Friday, January 28, 2011

Talkin' Baseball (?)...and Plenty More

Okay Big South peeps, this weekend still seems simple enough on its face: Conference match-ups for men's and women's basketball take center stage, right? Sure, but it's not that simple any more, certainly not beyond this weekend anyway.

Here's the deal--Saturday has a full line-up of men's hoops, with five games tipping off throughout the day, plus a quartet of women's games also hitting the court. But January is coming to a close and February is coming in fast, so those games get the most buzz right now, but it's just the tip of an athletics iceberg that will culminate with a parade of championships in the spring.

Put another way, the tennis teams are facing off against out-of-conference foes right now, while the golf teams are rolling out their tournaments, and, most notably, the indoor track and field squads are making lots of noise in various meets around the region. How much noise? Good enough for the men to make the USTFCCCA (it's the governing body, don't worry about the alphabet soup, just go with it) top ten for ALL conferences in the country! The Big South ranked eighth, coming in behind only the six large power/BCS leagues, plus the Mountain West Conference.

Is that all, you ask? Well, noooo...although not under the "Big South Sports" umbrella, don't forget about the wrestling competition happening out there right now for some schools (
VMI, Liberty, and GWU all wrestle...catch the VMI-Citadel competition streaming tonight on the Big South Network). Then there's the swimming and diving, which has been growing, with Liberty joining GWU, VMI, and Radford in the pool. All have been actively competing and await the CCSA Championships in February, featuring the swimming schools from four regional conferences that do not have enough participants to stage their own individual championship meets.

And then there's and softball practice. Seriously, the ball-and-bat sports will hit their respective diamonds soon, and there's a sizable and eager fan base waiting for play to begin. The preseason polls were released this last week, and it probably does not shock anyone following the sports to see that Coastal Carolina had the nod for tops in baseball and Radford the same for softball. In fact, both are getting a little national attention as well.

For baseball, Coastal not only won the top spot in the coaches' vote, but did so unanimously! The Chants will start the season ranked 24th nationally, and will be watched closely to see how they follow last year's Super Regional finish. For softball, Radford will not begin ranked, but the Highlanders have votes in the national preseason polls, so they are not far off the radar.

Interestingly enough, Liberty lurks just behind the leaders in both sports in the preseason count. The Flames matched CCU baseball's unanimous first-place prediction by collecting a unanimous set of second-place votes. It seems clear that the Big South's baseball skippers agree that the 2011 season begins where the 2010 season left off: with Coastal ruling the roost but Liberty burning it up right behind. It wasn't unanimous for softball, but it was nearly as decisive, as the softball coaches made the Radford-Liberty duo a clear one-two.

For those already wanting to get their hands on for spring streaming packages on the Big South Network (presented by State Farm), good news: those packages will be available starting February 1st at Individual games will be available for order soon after that.

Okay, okay, let's get back to the whole HOOPS thing!

Opposite poles? Matter and anti-matter? Call it what you like, but the still blistering-hot Coastal Carolina Chanticleers play at ice-cold Radford Saturday. It's the upset of the year within the Conference if the 1-9 Highlanders stop the 10-0 Chants and their 17-game win streak, "but that's why they play the games"...

As amazing as the Coastal run has been (and it has been stellar), don't overlook the fact that the Liberty Flames have paced CCU every step of the way. The only loss for the 9-1 Flames was to Coastal Carolina, and it will be very interesting to see if that's still the case when these teams meet again: February 3rd in Conway. First, LU will have to dispatch a pesky GWU squad that has shown some resilience after a huge losing skid.

Other games for the men this weekend: Asheville at VMI -- two contenders trying to sort out the seeds behind the leaders, CSU at HPU -- Panthers trying to salvage a rougher season than expected vs. Buccaneers in that contender mix, and Winthrop at PC -- Eagles fighting for position and Blue Hose trying to play perpetual spoiler.

On the women's side, there are four Saturday games and four Monday games, but for the fans of recent Big South history and rivalry, there's only one game to watch for: Liberty at Gardner-Webb, Monday night (1/31, 7pm, on Big South Network). The Flames and Bulldogs are two of the three teams (along with RU) in a tight race for first, but that's just a bonus in what has become one of those rapidly intensifying rivalries...which tends to happen when you battle for the title a couple times, yeah? Conference competition at its best.

By the way, speaking of championships, did you know the Advance Auto Parts Big South Conference Basketball Championships have their own official Facebook page now? It's true. You now have a perfect companion to the Big South Facebook page (covering all Conference news) with the "Advance Championship" page, updating the races in the standings and the pursuit of records, plus the promotions, contests, events, and fans of Big South basketball. Go now and "like" both pages if you haven't already!

While I'm shilling, go follow us on Twitter, please...

For my final shameless plug, don't forget to browse through items at the Big South Online Store. If you haven't tried it yet, you will be surprised by the variety and quality of items available for you to order for your favorite school or for the Big South Conference. It's the best across-the-board merchandise for the Big South membership that you'll find anywhere--and right now (through the weekend), they're running a 15% discount special on personalized team basketball jerseys...go--what are you waiting for? After all, I'm done.

Have a good weekend, everybody...SHOUT--out.

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