You can feel it in the air…the feeling of March Madness being right around the corner. Basketball fans around the world are excited this time of year as conference tournaments precede the NCAA Tournament.
For a conference like the Big South, you know that it all comes down to your conference tournament in order to get the NCAA tournament bid. The Big South is a one-bid league that has a few teams that can make a run this year.
All first round games begin on February 28th with the quarterfinals beginning March 2nd.
Tuesday, February 28th:
7 Campbell vs. 10 Presbyterian
8 Charleston Southern vs. 9 Longwood
Thursday, March 2nd:
Winner of 8 vs. 9 vs. 1 Winthrop
Winner of 7 vs. 10 vs. 2 UNC-Asheville
3 Liberty vs. 6 Radford
4 Gardner Webb vs. 5 High Point
(Final round game can be seen on ESPN)
So let’s address the major question:
Who will win the Big South Championship?
With the bottom four teams fighting to move on to Thursday, only two teams will prevail. Expect Campbell to move on past the Presbyterian Blue Hose. Coming into the tournament with only five overall wins, the Blue Hose have lost 8 straight games. The Camels of Campbell are coming off an upset win over Radford so expect them to carry that momentum into Tuesday.
In the 8 vs 9 match up, the 9 seed Longwood Lancers have lost 15 straight games. Even though you have to think of a conference tournament with your record at 0-0, 15 straight losses can be demoralizing of a team. Expect Charleston Southern to move on to play Winthrop.
One interesting team mentioned before is Radford. Even though they are going up against the 3 seed Liberty Flames, Radford may have arguably one of the best players to watch in Ed Polite Jr. The sophomore forward lead the conference with 14 double-doubles, so he could be a player that carries them into the semi-finals or further.
The Gardner-Webb vs High Point match up will be the most interesting to watch on Thursday. High Point is coming off a loss to Gardner-Webb to end the season , so they are looking to get another crack at the Bulldogs.
While these games will be interesting, the two heavy favorites to face off in the final game are Winthrop and UNC-Asheville. Winthrop is on a mission as they have experience heartbreak the last three years in the final game. Last year, they lost to UNC-Asheville and hope to square off for a grudge match again this year.
Both teams sit with 23 wins on the year. Winthrop has played some quality opponents and have a quality road win at Illinois. Look for Keon Johnson to make his presence known early as he averages 21.8 ppg on the year. For UNC-Asheville, they have their share of quality games played with names like Ohio State, Kansas, and VCU on the schedule. Even though none of those games resulted in wins, it will prove to be beneficial in winner take all games as they have experienced some of the best competition in the country. For the Bulldogs, keep an eye out for Ahmad Thomas as he comes in averaging 18.0 ppg and 54.3% from the field.
One thing to keep in mind for this tournament is the on-campus sites. In the past seasons, the conference hosted the tournament on Coastal Carolina’s campus. Now that Coastal Carolina has moved on to the Sun Belt, it will be a home-court advantage for whoever has the higher seed.
Big South Conference Tournament Prediction: After three years of heartbreak, the Winthrop Eagles move on the the NCAA Tournament.