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Big South Recap...So Far 2/6/24

By Josh Noel


Over the past six years, five different schools have earned a share of the Big South regular season title and a Big South tournament championship.

 

One school not in that group is High Point University, who currently leads the conference standings and owns the longest winning streak in the country at 12 straight victories, including a perfect 9-0 start in league play.

 

The Panthers’ unexpected blossoming undoubtedly stems from first-year coach Alan Huss, a former Creighton University associate head coach, who brought in an almost entirely new roster to an entirely new job. HPU hopes to capture their first Big South regular season title since 2016 and their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance.

 

But before the Panthers can put on their dancing shoes, they will have to face a group of seasoned foes who know what it takes to win in March.

 

Two games back of the Panthers are the defending champion UNC Asheville Bulldogs, who bring back Big South Player of the Year Drew Pember.

 

Gardner-Webb also remains two and a half games back of the Panthers and just mounted an 80-73 comeback victory over UNC Asheville last Wednesday.

 

Here are brief blurbs to catch up on each team’s season so far:

 

1.  High Point University Panthers (20-4 Overall, 9-0 Big South)

 

High Point’s current hold on the Big South comes from their frenetic offense; HPU averages 84.9 PPG, good for 10th nationally, and has scored the 2nd most points in all of college basketball.

 

The bulk of this Panthers production comes from the three-headed attack of junior Duke Miles (19.1 PPG), junior Kezza Giffa (16.9 PPG) and sophomore Kimani Hamilton (14.7 PPG), who rank 2nd, 3rd and 6th respectively in Big South scoring.

 

A surprising contributor to the Panthers’ success comes from true freshman Juslin Bodo Bodo, who leads the Big South in rebounding (8.2 RPG) and has earned Big South Freshman of the Week six times.

 

The Panthers love getting to the free throw line; 26.3% of their points come from free throws, good for second in the country, and HPU leads the country with 27.5 free throw attempts per game.  

 

 

2.  UNC Asheville Bulldogs (15-9 Overall, 7-2 Big South)  

 

The Big South preseason favorite UNC Asheville picked up where they left off last season.

 

Seven-foot sharpshooting senior Drew Pember leads the Big South in scoring (21.0 PPG), good for 14th nationally. Pember also leads the conference with 11 games of 20+ points.

 

As a team, the Bulldogs’ experience makes them a tough matchup. UNCA starts a senior at every position, making for an average of 2.87 years of Division 1 experience, which is 21st most in the country.

 

It’s not just the starters who bring game readiness- UNCA’s roster brings back 68.5% of their minutes from a season ago.  

 

With four of their seven remaining games at home, UNCA can certainly close the gap on HPU for the top seed in the Big South tournament.

 

 

3.  Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs (11-12 Overall, 6-2 Big South)

 

Much like a real life runnin’ bulldog, Gardner-Webb went from tuckered out losing six in a row to bouncing back with a burst of energy winning six in a row.

 

The story for Gardner-Webb comes from a player who hasn’t cracked the starting lineup for the Runnin’ Bulldogs since the calendar year of 2024 began- senior Caleb Robinson.

 

Robinson leads the Runnin’ Bulldogs in scoring (13.8 PPG) and rebounding (6.3 RPG) despite starting only 12 games. The former Catawba College transfer recorded a double-double in both games last week, and he looks to continue leading the charge for Gardner-Webb as they seek to surpass UNC Asheville for second place.

 

Much like UNC Asheville, Gardner-Webb brings back 62.1% of their minutes from 2022-23 with only three underclassmen on the entire roster.

 

The Runnin’ Bulldogs have as good a chance as any team to make some noise here in the second half of conference play.

 

4.  Winthrop Eagles (14-10 Overall, 5-4 Big South)

 

The most decorated program in the Big South once again finds itself in the hunt of the title race.

 

Junior Kelton Talford leads the charge for the Eagles, standing atop the Big South in field goal percentage (62.2%) putting him 20th nationally in that category.

 

An overlooked statistic contributing to Winthrop’s success comes from their ability to limit their opponents’ success from beyond the arc; the Eagles lead the Big South in 3-point field goal percentage allowed (29.8%) placing them 24th nationally.

 

Despite dropping contests to HPU and UNCA, Winthrop held both teams to under 37% from 3-point land, a stat that figures to bode well for the Eagles in their rematches with both squads as well as other conference opponents.

 

Winthrop trails only High Point nationally in free throw attempts per game (27.2), another indication that the Eagles will be in the thick of things come season’s end in the Big South.  

 

5.  Charleston Southern Buccaneers (8-14 Overall, 4-5 Big South)

 

Charleston Southern is right on the heels of Winthrop for fourth place positioning in the Big South.

 

The Buccaneers boast an impressive duo of scorers in sophomore RJ Johnson (16.4 PPG) and junior Taje’ Kelly (15.6 PPG) who sit at 4th and 5th in scoring for the Big South. The duo also ranks 1st and 3rd in minutes per game in the conference.

 

Kelly is approaching a major milestone; with 44 more points, Kelly would join conference mates Drew Pember and Kelton Talford in 1,000 career points. Kelly’s seven double-doubles leads the Big South and should position him for some all-conference recognition at season’s end.

 

Charleston Southern may have discovered a diamond in the rough with sophomore Quentin Bolton Jr., who logged at least 26 minutes in three straight games and is averaging 14.7 PPG in that stretch.

 

Look for the Buccaneers to turn some heads ahead of the conference tournament.

 

6.  Radford Highlanders (13-11 Overall, 3-6 Big South)

 

Radford boasts arguably the Big South’s best win of the season going on the road and winning in Morgantown over West Virginia, marking the second time in six years that the Highlanders defeated a Big 12 opponent (Texas in 2018-19).

 

Preseason Big South All-Conference teammates senior DaQuan Smith (14.4 PPG) and senior Bryan Antoine (11.3 PPG) lead the charge for the Highlanders.

 

What keeps Radford in virtually every game is their methodical pace; the Highlanders play at the 15th slowest tempo in all of college basketball.

 

Junior Justin Archer cleans up the glass down low, recording double-digit rebounds six times this season and averaging 10.0 RPG over his past three games.

 

Radford hosts Winthrop Thursday, Feb. 15 at 8:00 p.m. on ESPNU’s wild card game.

 

7.  Longwood Lancers (14-10 Overall, 2-7 Big South)

 

Longwood finds themselves in an unfamiliar spot in the Big South race this late in the season compared to previous years.

 

While some other Big South teams stake their claim on the offensive end of the floor, Longwood makes defense their calling card, allowing a league-best 66.4 PPG.

 

The Lancers also excel at rebounding the basketball, sitting tied with High Point at 40.1 RPG and leading offensive rebounding (14.5 OREB/GM). What’s most remarkable about Longwood’s rebounding is the Lancers don’t currently have a top-five rebounder in the conference and only two players in the top ten for rebounding.

 

Griff Aldrich’s team is once again led by senior Walyn Napper (14.0 PPG), who has scored in double figures in all but three games so far this season.

 

Longwood’s deceiving record could cause the Lancers to spring a few upsets on unsuspecting conference leaders towards the end of this season.

 

8.  Presbyterian Blue Hose (10-14 Overall, 2-7 Big South)

 

Presbyterian also claims a power conference victory, as the Blue Hose began their 2023-24 campaign with a win over SEC foe Vanderbilt.

 

Junior Marquis Barnett spearheads the PC attack, scoring at least 20 points in three of his past five games.

 

Freshman Kory Mincy has also earned Big South Freshman of the Week honors three times this season and looks to be a future star in the conference.


The Blue Hose will bring a deep, balanced attack into their end-of-season contests, as PC averages 29.67 PPG from their bench, good for 20th nationally.   

 

9.  USC Upstate Spartans 7-15 Overall, 2-7 Big South)

 

USC Upstate returns 60.4% of their minutes from 2023-24 and Big South All-Conference second team members junior Trae Broadnax (14.2 PPG) and sophomore Justin Bailey (11.4 PPG).

 

The Spartans know how to limit their mistakes and force opponents into mistakes, as Upstate leads the Big South with a 1.95 turnover margin, a vast lead over their conference mates.  

 

Upstate split their first matchups with Longwood and Presbyterian, a win and loss respectively, but will get another shot at both in this second half of conference play which will solidify who will be in the 8th seed vs 9th seed play-in game in the Big South tournament.



 

What to watch for this upcoming week:

 (All EST times)


·  HPU’s nation-leading win streak faces tough tests with road contests at UNC Asheville (Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m.) and Gardner-Webb (Saturday, Feb. 10 at 1:00 p.m.)

·  Charleston Southern travels to Winthrop to jockey for fourth place (Wednesday, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m.)

·  Presbyterian hosts Radford (Saturday, Feb. 10 at 4:30 p.m.) looking to potentially leapfrog Longwood and the Highlanders

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