Friday, January 22, 2010

Of Basketball & Bare Feet

Where does the time go? Been a week since the last SHOUT...yikes (!), sorry for the delay.

We'll keep this one relatively brief, but there are indeed two main and interrelated topics as alluded to in the title of today's post.

First, the basketball itself--the men's side has gotten very interesting, with the competition both expanding (in number of teams) and contracting (in separation of games). Coastal Carolina dropped a game to Radford, but still holds the lead at 7-1 and has matched the Big South's best overall mark through 20 games at 17-3. Radford is indeed right behind, still a game back at 6-2 thanks to a loss at CSU. Behind those two is the other pair from last weekend's battle royale: Charleston Southern and High Point, each at 5-3. Now we warned you about the Buccaneers being in a position to charge, and CSU closed the deal, beating both RU and HPU. The flip side of that is High Point, dropping two games and falling back of the leaders.

The next group is a trio of 4-4 teams: UNC Asheville, Winthrop, and Liberty. Of those squads, we say now watch out for Asheville, as the Bulldogs have been on the rise. Their losses were close ones and their wins have come recently and in bunches. With Coach Eddie Biedenbach now the all-time leader in regular season Big South victories, it looks like this edition of UNCA has indeed learned about winning. Winthrop and Liberty haven't proven reliable this year, but they can hang with anyone when they're "on"...

The remaining teams need help if they are to climb up from the bottom. GWU holds onto a glimmer of hope at 3-5, but PC and VMI are each 1-7...and while PC is sitting out its last year of transition-based ineligibility, the Keydets are at risk of dropping from the 2-seed to OUT of the Conference Tournament in the span of a year.

For the women, the leader club has grown by one again, with Gardner-Webb, High Point, and Radford all 4-1 going into the weekend. GWU seemed to be the team-to-watch first, then HPU pulled alongside, and now RU is in the pack...and don't be surprised that 3-1 Liberty wants to climb right into the mix too! As for the rest...well, the top four squads have 15 wins in Conference play, while the bottom five teams total six Big South wins...nuff said.

For more hoops, check out the Conference site, but okay, it's now time for the "bare feet" part of the program...seriously.

Avid hoops-watchers may have caught on to this already, but some college coaches have been appearing on sidelines without their shoes, or socks, or anything, on their feet. It seems unusual at first, but the key is that it is getting noticed. The whole effort is a campaign on behalf of Samaritan's Feet, a humanitarian relief organization dedicated to acquiring shoes for children around the world who have no shoes to wear. A five-dollar donation is the equivalent of a pair of shoes--which might be all it takes to stave off some diseases and infections, might be what is needed to get involved in sports otherwise difficult or impossible to play, or might be the difference in taking both literal and figurative steps forward in life. We take it for granted--they do not have that luxury.

In the Big South Conference, the initiative is "Barefoot for Bare Feet," and runs selectively through men's and women's games from January 23rd to March 1st, starting with both Charleston Southern coaches (Barclay Radebaugh and Julie Goodenough) in their home games tomorrow (1/23). At the Barefoot games, members of the Big South Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) will collect new shoes (athletic shoes only) and monetary donations. In addition, school-specific donation-by-text numbers are available.

We encourage everyone to help Samaritan's Feet with their initiatives. And yes, as you might expect, Haiti is a target for this aid (they were part of the SF programs even before the devastating earthquakes that deepened the troubles there).

And so with that, we return to the games themselves by offering this week's Big South Network Guide:

That's all I've got today--make it a great weekend, folks....and that's SHOUT--out!!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Game On!

Just throwing in a quick word as we move through the basketball schedule from Thursday's men's match-ups to Saturday's men's and women's showdowns...

The headliner match for last night went to the defending champ, not the undefeated challenger, but don't worry--there'll be a rematch down the road. Coastal Carolina had won 12 in a row, but couldn't get the baker's dozen, as Radford notched a ten-point victory on CCU's floor.

MEANWHILE, Charleston Southern held on in the end in a tight home struggle with High Point (we warned you to keep an eye on the Bucs with this schedule set-up), downing the Panthers by three.

The net result: tighter standings and more contenders in the men's basketball standings--

Coastal 6-1
Radford 5-1
High Pt. 4-2
Liberty 4-2
CSU 4-3

The focal points in the men's race are at first place and fourth place. The top seed owns the right to host its way through the Conference Championship Tournament, while the top four teams will all be able to host first round games. Outside the teams listed above, Winthrop is 3-3, Asheville has two wins, and VMI, GWU, and PC each have just one win so far.

Saturday's MBB line-up:
GWU at VMI, 1pm
HPU at CCU, 2pm
UNCA at LU, 7pm
WU at PC, 7pm
RU at CSU, 7:30pm

So just like Thursday, we look to the South Carolina coast for two games, but with the opponents reversed--either way, it's four of the top five teams trading blows.

For the women, Saturday looks like this:
UNCA at RU, 3pm
WU at HPU, 4pm
PC at LU, 4pm
GWU at CSU, 5pm

So the top three teams (GWU 3-1, HPU 3-1, RU 2-1) are all involved in separate games...all important, but with slightly less head-to-head drama than what this weekend's men's schedule has delivered to us.

Okay--that's it--have a great Friday everybody------and ENJOY THE GAMES!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chants Encounters

Those who have followed Big South basketball for years know that while Coastal Carolina has had competitive seasons, the Chanticleers haven't won any regular-season or tournament championships in Conference since Tony Dunkin (pictured) was collecting an unmatched FOUR Player of the Year Awards (and if you are unfamiliar with his work, check out his "Best of the Best" salute).

It's true: regular-season wins in 1988/89/90/91 and tournament wins in 1990/91/93...that makes a gap of 17 years by the time we get to crunch time of this campaign.

All of which makes the CCU run more jaw-dropping by the game. Coastal has now surged to 16-2 with 12 consecutive wins and a Big South mark of 6-0. Coach Cliff Ellis has gotten his team in a winning rhythm, and all parties involved have to be satisfied with Joseph Harris (pictured) making the decision to return to Conway for his final year of eligibility.

So regardless of what happens this weekend, the performance is spectacular and the records set will be tough to match. Nonetheless, with excitement over the Thursday-Saturday double feature at Kimbel Arena at a fever pitch, the pressure may be on to win as a statement: an assertion as to which team belongs in the first place position.

THURSDAY: Radford at Coastal Carolina, 7pm (available on the Big South Network).

The Radford Highlanders were the preseason favorites (as recounted in our last post) and the easy plug-in choice by national publications for early "bracketology" as defending champions with returning talent. Like CCU, RU opened this season 4-0 in the Big South, setting up a potential clash of titans for this week's game. Since that start, the Chants have notched two more wins, while Radford took a punch at High Point to hit 4-1. If any luster is off of the match-up with that loss, don't tell the campus by the shore--everyone there is pumped for this game, and rightfully so.

SATURDAY: High Point at Coastal Carolina, 2pm (also Big South Network).

Right on the heels of that showdown comes one just as challenging, if not more so because it requires avoiding any letdown coming off of the first game: High Point visits Coastal. Due to Radford's extra attention (for example, this recent write-up on "Big Art" Parakhouski for, HPU may be slipping under the radar for the casual fan outside of High Point, NC. Don't be fooled--the Panthers are not going away. They are also 4-1 in Conference and dealt the Highlanders their only loss.

Meanwhile, hoops fans, I offer this suggestion: keep an eye on Charleston Southern, just in case. CSU is a seemingly average 3-3 at the moment, but the Bucs are the other team in this travel partner set-up: they will also play High Point and Radford in the next few days (HPU 7:30pm Thurs., RU 7:30pm Sat.), so how they fare could play a big role in which teams hold the upper spots--and in what order--going into next week.

Basically, we've just gone from the fun of seeing Conference games to the thrill of a race for position--it's serious business now! Naturally, we've got the games's the guide for this week:

That's enough of a SHOUT for today--enjoy the many games out there for ALL our Big South teams (try to get out and support your favorites in person if you can)!

Monday, January 11, 2010

And They Call it the Streak

As we enjoy the Big South Conference basketball race, let's pause for a moment to reflect on a few things, shall we?

First (as if you didn't know this by now), preseason polls are quite frequently pure guesswork. We all know it's just a means to start conversation about a given sport/league/level, etc. After all, no one would base postseason finishes on polls (cough-cough) when you could rely on competition to settle the matter (cough-cough), right?

So remember that it's all "best guess" stuff and look back on the Big South Men's Basketball Preseason Poll...

Radford was forecast at first place, which is not too far off, as RU is currently tied for second with only one loss--but then there's the group at two through five: UNC Asheville, Winthrop, Gardner-Webb, and VMI, listed in that order. Well, of that quartet, Winthrop has worked to a 3-3 mark, but the others have three wins COMBINED--each with just a single victory in Big South play thus far. To be fair, Asheville has been very close over and over again, but wins keep ending up just out of reach--they may yet have a run, but the hole is getting deeper.

Which brings us to the trio at six through eight: High Point, Liberty, and Coastal Carolina. HPU is 4-1, having freshly dispatched previously undefeated Radford, and appears to have the ability to remain in the race long-term. Liberty holds a winning mark at 3-2, potentially playing above this position, but up-and-down overall. And then there's Coastal.

Seriously--eighth? CCU has now won an astonishing 12 consecutive games, jumped out to a 6-0 Conference mark, taken sole possession of first place, and properly earned a ranking in the mid-majors poll. This guess was WAY off the mark. Heck, the Chanticleers should've finished higher in a SoCon poll--they're undefeated in that conference too (4-0)!

The advance poll finished out with Charleston Southern, who at 3-3 is outperforming that forecast for ninth, and Presbyterian College, who at 1-5 is seemingly living up (down?) to that last-place estimation...but look closer and you'll see a team that has been very competitive game-by-game, in a season that is otherwise a "lost year" given the multiple redshirts biding their time for a collective run in PC's first year of eligibility next season...we'll wait and see.

So I suppose it's acceptable to say that the Chants are exceeding expectations, yeah?

Now buckle up for this news: Radford plays at Coastal Carolina Thursday night (1/14, 7pm).

That's right, the expected leader (RU 4-1) goes against the surprise frontrunner (CCU 6-0) in a definite statement game at Kimbel Arena...and all on the Big South Network, of course!

The undercard on that exciting night of Big South hoops includes HPU at CSU, which is a game pitting the prowling Panthers (4-1 and trying to keep pace) against the scrappy Buccaneers (3-3 with an upcoming schedule that would allow them to shake things up if they can).

So there's a lot of basketball left, but don't look past this week's action too quickly--soak this in while you can, because Thursday night could be a lot of fun...but then again, that smacks of forecasting, and we all know how well predictions can work...

Speaking of fun and forecasts, here's the link for you to read the Big South's latest update on Rush the Court.

And that's SHOUT--out!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ballers, No Bawlers

Okay, so Monday I wrote a little bit about the teams on top in men's and women's basketball...the men's teams cited won't have a beef with me from that, because they won their games, but on the women's side, things took quite a turn. Now I'm offering some thoughts on Thursday afternoon and the men are at it again tonight--no jinxes here, and I'll explain in a minute, but let's get going...

As I write this, Coastal Carolina and UNC Asheville are playing an afternoon game at the Justice Center. Yes, that was originally slated to be an evening game, just like the other tip-offs coming up at 7pm tonight, but weather concerns for the Asheville region bumped the game up in advance of the winter precipitation threat. That being said, the weather isn't the only thing cold out there, since the two teams kept scores in the single digits for a good while into the game--we'll just have to hope the results warm up well past the temperatures.

Here's the deal at the moment for Big South men's basketball--the top three teams all notched wins again back on Monday, putting Coastal Carolina and Radford each at 4-0, with High Point just back at 3-1. Interestingly enough, as the Chants put their ten-game winning streak and unblemished Conference mark on the line in today's pre-snow matinee, RU and HPU are both sitting out this date--eight of ten teams in action, but not those two, so there may be some subtle shifts in the leader board depending on the CCU outcome. Next, ALL ten teams play Saturday, including a match-up that has Radford AT High Point, which could be a doozie.

So if you like streaks (and who doesn't?), not only do you have Coastal's ten-game overall and four-game Big South runs at stake (do you know the final yet? still the first half for me)--you also have HPU's 6-0 home mark this season flying headlong into RU's 11-game Conference road game winning streak. The painful flipside to those positive rolls: GWU and PC, losers of ten and nine games overall, respectively.

And I promised women's hoops--with a whoops! At the start of the week, I lavished praise on GWU's Lady Bulldogs for their tremendous start and forecast a bright future for naturally, they laid an egg that same night. Radford came to Boiling Springs with a record of 1-10 on the year, but left with a surprising upset win over the formerly 12-2 Gardner-Webb squad, thanks in part to a start that saw GWU miss its first 11 shots from the field...ouch.

Sports being such a fragile creature at times, I feared for cries of a jinx about our humble blog's remarks...but GWU Coach Rick Reeves settled the matter with some perfectly blunt coach-speak via Twitter:

We got the big head and thought we just had to show up to win and we got taught a hard lesson. I believe we will respond well next game!

Sounds like the final word on that to me.

In any case, HPU's women have now won five straight and own the only 2-0 mark in the Big South...but then again, not all teams have even logged a pair of Conference games yet, so too early to start drawing any serious conclusions.

I also promised I'd go over the Big South Conference Fall Sportsmanship Awards in this entry, so without further ado, here are the honors announced over the holidays, as voted on by their peers within the Conference in each listed sport:

Football:........................VMI, Charleston Southern
Men's Soccer:...................UNC Asheville
Women's Soccer:..............Presbyterian College
Women's Cross Country:......VMI
Men's Cross Country:...........Liberty

A huge SHOUT-out to all the student-athletes on these teams, representing the ideals of sportsmanship and leading by example! The Big South will again award an Institutional Sportsmanship Award at the conclusion of the 2009-10 competitions. VMI has won the overall award all four years of its existence.

We interrupt this blog to bring you our weekly peek at the upcoming events on the Big South Network:

One more SHOUT-out before we're colleague and friend Everett Hutto, who has made the switch from UNC Asheville to Winthrop (his alma mater). The jobs at either end are both media-related, but he will have a role concentrated more on the video and new media aspects of the athletic department and less on the traditional sports information side. The WU fans will benefit from his work, to be sure, just as the Asheville fans will miss his efforts on their behalf. Good luck, Everett!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010: The Future Arrives

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all of you Big South fans, friends, family, and followers!

It's 2010, people. I betray my age for a moment by saying that the date sounds like we've really landed in the ever-mythical "future" now. For those a generation ahead of me, the millennium always sounded like the horizon--changing to 2000 was unthinkable (heck, all the checks, forms, and even the computers themselves stopped at 19__). The centerpiece of that philosophy was the novel and film "2001: A Space Odyssey." Years later, that date didn't seem quite as far off, and the horizon was stretched to 2010--as the book "2010: Odyssey Two" and its movie counterpart "2010: The Year We Make Contact" took us to this new date...although author Arthur C. Clarke was not able to make that next milestone, having passed in 2008. Turns out we're not booking moon passages, making interplanetary ventures, or establishing the validity of extraterrestrial intelligence...but I digress...

The valid point buried in that tangent is that the calendar has flipped and, like it or not, it's time for rushing headlong into the events of a new year and decade (don't start debating on that one--I know the math says it's 2001-2010, but popular culture says it's 2000-2009, so be it, we're going with the masses).

Painting with a very broad brush here, the last decade of Big South hoops belonged largely to Winthrop's men (7 of 10 Tournaments) and Liberty's women (9 of 10). While both schools will still bring highly competitive teams to the court, it just doesn't feel likely that either one will have another decade of similar dominance in them for the 10's (pronounce it 'teens' and get used to it, especially since no one ever agreed on what to call the last decade). I actually don't expect to see that level of dominance from ANY member institution for that matter, and that's a GOOD thing. Although it's easily argued that a powerhouse squad makes a name for itself and its conference in a way that reverberates nationally, there's not a clear candidate for that role out there right now. So rather than bemoan the lack of a standard-bearer at the moment, let's sit back and enjoy the battle to earn that status going should be fun.

Okay, so with that said, what teams have been asserting themselves and where are the battle lines being drawn?

For the men, the early race appears to be between Radford and Coastal Carolina. No one can really be surprised by the Highlanders, since they were preseason favorites, but the Chanticleers have announced themselves in an unprecedented way. At 13-2 going into tonight's home game against PC, Coastal has established its best-ever season start, including an active nine-game winning streak--and no team approaches that win-loss record right now (all others with 7 or fewer victories as I write these words). RU hasn't been on quite the same roll, playing along an uneven path overall (including some tough high-caliber opposition), but in Conference play, Radford and CCU have matching 3-0 marks...not too shabby. Lurking right behind, you'll find Liberty and High Point at 2-1 in the Big South.

For the women, we're talking first and foremost about Gardner-Webb. The Lady Bulldogs have run their way to 12-2 overall, including a win in the first shot at a Big South opponent this season (Liberty). Since the women's teams are only one game into Big South play, it's a little early to draw any conclusions (even premature ones), but we'll briefly point out that the next best overall record belongs to Coastal, at 9-4...could they be brewing a double-challenge in Conway? Again, High Point and Liberty will certainly be among those challenging that notion.

Gotta run, sorry about the past-future rambles (just one more--isn't next year supposed to be the year of SkyNet from Terminator?)...more coming this week on other topics (including the Big South Sportsmanship Awards)....I'll be back...SHOUT--out!