Friday, February 24, 2006

Previewing the big one

So let’s see, for BSC, Saturday night’s title clash with Winthrop is

a) Senior Night
b) Homecoming
c) A chance to earn first outright and fully eligible Big South championship
d) A chance to earn, at minimum, a guaranteed NIT bid
e) A chance to earn homecourt advantage for the Big South tourney
f) The last chance to thwart Dr. Nefarious’s insidious plot to torch the school with a satellite-based laser beam if the Panthers lose the Big South crown

OK, so that last one’s fake. But as the first several items on that list indicate, the stakes wouldn’t be too much higher if it wasn’t. This is without question the biggest game in Birmingham-Southern’s DI history and, you could argue, the biggest game in the program’s history (with the two NAIA title games the other contenders).

Not only that, but given that we’re talking sixty minutes deciding the league title, guaranteed NIT bid, and smoothest route to the NCAA bid, this could be the biggest Big South regular season game in qui-hi-hi-hite some time. I’m far too lazy to go back and check to see the last time two teams played with each other on the season’s final day for the right to claim the league championship … but it hasn’t since I’ve been paying attention and can’t have happened too often, period. The Big South’s schedule-makers are the luckiest people this side of Mr. Magoo.

So now that all the preliminaries are out of the way, who wins? Help me break it down one time:

Point guard: Chris Gaynor vs. Bucky McMillan. You could easily argue that these two are the best in the league and just as easily argue they’re the two biggest reasons these two teams are playing this game. Gaynor is more likely to make the killer pass that earns an easy bucket--despite an off-game here and there, he still leads the league in assists-to-turnover ratio at 2.68 (guess who’s second?)--while McMillan more often winds the clock on the BSC offense and lets it go. Gaynor is also probably a little bit better defender. But McMillan is also more likely to contribute in other ways, like rebounding or knocking down a big three. Two or three McMillan threes would go a long way towards loosening up the Winthrop D’s attention on the other four (ostensibly more “dangerous”) Panthers.
Slight edge: Winthrop.

Shooting guard: James Collins and sometimes Ed Horton vs. Torrell Martin. Collins is white-hot but it’s Martin that dropped 32 on what was, honestly, a solid defensive effort by Liberty last Monday in the losing cause. As BSC is, statistically, the league’s worst team at defending the 3 in conference play (yup…remember, the Panthers play a lot of zone), Martin should get a few good looks from outside. If he warms up, BSC will be in serious trouble: both the Radford (WHF) and Coastal (Leasure) losses occurred when an opposing sharpshooter got hot against the Panthers and was shut down too late. On the flip side, Collins is simply BSC’s best offensive player and will likely be a large, large part of the Winthrop D’s focus. BSC cannot win if Collins has an off-night. If, however, he a) finds open players b) takes advantage of the looks he gets, and finishes with 15, 16 or more points with a handful of assists, BSC should be in good shape in what will likely be a slow, mid-60s type of game. Horton has not been shooting well at all recently; I would expect Collins to sub in for him early and often.
Slight edge: Winthrop

“Small” forward: I use the quotation marks because neither of these guys--beastly James Shuler at 6-6 or Tall-mas Viglianco at 6-9--is small at all. Holy bloody crap could the Panthers use a big game out of Viglianco, who has, frankly, struggled in big games throughout this season (total points vs. Winthrop in their first meeting: Zero). But TV has been much, much better at home and if he gets hot from outside, his size makes his difficult to defend even for a guy like Shuler. Of course, whoever draws the assignment of Shuler (which may be Dwayne Paul) in the man-to-man will have their hands full as well. BSC has to keep Shuler out on the perimeter and hope he loses focus. Yes, he killed NIU from out there, but the most substantial thing all three Eagle losses have in common is that Shuler ended up simply not shooting the ball very much: 9 and 8 vs. Coastal, 5 vs. Liberty. Vs. High Point Thursday, he got inside at will (see below) and the result was 26 points. Winthrop will need Shuler to be the aggressive man among men he was in those games rather than the Invisible Man he was in the Liberty loss.
Slight edge (would be greater if Viglianco wasn’t at home): Winthrop

Power forward: Craig Bradshaw vs. Dwayne Paul. Bradshaw is Winthrop’s version of Viglianco: he’s way big (6-10), but he doesn’t always play like a way big guy. His recent 10-board game against Radford was his career high, and he gets a healthy percentage of his points on threes rather than bulling his way to the three-point line. Paul, on the other hand, is all of 6-5 and plays a few inches bigger. Given the way he’s risen to the occasion in previous big games (he and Powe were the best BSC players on the court vs. Bama, and he was the only player besides Collins to do much of anything on the road at Coastal) look for him to attack the basket—and be successful--despite Bradshaw and the Winthrop 5’s height advantage.
Slight edge: BSC

Center: Sredrick Powe vs. Phillip Williams and Taj McCullough. BSC’s biggest positional advantage. Marshall’s been fiddling with his starting center all season and has never gotten consistent production from the 5, while Powe has merely led the nation in FG percentage and through his defense, rebounding, and assist work has become the closest thing BSC has (in the JCCW’s humble opinion) to team MVP. Now, it’s not quite fair to compare offensive output since Winthrop asks its center to play defense first, rebound second, play defense third, and score … oh, about eighth. But Powe has the skills to put up double-digits if he plays aggressively regardless of his defender and defends just about as well as his Winthrop counterparts to boot.
Edge: BSC

Bench: Ed Horton, Ifi Ehirim vs. Michael Jenkins, Otis Daniels, et al. (Horton technically starts ahead of Collin but plays fewer minutes, though not much fewer…as I’ve written before, BSC essentially has six starters.) Horton and Jenkins are similar in some ways: neither shoots especially well, but both tend to take a pretty fair number of shots when they’re on the floor. In Horton’s case it’s not that big a deal, since guys like McMillan and Powe aren’t born-and-bred scorers anyway. Jenkins, on the other hand, sometimes seems to take shots away from the Eagles’ more talented players (he put up six in 11 minutes vs. Coastal in Conway, while Bradshaw and Shuler shot 8 and 7, respectively, in three times the minutes.) He’s explosive, as are the rest of the Winthrop subs, but BSC would still rather see those guys putting up shots than Shuler or Martin.
Slight edge: BSC.

Intangibles: Gee, ya think the homecoming sellout crowd will be into this one? Ya think the fact that BSC has been prepping for this one in Birmingham since Monday while Winthrop played Thursday night and still has to travel to the league’s most remote venue will be a plus for the Panthers? Bottom line is that Winthrop is 3-2 in their last five road games, and two of those wins--a three-point W over High Point and a five-point job over (hack, cough, sputter) VMI--aren’t exactly ones for the season-ending DVD.
Big edge: BSC.

Prediction: No question Winthrop has the better on-paper team. No question if the game is decided by the play at the 1,2, and 3, you have to expect Winthrop to pull it out. But there’s also no question the entire Big South season has been defined by Winthrop just not quite living up to expectations and BSC exceeding theirs … just like last season, in reverse. And with the game in Birmingham, and BSC having such an overwhelming advantage in preparation time, it says here it will be hard for that definition to change now.
BSC 67, Winthrop 63.

(And yes, of course I’m biased.)

THURSDAY ACTION

Winthrop warmed up for Saturday by beating down High Point 94-78. Shuler had the most bizarre single-game line since Ferdinand Cain’s 11-points-on-one-shot night for CSU, scoring 26 points despite only hitting four FGs, all of them 2’s. How? The same way Cain pulled his Bizarro night off: free throws galore. Shuler went 18-of-18 from the line. More than one Winthrop fan likely wishes he’d saved some of those for Saturday.

Marshall on the BSC game: “It's a one-game pre-tournament tournament.” Nicely put.

Also, Radford predictably ended VMI’s season to guarantee themselves no worse than fourth … but they won’t get third, since Coastal drilled Liberty on the road to the tune of 78-61, fulfilling their season-long commitment to make Winthrop look as bad as possible. Coastal has now won nine in a row, which means I should add “A chance to avoid playing the Fakecocks on a neutral court in the Big South semis” to that list that led off this post.


(p.s. My Hoopville.com editor sez he's been swamped and that my column will be up tonight, by which time it will only be "ridiculously" out-of-date as opposed to "pathetically" out-of-date.)

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

You obviously didn't see the woodshed beating WU put on BSC earlier. BSC won't get anything inside. Too even stay close, they'll have to hit tons of threes. WU by 17.

Stormy said...

Winthrop fans have a lot of attitude for a team that was beaten twice by a team that hasn't had a winning record in the last 12 years, or that just got bashed by crappy Liberty.

If I were Winthrop I'd be extra scared of BSC just because of the lopsided score of the earlier game.

Jeremy said...

"I’m far too lazy to go back and check to see the last time two teams played with each other on the season’s final day for the right to claim the league championship."

In the 2001-2002 season, UNC Asheville came to Rock Hill on the last day of the year, with the Bulldogs 10-3 (and in first place) and the Eagles 9-4. Winthrop won the game to sweep the season series over UNCA and get the #1 seed...However, Winthrop did need help that day as Radford (9-4 coming into that day) lost to Liberty and if they would've forced a 3-way tie, UNCA would've won the tiebreaker...So it isn't quite the same scenario, but it's the closest I found.

jeremy said...

"As BSC is, statistically, the league’s worst team at defending the 3 in conference play (yup…remember, the Panthers play a lot of zone), Martin should get a few good looks from outside. If he warms up, BSC will be in serious trouble: both the Radford (WHF) and Coastal (Leasure) losses occurred when an opposing sharpshooter got hot against the Panthers and was shut down too late. On the flip side, Collins is simply BSC’s best offensive player and will likely be a large, large part of the Winthrop D’s focus. BSC cannot win if Collins has an off-night."

I think that tells the story right there.

Anonymous said...

Great game. Your boys are good. I think it may have also come down to who has played in such a pressure packed game before. You've got one under your belt now and you can take it from there. Lots of respect for BSC. Reboul and Marshall are the class of the conference coaching wise.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Anonymous A: Hey, I SAID I was biased.

Jeremy: Thanks for the research...I figured the winner-take-all thing was pretty rare. I agree that Collins vs. Martin was pretty much BSC's biggest problem, among many.

Anonymous B: The pressure may have indeed had a lot to do with BSC's firsthalf shooting performance. Always hard to tell. Appreciate the respect.