Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Big South Conference Tournament Preview

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The Big South Conference race was never really in doubt, although it technically came down to the final week. Preseason favorite Winthrop went 14-0, but they were only up two games on High Point with two games left. However, the Eagles overcame a halftime deficit to knock off the Panthers. High Point finished 11-3, but no other team finished more than one game over .500.

Favorite: Who else would it be? Winthrop led the conference from start to finish, and even knocked off Missouri State in the Bracket Buster in mid-February. They should win the conference tournament, as well. Torrell Martin and Mike Jenkins form a terrific wing combination, while Craig Bradshaw provides balance on the interior. Chris Gaynor is an experienced point guard. The Eagles are third in the conference in scoring offense, but have one of the stingiest defenses in the country.

Contender: The only team that was within striking distance of Winthrop in the standings was High Point. The Panthers only lost by one at home, and were up at halftime in Rock Hill. Arizona Reid is one of the best players in the conference, and dominates the paint. They also have a solid perimeter group, led by point guard Mike Jefferson and wing Landon Quick.

Sleepers: Coastal Carolina finished only 7-7 in the conference and lost seven of their last eleven, but the Chanticleers lost only one conference game by double-figures. Jack Leasure and Joshua Mack form a very good backcourt, while Moses Sonko is tough inside, despite being undersized at 6-5. Liberty is another team that could make a run in the Tournament. The Flames finished above .500 in league play, and have the best shooting team in the Big South. Larry Blair is a big-time scorer in the backcourt, and Dwight Brewington has provided another dimension since becoming eligible. Inside, Alex McLean is a good scorer and one of the best rebounds in the league.

Prediction: This is one of the easiest conference tournaments to pick. Winthrop is clearly the best team in the Big South. They have an outstanding defense, and an offense that can beat any team in the country if they hit their outside shots. Remember, this is a team that nearly knocked off North Carolina and Wisconsin. The only question is if Winthrop gets an at-large bid should they get upset in the tournament. My answer? It won’t matter—the Eagles will roll to the automatic bid.

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