(SportsNetwork.com) - The 2015 Big South Conference Tournament kicks off Wednesday with a trio of first-round games. All 11 conference teams will vie for an opportunity to reach the title bout on Sunday, March 8, with a chance to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The tournament will take place at the HTC Center, home of third-seeded Coastal Carolina - last season's Big South champion. The defending champs are not the favorite, however. Instead, Charleston Southern earned the top seed in the bracket with hopes of taking its fifth conference title.
The Buccaneers finished off the 2014-15 campaign at 19-10 overall, and pulled even with High Point at 13-5 in conference play. The Bucs earned the top overall seed by virtue of a tiebreaker, and will look to keep up the momentum after a thrilling 97-93 overtime win over High Point in the regular-season finale.
CSU was led by Big South Player of the Year Saah Nimley, who netted a conference-best 21.5 ppg this season and added 4.1 apg. It doesn't hurt to have strong bench leadership either, as head coach Barclay Radebaugh was voted the conference coach of the year. Forward Will Saunders, a Big South second- teamer, checks in at 13.1 ppg for the squad. The Bucs await the winner of Longwood and Presbyterian.
High Point earned the second seed in the league after finishing in the tie with CSU at 13-5 in conference action. The Panthers ended their season at 22-8 overall, and saw a five-game winning streak come to an end in the overtime season finale against Charleston Southern.
John Brown led the way for High Point this season with 18.6 ppg, as the junior forward finished in second in the league's Player of the Year voting. Brown was named to the All-Big South First-Team. The winner of Campbell and Gardner- Webb gets to take on the Panthers in the second round.
The host Chanticleers get a first-round bye after finishing with the second- best overall record this season at 21-9. The Chants ended the season at 12-6 in conference play, but got a boost when playing at home with a 12-2 record. Coastal Carolina ended the regular season with an 80-69 loss to Presbyterian.
It was a team effort for the Chants this season in terms of scoring, as Josh Cameron led four double-digit scorers with 13.2 ppg. The winner of Liberty and UNC Asheville takes on the tournament hosts.
Fourth-seeded Radford and fifth-seeded Winthrop get byes through the first round, and already have their matchup date set for Friday. Radford went 21-10 this season with a season-ending victory over Gardner-Webb, while Winthrop closed out the campaign at 17-12 overall with a season-finale victory over Presbyterian, 80-53. Both teams went 12-6 in league play. Radford senior forward Javonte Green was named the league's Defensive Player of the Year.
First-round action kicks off on Wednesday with a matchup between ninth-seeded Longwood and eighth-seeded Presbyterian. The Lancers capped a 9-22 campaign with a win over Campbell, 70-65, to get to 5-13 against Big South competition. The Blue Hose finished just above that mark with a 6-12 league record, though the team ended the regular season with losses in four of its last five games. Presbyterian forward DeSean Murray was named the league's Freshman of the Year after averaging 15.5 ppg.
Later on Wednesday, 10th-seeded Campbell takes on seventh-seed Gardner-Webb. The Fighting Camels fell hard this season with a 10-21 record, and a 4-14 mark against conference competition. The team lost six of its last seven regular- season contests. The Runnin' Bulldogs concluded their season at 18-13 overall, with a 10-8 mark against the Big South. Jerome Hill, an All-Big South First- Team selection, capped his stellar season with a 19.1 ppg mark and a league- leading 10.0 rpg.
Finally, 11th-seeded Liberty takes on sixth-seeded UNC Asheville in the last game of the first round. Liberty limped to an 8-23 overall record with a dismal 2-13 ledger in conference play. The Flames were routed, 95-77, in the regular-season finale against their first-round opponent Saturday. The Bulldogs capped off their regular season with a 14-15 record, and a 10-8 mark against league opponents.
Top-seeded Charleston Southern had some issues against the best competition this season, and with the Chanticleers hosting the tournament, it's not a stretch to believe they could repeat as league champions.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Coastal Carolina