Friday, March 7, 2008

Hoops Bonanza in Asheville

What an incredible time to be following Big South athletics!
That goes both figuratively, for fans--and literally, for me, as I write this from my hotel in Asheville (the Doubletree Biltmore Hotel, just outside the entrance to the famed Vanderbilt estate).

After Tuesday's games, the focus turned quickly to Thursday's semifinals in Asheville at the Justice Center on the UNC Asheville campus. First, a quick recap: in the quarterfinals, all the top-seeded/home teams won their games (UNCA over Charleston Southern, Winthrop atop Radford, High Point past Coastal Carolina, and Liberty beating VMI). Only the outcome of the HPU-CCU game provided any real drama, coming down to the final seconds, while the other games sported wider margins of victory. With all those games in the books, the top four seeds moved to the site of the regular-season champion (Asheville) for the next round.

Back-to-back games in the intimate surroundings of the Justice Center created plenty of excitement yesterday, but again the high seeds prevailed, with Winthrop knocking off High Point and UNC Asheville defeating Liberty. That sets up dramatic storylines for Saturday's final (and you can watch on ESPN2). You see, Winthrop and UNCA tied for the regular season title, and in recent years, both the season and tournament titles have belonged to Winthrop alone. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs got the top seed this year by virtue of sweeping the Eagles in their two meetings. The result? A defending champ trying to hold its title on the floor of its rival, who is eager to dethrone the old and take over as the new king of the hill. This is good stuff! And don't forget the core story behind all of it--Saturday's winner gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, of course.

A couple of other notes from tourney time--attending/working my first Big South Tournament game, I "won the tip" Winthrop Tuesday, a Radford player tapped the opening tip-off out to the side and it one-hopped off the floor, over the scorer's table, and right into my hands. How about that? A fun start, to be sure.

The quarterfinals only got a brief glimpse on ESPN SportsCenter, with a clip from the LU-VMI game in the "top plays"...the semifinals got broader treatment, with game highlights from UNCA-LU (and only a passing mention of the WU-HPU contest). The show's discussion focused its attention on UNCA's Kenny George, the 7-7 center for the Bulldogs who disrupted Liberty's game, much as he has done to many other teams on Asheville's march this season. Liberty Head Coach Ritchie McKay heaped praise on George in the postgame press conference, acknowledging that the Flames could not go inside while he was in the game. He does make for an imposing figure in the paint.

Now we just have to see how it all plays out--this should be a fantastic game, with two strong teams going for the title.
And as if all that isn't enough--Asheville hosts the Women's Tournament NEXT week!

1 comment:

BigSouther for Life said...

Get Hype for Big South Hoops! I love it!!!