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2014 Big South Conference Tournament Preview

(SportsNetwork.com) - Big South teams will hit the hardwood at the HTC Center in Conway, starting on Wednesday, March 5, for the 30th annual Big South Conference Tournament, which will run through Sunday, March 9.

An automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament later this month will be on the line and awarded to the winner later this week.

Big South North Division competitor High Point won the league's top overall seed with a 12-4 record in the conference this season. It's the second consecutive year in which the Panthers garnered the top position from the North Division, which means the team will receive a first-round bye. Coastal Carolina - the championship host - won the South Division title outright for the first time in the program's history. The Chanticleers garnered an 11-5 conference record, and was the only team in the conference's South Division to record 18 overall wins. Coastal Carolina will also receive a first-round bye.

High Point needed a win over Campbell in the team's regular-season finale to clinch the top overall seed and remain a game ahead of VMI. The Panthers narrowly edged out the Fighting Camels, 56-53, to secure the top position.

The second seeds in each Big South division will also earn first-round byes in the conference tournament. A tiebreaker was necessary to separate three South Division teams checking in with 10-6 conference records following the conclusion of the regular season. UNC Asheville was awarded the second seed in the South Division after finishing with a 3-1 record against Gardner-Webb and Winthrop in head-to-head matchups. Gardner-Webb received the three seed after earning a season sweep of Winthrop, which left the Eagles with the fourth seed.

VMI, which finished a game behind High Point in the North Division, earns a first-round bye and will play on Friday, March 7. Asheville, by virtue of the tiebreaker, gets a first-round bye and will play in the quarterfinal round on Friday.

Last year's Big South Champion, Liberty, struggled this season, both in the conference and in non-conference action. The Flames went 11-20 this season, and earned a 5-11 conference record. Liberty suffered through a seven-game losing streak that started at the end of January and finished with a win at Campbell on Feb. 22. All losses the Flames were dealt during the skid came in conference play.

Radford, which finished the season with a 10-6 conference record, garners the third seed in the North Division. Gardner-Webb gets the three-seed in the South Division, while Winthrop receives the fourth seed from the South. Campbell captured the fourth seed from the North Division with a 6-10 Big South record. Liberty (North, fifth seed) and Longwood (North, sixth seed) round out the North Division participants, while Charleston Southern (South, fifth seed and last year's Big South regular season title winner) and Presbyterian (South, sixth seed) finish the field for the South Division.

The first round kicks off with defending champion Liberty playing against Winthrop at noon on Wednesday. This contest features the most recent Big South champion playing against the team with the most Big South titles in conference history (the Eagles have won 10 titles), the last coming in 2010. The two squads met once during the season, which was during Liberty's losing spell. Winthrop traveled to Liberty and came away with a 73-62 victory. The Flames won two games against Campbell and Longwood, but dropped the regular-season finale to Radford, 87-83, in their final three contests. Antwan Burrus led Liberty with a 13.1 ppg average this season, followed by Caleb John Sanders who netted 11.7 ppg with a team-high 135 assists. Tomasz Gielo chipped in with 11 ppg, and Davon Marshall rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10.2 ppg. The Flames don't receive much scoring help outside of those four players, as the team averages just 70.5 ppg.

The Eagles won seven of their last nine games of the season to earn a three- way tie for second in the South Division at 10-6, but lost to the wrong teams when it came to the tiebreaker. They finished with a 17-12 overall record, which was better than both Gardner-Webb and Asheville. Keon Moore (13.2 ppg), Joab Jerome (12.3 ppg), Keon Johnson (12.3 ppg) and Andre Smith (10.4 ppg) were the four top scorers for Winthrop on the year. The Eagles had the best 3- point field-goal percentage in the conference this season at 39.7 percent.

The first round will continue with Presbyterian, which owned the league's worst overall record at 6-25, and the Big South's worst conference record at 2-14, taking on Radford. Radford earned the three seed in the North Division, while Presbyterian will represent the South Division as the sixth seed. The Blue Hose have only participated in this conference tournament once, and own an 0-1 record in its only appearance. The team seriously struggled in all areas this season, but fell apart when it came to conference play. The Blue Hose lost the last four games of the regular season, and only won back-to-back games once early in December. One bright spot for Presbyterian this season has been Jordan Downing, who averages 19.8 ppg to lead the Blue Hose. That scoring total is second in the Big South Conference this season. Reggie Dillard (12.1 ppg) and William Truss (11 ppg) contributed to an offense averaging just 65.1 ppg, which was a league worst.

As for Radford, the Highlanders enter the tournament with a 20-11 overall record and a 10-6 mark in conference play. They won the last two games of their regular season, and defeated Presbyterian in the only matchup between the two sides, 83-66, earlier this year. Javonte Green leads the Highlanders with 17 ppg, followed by R.J. Price, who chipped in 13 ppg. Ya Ya Anderson scored 11.2 ppg, and Rashun Davis added 10.2 ppg for the third-best scoring offense in the Big South (77.7 ppg). Radford has a 22-25 all-time record in the Big South Tournament and two conference titles.

The action continues with a first-round matchup of North Division fourth-seed Campbell and South Division fifth-seed Charleston South. The Buccaneers backed into the conference tournament after losing four of their last five games and securing a 12-17 overall record, with a 6-10 mark in the conference. Charleston Southern's last of its four division titles came back in 1997, and the Buccaneers own a 25-23 record in the Big South tournament all-time. CSU has a down season despite an explosive offense, which is second in the conference at 81.9 ppg. Saah Nimley leads the team with 13.3 ppg, followed by Matt Kennedy (12.3 ppg), Arlon Harper (12 ppg), Sheldon Strickland (11 ppg) and Will Saunders (10.6 ppg).

The Fighting Camels earned the fourth seed from the North Division, but had just a 12-19 overall record with a 6-10 mark in-conference. Campbell also stumbled into the tournament, having lost five games in a row and eight of its last nine. The matchup heavily favors the Buccaneers offensively, who go up against a Campbell squad averaging just 67.5 ppg. Reco McCarter paces the Camels with 12.8 ppg, followed by Darius Leonard at 10.4 ppg, who adds 5.1 rpg. But it was Campbell that came away victorious in the regular-season battle, 65-57. The Fighting Camels haven't won a conference title since 1992, and have a 10-10 record in their tournament history.

The final first-round game features North Division sixth-seed Longwood, after its second season as a member of the Big South, versus South Division third- seed Gardner-Webb. The two teams battled once in the regular season, which saw the Runnin' Bulldogs come away with a 20-point victory, 82-62. Longwood finished the season at the bottom of the North Division with an 8-23 overall record and a 3-13 conference mark. The Lancers lost their last four games of the regular season, and have the second-worst scoring defense in the league, giving up 80.3 ppg. Tristan Carey leads the Lancers in scoring at 18.5 ppg - good for sixth in the conference - and averages 6.6 rpg. The offense averages 70 ppg.

Gardner-Webb won five of its last seven games, finishing the season with a 17-14 record (10-6 Big South). The Runnin' Bulldogs are second in the league in scoring defense (69.5 ppg). Jerome Hill nets 14.2 ppg to pace the team, helped by Naji Hibbert's 12 ppg and Donta Harper's 10.4 ppg. Hill adds 8 rpg for the Bulldogs, who are 1-4 all-time in the Big South tourney.

The second round gets underway Friday with the winner of Liberty and Winthrop taking on top-seeded High Point. The Panthers earned the top overall spot with its defeat of Campbell in the season finale, but the team won six straight games to enter the tournament. High Point didn't lead the conference in major statistical categories, but did a lot of things well. The Panthers were second in the Big South in field goal percentage (47.4) and was second in free-throw percentage (73.1). They averaged an efficient 71.1 ppg, but still gave up 72.5 ppg. Overall, the Panthers weren't the most spectacular team, earning a 16-13 record. But the 12-4 mark in conference play did the trick. High Point is led by John Brown, who averages 19.6 ppg - tied for third in the conference in individual scoring. Allan Chaney chipped in 15.4 ppg with a team-high 8.6 rpg. Devante Wallace (12.6 ppg) and Adam Weary (12 ppg), rounded out the double- digit scorers. The Panthers are seeking their first Big South Tournament title in school history.

UNC Asheville will get to play the winner of Presbyterian and Radford. The Bulldogs benefited from a strong offensive attack (77 ppg), helped along by Andrew Rowsey's conference-leading 19.9 ppg average. Jaron Lane contributes 15.9 ppg, Will Weeks adds 13 ppg and D.J. Cunningham nets 11 ppg with a conference-high 9.4 rpg. Asheville leads the Big South in free-throw percentage (73.8), and is second in the conference in field-goal percentage defense (43 percent allowed). The Bulldogs have a long history in the Big South, owning a 28-24 record in the Big South Tournament with four titles, which ties Charleston Southern for second. Asheville will be seeking its first title since 2012.

The South Division's top seed, Coastal Carolina, will get the winner of Charleston Southern and Campbell in the quarterfinal round. The Chanticleers were able to get a game advantage on the three teams tied at 10-6 in the South, holding an 11-5 conference record and an 18-12 overall mark. Coastal Carolina led the Big South in scoring defense, allowing just 68.8 ppg to its opponents on the year while holding that opposition to 40.7 percent shooting from the floor - also a conference best. The Chanticleers nearly slipped up with two straight losses to Winthrop and Asheville in mid-February, but got back on the right track with two season-ending wins over Presbyterian and Charleston Southern. Elijah Wilson tops the team with 16.4 ppg, while Warren Gillis adds 14.5 ppg and Josh Cameron nets 13.7 ppg. The conference tournament hasn't been kind to Coastal, which sports a 15-23 all-time record in the Big South tourney. The Chants haven't won since 1993.

The last quarterfinal round matchup will feature the winner of Longwood and Gardner-Webb taking on North Division second-seed VMI. The Keydets had a season of extremes, finishing on the right side of the scoring offense and on the wrong side of the scoring defense category. VMI averaged a Big South-best 88.5 ppg, but gave up a ridiculous 82.3 ppg to its opponents. The team finished with an 18-11 overall record, which tied for the fewest losses among any Big South team this season, and went 11-5 in the conference. The Keydets won four of their last five games to end the season, and led the Big South in blocked shots per game (6.7 pg). Q.J. Peterson led VMI in scoring this season with 19.6 ppg, which tied for third in the conference. D.J. Covington chipped in 18.7 ppg with a team-high 9.3 rpg, and Rodney Glasgow chipped in 18.4 ppg with 166 assists on the year (5.7 apg). VMI has yet to win a conference title, but has a winning 9-8 record in the program's tournament history.