Big South Conference Tournament Preview
The Big South Conference featured an exciting race for much of the season, before Radford pulled away towards the end of the campaign, putting some separation between itself and VMI, which led the league for the early part of the conference season. Radford won nine straight games before falling to Liberty in the season finale, while VMI lost three straight in the middle of February to lose its hold on the league. Liberty and UNC-Asheville finished above .500, while three more teams finished at 9-9.
Favorite: Radford has to be considered the favorite heading into the conference tournament, given the way it ended the season. As mentioned earlier, the Highlanders had won nine in a row prior to dropping the finale to Liberty. They feature the best inside duo in the league in 6-11 Artsiom Parakhouski and 6-8 Joey Lynch-Flohr. Parakhouski is a 15-10 lock every night. Kenny Thomas can shoot the ball, and Amir Johnson is an excellent all-around guard.
Contenders: For the first part of the league season, VMI looked like it would get the automatic bid, but then the Keydets slumped, losing three in a row. Still, they beat Liberty on the road by 37 just a week ago; they might have their swagger back. Chavis and Travis Holmes are one of the more productive tandems in the country, at both ends of the floor. Austin Kenon and Keith Gabriel can really shoot the ball. Liberty was my midseason pick to win the league, mainly as a result of the presence of Seth Curry. Stephen’s brother, Seth, is a phenomenal scorer who can stroke the three efficiently. The other top options for the Flames include Anthony Smith, a very difficult player to match-up with, and Kyle Ohman, a high-volume – but effective – shooter.
Sleeper: The league’s dominant team for several years, Winthrop is hot heading into the tournament, winning its last five games. Furthermore, only three of its nine league losses were by double-digits. The Eagles are a very deep team (10 guys average at least 13.7 minutes per game), and they are stingy defensively.
Prediction: There is no clear-cut favorite in this league – VMI had the early edge, Radford finished strong, and Liberty has shown the ability to beat both teams. However, only one team has the necessary ingredients. Liberty is still probably a year away. VMI is certainly one of the more exciting teams in the country to watch, but the Keydets struggle defensively and don’t have the interior personnel to match-up with Radford. The Highlanders have the inside-outside balance necessary to get the automatic bid.