Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Staying of the Guard (Big South Saturday)

No. Nope. Nuh-uh. Nah. Not really. Not so much. *shakes head*

Those are the answers. The question, of course, is the one every Big South fan has to be asking themselves after Winthrop spit the bit again at Coastal and BSC won their ninth straight at VMI to take over sole possession of first: Are the Panthers now the team to beat in the Big South?

There’s plenty of evidence to support such a claim. There are those beautiful, beautiful league standings. There’s the fact that while the Eagles have wheezed their way through their last five games, losing two and winning two others by the hair of their chinny-chin-chins, every single one of BSC’s league wins have been by double-digits, including the same two road trips that gave Winthrop so much trouble.

Most significantly, there’s Saturday: Winthrop didn’t just lose to Coastal, they were comprehensively beaten. They were out-rebounded, out-shot, out-defended, just plain outworked. The alleged best defensive team in the conference allowed their oppoents to shoot 49 percent and 43.5 percent from outside the arc, the latter a full eight points higher than their average and 18 points better than they managed against Liberty in their previous game. Ye gods.

Meanwhile, BSC did its BSC thing. Viglianco got in foul trouble and Paul didn’t have his best game, so instead Collins went for a career-high 25 while Powe (12 points, 13 rebounds, six assists) finished four dimes short of a triple-double. Facing the same team in the same gym that Winthrop repeatedly failed to put away, the Panthers seized the game by the throat with 12 minutes to play and never let go.

But for all of Winthrop’s failings and all of BSC’s successes, Winthrop’s two-season record against Big South teams that don’t wear teal remains 24-0. Their box scores might suggest the real Chris Gaynor, Craig Bradshaw, James Shuler, and Torrell Martin are tied up and gagged in a basement somewhere, but until Rock Hill P.D. reports otherwise those four players remain the most talented and dangerous foursome in the league. And most importantly, 84-43 remains 84-43.

If BSC takes down Radford on the road Monday and Coastal at the beach Feb. 18, then we’ll talk. But I’m not buying anyone else as the favorite to win the only Big South game that matters until a postseason scoreboard says they can’t.

BSC 74, VMI 59

Because last season put the kibosh on raised expectations for this BSC fan for the next, oh, 32 seasons or so, I keep looking for problems. I worry that the Panthers’ reliance on the 3 (their first eight field goals against VMI were from deep) will bite them in the ass West Virginia-style. They shoot free throws at the high school-esque figure of 67.5 percent, seventh-best in a conference not known for its precision, and went 8-of-14 yesterday. As much as I love Ehirim and Ruffin’s upside, they’re just not showing enough right now (1 point, 0 boards, 3 TOs for Ifi Saturday) for BSC to go further than a tenuous six-deep when it counts.

But that’s just my inner Oscar grumbling from inside the trash can of 2005. BSC went on the road and shot 44 percent from three; Collins, for my money still the player most critical to BSC’s chances, shot a ridiculous 6-of-12 from outside, 9-of-16 overall, and finished with 25; after the game he had described above, it’s safe to say Powe could not possibly be playing any better; and the once-quite-pregnable Panther defense is now the conference’s third-most efficient, thanks in large part to defensive rebounding performances like the one against VMI (who collected only 6 offensive boards, none by Reggie Williams). And of course, the bottom line is that BSC is 9-1 Big South and will have to suffer a China Syndrome-esque meltdown down the stretch to finish as anything less than the conference’s second seed.

So, yeah, I’m happy. Realizing that BSC would be in Joe Lunardi’s bracket Monday (for the first-time ever mid-season) was the best feeling I’ve had since the local grocery store put Totino’s Party Pizzas on sale for 89 cents a piece.

(As for VMI, Matt Murrer took only five shots, hitting four. The other four starters shot a combined 8-for-24. Please, Duggar Baucom, stop the madness.)

COASTAL 64, WINTHROP 50

There’s really not much to say about this game. Leasure and Paelay busted out their shooting slump “with authority,” as the kids say (9-of-17 from outside), Moses Sonko and Joseph Harris combined for 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting (!), and most unbelievably the Fakecocks owned the glass, 31 to 21.

Of all the items from the box score that will make Gregg Marshall gnash his teeth and rend his exquisite suits, it’s that last statistic that will gall him most. Harris is a 6-4 freshman and out-boarded Shuler, Bradshaw, and starting 5 Taj McCullough by himself, 8 to 7. After the, ahem, “questionable” performance against VMI, the Eagles talked the talk about ramping up their effort and hustle again. They walked the walk Saturday, but unfortunately that’s only a description of how they approached loose balls.

More bad news for Eagle fans: their offense looks more and more like the kind that will score points when Torrell Martin is hot (not literally, although Buzz Peterson is trying), and will not when he’s not. He shot 5-of-14 against the Fakecocks, with predictable results for the Winthrop offense.

Coastal is now alone in third in the conference, and if Leasure and Paelay keep shooting there won’t be much question that they deserve that spot, especially after…

CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 86, HIGH POINT 66; UNC-ASHEVILLE 64, RADFORD 57

..this scintillating display by Radhighford Point. Except by “scintillating” I mean “incompreshensible.” The High Point result nearly killed me. I’m not joking. I was eating a Totino’s Party Pizza (I told you they were on sale, right?) and watching UK-Florida last night, and when the score came across the ticker I made a grunt of shock that resulted in a nice-sized chunk of golden crispy crust lodging itself in my trachea.

If I’d died, I would have hoped my family would have sued the High Point defense, which miraculously allowed the Othern Southern to shoot 52 percent from the floor (48 percent from 3), put five (!) players in double-figures, and out-rebound the I Can’t Believe They’re Not Panthers! 34-26.

Interesting lineup decisions in this one, as CSU's Barclay Radebaugh started out-of-favor-back-in-favor guard Dwayne Jackson, who responded with 13 points on 4-of-8 shooting. HPU’s Bart Lundy benched league-leading shot-blocker Issa Konare, and the team responded by playing defense like it was something their mothers had nagged them about. At this point, you could forgive Easy AZ Reid for embarking on a locker-room tirade or two: he had 20-and-10. Like most freshmen, Troy Bowen giveth, and Troy Bowen taketh away (1-of-7, 2 points, 2 boards, 1 assist in 25 minutes).

But at least High Point has their brother-in-arms Saturday. Whit Holcomb-Faye continued his lights-still-bright-as-hell shooting (1-of-8 from 3), and this time he asked Dan Ross to join him (also 1-of-8 from 3). Chris Oliver did his usual yeoman’s work on the boards, pulling in 12, but also shot only 3-of-11.

UNC-Asheville also attended the brickfest (their 19-of-51 performance was only one percentage point better than Radford’s) but nabbed 16 offensive rebounds and took 15 more free throws than the Highlanders did. Chad Mohn’s ankle is apparently back to almost-normal: he had 18-and-10. Tip of the cap to the Bulldogs’ Omar Collington, too: the 6-1 guard had 10 boards, one more than Radford’s entire backcourt.

It’s now officially a scrum for those first-round tournament home games: Coastal’s 5-4, Radhighford Point’s 5-5, and both Charleston and UNCA are lurking at 4-6. So much for those A, B, and C divisions I listed a few posts back, but that’s why they pay me the big no bucks.

4 comments:

Jeremy said...

There's no team in the league playing as well as Birmingham-Southern right now...That season-ending game between WU and BSC should be very interesting...

Jerry Hinnen said...

I am trying desperately not to even think about the season finale, becase we could lose to Radford and High Point this very week and that would put an end to that "huge game" talk real, real quick. It's true that BSC is playing better than anyone else right now, but that could change as soon as tomorrow night.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad that you brought your site to our attention but being an HPU fan I find your comments less than amusing.We have a young team and our very best is 2 years away eventhough I think that next year will start the beginning of some exciting years for HPU and their fans.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Hmmm...the "locker-room tirade" line was a bit harsh, and I apologize. But aside from that I stand by my post. Young team or not, HPU played a terrible defensive game and even on the road they should at least stay close to a team like CSU.