Friday, March 26, 2010

Spring Sass

Play Ball--Conference play!

Baseball and softball will still have their share of out-of-conference match-ups ahead, as is the nature of those sports' schedules, but the bulk of upcoming games are those against familiar foes in the Big South--and that's always when things get really interesting in any given sports season around here.

So while Radford hosts Siena and Coastal Carolina welcomes San Diego, the other eight Big South baseball squads will square off in Conference series through the weekend:
-Gardner-Webb at PC
-CSU at VMI
-Liberty at Asheville
-HPU at Winthrop

On the softball side, Winthrop hosts a tournament, Coastal plays Siena, and Liberty is off, but the other four teams lock up in Big South games this weekend:
-CSU at Radford
-PC at Gardner-Webb

And because spring sports are a busy time, those events just scratch the surface in a season with golf, tennis, and outdoor track & field, all for both men and women. In fact, as we prepare to wrap up March, we look to April and the next championship swing:
-April 12-14, Women's Golf
-April 15-17, Outdoor Track/Field (Men's/Women's)
-April 19-21, Men's Golf
-April 22-24, Tennis (Men's/Women's)
(with softball and baseball to follow in mid-late May).


Lots of competition--and it all adds up, because we have the totals for the Sasser Cup updated through all the winter sports now. And by way of quick update for those who are not familiar, the Sasser Cup is the "Commissioner's Trophy" or "All-Sports Award" equivalent. Most leagues have some sort of honor to the team(s) with the best cumulative performance throughout the year. For the Big South, that's the George F. "Buddy" Sasser Cup Trophy--and here's the latest...

The overall standings lead belongs to Liberty, and here's the top five:
Liberty / Coastal / Winthrop / High Point / Charleston Southern

The women's standings lead also is with the Flames, with the following top five:
Liberty / Coastal / VMI / High Point / Winthrop

Meanwhile, the men's standings have a different leader--Coastal Carolina, with this top group:
Coastal / Liberty / Winthrop / High Point / Radford

It's all a points system based on order of finish for each sport, not strictly on championships alone, but obviously winning titles is a big help, and Liberty has the edge over all others right now. LU has won 5.5 of the 10 championships awarded so far (MXC, WXC, MITF, WITF, WBB, FB-tie). The other 4.5 are scattered among Winthrop (MSOC, MBB), High Point (WSOC), Coastal Carolina (VB), and associate member Stony Brook (FB-tie).

Eight sport championships remain to be awarded in April and May, so hang on...will two-time defending Sasser Cup champ Liberty maintain the lead and make it a three-peat, or will Coastal (or another) rise up and douse the Flames? Stick around, folks...

And heeeere's the latest guide to the Big South Network programming.....

video

That's all for today...and hey, it's my birthday today (the writer, not the blog)--so celebrate and have a good time--catch you later...SHOUT--out.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

When Marketing Attacks!

In a perfect world, we would be able to put our schedules out there and our student-athletes would find large crowds greeting them at every event, cheering them on to new heights.

In the real world, we depend on some clever people dedicated to getting the word out, selling positives ("so many wins!"), downplaying negatives ("what losses?"), and working very hard to promote our events, athletes, and ideals.

Yes, it's all about the marketing. Today the Big South Marketing Group gathers in Charlotte for a face-to-face talk about what's going on at the member schools of the Conference, best practices for handling certain scenarios, and how everybody can work together to grow the profiles of the member institutions and the Conference as a whole.

Everything from advertising inventory and television deals to championships, sponsor-promotion tie-ins, and social media developments will be on the list today.

Meetings, you say...boring, you say. Perhaps...to some.

In truth, the ideas that come out of sessions like this can have a big impact on how your favorite school's sports are presented--and how the Big South membership is interconnected for various sports, events, promotions, and more. Just sayin'...

Anyway, today's post is really our chance for a quick SHOUT-out to the "BSMG" folks who keep the ideas churning and the turnstiles turning--have a great session!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Ouch...Reality Bites Big South

Fun while it lasted?
Not even sure of that.

Friday morning, sitting on 0-4 in postseason hoops, with one underdog hope remaining.

To recap:
Tuesday night--Winthrop had its shot in the NCAA Opening Round game, facing Arkansas-Pine Bluff (SWAC Champ) in Dayton. And while we can cling to the novelty of Winthrop scoring the first points of the 2010 Tourney (a basket from Andy Buechert), the Eagles faltered on the national stage, struggling with shooting woes all night and losing 61-44. UAPB's reward, of course, is a date with Duke today, but the Golden Lions have earned the right to keep dancing.

Within minutes of that ending, the Big South's Regular Season Champion met the same fate as its Tournament Champion--a double-digit loss. For Coastal Carolina, it was a trip to Birmingham for the NIT First Round and a meeting with UAB. The bigger Blazers controlled the game and held off the Chants for a 65-49 victory.

Just like that, the men's basketball postseason had ended.

On to Thursday night, when perhaps the women would fare better for the Big South...but no, the script was repeated--two games, two losses. Gardner-Webb made the short trip to Charlotte to face the 49ers in the First Round of the WNIT, but seemed to lack the intensity needed to take one on the road. Charlotte led the game wire-to-wire, and by wide margins most of the way. In the end, it was UNCC 74, GWU 60.

At the same time, Charleston Southern wound up in the surprise position of hosting a First Round game of the inaugural edition of the Women's Basketball Invitational (WBI). Appalachian State had the better seed but had to make the trip to CSU for this one. ASU dominated the scoreboard in the first half, opening nearly a 20-point lead, but the Bucs would not give up the ship, making for perhaps the most exciting game of this postseason quartet. CSU fired off a comeback and climbed almost even with the Mountaineers, but then App-State regained its footing and pulled away for a 62-47 win.

Tale of the tape--four teams in four different tournaments, no advances.
Humbling and disappointing losses of 17, 16, 14, and 15 points...

And then there was one.

Yes, folks, there were five postseason hoops squads for the Big South Conference, but four have fallen. That leaves us with a vested interest in one team yet to play: the Liberty Flames women's team, Big South Championship tourney winner and rep for the NCAA's. The Flames open with Kentucky Saturday afternoon, and while UK's women don't have the same expectations as those riding on the men's team from Lexington right now, these Wildcats will have the favorite position understandable for a quality SEC team. By seeding, the match-up is a 4v13 tilt, so a win would certainly qualify as an upset.

Only I don't think anybody around here would be too upset about it...

Well, we'll see. Hey--look on the bright side: we've got Conference play in baseball and softball now, so I guess it's time to turn the seasons anyway (if you haven't already).

Make it a great weekend everybody----SHOUT--out!

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!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Making the Championship Turn

The Big South Conference awards 18 championships (17 of which involve tournaments or meets to determine a winner, with football being settled only on a regular season basis).

At this point in the year, half of those titles have been earned, with half to go.

The most recent of these, of course, is the 2010 Men's Basketball Championship won by Winthrop on Saturday. It was an intense, exciting game--not one with great shooting, but one won with dogged defense and determination by the Eagles. Doing so against Coastal on the Chanticleers' home court was nothing short of a sweet bonus for the WU faithful in this clash of longtime rivals.

So, at this midpoint, how has the title allotment gone so far?

By sport (and chronologically):
Men's Cross Country -- Liberty
Women's Cross Country -- Liberty
Women's Soccer -- High Point
Men's Soccer -- Winthrop
Volleyball -- Coastal Carolina
Football -- Liberty / Stony Brook (tie)
Men's Indoor Track -- Liberty
Women's Indoor Track -- Liberty
Men's Basketball -- Winthrop

By school:
Liberty -- 4.5
Winthrop -- 2
High Point -- 1
Coastal -- 1
(Stony Brook, associate member -- 0.5)

In short, half of the titles have been won--and half of those belong to the Flames, thanks mainly to the strength of the student-athletes in the running sports and related field events. Liberty has the men's/women's double in cross country and indoor track...and they'll be aiming for outdoor track next month.

Meanwhile, LU will also contend for the women's basketball crown, to be awarded this upcoming weekend...but the Flames know their dominance in this sport has a clear challenger in the form of Gardner-Webb. The Lady Bulldogs won the Big South Regular Season Championship for women's hoops, and they want to follow with a tourney title and NCAA berth.

There will be some interesting stories to follow in this week's Advance Auto Parts Big South Women's Basketball Championship from High Point. We encourage you to keep up with the events through all the Big South online outlets...but for now, this is SHOUT--out...

Friday, March 5, 2010

This Time It's Personal for Rivals

We all love rivalries--from the outside.

When two long-time foes square off and it's well-known that the opponents have faced each other in emotional battles for years, well, that's good theater, isn't it?

All hands on deck for the biggest and best: no one wants to miss the action, or at least the results, of Duke-UNC basketball, Ohio St.-Michigan football, Red Sox-Yankees, and so on.

In our neck of the woods, one of those conflicting match-ups is Winthrop-Coastal Carolina.
Doesn't really matter what the sport is...could be the 200 yard board game medley for all the fan bases care--because the order of the day is "BEAT WU/CCU".

Yeah, these clashes are fun from the outside--on the inside, there's emotion and tension and risk and reward. You can't wait for it to start...or end.

The fact that this is men's basketball ups the ante a bit (at least until whatever far-flung future date these Palmetto State rivals can collide on a football field, if ever).

For Winthrop, the NCAA berth felt like a given for a while--after all, the Eagles won eight Big South tourney championships in ten years (two four-game streaks separated by a two-year gap) before falling short last year. The WU faithful see this as an opportunity to regain a dynasty, reclaim a throne...the fact that they could do so on the court of their rival is just a bonus.

For Coastal Carolina, true basketball success has been more elusive. WU makes its 11th appearance in the final game, CCU its 5th...WU has 9 titles, CCU has 4...etc. In addition, Saturday's game will be the third time in the five final appearances that Coastal's path crossed with Winthrop's (they split--with CCU winning in 1993, Winthrop in 2006). Winning a title AND denying Winthrop amounts to the "daily double" for the Chanticleers--and they'll be on the home floor in "intimate" (or cozy...or do you prefer small?) Kimbel Arena.

Each of these teams controlled its respective semi, with Winthrop holding off Radford and the miserable shooting performance of the Highlanders (sorry, Radfordites, they went 15-60 from the field, the numbers don't lie)...and Coastal dominating Asheville throughout, in virtually every facet of the game (sorry, Bulldogs folks, saw it in person, it was that one-sided, at least until UNCA cranked up the urgency--too late in the game).

Now it's head-to-head for the title...the historic leader vs. the current frontrunner, Winthrop vs. Coastal Carolina with everything at stake...and they wouldn't have it any other way. Enjoy the game.

WATCH - Saturday, 3/6/10, 4pm, ESPN2
(with postgame interviews streaming live on the Big South Network)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

MEN'S BASKETBALL SEMIFINALS

Coming to you from the Media Room at Kimbel Arena for the semifinals of the Advance Auto Parts Big South Conference Men's Basketball Championships...we'll have reports through all our online sites and services, but for the "hot" updates, I recommend you check our Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/bigsouthsports for the fast and frequent comments...there will also be some at Facebook, and here, at points throughout the tourney--plus the main game stories and recaps at www.bigsouthsports.com, of course.

The semifinals can be seen tonight on ESPNU (first game at 6pm, second game to follow).

The Championship final will air Saturday on ESPN2 at 4pm....

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Williams Wows , Tourney Turns

While current Big South players battle it out on the hardwoods for the Big Dance, a former Conference star has made it to The Show...so it's hoops-a-lot for today's SHOUT.

Let's start with the well-deserved SHOUT-out to former VMI Keydet Reggie Williams. Reggie reigns as the all-time leading scorer for VMI and the Big South, but his accomplishments have continued to grow after that stellar collegiate career for the Keydets.

Recently we drew your attention in this space to Williams hooking on--and then dominating--the NBA Developmental League. He led the "D-League" in scoring as a member of the Sioux Falls Sky Force (26.4 ppg). Now Williams has gone another step: the NBA.

First came the word that yes indeed, Reggie Williams had inked a ten-day agreement with the Golden State Warriors...before knowing anything else, that itself is good news--a shot at the highest level of the game, a live audition for his pro prospects against the best in the business--but it's only the start of this story.

He was in uniform right away, for the Warriors' game against the Miami Heat. He sums the experience up like this: "Coming in your first night and the first guy you guard is Dwyane Wade, it’s kind of different but it was a good experience. It was fun. I had a good time. I’m upset we lost but just have to move onto the next one tomorrow night.

That's a modest summary from Mr. W, whose "good time" included the impressive debut numbers of 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. Read more about that performance from our colleagues at VMI. But wait, there's more--you can catch Reggie Williams wearing his number 55 (the same he wore when he finished with VMI) for Golden State on national TV tonight: TNT has the Warriors visiting the Orlando Magic at 7pm, Wednesday, March 3rd.

Could there be more good things in store for Reggie? Coach Don Nelson praised his passing and lack of fear, adding, "In just one game he has gotten the respect of his teammates." Sounds promising. (Pictures courtesy NBAE/Getty Images, with thanks to VMI)

--

Okay, okay, so what about the Big South basketball happening NOW, right?
Gotcha...on it.

Quarterfinal night for the Advance Auto Parts Big South Conference Basketball Championship provided some drama, but in the end, little in the way of real surprises: in short, the favorites won.

So the top four seeds earned those positions and the first round home games that went with them...and all four will advance to the semis. Some games had more drama than others, even though the eventual winners all had double-digit leads at some point in their respective games.

HPU at UNC Asheville -- I was there for this one myself, and I can tell you the difference was settled quickly: the Bulldogs jumped to a 9-1 start and paced ahead of the Panthers for the duration. High Point had its moments, but Asheville generally controlled the game and got the 84-73 win.

VMI at Coastal Carolina -- the 1v8 game pretty much played like one, with the Chants jumping up early 21-9 and maintaining a healthy lead throughout much of the contest, ending in CCU's favor 82-73.

Liberty at Winthrop -- Liberty had an early run, but the Eagles grabbed and then held onto a lead the rest of the way (one with its shares of dramatic ups and downs, even closing within one point)...the margin was eight at the half and was back to eight at the end: WU 80-72.

CSU at Radford -- now here's the biggest drama of the night...RU's 16 point lead at the break withered until it had disappeared altogether, resulting in overtime for this 2v7 game. The Highlanders got the slim 9-6 edge in the extra five minutes to survive and advance.

Now it's on to Thursday night and the semifinals from Kimbel Arena at Coastal Carolina University, both games on ESPNU (at 6pm & 8pm):

Radford (2) vs. Winthrop (3), a rematch of last Saturday's two-point game.
Asheville (4) vs. Coastal (1), with the host hoping to earn another home game.

Saturday's final will be at 4pm on ESPN2.

The Big South Network will have free live streaming coverage of the postgame coach and player interviews after the semifinal and final games.

Look for more updates on the tournament here, as well as our Twitter and Facebook pages, and always get the official word at BigSouthSports.com. Enjoy the games...SHOUT--out!