Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bleah

[fan] AAAAAUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHH! SUCK! THAT SUCKED! DAMMIT TO HELL AND BACK! [/fan]

Well, Winthrop won.

I was there and I do, of course, have plenty to say about it and plenty of bad jokes to unleash. But turns out BSC's loss wasn't even the worst thing to happen to me this weekend: the JCCW has come down with the Crud. Yeah, I know, it's not exactly exhausting to type, but there's chills and I'm well aware there's enough typos on this site already.

For your reading pleasure:

Reboul rightly bemoans the injury to Paul and the foul trouble for Powe and Viglianco to the B'ham News, while the Herald curiously ignores those developments completely. Though the Herald's characterization that Winthrop was simply the substantially better team in the second half is spot-on.

Your box score. Stat of the game: BSC takes 11 more shots, and hits two fewer field goals. Yikes.

Back when I can breathe again.

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.)

Thursday, February 23, 2006

If Yoni Cohen can do it, so can I

New column should be up sometime tody at Hoopville.com. Breakdown of various implications of Thursday results in the Big South. Enjoy.

New material here Friday a.m.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Big (South's Big Upset) Monday

For once, you know, I just can’t lead with the BSC recap. The Panthers are super, thanks for asking. But somehow, with this post following the Big South’s biggest upset in recent memory, it just doesn’t feel professional …

LIBERTY 78, WINTHROP 71

You know, I already wrote something, sort of, about the possibility of this happening. Quoting my laughably misguided and error-filled Big South primer: “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.”

Now, I was writing about the Flyin’ Falwells winning at Winthrop in the crucible of the Big South tournament--not a home game two days after the Eagles got done surviving their Thrilla in Rock Hilla against NIU on BracketBusters Saturday. I would maintain that the former still falls somewhere around Date Movie winning Best Picture on the unlikeliness scale. But clearly, even if they do win the conference and advance to the NCAAs, Lord Winthrop is simply not the Big South team so many (yours truly obviously included) expected.

Which, in the JCCW’s take, was more evident Monday than in even the twin Eagles’ losses to Coastal. Whereas in those games there were grumbles about Winthrop’s dedication and effort, the consensus of Gary McCann’s take and the more sensible posts at winthropfans.com and flamefans.com isn’t that Winthrop wasn’t trying. They just got beat.

And emotional double-overtime game two days prior or not, cape-tights-and-chest-logo-worthy performance from Blair or not, that shouldn’t happen. There’s no particular reason James Shuler (1-5, 9 points) is so much more prone to Houdini acts than last season, but he is. No particular reason a team with the likes of Shuler, Bradshaw, and Williams/McCullough that owned the glass last season should led in rebounding by Martin and out-boarded by Liberty, but they were. No reason Chris Gaynor managed to collect one assist in his 26 minutes, but he did. It’s not explicable, but it is what it is: a team that is Big South championship-caliber but is not invincible or dominant or even, perhaps, the Tournament favorite. (Who is is now, I would say, up for debate amongst the three top teams.)

OK, that’s more than enough negative stuff for a game that featured: 1. an Iverson-vs.-Carter-esque duel between Larry Blair (Tuesday's MMBOD) and Torrell Martin, who combined to shoot 24-of-43 from the floor, score 69 points, and even grab 14 total rebounds while they were at it. Blair earned his 37-32 edge at the stripe, where he went 10-of-11; 2. A remarkably clutch performance at the free throw line by the callow remaining Flames, who hit 14-of-17 (the Eagles went 21-of-28); 3. the Flyin’ Falwells’ freshman tandem of Anthony Smith (17 points, 7 boards) and up-and-down Evan Risher (11 points, 4 assists, 2 TO’s) coming good at the perfect time; 4. Randy Dunton: “I told them we should go out here right now and rekindle the little kid in us that really wants to go to the NCAA tournament and play with that kind of passion. So, hey, Larry comes out and scores five points to start the half, and the party's on.”

Why the mention of the NCAAs? ‘Cuz barring a second result as eye-popping as this one, Liberty’s now a part of the Big South tournament. The way VMI is playing, somehow, I don’t quite think BSC, Coastal, or (especially) Winthrop is about to get teary-eyed with joy for them.

BSC 62, CHARLESTON 46

You tell me: was Charleston’s 4-for-20 performance from beyond the arc indicative that BSC worked on and solved its three-point defensive woes, or just indicative that Charleston’s general cruddiness crudded things up for a night? Tell me something else: was Thomas Viglianco’s 4-for-4 performance from outside indicative that his road shooting woes are behind him, or was it thanks to CSU’s live-and-let-live defensive approach? What about Sredrick Powe taking seven shots (predictably, he hit six)--is this a new aggressive Master P or a one-game instance of taking what the defense gives him, in this case copious amounts of free rein?

So many questions, so few answers when you play a questionable team turning in a questionable performance. It’s going to be a long wait ‘til Saturday. (Bad for the fans, of course. but good for the team).

Until then, we BSC supporters (all seven of us) can console ourselves with these positives: 1. Collins’ hot streak finally cooled a bit (2-of-7 deep, 10 points), but it had to end sometime, and better now than Saturday. He also dished 3 assists without a turnover. 2. The Panthers dominated the defensive glass, grabbing 24 d-boards to CSU’s 11. 3. Holding the frightening Chris Moore to 12 points, all of them in the second half. (Due in part, as Geoff Wilson reports, to a fortunate delay in the arrival of the first media timeout.)

There was one whopping negative too, however: 21 turnovers, the team’s highest total of the season. (Ed Horton, who’s come down with a bit of the slumps lately, had 5 of them without an assist.) Unlike the other potential anomalies above, here's to hoping this is a fluke.

HIGH POINT 88, UNC-ASHEVILLE 67

Welcome back, Easy A.Z. Reid. Because no one else in the league can fill out a line quite like you, we missed these kinds of 9-of-17, 22 points, 9 boards, 5 assists, 4 steals, 1 TO kind of nights, didn’t we guys?
Funny, I can’t hear the response from the UNCA crowd. But the Bulldogs have only themselves to blame for hopping on board the High Point "High Octane" Run-and-Gun Express. With the Misses Peacocks’ size and reasonable outside shooting, why would they willingly play an 80-possession game? I mean, yeah, it’s probably fun and all, but Chad Mohn (3-of-12) and Joe Barber (1-of-5 from 3) apparently don’t shoot so well after doing wind sprints up and down the court. Issa Konare, however, likes it just fine: when was the last time he shot 7-of-8 and scored 17 points? (Those 8 boards ain’t bad, either.)
Before the Loyola game, three of High Point’s previous four outings had been 1) blowout at Charleston 2) blowout at CCU 3) one-point last-second home win over VMI. Now, of course, they’ve come within a couple of plays of beating a MAAC team on the road and crushed a UNCA team that looked to be on the upswing last week. If Winthrop had their druthers, I suspect they’d choose a team that didn’t have such a mighty strong “second wind” look about them.

COASTAL 76, VMI 63

The most interesting thing about this game? Far-and-away Ian Guerin’s account of Buzz Peterson pulling a Coach Dale on the CCU sideline. Hopefully, he’ll take this to the point of playing with four players for a while against Liberty.
Also, Duggar Baucom apparently neither got the memo that it was Coastal’s Senior Night nor understood how the concept applied to his team, based on his, ahem, unusual starting five.
One other note: if Coastal somehow pulls out the conference’s top seed, Jack Leasure is your Big South Player of the Year. Combine his ridiculous three-point shooting (5-of-10 vs. VMI) with his equally ridiculous assist-to-turnover ratio during the Fakecock surge (4-to-1 Monday) and you get a ridiculously effective player.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Time Warp ... to Saturday

So I was going to feel good about recapping the rest of the weekend’s action now and getting to Monday’s stuff tomorrow night—I’d already started gathering my Saturday-action links—when, of course, all hell breaks loose. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s an exaggeration. I mean, after Winthrop failed to do what Charleston Southern did with ease, we’re due for some sort of lesser Apocalypse, aren’t we? At least a few imps breaking loose or one of those earthquakes that makes a vase fall off its pedestal or an American winning a medal in singles luge, right?

So what now? Well, now we’re going to take the advice of the countless Big South athletes who have joined the clich├ęd chorus of their brethren in sweat across the country, crying as one for us to “take it one game at a time.” And in that spirit, the JCCW is going to take it one-day-and-one-extra-game’s worth of action at a time. Tomorrow, the countdown to the BSC-WU title fight begins. But for now, journey back with me to that magical time three days ago when UNCA looked like a sleeper and Winthrop was their usual talented selves …

LOYOLA-MD 77, HIGH POINT 71

If you want to know why the Big South has already surpassed the Atlantic Sun as a men’s basketball conference and has its eyes on the SoCon and OVC (both of which the Big South currently betters by RPI), take a look at this box score. High Point is younger than youngerson (in all of DI, only Auburn is less experienced), has been playing like it for the last two weeks, and got virtually no rest or preparation in advance for a road game against a team a) ranked more than 20 spots ahead of them in the RPI b) that had just trounced a good St. Peter’s team in the same gym.
And High Point did every single thing but beat them anyway. Hero of the evening was freshman Justin Dunn, who for all I know spontaneously generated on the bench during the game and scored 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. After their series of sieve-like performances over the past week-plus, the Panthers locked down the Greyhounds to the tune of 36 percent shooting for the game, 7-of-24 from deep.
Yes, HPU eventually ran out of gas down the stretch (Loyola scored 16 of the game’s final 18 points), got crushed all game on the offensive glass (19 to 5 … the Greyhounds took 10 more shots and still finished with two less makes than HPU), and saw Arizona Reid’s shooting slump continue (6-of-15 on 2’s).
But HPU could have just mailed this quite-honestly-meaningless game in and no one would have blamed them. Instead they pulled themselves together, showed the kind of pride even Hofstra would be jealous of, and played a damn fine game. If you think that’s not the kind of signal that says this team and this conference--which is loaded with good young players, from Liberty to Winthrop to UNCA to Coastal--has their thumb pressed firmly against the elevator’s “Up” button, well, just don’t enter any IQ contests against potted plants, is all I’m saying.

WINTHROP 98, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 97, 2 OT

How you like your BracketBusters now, Gregg “BB Ambivalence” Marshall?
“That's the best ball game in my tenure,” Marshall told the Herald. “It would have been a hard one to lose, was a great one to win.”
(Yes, I’m sure he would retract any statement remotely positive about BracketBusters in a heartbeat after Monday’s game, but that doesn’t necessarily negate the Cloud Nine emotion after Saturday’s game, if you ask the JCCW.)
James Shuler got a lot of deserved love for a) hitting the free throws that sent the game into OT b) hitting the three that sent the game into a second overtime c) the three that won the game in the second OT and d) a line that goes 7-12 FG, 4-5 3FG, 9-11 FT, 27 points, 4 RBs, 8 (!) assists, 3 TOs, 3 steals. (The love dished Sunday by Gary McCann is especially eloquent.) But as good as Shuler was, Winthrop doesn’t win without Craig Bradshaw playing yet another terrific game, going 10-of-14 for 24 points and 9 boards. Gaynor (8-to-3 assist-to-turnover) and Martin (5-10 3FG, 20 points) weren’t exactly shabby, either.
It’s too bad Lord Winthrop didn’t get a TV game, and it’s too bad they didn’t get a higher-profile opponent. But that doesn’t mean the Eagles’ win didn’t mean anything: it wasn’t too long ago when the Big South’s best team could have played an upper-echelon MAC team at home with Big South officials, an extra foul for each player, and an extra player on the court ... and would still expect to lose. That those days are so clearly behind the conference means a hell of a lot.
Oh yeah: the win also means Winthrop (even after Monday) should not fall below the 14-seed line if they make the NCAAs. And that means something, too.

UNC-ASHEVILLE 83, EASTERN KENTUCKY 77

See, even the Big South’s disappointments are better than the OVC’s disappointments, and on the road nonetheless. This gives the conference a 1-0 mark in the sure-to-be-annual 20/20 Hindsight Classic.
Teams are supposed to struggle with their long-distance shooting on the road, and especially near the end of a long road stretch, right? Not so the Fighting Biedenbachs, masters of the nonconference grind, who hit their first seven threes and finished 10-of-20. They also shot 13-of-16 from the line. They also outrebounded the Colonels 34-22.
All of which would contribute to the JCCW’s Fear of a Blue Planet come tourney time if not for the fact that UNCA’s D allowed EKU to shoot 64 percent in the second half, and gave up 28 points to Matt Witt … and Biedenbach still said “(Omar Collington’s) defense on Witt down the stretch was really good. To be honest, we played great defense on Witt all night, but he's just a great player who made some really tough shots.” Admittedly, the JCCW wasn’t there. For all I know, Witt may have been sinking underhand threes with a goldfish bowl balanced on top of an umbrella in his other hand. But generally guys who score 28 points and shoot 6-of-12 from deep aren’t being defended all that well.

RADFORD 69, LIBERTY 54

What kind of game is it where the two teams together combine for six assists? The hell? Did the City Council of Radford declare Saturday a citywide Day of Selfishness? Did every player on both teams go out to the same bar and all hit on the same girl the night before? Did the coaches tell their players “You know, just for kicks today, let’s leave the huddle by saying “ME!” one at a time!”?
Hopefully, the PA played Me First and the Gimme-Gimmes for warm-up music.
Oh yeah, “Poor” Larry Blair shot like crap (6-of-24) while Holcomb-Faye hit 5-of-11 threes and got to the line a bajillion times (OK, 17) and hit almost all bajillion (15). He finished with 36 points. Again. And in the most surprising development since people actually started making jokes about VP Cheney’s hunting mishap, a good performance by WHF combined with a bad performance by Blair equaled a MacRadford win.

CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 59, VMI 48

Just remember, when you look at those rebounds-per-game stats this week and see a sudden spike for both these teams, that they’re still not earning any merit badges for their efforts.
Why? ‘Cause those boards all got their start as bricks, that’s why, and this game had more bricks than a HUD supply warehouse. The Othern Southern shot 32.3 percent from the field … and won. That’s what can happen when your opponent turns the ball over 20 times and shoots 2-of-14 from 3. The Keydet Cops finished with only slightly fewer boards (39) than they did points. (Here, Duggar Baucom sums up the entire game with but one word, something the JCCW could probably learn from.)
CSU’s a weird team: they play badly against bad teams who play badly (see: 61-45 win over Liberty) only to play well against good teams playing well themselves (see: 71-69 loss to Coastal). They’re sort of good and sort of awful. Which, I guess, means their 6-8 conference mark is another piece of evidence for Bill Parcells’ old saying: You are what your record says you are.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Leasure's Redickulous game (CCU 69, BSC 59)

(Blogger's Note: This got written Sunday but couldn't be posted 'til now thanks to various technical difficulties, including a rather snotty Blogger that wouldn't let me login to post and the lack of WiFi in the University of South Alabama's Mitchell Center, where I spent my Monday covering the Alabama high school hoops playoffs. Blame them. More coming prolly tonight.)

Coming to you live on tape from Kimbel Arena in Conway, SC, Fox Sports South brings you Coastal Carolina vs. Birmingham-Southern! Join the JCCW as he recaptures each and every minute of excitement through the cutting-edge technology known as "taking notes during the game recording his reactions and typing them up later with jokes!" It's the biggest Big South game on the biggest mid-major Saturday of the season! Even an entire paragraph full of exclamation points doesn't do it justice! So let's get to it!

PREGAME

Matt Hogue and the FSS crew impress me with a nifty color-coded graphic showing how Jack Leasure could someday pass J.J. Redick in career 3's, which'd be nice--CCU'd grab so many headlines their logo rooster's muscles would bulge by another 40 percent at least. Cliff Ellis then predictably unimpresses me by referring to three-point land as "the bonusphere," easily the lamest attempt at coining a new basketball term since some idiot blogger referred to UNC-Asheville as the Misses Peacock.

FIRST HALF:

19:03: You know, as omens go, BSC's first possession could have been a wee bit more positive. And by "wee bit," I mean "a gazillion times." Viglianco slams an open three off the back iron, but does collect his own rebound only for Powe, Horton, and Viglianco to each pass up an open look with the shot clock winding down. The buzzer sounds with Viglianco still in the middle of what I'm sure would have been a dazzling spin move. At least things can only get better from here.

15:33: Spoke too soon. The score is 2-2. Thus far the two teams have combined to shoot 1-of-10 from the field. BSC's five possessions have gone 1. Shot clock violation 2. Offensive foul 3. Brick 4. Brick-rebound-brick-rebound-two free throws 5. Brick. Chevy Chase's talk show got off to a better start than this.

13:22: Collins finally hits BSC's first field goal, a three from the left corner. That it gives BSC a 5-4 lead tells you what supremely gracious hosts Coastal have been thus far.

12:20: Leasure misses a 3. Coastal grabs the offensive board and finds Steven Sexton outside, so open and alone Ted Kaczynski wonders if Sexton should join a book club or something. And ... brick. Ye gods.

10:22: Matt Brennan, the 6-8 Fakecock freshman for whom the phrase "tall drink of water" was invented gets loose along the baseline and slams home a tremendous reverse jam that gets the crowd really involved for the first time. BSC's response? Turnover by Ed Horton, a Sunday stroll to the basket by Pele Paelay (tying the game at 8), airball by Ifi Ehirim. C'mon, fellas.

8:41: I do try not to complain about officiating or trot out the well-worn "home-cooking" cry, the eternal motto of the Royal Order of Sore Losers, but the zebras really do miss one here as Reggie Peyton clearly makes a clean block on a Paelay jumper and gets whistled. Ellis calls it a "fortuitous call," and CCU takes advantage by hitting the first free throw, tracking down back-to-back offensive boards, and getting a Paelay jumper to tie things at 11. Neither team exactly putting together an Izzo-esque performance on the defensive glass as of now.

7:33: Collins drives and scores with an off-balance jumper. Tough shot, great sign.

7:15: Bad sign: Leasure comes off a screen and misses a wide open 3. Why bad? Because I just know all these misses mean is that he'll drain a bunch of impossible shots later. (Blogger's Note: I swear on everything holy I took this note the first time through. I mean, with a guy like Leasure, you know he's not going to stay cold the whole game. A beer left in the sun would have a better shot.)

4:08: Aside from Collins, who has 7, the rest of the Panthers are playing like they had a few too many Bud Lights out on the beach last night. In the last minute and a half alone Viglianco has missed a wide open 3, McMillan has kindly donated two points to the CCU cause by simply dropping the ball just across midcourt, and Horton has turned the ball over twice.

1:46: Good Chant defense, another BSC shot clock violation. Honey? Could you hide any breakable stuff that, you know, you like for a while?

1:10: It's one-on-five right now as Collins continues his solo mission to salvage the game for BSC. An and-one basket gets the Panthers within 1, 23-22.

Buzzer: Oh, crap. Powe got a dunk with 25 seconds left to give BSC the lead, but Leasure hit a fade-away three just ahead of the halftime buzzer take it right back. Saying the play screams "momentum swing" doesn't do it justice, since it's more like it hired the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing "momentum swing" in an echo chamber. (Huge play, is what I'm saying.)

HALFTIME

Hmm ... yeah, I'm just going to have to burn down the Fox Sports studios. The Panthers' halftime stats not only incorrectly list their three-point shooting as 0-for-9 (they hit two), but they're listed under "BSU." Bet Coastal didn't know they were secretly entered in a BracketBusters matchup against Ball State, did they? Cripes, I can see some Random McRandom hoops writer from Portland, Maine making that mistake, but Fox has already used the BSC logo--which just happens to include the initials B-S-C--a half-dozen times this broadcast. No one in charge here either follows the league closely enough OR even watches their own broadcast closely enough to know BSC's a College?

(Yes, this is a pet peeve of mine, and yes, I could probably find more important things to whine about. But I don't wanna. Leave me alone.)

SECOND HALF

18:46: Yup. As expected, Leasure drains 3's on each of Coastal's first two second-half possessions. BSC was up one and is now down eight, 32-24, after controlling the ball only once themselves.

18:14: Oh for heaven's sake. Panther time-out, followed by a turnover in the backcourt anyway. Leasure then shockingly misses a three, only for Paul to throw his outlet pass right back to Leasure anyway. McMillan picks him up, but inexplicably plays him to drive rather than shoot the 3, and now it's 35-24.

15:38: After a Paelay 3 apparently designed to show that the entire team is unconscious rather than just Leasure, Collins hits his own 3 for BSC's first field goal of the second half. The two droughts from the field to start each half for BSC totaled exactly 11 minutes.

14:59: Viglianco is having what in English soccer terms would be called "a torrid time of it." Joseph Harris strips him of the ball and TV fouls the bejesus out of him, earning the intentional call. 42-28 after Paelay converts the extra possession.

13:32: Cliff Ellis drops an unexpected bomb of insight on viewers, disclosing that after his 30-plus years of coaching he can finally reveal that North Carolina's Dean Smith was, in fact, a good basketball coach.

12:43: Three-pointer by the scorching hot Collins. 18 of BSC's 33 points are his. If anyone had taken me up on that wager I posted earlier this season about "BSC won't lose when Collins scores 20," I'd be in serious trouble.

11:42: BSC shot clock violation. Shoot me.

10:46: Colin Stevens pulls up for yet another ridiculous three. It's 51-33. A lot of it is lackluster defending, but a lot of it is just remarkable shooting from CCU, too.

9:56: Har har. Horton blocks a Leasure three and Stevens stops the breakway with a garden-variety hack, which the refs call an intentional for precisely zero reason than because they gave one to Viglianco earlier. Ellis refers to the call as "fortuitous," breaking his own world record for the number of uses of "fortuitous" in a basketball broadcast.

9:31: Moses Sonko and Harris each pick up their fourth foul in the space of a few seconds and both head to the bench. If BSC was going to mount some kind of comeback, this would be the kind of scenario they'd need. It will likely also require Zeus smiting Leasure with a thunderbolt.

8:37: Viglianco makes his best play of the game, passing out of the double-team to a wide-open Powe for the slam. 51-40 CCU. This is the first field goal of the half by any Panther besides Collins.

7:08: Hmm. Collins hits yet another 3 to cut the lead to single digits at 53-45. Intriguing.

5:46: You know, if BSC was going to leave a Fakecock open, you would hope that they'd at least not make it the guy who's already hit six 3's. You would hope. Leasure buries the open look and it's 58-47 again.

5:26: AAAARRRRGGGGHHHH Bucky, you know I think the world of you, but a bumping foul at midcourt on a good foul shooter when your opponent is already in the bonus is just not the most intelligent of plays.

5:01: Following a Paul layup, BSC plays Hack-An-Adrian-Gross, a 6-6 forward who missed two freebies badly earlier. Ellis doesn't like it, but Gross doesn't care what Ellis likes and kindly misses both, leading to a second Paul basket. 59-53. Double-Hmmm.

2:56: Nevermind. It ain't happening. Terrific defense by BSC forces Leasure to take a wild 3 with 3 seconds left on the shot clock, which Collins partially blocks. It falls right in the hands of Sonko who flicks it up and in with a second left on the shot clock. It's the sort of exceedingly fortuitous (that one's for you, Cliff) play that only occurs for winning teams. The outcome's decided.

2:39: Horton hits a runner, which is the first field goal of the entire game by any Panther besides Powe, Paul, or Collins. Six-point game again.

1:49: I refuse to get too excited after the Sonko play, but Powe finds Collins on another back-door cut (BSC's been all over those this half) to cut the lead to 63-59. Whatever happens, this is a much better late-game response than against Radford. Que bueno, Panthers.

1:24: Give Coastal credit: they just got the shot they had to have. Paelay found Sonko in the post, and despite textbook defense from Powe (I think) Sonko hit a tough little hook shot to end the spurt and really put the pressure on BSC.

:51: Sigh. After they play patient all game, BSC doesn't do playing quick too well. McMillan drives and misses after running a good 30 seconds off the clock. Foul.

:11 This time 40 seconds run off as BSC looks in vain for a good look from 3. Collins misses a couple of toughies, Harris hits one of two, and it's 67-59 and over.

:07: OK, the Coastal fans have broken out the "Overrated" chant. Let's just look past for a second the fact that the chant is fundamentally flawed to begin with (viz. If the team your team just beat is indeed overrated, then your team hasn't accomplished as much). Who, exactly, has overrated BSC? The RPI? The Big South standings? What little Big South media presence there is would have, I suspect, expected Coastal to win this game given their advantage in Kimbel and the way they've played of late. What rating has been done seems to me to have actually been pretty accurate.

Anyways, since the "overrated" chant usually commemorates a major upset on the part of the winner, I suggest BSC take it as a compliment.

Buzzer: Sonko slams home the exclamation point, the game ends 69-59, and a few fans dash onto the court in apparent celebration. Wow. I couldn't say when a win over BSC became such a huge deal, but heck, I'm glad it did.

NOTES FROM THE BOX SCORE

Combined shooting from all BSC players (Viglianco, Horton, McMillan, Ruffin, Ehirim) not named "Powe," "Paul," or "Collins": 1-of-18. No one besides Collins hit a 3 (0-8). The good news? I have to believe a performance quite that bad is a fluke. I have to, because believing otherwise is pretty depressing.

The bad news is that Collins sure as heck isn't going to score 27 points and shoot 10-of-15 every game. Hopefully the guys above will do a little more regressing to the mean than Collins--a reasonable expectation given how on fire Collins has been for the last two weeks, but he simply can't be expected to carry the team like this again.

Speaking of which, it's time to get Powe more shots. I've held off of calling for more from Powe despite his superduper FG percentage because a) he's racked up the assists b) everyone else has been shooting pretty well, too. But in a game like Saturday's, where everyone besides himself, Paul, and Collins is firing blanks, he needs to take more than three shots. After all, he hit all three of them.

Three-point defense is officially an issue for BSC. I touched on it in my Hoopville piece, and now Radford, High Point, and Coastal (who finished 11-of-24 and shot 8-of-13 in the second half) have all had excellent games from deep vs. the Panthers. Somehow I suspect Messrs. Martin and Bradshaw have noticed.

The biggest positives for Coastal? First, that Paelay is once again every bit the threat he was last season: 5-of-10 FG, 5-6 FT, 17 points, 5 assists, 0 TO's (!). Also, that Harris have can a fairly invisible game (0 FGs, 3 points, 4 boards) against a good team and CCU can still come out on top with relative (I do mean relative) ease.

How much does the result mean to these teams? If BSC wins out against the Othern Southern and Winthrop (and the Eagles don't suffer a shocker), not a damn thing. BSC would still take the league title. But if the Panthers slip up in Charleston or Winthrop comes out of Birmingham with a W, BSC falls to the third seed and CCU moves up to second. Given that the second seed will very likely host Charleston while the third seed gets High Point or UNCA, it's a pretty big whopping difference.

Myrtle Beach column response here, write-up here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Links of Interest

T-minus 52 minutes now 'til the best Big South Saturday of the season tips off on Fox Sports South. Here's some links to help you pass those final few excruciating minutes.

Buzz Peterson says today's mega-tilt between his Fakecocks and BSC isn't going to be impacted by a bunch of guys standing around lugging cameras. But then Buzz turns around and admits it turns the fans' intensity up another three notches or so, which should in turn affect how hostile the gym is and how the game is played, right Coach? On the BSC media's side of things, Mike Perrin responds to the Liberty game the same way I did: talking up James Collins. Proving once again that great minds think alike ... with lesser minds like the JCCW every now and again.

Geoff Wilson's weekly Big South notebook hangs out with Charleston Southern assistant J.D. Powell, who puts James Shuler at the top of his Player of the Year list despite Holcomb-Faye's torching of the Bucs earlier in the week. Shuler may very well be the best player in the Big South, but he ain't getting the award with the numbers he's got. Wilson also sort of slyly (or, maybe, accidentally) notes that even when Jay Bilas is slumming in the Big South, he's still doing so with his trademark gag-inducing ACC bias.

Someone asked Eddie Biedenbach what the NIT could do to protect teams like the Big South's, and yesterday the NIT said "How about an automatic bid for your regular season champ?" The catch is that they're also dropping the .500-or-better requirement that kept out some of the big boys. This is an absolute boon to lower-rung conferences like the Big South: sure Winthrop might have made the field anyway, but the latest NIT-ology from Mike Scullin sez BSC's not even in the picture and the NIT has never been kind to the Big Souths and MEACs and Atlantic Suns of the world. Who this hurts is the upper-rung mid-majors: teams like the MAC's and CAA's runner-ups will now feel the squeeze from both the smaller-conference automatic bids "below" them and the under-.500 power conference teams "above" them. But for the Big South, the guarantee of more rewards for the regular season champ is a beautiful thing.

Winthrop goes for the BracketBuster win over Northern Illinois later today. "This is the best team that's been in our gym this year," sez Gregg Marshall, and while he's probably right forgive this BSC fan for seeing seven different kinds in response. (Of course, losing by 40 points in that gym doesn't help our argument, does it?) Key to the game? If Martin can shoot the Huskies out of their preferred 2-3 zone. Also check Marshall's flippity-flop on the importance of the game, probably due to the no-TV disappointment fading a bit with time. Of course, the Charlotte Observer quotes Marshall as saying "Neither one of us cares to do it very much," so who knows.

(One other Eagles note: As noted before, the name "Winthrop" sounds awfully British upper-class to the JCCW's ears, thus the "Lord Wintrhop" nickname, fox-hunting jokes, etc. It's nice to see Gregg Marshall getting into the act this week by calling De'Andre Adams "a tough little bugger." Cor!)


Ye gods, the folks at the Citizen-Times are cranky. Aside from a "Bulldogs lose by 12" mini-brief, there's no BracketBusters preview for UNCA-Eastern Kentucky, but there is more-than-plenty of bile towards the region's college hoops. They point out how many losing seasons UNCA has had recently, but fail to point out that's by Biedenbach's Schedule From Hell design.

Enjoy your Saturday!

Friday, February 17, 2006

BSC/LU take

BSC 68, LIBERTY 56

James Collins: 7-10 FG, 6-8 3FG, 20 points. This a game after: 6-12 FG, 4-7 3FG, 5-5 FT, 21 points. That two games after: 9-16 FG, 6-12 3FG, 1-2 FT, 25 points.

In other words, it’s on. The JCCW’s official James Collins position hasn’t changed since the day it opened for business: no one is more important to BSC’s title chances than him. The Panthers can win if Collins is cold. They already have on several occasions. But if he’s hot, the Panthers will win.

It’s the difference in peanut butter between Peter Pan Creamy and Jif Extra Crunchy. The Peter Pan Creamy tastes good. It will fill you up. When choosing between a PB&J sandwich made with Peter Pan Creamy vs. sardines smeared with potted meat for lunch, you’re still going with the Peter Pan Creamy. But what happens when you bring a Peter Pan Creamy PB&J to work and get one of those overwhelming cravings to hit up your local Chotchkie’s? You know it’s going to cost you an hour extra, after queso dip and tip you’re gonna end up blowing 15 bucks, and even the modern miracle of Ziploc won’t keep your sandwich fresh another day. But if you’re only packing Peter Pan Creamy, none of that matters: you’re going to Chotchkie’s, and you know it. Sometimes, having that extra dollop of peanutty goodness you only get with Jif Extra Crunchy makes all the difference.

It’s the same way with BSC and James Collins. The same way exactly. McMillan, Powe, Horton, Viglianco, Sir Paul … they can handle the VMIs and Othern Southerns of the world by themselves. But to win games like a road tilt against the Big South’s hottest team … like a game against Lord Winthrop with the conference championship on the line … like a Big South final … we’ve got to get a big game from James “Jif Extra Crunchy” Collins. He’s the only guy we’ve got to whom the adjective “explosive” can apply. The best guy at spinning points out of five-seconds-left-on-the-shot-clock straw. Simply put, the guy I, at least, would want taking the proverbial One Shot to win the game.

Which is why opening up the above series of box scores is like opening up the doors on a chocolate Advent calendar as a kid. Sure, hitting up the Keydet Cops for 25 and Liberty for 20 at home isn’t the same as doing so in the madness at Kimbel, just as a sliver of cheap cocoa isn’t the same as a new bike. But they’re both a start. And hopefully BSC fans will all get a nice shiny present from Mr. Collins come March 5.

Other notes:

• 24 games in, and I still don’t know who the BSC MVP would be. You could make a fairly convincing case, I think, for any of the six regular rotation members save Horton, and that’s not because Horton’s been slacking--he just plays the same position as Collins, and for the above reasons Collins is a shade more valuable. But Collins is still warming up and Viglianco and Paul have, I think, missed just enough shots recently to slip behind the two ever-so-slightly best candidates: McMillan and Powe. While TV and Sir Paul were combining for a 2-of-11, 4 points, 1 assist to 6 TO’s in 51 minutes night vs. the Flyin’ Falwells, McMillan scored 8 points, grabbed 6 rebounds, and dished 4 dimes without a turnover. Powe had a 15-and-10 double-double. Obviously parsing who’s more important to a team as balanced as BSC is sort of pointless. But if you put a water gun* to my head and say “Who would you rather see have a terrible game Saturday?” I think it’d just be tougher right now for BSC to survive Bode Miller-quality outings from McMillan and Powe than their teammates.
• Reboul, in his diplomatic way, kinda agreed with this take, at least as it concerned Wednesday night. “They weren't going to let (Paul) post up and take it to the basket. So, we were doing some things we shouldn't have been doing, rushing things too much,” he told the Birmingham News. “I thought Tom (Viglianco) did the same thing, so he didn't have one of his better games. You can't rush, you've just got to let it happen. That's what James, Bucky (McMillan), Sed and Ed do. They let the game come to them.”
• I wonder if the good folks at BSC’s Media Relations Department have some kind of Mad Lib for Panther home games against lesser opponents. It’d make things a lot easier. Something like “BSC led SCORE with TIME remaining in the second half when the OPPONENTS’ NICKNAME went on a late run. A pair of threes by OPPOSING SHOOTING GUARD and a layup by OPPOSING FORWARD cut the Panther lead to SCORE. But the Panthers hit X of X free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.” I swear I’ve read those exact sentences a dozen times this season alone. So it goes. As long as they keep the “preserve the victory” ending.
• What’s there to say about Liberty? They shot free throws well--16-of-19. Russell Monroe had a good game--6 points, 7 boards, 3 blocks, 2 steals in 24 minutes. But Blair had an off game (7-19 FG, 0-5 3FG) and when that happens, Liberty loses. Simple. (OK, one halfway interesting note: Liberty had only 6 assists for the game. Not exactly the mark of a team that's playing with a lot of chemistry at the moment.)

*Hey, it might be filled with hot coffee or something.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Fun and games

Goodness me, I’m behind. Seven games to make up, all at once. Now I know how VMI and Liberty feel.

But first, let’s just get this out of the way. In response to the Radford game (and remember, what the JCCW promises, the JCCW delivers):

Lord Winthrop’s Back (apologies here)

He went away
And VMI hung around and bothered them all night
And, when Coastal swept them aside
The media said things that weren't very nice

Lord Winthrop’s back, and you're gonna be in trouble
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)
Two wins or so away from being on the Bubble
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)
You've been spreadin' lies that they were number 2
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)
So look out now, 'cause they’re still Dubya-U
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)

Hey, Gregg knows they ain’t been tryin'
Now, he’s selling what they’re buyin’

They were gone for such a short time
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)
Now Gaynor's back, to drop some more dimes
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)
You're gonna be sorry you were ever born
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)
'Cause Craig Bradshaw’s big and James Shuler’s strong
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)

Their time in second place was fleetin'
Now, you're gonna get a beatin'
What made you think they might be second-best? (Wah-ooo, wah-ooo)
Still got Martin and McCullough and Williams off the bench (Wah-ooo)
Wait and see!

Lord Winthrop’s back; he's gonna save Gregg’s reputation
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)
If I were VMI, I'd just go right to my vacation
(Hey la, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back)

Hey, still the Big South's biggest deal
(unLessssss, their opponent’s wearing teal)

La, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back
La, hey la, Lord Winthrop’s back


Note for the humor-impaired: No, I don’t really think Winthrop is quite as dominant as they were expected to be in November and December. But after holding a Radford team that had well-nigh torched BSC six days earlier to 28.6 percent from the field, and turning WHF into WTF (5-17, 1-7 3, 5 TO’s, 1 assist), they’re still unequivocally the class of the conference. When Winthrop is committed to defense, no one else in the Big South comes close to playing it better. And come the postseason, that hoary old line about defense re: championships still applies.

Ten other notes from Monday/Wednesday’s other non-BSC games:

1. You can’t keep a good hoopster down, at least not one as good as Whit Holcomb-Faye, and decidedly not when you play the kind of D Charleston Southern played Monday night. 37 points on 12-22, 5-12 from 3 shooting … you think after Saturday night he found someone and said, “I’m rubber, you’re glue, the Winthrop disaster bounces off me, sticks to you”? Probably not, but I bet he was thinking it.
2. Liberty defeated the sports world’s most phallic team, the Longwood Lancers, 75-66 Monday. Which was nice for Liberty and the conference, since a season sweep at the hands of the team that ruined Savannah St.’s umpteen-game DI losing streak would have been a teensy bit embarrassing, but more importantly allows me to make the following observation: If your school’s name is already “Longwood,” is it really necessary to choose as a nickname a guy who carries around an eight-foot pole for poking people? I mean, just seems like somebody’s overcompensating.
3. Speaking as a BSC fan, I’m pretty sure Coastal’s 88-70 smackdown of UNC-Asheville on the road means it’s perfectly OK to go ahead and soil our underthings. 55.2 percent shooting, 11-of-23 from downtown. 23 points for Leasure. 21 for Paelay. 7 assists for Stevens. Harris had an off-game on the glass (by his standards) and they still outrebounded UNCA 29-23. “Yikes” doesn’t begin to cover it.
4. That board advantage was largely due to the play of Moses Sonko, who I could easily have given plenty more love in this space over the last couple of weeks. His line against UNCA: 5-of-6 for 14 points, 8 boards (4 offensive), 4 assists, 2 TO’s,1 steal. As if CCU needed another guy playing on top of his game.
5. If there’s one chink in the current Fakecock armor, it’s that they still aren’t playing especially well defensively. Their last two opponents—UNCA and Charleston—combined to shoot 54 percent from the field. Of course, a) this was on the road b) CCU’s been just this side of unconscious themselves c) their advantages in rebounding (vs. CSU) and turnover margin (vs. UNCA) mean it hasn’t exactly mattered.
6. Speaking of UNCA, back-to-back double-digit defeats at home make it hardly seem like the time to say this, but the JCCW’s guess is that the Misses Peacock are the most likely lower seed to spring a first-round upset in this season’s tourney. Omar Collington’s scored 45 points those two games and Michael Ellis could, like quirky new television programs, go off at any time. If Chad Mohn (17 vs. CCU, 4 vs. WU) and Joe Barber (15 vs. WU, 6 vs. CCU) ever get it going at the same time, watch out.
7. Blah blah High Point 73, VMI 72 blah blah Matt Murrer 4-of-6 double-double blah blah blah Reggie Williams and Travis Holmes combined 9-of-30 blah blah If I was a VMI fan, I’d have stuck my head in a pot of boiling water by now blah blah blah blah.
8. Has Easy AZ Reid finally worn down after carrying the I Can’t Believe They’re Not Panthers all season? He shot 8-of-21 against VMI, far below his season-long average, and every one of those was a 2. He still grabbed 9 boards, 4 of them offensive, but his shooting combined with 0 assists-to-3 turnovers means he’s just not playing at the same level right now he was earlier in the conference season. Too bad, because Mike Jefferson and Akeem Scott (34 points on 52 percent shooting) are playing better, and kudos to Landon Quick for the buzzer-beating putback to win the game.
9. The BracketBusters game could not have come at a worse time for High Point. UNCA’s coming to the Millis Center this Monday for a massive game that will essentially eliminate one team from the race for fourth, and instead of getting four days of rest and preparation the youngest team in the Big South will travel to Maryland to take on--and, based on the VMI performance, likely lose to--a solid Loyola team. My abundant love for BracketBusters has already been documented here, but I sure wonder if the Big South could have done more to make sure its participating teams didn’t suffer because of it.
10. Remember when Winthrop’s bench was giving them right around, oh, nothing? So much for that: Phillip Williams scored 19 points in 20 minutes against UNCA and still had time to grab 7 rebounds.

My thoughts on the BSC-Liberty game—and Saturday’s mega-tilt between the Panthers and Fakecocks--coming late tonight.

Announcement: The good people at Hoopville.com have been suckered by impressed enough with the JCCW to offer me the position of Big South correspondent. You can check out my first conference notebook, well, I was going to say "here" and give you a link, but apparently the site's all wishy-washy at the moment. But do check it out--front page, right sidebar, can't miss it. It’s like JCCW Lite--all the analysis of regular JCCW, but now 99.9 percent Snark-Free! There’s even a picture of me you can Photoshop mustaches and goat horns onto, if you like. Enjoy!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Big 4-0-0 (BS Saturday)

Birmingham-Southern’s 73-69 victory Saturday over High Point was Duane Reboul’s 400th of his career. So it’s no surprise that the first question (or, more accurately, “somewhat rambling congratulatory gush with an implied question mark at the end”) in the post-game interview from justifiably joyful BSC radio man Kevin Henslee was about Reboul reaching that milestone.

“We’ve had some very good players, some very good teams, and some very good assistant coaches,” Reboul said, continuing with (and from here I’m paraphrasing), “The only reason I’ve ever won a game here is because Birmingham-Southern is such an incredible institution, these 6-7 guys with remarkable attitudes and work ethics and deadeye shooting just happen to wander into the gym. You think I taught them how to turn the ball over less than 10 times a game? Please. I’m a guy they found at the Arkadelphia laundromat, handed a nice suit and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Coaching College Basketball” to, and stuck me on the sidelines. All I do at practice is roll out that cart thingy with all the balls on it, and sometimes I get distracted by my cool warm-up gear and forget to do that. Really, I got nothing to do with it.”

(Like I said, I’m paraphrasing.)

Of course, there have been hundreds and hundreds of college coaches who’ve expressed the same kind of Job-worthy humility when confronted with their own success. (Actually, probably all of them but John Thompson.) But the difference between the overwhelming majority of them and Coach Reboul (and Mike Perrin touches on this in his excellent feature in Sunday’s Birmingham News) is that Reboul means every word of it. Whether you’re listening to him over the radio, watching him roam the sidelines, or seeing him around campus, it’s clear that Coach Reboul is every bit the 100-percent-class guy people like Perrin and the people Perrin quotes say he is.

Which is why, when it comes to college hoops, a BSC fan is luckier than a horseshoed leprechaun. Unlike so many teams led by so many charlatans, we’ve got our guy. Sure, I was frustrated by the Big South performance last season. Yes, I was upset by the surprising early-round exits in the team’s last two NAIA national tourneys (which occurred during my four years on the Hilltop). But any alleged BSC fan who tells you anyone besides Duane Reboul should be our head coach is a fan of some other team wearing the wrong colors. And it was good, last night, to see that nice round number flip up on Coach’s odometer and have a reason to remember why.

Oh yeah, the game. 10 things:

1. Weird, weird ending to this one. It see-sawed for 32 minutes and was tied at 49 when BSC broke it open with a 16-0 run. It was still 68-52 lead with 2:30 to go when I thought, “This score will, as the football announcers say in Merrie Olde England, flatter the home side,” when irony seized its opportunity and High Point finished the game on a 17-5 run, the last six points coming on a pair of Mike Jefferson threes from somewhere near the concession stand. An accurate margin would be in the neighborhood of seven or eight points: BSC was the better team and the outcome wasn’t in doubt in the final minutes, but it wasn’t the mismatch the game up at the Millis Center was.

2. How much was great shooting and how much was poor defense I couldn’t say (Saturday night high school hoops playoffs meant I caught the game via Radio Free Birmingham), but last night was, let’s just say, not a time for masonry-based heckling. Combined shooting: 45-of-86, 52.3 percent. Combined three-point shooting: 21-42, 50 percent. Yowza. High Point was actually a little better on both counts, hitting 53.3 percent from the field and hitting 11 threes to BSC’s 10. The home team made it up, however …

3. …with their best performance of the season (I think) from the line. BSC shot 21-of-27 from the line, 14 more attempts and 11 more makes than High Point. Paul (72 percent on the year) and Collins (66 percent) combined to shoot 10-of-10.

4. Henslee and Reboul talked about the excellent job the BSC defense did on Easy AZ Reid, who scored HPU’s first six points and then only six the rest of the game. Solid job, true, keeping the ball out of his hands: Reid only took 10 shots and turned the ball over four times. But he did hit 6 of those 10 shots and as hot as his teammates were, some credit has to go to Reid for letting the looks go elsewhere, too.

5. You would have thought that the run-and-gun I Can’t Believe They’re Not Panthers would have gone all fidgety playing at BSC’s grind-grind-grind pace, but--as you can tell by the shooting numbers--HPU took to it like tall, athletic ducks to water. Something for Bart Lundy to think about as the kings of bumper-car basketball, the VMI Keydet Cops, come to High Point Wednesday?

6. Because of all the superfly shooting, there weren’t a lot of rebounds to be had—only 47 total in the game. But it makes me a little uncomfortable that at home, High Point grabbed three more than BSC did. And it makes me more uncomfortable that BSC’s tallest player, 6-9 Thomas Viglianco, didn’t grab any.

7. 21 points for James Collins on 6-of-12 overall and 4-of-7 from 3 shooting. A recent study showed that when Collins is hot, BSC becomes at least 94 percent more difficult to beat. (Side effects may include increased win totals and home Big South tournament games.)

8. Dwayne Paul also gets a gold star for his performance: only 9 points, but 5 boards, 5 assists, a block, a steal, and one turnover. Critical effort on a night when Sed Powe (8 points, but only 3 boards and 2 assists alongside 4 TOs) wasn’t his usual self.

9. I know Jerald Minnis is playing hurt, but HPU needs more out of the center position. On a night when Reid and the guards made enough shots for HPU to win with just a little help from the 5, Minnis and Konare finished with 2 points (Konare hit the only shot either took) and 4 rebounds (1 offensive) in 32 total minutes. Konare did have 3 assists, but during HPU’s lone dry spell (the 16-0 run that decided the game) the backcourt needed someone inside to step up and hit a shot or nail a put-back, and it didn’t happen.

10. Funny side effect of two teams with the same nickname playing each other: Game recaps featuring the phrase “the Black-and-Gold Panthers.”

UNC-ASHEVILLE 82, VMI 74; CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 61, LIBERTY 45*

Whatever their records might say, you have to admire the determination and fight shown by VMI and Liberty as they battle for ninth place and that coveted day off on Feb. 28.

The News-Advance’s recap chronicles in painful detail a series of blown layups by the Othern Southern as a way, I guess, of showing exactly how terrible the Flames must be to lose by 16 at home to those guys. (Chris Moore, it should be pointed out, has actually been very good.) Like “Weird” Al Yankovic and “Fast” Willie Parker, so Larry Blair should go ahead and have “Poor” attached to his first name. At least Liberty fans can console themselves with the comedic stylings of coach Randy Dunton: "The Flames have got some weaknesses," he said, and then he really got cooking. “When Larry Blair is not in rhythm offensively, those weaknesses get really magnified. The magnifying glass was pretty strong tonight--at about a power of 10.”

The good news is that they have VMI to hold hands with. The Keydet Cops weren’t actually that bad from the field against UNCA (40.6 percent, thanks in part to Matt Murrer finally taking more than five shots) but they did of course allow the Bulldogs to shoot 54.7 percent, so it evened out. Reggie Williams came off the bench for this game for his usual 0-for-4-from-3, 6-board, 19-points-the-hard-way performance, but as no media outlet seemed to care a whit about the game I couldn’t tell you why. (It’s a great story that Buzz Peterson is from Asheville, used to be a bulldog bellboy, and will coach Coastal there this week … but the Citizen-Times couldn’t have provided a story about the team’s win yesterday? I’m going to assume, after the Bucky McMillan thing, that something went awry between the print and web editions.)

If we learned anything else from these games, it’s that it’s a good year to be a Big South freshman with a last name ending in “-is.” UNCA frosh Michael Ellis followed up his 29-point outburst against BSC last week with a 25-point barrage on 10-of-13 shooting against VMI.

So which team finally gets that all-important ninth place and the early vacation? Liberty holds the tiebreaker at the moment by virtue of VMI’s win over Coastal Carolina, and although it’s hard to see either team getting another win at this point (VMI’s sole remaining home date is against Radford; Liberty hosts Winthrop and Coastal) VMI’s trip to Charleston Southern looks like the most likely remaining W. The bet here is that Liberty just nips the Keydets for the cellar.

I’ve got something special planned for Winthrop’s de-kiltsing of the Highlanders, so you’ll just have to wait for that.

*No box score available as of this post. Thanks, guys.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Big South midweek plus links

WINTHROP 98, VMI 65

Frightening, yes, but let’s not break out the Poltergiest or Kotter allusions just yet.

Just as the Eagles weren’t officially in disarray after just the first Coastal loss, so the good ship Winthrop isn’t officially righted until they put this performance together against a team that a) plays defense b) isn’t entering the Winthrop Coliseum winless on the road in conference c) isn’t in the middle of an eight-game losing streak. As the Charlotte Observer sagely observes, the Keydet Cops were kind enough to even let Michael Jenkins shoot for percentage (he finished 6-of-11, 3-of-6 from outside). Duggar Baucom’s a good coach (with a name like “Duggar Baucom,” he has no choice, of course) but he’s not exactly Dick Bennett, either. If Winthrop trounces Radford and the old-and-improved Whit Holcomb-Faye (“Now with 100% Healthy Rapid-Fire Scoring Action!”) Saturday, then we’ll bust out the Angels parodies.

Still, Winthrop could have been playing against a bunch of dudes in matching headbands and kneepads from the Y and not shot this well. From inside the arc, the Eagles shot a ridiculous 28-of-36, for 78 percent. The much-maligned bench (well, I’ve maligned them) shot 65 percent from the floor. Craig Bradshaw was 7-of-8 and didn’t even lead the team in scoring (that would be James Shuler, who went 6of-6 from the line to finish with 17 to the Kiwi’s 14). If Winthrop can even stay within the same zip code of this kind of accuracy the rest of season … well, I don’t want to say “unbeatable,” but maybe I should.

Fortunately for the rest of the conference, coming against VMI it’s a mighty, mighty big “If.” I could harp here again on how despite the fact that Matt Murrer is far and away the team’s most accurate shooter, he took the fifth-most shots on the team Wednesday (going 4-of-5). But let’s instead focus on the positive for once, like how reserve guard Fred Robinson scored 12 points in 12 minutes, or that for all of his ability on the glass Reggie Williams mysteriously failed to grab a single offensive rebound for the fourth straight game. Wait, I meant…oh well, I tried.

COASTAL 71, CHARLESTON 69

You know, every now and again I feel a slight twinge of guilt for making all these definitive-sounding pronouncements about teams or players I’ve seen in person once or twice at the most. As I’ve written myself, a box score or a play-by-play or even a good beat writer’s recap isn’t going to tell you the whole story.

Fortunately, thanks to Charleston I’ll soon be guilt-free and more insufferably didactic than ever! When I saw the Bucs in Birmingham, they had little-to-no execution on offense, zippo post presence, and the kind of defense that Webster first had in mind when he invented the word “porous.”

As a result I’ve been referring to the Othern Southern for most of the season like something the Big South needed to scrape off its shoes. When recently, they’ve actually been a perfectly good basketball team. I know it’s peculiar timing to write this after they just lost at home, but as white-hot as Coastal is at the moment, I was expecting a double-digit win at least. Instead it took a Moses Sonko layup with four seconds left for Coastal to escape with their feathery pride intact.

How has CSU suddenly become a legitimate card-carrying member of the Big South’s middle-of-the-standings logjam? First, while Chris Moore has been rocking the league all season, he’s finally dragged Donnell Covington and Dwayne Jackson up to his level. The three guards combined to shoot 19-of-33 vs. Coastal for 50 points. Not too shabby. 6-foot-8 ex-3-current-4 Trent Drafts has continued his consistent play (4-of-5, 10 points vs. CCU), and despite a rotation heavier on the guards than Velveeta-and-shells is on cheese, as a rule CSU out-boards their opponents (fourth in conference in RPG).

That’s what they did the first time they took on CCU, but with Joseph Harris now owning the glass every time he goes out (he’s got the deed and everything), this time it’s what got the Bucs killed. CSU outshot the Fakecocks 58 percent (!) to 43, hit the same number of free throws (the team combined to shoot a Que bueno! 26-of-29 from the stripe), and committed only one more turnover (11 to 10) But with Harris leading the way CCU pulled in 16 offensive rebounds to CSU’s 4. The result? 15 more shots taken for the guys in green, and when 11 of those are Jack Leasure threes and five of those fall, a close loss is what you get.

Still, consider this one BSC fan who’s now frightened by both halves of the beach swing. Arrrr!

LINKS OF INTEREST

Randy Dunton’s son gets the coach’s son treatment, though not from Randy, from the News-Advance.

Geoff Wilson looks at the Big South standings pre-Thursday, but the note about two conference players hitting the 1,000-point mark in the same game is more interesting.

According to kenpom, VMI's Matt Murrer leads the nation in eFG percentage, with BSC’s Sredrick Powe seventh. Impressive for both, though maybe even more so for Powe, since eFG takes 3-pointers into account (he leads the country in regular FG%) and he hasn’t so much as attempted one all season.

As a rule the JCCW isn’t going to worry about other Big South sports, since there’s more than enough for one man to worry about with just men’s hoops. But I have to link to this, because I have little doubt I am going to harbor the terrible, terrible bitterness that it came too late for me until the end of my days.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Well there's that other shoe! (Big South Monday)

RADFORD 75, BSC 64

How surprised was I by this? On a scale of 1 to 10, where “1” is equal to listening to Scott Stapp’s solo album and finding it does indeed bite harder than the Jaws of Life, and “10” ” is equal to listening to Scott Stapp’s solo album and finding it’s the second coming of The Joshua Tree, this is, oh, a 3.

BSC’s a terrific team and they could still very well finish on top of the league, but no rational Panther fan was expecting them to head into that second Winthrop game still sitting on one loss. I was hoping they wouldn’t get around to picking up that loss until the Coastal game, or maybe just merrily dynamite all my low expectations one game at a time (which is basically all they’ve done since the Rock Hill Massacre™), but when Whit Holcomb-Faye’s hitting H-O-R-S-E shots from the fourth row, there’s only so much you can do.

Although, yes, BSC technically could have done more than they did. Ed Horton had more fouls (5) than points (3), rebounds (0), and made field goals (1) combined. Chris Oliver’s going to snag a few offensive rebounds, but it seems like allowing the rest of the Highlanders to claim 9 could have been avoided. Zero assists for Collins, Viglianco, or Paul in 90 combined minutes doesn’t seem right, and neither does only 9 total assists on 22 made baskets. And lastly, as red-hot as Holcomb-Faye was and as due as Radford was for a sharp game--no Big South team with WHF and Oliver is going to experience many four-game losing streaks--allowing 47.4 percent shooting from outside will hopefully be a one-time thing.

But that’s more than enough complaining. Despite the lack of assists, BSC was perfectly acceptabl on the offensive end: their 108.5 offensive efficiency rating is actually an improvement on their season average. They hit 16-of-21 at the free throw line, well above their average. They turned the ball over only 8 times, shot better than 42 percent overall, and had five players in double-figures. No griping there.

Bottom line: BSC just picked the wrong night against the wrong team to have an off-night on the defensive end. The Panthers still control their own destiny. They’re still tied for first. They’re still the same team that just rattled off nine straight. When the “Trend” light on the dashboard starts blinking, then I’ll worry.

Other notes: I couldn’t get the BSC radio link to work at work, so I had to go with the Radford guys, who made repeated mention of the fact that Holcomb-Faye has been hobbled by an injured ankle recently. I’m sure he has been. But, and far be it from me from to question a man whose name is also his own URL, why then did he sit for a total of two minutes during Radford’s previous three games? Why was he subbed back in against BSC with 4:53 to play and the Highlanders up 16? (He finished with 36 more minutes.) Probably not what his physical therapist recommended.

Reboul on WHF: “We couldn't stop him. He put them on his back and said, 'I'll carry you.'” I can’t explain quite why I laugh out loud every time I read that, but the quote itself is its own explanation for why I’d vote Coach Reboul over Charles Barkley for governor every time.

I’ve been pointing out how Radford hadn’t been making a team effort to rebound the ball, so I guess I’m contractually obligated to point this out: 7 boards for McIntyre, 5 for Ross, 5 for WHF. If I wasn’t lazy I’d work up what Radford’s record is this season when the rest of the starters out-rebound Oliver and when they don’t, ‘cause I bet it’s like 12-2 when they do. Too bad about that laziness thing.

COASTAL 78, HIGH POINT 60

As a BSC fan, let me be the first to say Oh…oh, crap.

Leasure shoots 7-of-11 from 3 and dishes 8 assists to 2 turnovers while scoring 23. Moses Sonko shoots 7-of-12. Colin Stevens goes 4-of-5 while racking up 7 assists. And most frighteningly of all, turns out Joseph Harris is nothing less than a full-fledged beastly beast. Check, check it: 7-of-9 for 14 points, 16 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, 1 turnover. God save us all.

(Seriously, at this point Harris is the runaway choice for Big South Freshman of the Year. The game before he entered the CCU starting lineup, the Fakecocks lost to VMI by 11. Consider the following game, on the road against High Point, the Joseph Harris test run. Since then, Coastal is 6-2 with the only losses on the road at BSC and at home by one in OT to MacRadford. Ian Guerin dons his Captain Obvious cape to point out “Some of the progression can be credited to Harris, who became a regular starter during the first game against High Point. In the ensuing nine games, he's had an average of eight rebounds per game.” Gee, I don’t know, some of the progression, you sure? Seeing as how before his arrival Leasure and Paelay were the team’s leading rebounders? I’m not sure I’m convinced.)

Now, some of those eye-popping numbers can be attributed to playing a High Point defense that was on the second leg of a Carolina trip on which it had already made the Othern Southern look like the second coming of the Showtime Lakers. (Given the opponent, I think the performance vs. Coastal was actually better, and if Akeem Scott can keep giving them 19-point-5-board games they’ll continue to compete for that pivotal four seed.) But a good portion of it is also talented guys like Leasure and Sonko finally just waking up and getting their gamey-game on.

UNCA 83, LIBERTY 81, OT

Congrats to UNCA on a big, tough road win--like pimping, going into overtime on an opponent's last-gasp three after losing a 16-point second-half lead and still pulling out the win in a hostile gym ain’t easy--but the story of this game is Larry Blair. The heart and soul of the Flyin’ Falwells went 11-of-21 from the field and 7-of-7 from the line for 33 points, including the clutch shot that sent the game into OT, along with 4 boards, 2 assists, and a steal. Perhaps most impressively, Blair played 40 minutes without committing a single turnover. I don’t know how much Player of the Year love Blair will get as the best player on a 5-17 team, but at least a few construction-paper hearts with his name on them should be cut out come Big South awards season.

What must be especially frustrating to Blair (and LU fans) is that with even a modicum more consistency from the Belmonts/Pips/Heartbeakers/Vandellas/Monsters (pick your favorite) the Flames could be right in the mid-league pack. This game, it was Damien Hubbard (8-14, 21 points) playing sidekick, and the game before that it was Evan Risher, and the game before that Anthony Smith. If even two of those guys both took it up a notch at the same time, who knows?

As for UNCA, can’t argue with five different Bulldogs (including Joey Harrell, who also grabbed 11 boards for the dub-dub) finishing in double figures. You can argue with shooting 2-of-9 from the foul line in the second half as a way of protecting one’s lead. As required by the Laws of Basketball Irony, this was 38 points lower (50 to 22) than their 3-point percentage.

Quote of the year candidate from Randy Dunton, on the Flames’ failure to rebound a missed free throw that would have given them a chance to tie at the end of OT: “Life is a do-it-yourself project and we Jack Kevorkian-ed ourselves tonight. It was assisted suicide.”

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Retractions, Vol. 1 (and useless rambling)

So it's time to start what I'm sure will become both a longstanding and time-honored tradition here at the JCCW ... yours truly carefully extracting his well-wedged foot from his mouth.

You may recall earlier today (OK, yesterday by the time anyone reads this) I called out the Birmingham News's Mike Perrin for apparently writing a feature story on BSC's Bucky McMillan that took less time to read than your average road sign. It was so short I wondered if it might have been a mistake in the web posting, then ignored that perfectly legitimate question to go into ALL CAPS MODE. The people deserved more Bucky, dammit!

Of course, yesterday afternoon, I got an e-mail from one of my "many" (read: "only") Birmingham readers letting me know that Perrin had of course written a full-length feature that had of course only gotten partially posted to the web site. In retrospect, seeing as how Perrin has been a professional journalist for many, many more moons than I have and also provides far-and-away BSC's best media coverage, giving him the benefit of the doubt would have been just a teensy-bit better move.

So anyways, in the extraordinarily slim chance that anyone's taking my opinion seriously, Mike Perrin wrote what I'm sure was a great article and I appreciate his effort.

But while I'm here, can I pointlessly gripe about something else? ESPN's ticker runs BSC scores beside the abbreviation "Birm. So.," and the joy of seeing the Panthers appear in Joe Lunardi's projection Monday was somewhat dulled by seeing it use the same code, which makes it look like Illinois is playing the University of the Phonetic Alphabet. Now, obviously Birmingham-Southern is too long and BSC would make sense to approximately .000000000003 percent of all viewers, but check it: Lunardi uses "Northwestern St" and "Northern Arizona," the first 15 characters with spaces and the second 16. "Birm.-Southern" or, even better IMHO, "B'ham-Southern" would require only 14, and in the process would look like the actual name of an institution of higher learning as opposed to a brand of Mongolian beer. Of course, now that I think about it, I think Northern Arizona goes by N. Arizona on the ticker and Northwestern St. does get abbreviated somehow. So pardon me: I think I'm just still scarred from those first few weeks of the DI transition, when just seeing BSC on the ticker was reason enough to bust out the kazoos. At least, until that fateful first ticker appearance on ESPN2, when I realized they'd labeled my school "Bir So," no periods, which ... you know, I don't even have an analogy here.

Recaps of Monday's action coming soon.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Linkage

Winthrop's Billy Houston has left the team to focus on graduating on time. Both Houston and his father says it's not about playing time ("Last year I took myself out of the starting lineup to help the team, and now I'm taking myself off the team and that's what's best for me," Houston said) but you have to wonder when his decision comes only two days after he gets his fewest minutes of the season. In any case, it's yet another obstacle for the wobbly Eagles to deal with.

Read this column from the B'ham News and you'll find out that SEC TV analyst Joe Dean Jr. used to coach Birmingham-Southern. Will you find out that Dean is also BSC's current athletic director? Will you find out how Dean balances his BSC commitments and his TV commitments, something I've wondered about for years? No. Bah.

The News also shortchanges the love with this alleged "piece" about Bucky McMillan. Look, no one deserves a write-up more than Bucky. But unless there's been some glitch in the system and they only stuck half the story on the web, we need to have a serious talk with Mike Perrin about the SHORT-ASS length of his features.

More shoddy journalism: Asheville's Citizen-Times throws the team and Eddie Biedenbach under the bus for the Bulldogs' underacheieving season. And all without asking Biedenbach to comment, despite the fact that you and I can ask Biedenbach a question right there on the Citizen-Times web page. I've also given the Misses Peacock a hard time over the last month, but both myself and this writer (no byline? did no one want to face the wrath of Eddie?)could do a better job of emphasizing UNCA's injury problems.

Ceeeeeeeelebrate Good Times Come On! in Conway, where the 'Chants are having movie nights and bonding over cookies and ice cream. No word if pajamas were involved, though apparently there was more talk about the High Point press than cute boys.

Speaking of Coastal, Bracketography.com did an interesting write-up of Buzz last week pointing out the many parallels between his career and Matt Doherty's. I guess writing for bracketography.com doesn't get you an interview, though.

Predix for tonight: The Dedmon Center should be rocking as BSC visits MacRadford tonight and it wouldn't surprise me to see the other shoe finally drop. But Radford's getting so little on the glass besides people who aren't Chris Oliver I think the Panthers can rebound their way to a lsim, slim win. BSC 71, Radford 70.

High Point doesn't have enough support for Redi right now to take down the Fakecocks in Kimbel, although a letdown of some sort is a distinct possibility. CCU 76, HPU 64.

UNCA travels to Lynchburg with a healthy Chad Mohn and a functional (to judge by their last game) Joe Barber, and I think that's too much even on the road for the Flyin' Falwells. UNCA 65, Liberty 60.

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.