October 09, 2007

Wide-Open Approach

CONCORD, N.C. -- Randy Peele gets to have his cake and eat it too.

Only in this case, Peele knows he was one of the people spreading the icing.

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Freedom Of Speech

CONCORD, N.C. -- Ritchie McKay admits his assent through the college basketball ranks was a boost to his ego.

From Portland State to Colorado State to Oregon State to New Mexico, McKay could sense he was wanted by bigger and better programs. Each time, the job felt right professionally.

During Tuesday's Big South basketball media day, the first-year Liberty head coach said for the umpteenth time all those jobs weren't always in line with his personal beliefs.

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Starting Over

CONCORD, N.C. -- Barclay Radebaugh sat in the Charleston Southern locker room before his team's final game and the apparent truth to the downfalls of the 2006-2007 season continued to smack him in the face.

Through injuries and suspensions, Radebaugh's team was down to just six scholarship players for that final game. Throw in the buzz saw that was Winthrop and Radebaugh's close friend Gregg Marshall, and the Buccaneers didn't stand a chance.

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Hope and Hair At The Beach

CONCORD, N.C. -- Just before Cliff Ellis was hired at Coastal Carolina in July, he said he was comfortable playing in a small arena.

After all, he'd spent time at smaller schools Cumberland and South Alabama before hitting the big time at Clemson and Auburn. But what he appears to have at Coastal -- more than 30 years after his time at Cumblerland ended -- can't be what any coach hopes for.

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More Than A Gimmick

CONCORD, N.C. -- When VMI coach Duggar Baucom found out his team was going to be picked third in the preseason Big South rankings, he immediately delivered a message to his team.

"I told them, 'Guys, you haven't done anything in this league to earn respect,'" Baucom said Tuesday during the league's basketball media day.

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Changing of the Guard? Or Just Fool's Gold?

CONCORD, N.C. -- Winthrop has dominated.

High Point thinks it can.

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The Kenny George Effect

CONCORD, N.C. -- The biggest player in the Big South Conference isn't at today's Big South Media Day.

But sure enough, questions about 7-foot-7, 380-pound Kenny George have already begun for UNC-Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach.

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Big South Media Day Gets Set

CONCORD, N.C. -- It's been less than seven months since the Big South earned its first victory in the NCAA Tournament.

In that time, though, long-time Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall left Rock Hill, S.C., departed for Wichita State and the Eagles lost their two biggest stars.

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October 11, 2006

Fan Fare

Torrell Martin didn't miss a beat when I asked what the Columbia, S.C., native was most looking forward to this season.

"I’m ready to get into conference play. I really am," Martin said. "The games are just great. I love knowing who we play and being familiar with the guys that we play [against] -- trying to see what they’re going bring at us differently to try and get a win."

So which particular intra-conference dates does Martin have circled on his calendar?

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Five To Watch

Nothing would help the Big South build on its growing reputation than a few victories in these five high-profile games.

Nov. 14: Winthrop vs. Iona at Charlotte Bobcats Arena (Charlotte, N.C.)

Should Craig Bradshaw, Torrell Martin and the Eagles take down an Iona team depleted by graduation in the first round of the Preseason NIT, a second-round meeting with North Carolina -- presuming the Heels get past Sacred Heart -- would come to fruition.

Nov. 24: High Point vs. Maryland at the Comcast Center (College Park, Md.)

Arizona Reid and the Panthers get a rare shot against an ACC team -- and a hungry one. The Ekene Ibekwe-led Terrapins are dead-set on snapping a two-year NCAA tournament drought.

Dec. 17: Charleston Southern vs. Southern California at the Galen Center (Los Angeles, Calif.)

The Buccaneers, tabbed for fourth in the Big South preseason poll, travel to USC's brand-spanking-new Galen Center for a date with a Trojans side featuring NBA prospects Gabe Pruitt and Nick Young.

Dec. 21: Coastal Carolina vs. Florida State at the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center (Tallahassee, Fla.)

Reigning Big South Player of the Year Jack Leasure will lead the Buzz Peterson-coached Chanticleers into Tallahassee, where Coastal Carolina -- picked to finish second behind Winthrop in the Big South -- will have their hands full with Florida State's Al Horford.

Jan. 2: Liberty vs. Florida at the O'Connell Center (Gainesville, Fla.)

What an end to a whale of a week for Randy Dunton's Flames. Just days before meeting the defending national champions on their home turf, Liberty travels to the BYU Holiday Classic in Provo to face the host school (Dec. 28), Seton Hall (Dec. 29) and Mid-Continent Conference frontrunner Oral Roberts (Dec. 30).

A League On The Rise

The overwhelming sentiment in Charlotte is that the Big South is a league on the rise. And the numbers would agree.

After bottoming out with an RPI of .4614 in the 2001-02 season -- dead last in Division I (even worse than the collection of Independents!) -- the league has plotted a steady improvement on a year-by-year basis. The Big South ranked No. 28 in '02-03, No. 28 again in '03-04, No. 27 in '04-05 all the way up to No. 19 this past season.

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Rising Arizona

One of the most prominent challengers to Winthrop's supremacy in the Big South is High Point, the tiny North Carolina school (enrollment: 3,100) tabbed for third place by the pollsters.

Leading the way for the Panthers is rising junior Arizona Reid, a 6-foot-5 swingman who averaged 18.3 points and 8.9 boards on his way to first-team All-Big South honors as a sophomore. The Gaffney, S.C., native's 10 double-doubles ranked tops among league players and his 29-point, 16-rebound performance against Kentucky at Rupp Arena garnered national headlines.

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The South Poll

Following lunch, Coastal Carolina associate athletics director Matt Hogue emceed a video presentation of the Men's Preseason Poll, All-Conference Team and Player of the Year announcements. To the surprise of no one, two-time defending Big South champion Winthrop was a unanimous pick to three-peat in voting conducted by the league's head coaches, sports information directors and media.

1. Winthrop (30): 240 points
2. Coastal Carolina: 187
3. High Point: 182
4. Charleston Southern: 121
5. Liberty: 117
6. UNC Asheville: 100
7. Radford: 87
8. VMI: 46

With six of eight first-place votes and 94 total points, Preseason POY Torrell Martin headlines the All-Conference team. Joining the Columbia, S.C., native on the five-man squad is teammate and New Zealand native Craig Bradshaw, Liberty's Larry Blair, High Point's Arizona Reid, Coastal Carolina's Jack Leasure.

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Southern Comfort

One hundred ninety days have passed since I last covered a college basketball event -- a little tangle in Indianapolis between Florida and UCLA. But as I type these words from the Big South media day at the Renaissance Suites in Charlotte, N.C., your faithful narrator's offseason is coming to its official end.

Sure, the recruiting game gives us college hoop junkies something to satiate our fix during the summer months. But there's nothing like this parade of media days in October and early November to hammer home the fact that basketball -- the games that matter -- are just weeks away. (Twenty-seven days, to be exact.)

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