Drawing interest in a conference tournament is often a difficult task, and the Big South is looking to combine a pair of standard strategies to create a good atmosphere as their league meets this week. Some conferences have the tournaments on campus, so that at least the home team fans will come out. Others have them at a desirable destination (like Las Vegas). The Big South will be holding its event on the campus of Coastal Carolina, which just so happens to be in Myrtle Beach, SC.
As the 29th-worst conference out of 32 rated on kenpom.com, there will surely be just one bid on the line in the tournament. There should be good competition for the bid, as there are a number of closely-matched teams at the top of the conference. The top five schools fall between 171 and 213 on in Pomeroy's ratings.
Four of those top teams come from the South division, which means an undeserving VMI grabbed a bye to the second round at 8-8 in conference play. The Panthers join Charleston Southern, High Point, and Gardner-Webb as schools with free passes to the quarterfinals. The other eight teams will battle it out on the first day of action.
March 5-10 (Championship game on March 10)
No team ran roughshod through the conference slate, which means no team is the overwhelming favorite to grab the title. Charleston Southern has the best odds, according to Pomeroy's log5 predictions, at just 31.6 percent.
The Buccaneers were the second-best offensive and defensive team in the Big South. Charleston Southern scored at a rate of 1.09 points per possession, while giving up just 0.98. High Point put up the same numbers, but they did benefit from playing in the weaker North division.
Coastal Carolina didn't fare all that well in league play, with a 9-7 record, but they were far and away the best defensive team. The host school gave up just 0.95 points per possession and has the best shot to shut down an offensive-minded league when legs start to get tired throughout the week.
UNC Asheville and Gardner-Webb also have legitimate shots at cutting down the nets in Myrtle Beach. Gardner-Webb has an easier road, as it gets a bye, but Asheville should not be counted out. It should have an easy time in the first round against Longwood and would face VMI the quarterfinals.
It's nearly a toss-up among the top five teams in the league and that should lead to an entering week of games for the Big South.
It would take a miracle
Longwood made its Big South debut in 2012-13 after toiling for years as an independent school, and the Lancers hardly made a splash. The newbies finished 10th (out of 12) in offensive efficiency and last in defensive efficiency. They did it all while having the fastest tempo in the conference at 70 possessions per game, which led them to the losing end of plenty of big blowouts.
Players to Watch
John Brown, High Point: The talented freshman burst onto the Big South scene as one of just two players in the league to use more than 30 percent of his team's possessions while on the floor. Brown did that while remaining efficient, hitting on 52 percent from the floor with just a 10 percent turnover rate. He also makes an impact on the defensive end, blocking shots and creating steals.
Anthony Raffa, Coastal Carolina: Even working primarily as a spot-up shooter, Raffa gets plenty of looks at the basket. He takes nearly one-third of his team's shots while in the game, and is effective from both short and long range. Raffa knocked down 54 percent of his twos and hit 36 percent from beyond the arc. He is the type of player that can get hot and lead his team to an automatic bid.
Jeremy Atkinson, UNC Asheville: Atkinson is a versatile scorer with an ability to get to the rim and draw fouls. Once he gets to the line, he converts at an 82 percent clip. In addition, he hits on 53 percent of his twos, making the 6'4 wing a major threat inside the arc.
Arlon Harper, Charleston Southern: Harper is another guy who could break out and shoot his team to victory. He hit 38 percent from downtown along with 52 percent on two-pointers. He grabs his fair share of steals, too, so Harper could be fun to watch in Myrtle Beach.
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