the most powerful booster in college sports and essentially places blame for the SACS probation fiasco at his feet.

To be honest, not much of this is going to be new news to Auburn fans. It was Lowder who threw Terry Bowden under the bus? What a shock! Lowder exerts massive influence over the other trustees on the board? I can't believe it!

But it was nice for some of these things--most notably, for my money, an Auburn trustee being directly responsible for dumping manure all over the school's academic good name and, instead of resigning, fighting tooth-and-nail to keep his position--to be in-state news and rumor than national headlines.

Thanks, Bobby, you jackass.

(Fun fact: Cliff Williams, the Opelika-Auburn News photographer who took some of the photos accompanying the story, graduated from the same high school I did.)

And while I'm here, two more Auburn links to toss at ya: First, Auburn's Kiddie Corps basketball team (eight members of Lebo's nine-man rotation are freshmen or sophomores) lost at home to a Bama team that is, first, not very good, and was also playing their first game without Chuck Davis. I was expecting to have to wait a year for another AU tournament berth, and as it turns out, we're going to have to wait another year for another men's tournament berth.

Also, to no one's surprise, Marcus McNeill is a consensus All-American. Years from now--or hell, right now--when people remember the 2004 team they'll talk about Cadillac and Campbell and Brown on offense and Rogers and the ends on defense. But McNeill was just about as big a part of that offense as anyone, and if you were going to single out any one person besides Al Borges responsible for the 22-3 two-year span, it's him. Thanks, Marcus. You're not a jackass.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Don't Look Back in Anger...well, some anger's normal

I know Auburn fans aren’t really anxious to relive the Capital One Bowl meltdown against Wisconsin. (I also know that’s like saying Charger fans aren’t exactly watching daily game tape of that Super Bowl they lost to the Niners by 800 points, or that Coke exexcutives aren't entirely thrilled when their relatives bring up "New Coke," or that Southern Civil War enthusiasts aren’t itching to re-enact…wait, scratch that last one.)

But before you can look to the future you have to memorize the past, or some junk like that, and besides, a performance this historically, legendarily bad deserves to be remembered, right? Anyways, here’s the JCCW’s blow-by-blow recap of this year’s Hangover One Bowl broadcast:


ABC’s John Saunders: Hi, I’m John Saunders, and welcome to Barry Alvarez Barry Alvarez! Today’s matchup pits Barry Alvarez Barry Alvarez Barry Alvarez. Craig, Barry Alvarez?
Craig James: That’s right John, Barry Alvarez Barry Alvarez Barry Alvarez. The question is, Barrry Barry, but Barry Alvarez Alvarez Barry Alvarez?
Random McRandom, Ex-Lineman: Man, I tell you what Craig, Barry Alvarez! I mean, Barry Alvarez Barry Alvarez!


--Brandon Cox throws an interception on the game’s second play from scrimmage. If this game was a novel, that’s what we’d call “foreshadowing.”
--On Auburn’s next drive, Kenny Irons rushes for 11 yards and first-down, prompting this exchange between Ron Franklin and Bob Davie (I’m paraphrasing):
Franklin: I’ve seen Kenny Irons several times this year, and let me tell you he is something special. He’s the sort of running back that either make you miss or run over you, the type of back whose children you hope your daughters are fortunate enough to bear.
Davie: That’s right, Ron. They’ve had some great backs down there on the Plains, but by the time Kenny Irons finishes his Auburn career I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s brought about peace in the Middle East.

Irons fumbles the ball away on the very next play, of course. Isn’t it Irons-ic. Don’t you think?
--Wisconsin kindly refuses to score following either turnover, showing that either they got confused about which week was Christmas and which was New Year’s, or that they had already sensed how easy things were going to be for them and were pre-emptively declining to run up the score. I’m going with the latter.
--After Badger receiver Brand Williams takes a screen 30 yard to paydirt, making several Tigers look like they showed up for the game wearing their special New Balance “5-2-40 Tortoise Xtreme” cleats, Devin Aromashodu fields the kickoff a yard deep in the end zone. He then proceeds to do a Fred Astaire-quality tap dance on the goalline before returning it to the 9. Typical senior mistake, I guess.
--Wisky then “drives” (i.e. Brian Calhoun races 60 yards) to the Auburn 3. But the Auburn D rises up and stops Calhoun on three straight rushes to force a field goal. If this game was a novel, we’d call this a “red herring.”


--Auburn’s sequence of plays beginning on first-and-10 on their own 44: ugly-ass failed screen for 10-yard sack, delay of game, dropped pass by Anthony Mix, incompletion, punt. Tiger fans wonder if the real Brandon Cox is tied up in a closet somewhere while evil criminal mastermind Gabe Gross plays in disguise.
--12-play, 86-yard touchdown drive for Wisconsin. Yawn. Badger players contact bowl coordinators, ask if game difficulty setting can be bumped from “Varsity” to “All-American.”
--After an Auburn punt, ABC puts up the “Total Yards” graphic, which reads in the neighborhood of Wisconsin 627, Auburn 3.
--After having his helmet sneakily ripped off his head by a Badger lineman, Auburn tackle Troy Reddick makes the classic high-IQ move of throwing a punch at the helmeted Badger in full view of the officials. This action, while swift and decisive, fails to accomplish any of the following: 1) Causing the Badger player even the slightest physical discomfort 2) Giving Reddick anything resembling adequate retaliation 3) Help for his team. It does, however, accomplish all of the following: 1) Penalizing his team 15 yards, ending any hope of scoring before the half 2) Allowing the Badger to cackle evilly under his breath 3) Giving his fingers an excellent chance to break in irony 4) His ejection from the game. Oh well. Just another senior mistake. He’ll learn.


Sideline reporter extraordinaire Holly Rowe: Coach Tuberville, your team played like a bunch of drunken zombies out there in the first half. What are you going to do to get things turned around?
Tuberville: Um…hair of the dog?


--Stanley McClover and Stanley McClover’s dreads decide that if he’s going to go pro after the game, they’d better make at least one highlight, so ESPN can have something to play as Mel Kiper reads off his scouting report on draft day. Sack, fumble, Auburn recovers.
--Cox throws incomplete on third-and-goal, bringing his totals for the game so far to 1-47, 2 yards, 1 pick, 0 TD. John Vaughn then somehow inexplicably misses the area outside the uprights and can only watch helplessly as the ball sails between them instead. 17-3.
--After the Wisconsin kicker politely shows Vaughn how a miss is properly done, Auburn drives to the Wisconsin 40. In a brief “moment of clarity,” Cox hits Anthony Mix square in the hands on third-and-four. Mix, as the kids say, drops it like it’s hot. What can you do? It’s just another senior mistake.
--With time now obviously of the essence, Al Borges bumps his two-season streak of successful-play-calls-on fourth-and-long-with-all-hope-of-winning-on-the-line to something like 12 in a row. Cox hits Obamanu for 13 yards on fourth-and-10 from the Wisky 19.
--As the clock winds down, Auburn players hold four fingers in the air, the famous method of closing the third quarter by showing how many passes their quarterback has completed thus far.


--Now it’s fourth-and-goal from the Wisconsin 9, and Cox lofts a ball towards Courtney Taylor in the end zone. Taylor, suitably impressed with the back-alley mugging a Wisconsin receiver got away with earlier in the half, punches his defender repeatedly in the kidneys before eye-gouging him Three Stooges-style as the ball is on its way. Thus unmolested, he makes the touchdown grab and ignores the Wisconsin fans screaming at the ref, who was three feet away and had the appearance of watching closely. He explains later that he kind of drifted in and out of the game after the Badgers went up 17, and he was probably busy balancing his checkbook in his head, or something. 17-10 with 14:49 to play, and Auburn fans feel a growing sense of excitement.
--Matt Clark ends the sense of excitement precisely eight seconds later by sending the ensuing kickoff directly out of bounds. Wisconsin adds him to the ever-growing list of Auburn players they have to write thank-you notes to afterward. (“Dear Matt: Thank you so much for the out-of-bounds kickoff. We always enjoy starting on the 35-yard line! How did you know? We promise we’ll put your gift to good use. Hope you had a happy New Year’s and say hello to Kody for us! Love, the Badgers.”)
--Five plays and 12 seconds or so later, it’s 24-10. Well, that was fun. The touchdown comes on a 33-yard run by Calhoun during which safety Eric Brock, despite being close enough to Calhoun to hand him a notepad and ask for an autograph, appears more likely to sprout wings and fly away in shame than make the tackle. This prompts the following exchange, paraphrased, from Franklin and Davie:

Franklin: That’s just not a good effort there from Eric Brock. Somewhere, you have to hope his parents are watching and are appropriately ashamed of him.
Davie: That’s right Ron. Brock just hasn’t had a good day out there today. I think when the Auburn coaches go back and look at this film, they’ll agree that Eric Brock is responsible for all the crop failures and civil war in Africa right now.

(This is still kinder than the words the color guy for the Florida-Iowa game over on ESPN has for the Outback Bowl officials, which run along the lines of putting up stakes, cutting some lengths of good rope, and gathering fuel.)

--Auburn drives to the Wisky 33, and then the following sequence of plays happen: false start, sack, incompletion, incompletion. Somewhere, an Auburn diehard turns to a skeptical friend in a bar and says “I swear! 500-plus total yards against Georgia! Yes, the same team, same players, everything! Well, I guess it’s possible it’s Gabe Gross in disguise…”
--Bliss punts to the Wisky 1. On third down, Stocco drops back into his own end zone and is met by McClover and Antarrious Williams. McClover kicks him in the nuts repeatedly by while Williams puts him in a UFC-style “submission” hold, and still Stocco completes a 33-yard pass to Williams. The quarterback match-up couldn’t be more one-sided if Auburn had started “Air Bud.”
--Wisconsin drives to the Auburn 1 before kneeling the clock out, presumably motivated by the opportunity to show that they’re not only better, but classier. Those rotten classy bastards.
--Final score: 24-10.

Miserable as that experience was for Auburn fans, there’s a great big silver lining, one so huge you can wrap up in it and keep yourself warm all summer.

See, Auburn’s been down that road—the 1) play like the best team in the SEC down the stretch 2) win your bowl game over a quality Big 10 team 3) return almost everyone of importance road--once before with Tubby. That was 2002. 2003, as you’ll recall, started with Dontarrius Thomas and Karlos Dansby on the cover of ESPN the Mag and ended with the president of Auburn University resigning lest he get bricks through his window. Good times.

Auburn was already starting to get top-five-next-season talk in places, and a bowl win would have only made it worse. “Worse” is the right word here because never in my lifetime has Auburn had those kind of expectations and delivered. Not in ’84 or ’85 with Dye. Not in ’95 with Bowden. Not in ’03 with Tubbs. Forget allergies to pet dander and pollen—if there’s a Clarinex for hype, Auburn badly needs its prescription filled.

But, fortunately, the “Throw ‘em off the trail with the ugliest bowl performance since my toilet backed up” plan has worked like a charm. Neither Stewie Mandel or Pat Forde think the Tigers are pre-season top-10 material, and while Dennis Dodd sort of mucks things up, all three agree Auburn will enter next season as the third-best team in the conference. Just the way Tubby likes it.

Yeah, it sucks to watch Auburn play like dogs, and not even the kinds of dogs you’d want to see play (did I mention “Air Bud”?) but like a team of shih tzus and toy poodles. And yeah, it sucks to see your team undo the good bowl season work done by LSU and Florida (fortunately, Georgia turned around and took most of this heat for us). But this is Auburn we’re watching here. It’s all for the best.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Meet your 2005-06 Birmingham-Southern Panthers

If we were to make one of those mathematical-type series of comparisons showing the amount of consistency in the 2005-06 Birmingham-Southern Panthers, after this last week I think it’d have to go something like this: 16-year-old’s moods > zero-gravity yo-yos > happiness of LSU football fans with their head coach > weather > Birmingham-Southern Panthers.

To recap, Monday is their best performance of the season, Thursday is the most humiliating defeat for the program this decade, and Saturday is the (arguably) new best performance of the season. I’ve seen elevators that weren’t this up-and-down. *cymbal riff*

But if you’re a “casual” BSC fan (and let’s just say that if you’re a BSC fan at all, that’s unquestionably the direction the odds are tilting) or alum who stumbled here while trying to Google up the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, you probably think the Panthers are still starting, like, three dudes from Iceland and playing Lipscomb twice a year. Don’t worry--I’m here to get up you speed. Here’s what you’ll need to know, top-to-bottom, to keep up with BSC the rest of the season:


Same as it is for every mid-major every season: win the conference tournament and go to the Big Dance. Everything else is secondary.
But given that Winthrop is so completely head-and-shoulders over the rest of the league (BSC included, obviously)—stathead Ken Pomeroy says they should finish their Big South slate undefeated--I’m not going to gripe if BSC finishes second or third in the league, hosts a couple of Big South tournament games, and generally washes out the taste of…


In ’04-’05, BSC had a senior-laden squad that returned just about everyone from the previous season’s Big-South-regular-season-co-titlists, and had just about everyone who’s paid to predict Big South winners predicting BSC as your Big South winner. And all that in their first year of NCAA Tourney eligibility.
It didn’t come close to happening. The Panthers played some great games in their non-conference slate (scaring the pants off of Miss. St. and UMass, beating future tourney team UT-Chattanooga on their own floor in front of yours truly) but were already showing a worrying tendency to take some teams too lightly (a 12-point loss to DI newbie Texas Pan-American) and just never seemed to get the light turned on in conference play. They finished 7-9 in the Big South and went out in the tourney semis at Winthrop without too much of a bang.
For those of us who spent November and December trying to devise the best way to weasel out of work to go watch them become the first 16-seed to win an NCAA game, it was a bit of a blow.


In summing up BSC’s chances this season, every preview publication I got my hands on put the Panthers in the Big South’s fourth or fifth slot and said basically the same thing: “Hell if we know if all those new guys are any good. Let’s stick ‘em here in the middle where we won’t be too wrong either way.”
Which was probably the right approach to take. With seven seniors graduated and woulda-been junior forward and one-time recruiting coup Arnold Gore having apparently mysteriously disappeared (he’s not with the team, but neither the school’s website nor any other media venue has said a damn thing that I can find), I don’t think even coach Reboul knew what he had coming into the season.
“How soon we can mesh together the 10 new units and make it one with our five returning players is unknown,” he said in the BSC media guide, proving that only did he not know how well his new “units” would play, that that he didn’t even know for sure they were human beings yet.
So given the turnover, it’s hardly surprising that BSC a) is struggling with consistency b) is improving as the players jell. What might be surprising is how MUCH they’ve improved. Simply put, the team that began the year getting smoked by Central Connecticut St. and escaping Brown (RPI: 300) by a point shouldn’t have been able to wax a decent UNC-Asheville squad in their fifth road game in ten days.
Bottom line? That second- or third-place finish looks attainable from here.


Bear in mind: although I’ve studied every BSC box score religiously, the Panthers have played only one weekend home game thus far, and that was over Thanksgiving. So I’ve seen them in person once this season, at the Bama game. There are people out there who might be better qualified to assess the team’s play. But they don’t have blogs, and you’re stuck with me.
From what I’ve seen, this year’s BSC squad is different from past editions in that most of its scoring will come from the frontcourt rather than the backcourt. Gone are the days when BSC would get the ball into the post primarily for the sake of kicking it out and letting a Kristmannson or a Willie or a Sigurdarson launch a three; this year, the Panthers will need to have their center (Sredrick Powe) and power forwards (Thomas Viglianco, Dwayne Paul) attack the basket much more frequently. With pass-first-pass-second point Bucky McMillan and newcomer combo guard Ed Horton in the backcourt, the Panthers just can’t afford to sit back and rain threes as they have at times in the past.
And they’re not. Paul has been arguably the Panthers’ most aggressive player from day one and with Powe back to full health, they should put up plenty of points on Big South competition. They combined for 28 against both Bama and UNC-Asheville. Viglianco had nightmare games against Bama and Winthrop (see my last post), but remains the Panthers’ leading scorer and went for 15 Saturday.
The lack of a go-to shooter (off-guard James Collins should be that guy, but perhaps isn’t quite aggressive enough) also means that there is a greater onus on BSC’s Princeton-esque offense to score via the backdoor cut than with the kick-out. But the Panthers have pried the backdoor open--between those easy buckets and the good work done by the frontcourt, they outscored UNC-Asheville in the paint by a whopping 28-12 margin, and even nicked Bama in this stat, 24-22, despite being so much shorter than the Tide I was expecting the Lollipop Guild to show up waving black-and-gold pom-poms.
When the Panthers combine a good night shooting the three with their strength inside, they can put up a number of points—their offensive efficiency rating (73rd in the country) isn’t bad at all, and far outpaces their defensive rating (316th).
But of course, that defensive rating is butt-ugly. It’s the Panthers’ biggest problem; even Centenary, a team currently rated 313 in the RPI, scored 156 total points in their two meetings with the Panthers. The biggest defensive issue (from where I sit) is at the power forward spot, where Paul is undersized and Viglianco has never been an especially physical defender--a large part of the reason, I imagine, BSC plays a lot of zone--but BSC just needs better play on that end all the way around.
Other potential problems include depth (the BSC rotation essentially only goes six-deep), rebounding against larger teams, and the occasional cold three-point shooting night.


The Panthers’ six-man rotation consists of three frontcourt players and three backcourt players, all of whom get starter minutes even if Collins has been coming off the bench recently. Here’s a quick run-down of each:

#33, Thomas Viglianco, 6-9 Sr., PF: Viglianco is not only the team’s best scorer thanks to his ability to shoot from the outside as a 6-9 power forward, but he’s the team’s top rebounder as well thanks to his quickness on the block. As mentioned, though, he could be a better defender and has a Nowitzki-like tendency to sometimes settle for a jumper when he could work his way inside.

#40, Sredrick Powe, 6-7 Sr., C: Powe spent all of last season on the shelf with an elbow injury and it’s taken him a little bit of time to get up to speed. But he’s played very well recently, both scoring and dishing the ball.

#11, Dwayne Paul, 6-5, Jr., F/PF: The Charles Barkley-esque Paul has a pair of double-doubles already this season and is the team’s second-leading scorer and rebounder. As noted, even in the Big South he’ll be a bit small at the 4, but with his energy it won’t matter. Has also flashed some ability to hit the occasional three, which if he can do consistently would be huge for the offense.

#4, Bucky McMillan, 6-4, Jr., PG: McMillan runs the offense, doesn’t turn the ball over too often, and shoots the three well. But he’s not comfortable creating his own shot and although the offense doesn’t really call for it, could perhaps stand to penetrate the lane and dish a little more often.

#21, Ed Horton, 6-3, Jr., SG/PG: For a player who arrived at BSC with the reputation as a sharpshooter, Horton needs to bring his three-point percentage up--he’s hitting 28.9 percent, fourth-best on the team. But he’s also stayed aggressive on both ends and is clearly doing something right to have earned a starting job.

#10, James Collins, 6-2, Sr., SG: For my money, the key player on the BSC team. Collins is arguably the only Panther capable of creating his own shot, leads the team in three-point FG percentage, and is the team’s third-leading scorer despite coming off the bench. Collins has admittedly played better as sub and after hitting up UNC-Asheville for 18, is now averaging double-digits a game. But the senior is too experienced and too talented to only average 10.5 points a game and only take 6.8 shots a game. If the Panthers can get Collins more involved and keep him hot, they become the kind of team few Big South members will be able to defend.

The rest of the guys? Freshman guard Lecory Ruffin is the fourth guy in the backcourt and has earned the most minutes outside of the above six with athleticism and reasonable outside shooting. Twin 6-7 freshmen forwards Kyle Rowland and Ifeanyi Ehirim provide size off the bench. Ehirim has only shot the ball 22 times, but has hit 14 of those shots for the team’s second highest FG percentage (behind Powe).

So now you’re caught up. If you’re in the Birmingham area, put your newfound BSC knowledge to use Wednesday when BSC hosts Charleston Southern. More on Winthrop and the rest of the Big South coming soon.