Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Next Season

Well, from a basketball perspective, there are no more regular season games, no more Conference tournament games, only the luster of postseason play--the next season has arrived.

As of this writing, the Big South Conference has FIVE teams (men and women) playing in assorted events for teams with successful seasons. These events vary in prestige and history, but they all have one thing in common: you keep winning, you keep playing. Let's look at the games chronologically...

First on the schedule and first in the minds of many, the NCAA Men's Tournament...the real source of the "March Madness" that permeates American culture from St. Pat's to early April each year.

The Winthrop Eagles pulled off the upset from the 3-seed position in the Big South Championship to earn the Conference's automatic berth...that was Saturday afternoon--and come Sunday evening, it was learned that WU would have to traverse another obstacle if the Eagles were to make the traditional field of 64. They must survive the Opening Round game...also commonly known as the "Play-In Game" (which, sorry NCAA, is exactly what it is in this field of 65--dressing it up as the "Opening Round" is merely semantics when we're just talking about a pair of teams trying to settle one spot in an otherwise determined field).

Winthrop and Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC Champion) will square off in Dayton, Ohio, tonight (7:30pm, ESPN) to see who gets put in the unsettling position of taking on Duke in the First Round of the Big Dance. Winthrop's tournament pedigree did not get WU past this hurdle in the eyes of the Selection Committee, but even though there's a small blow to the ego for being in this position, there's still a PR bump. After all, this is the only NCAA game happening until lunchtime Thursday. The "Winthrop" name is getting out there a lot right now, and "Big South" gets some attention as well, so that's not bad. Now they have to win the thing to prove they belonged in the field to begin with...the dubious reward being the 1v16 game.

As you surely know, or will hear ad nauseum soon, "no 16 has ever beaten a 1-seed since the tournament went to 64 teams," yada, yada. True. But don't you think if anybody could do it, a Winthrop-Duke is a great regional tussle for the possibility? Well, yes, but I won't go there yet...one game at a time, survive and advance, etc., etc. Let's see what happens tonight first.

Meanwhile, as the Eagles are getting their Opening Round on, the Chanticleers will try their hand at the NIT. Coastal Carolina Coach Cliff Ellis made it clear that the NIT is a big step for the CCU hoops program, and he's right, but this was a team that really thought the NCAA bracket was up next on the calendar. Hopefully Ellis has gotten his bunch regrouped and ready for action after the disappointment on the home floor against Winthrop, because the Chants have got to face the UAB Blazers in Birmingham tonight (no television, sorry folks). Coastal has the dubious honor of having the most wins ever among eligible teams NOT to make the NCAA field, so it would be big for CCU to snare some NIT wins and prove a point of its own.

Wednesday is St. Patrick's Day...wear something green and catch your breath, no Big South basketball on the 17th.

Thursday it's time to start play for the women, with two tournaments happening. Gardner-Webb enjoyed the Big South Regular Season Championship, but ended with a loss to Liberty in the Conference Championship tournament final and a bid to the WNIT. There was hope among some that GWU might parlay its successful season into an at-large NCAA bid, but that was a faint hope at best. Now Coach Rick Reeves must do just as cited for Cliff Ellis above--get his top-seeded club over its loss in the Big South tourney and get the players ready for action in another tournament to prove their mettle. Fortunately for the Lady Bulldogs, the initial travel will not be very demanding, as they will be going to Charlotte to face the 49ers in the First Round (Thursday, 7pm).

At the same time, Charleston Southern will get the taste of postseason play with a new event labeled the WBI, or Women's Basketball Invitational. CSU is an 8-seed, but will host 1-seed Appalachian State because of a schedule conflict for the Mountaineers. Since Charleston Southern will be home, we will be able to stream the game for you on the Big South Network! Somewhat ironic that the last team in, playing in the newest tournament, is the one to play at home, but that can be the beauty of postseason play sometimes--its unpredictability.

Last, but far from least, the women's team at Liberty will take the court in the NCAA Women's Tournament on Saturday (Mar.20) at 2:30pm, facing Kentucky. The Flames were given a very respectful 13-seed, facing 4-seed UK. The Flames survived a wild one with Gardner-Webb in this weekend's Big South Championship, and Coach Carey Green has an experienced and battle-tested bunch taking the floor. Don't be too shocked if they earn themselves another game...
Which also speaks to the point that any victories mean more games coming Friday, or Monday, or other days as needed, so keep an eye and ear out for the latest!

So there you have it--five postseason tournaments to track, each with one Big South squad to root for...and yes, you are supposed to put your personal feelings aside for Conference pride now--after all, none of them are in direct opposition now, right? The further these teams can go, the better it is for the Big South's profile nationally, and the better in turn it is for each team and its ability to schedule "up" more often, improve RPI, etc. Just go with me on this one.

And while hoops hysteria reigns supreme, there's still lots more out there to talk about in the days ahead--baseball & softball, track & field, golf & tennis, and coaching changes for soccer, etc.
Let's play ball-----that's SHOUT--out!

No comments: