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.

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