V-M-I (17-15) vs. UNC-Asheville (23-9)
The Sport Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, March 3, 12:00 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Kimmel Arena (3,200) -- Asheville, North Carolina. Television: ESPN2. Home Record: VMI 13-2, UNCA 13-2. Away Record: VMI 1-13, UNCA 8-5. Neutral Record: VMI 3-0, UNCA 2-2. Conference Record: VMI 8-10, UNCA 16-2. Series Record: UNC-Asheville leads, 15-7.
GAME NOTES: The first automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA Tournament goes to the winner of this afternoon's Big South Conference Tournament championship game, and the two teams vying for the honor are the VMI Keydets and UNC-Asheville Bulldogs.
VMI went 8-10 in Big South action this season to notch the No. 7 seed in this event, and the Keydets have logged three straight wins over Radford (55-53), Coastal Carolina (85-68) and Winthrop (75-55) to earn their place in today's title tilt. Overall, VMI has won five of its last six games, and the team is hoping to secure its fourth all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, but only its first in 35 years. The Keydets, who are one of four teams never to have won this event, are only the third No. 7 seed to reach the Big South championship game, and this will be the program's first title game appearance since losing to Radford (108-94) in 2009.
UNC-Asheville is the defending Big South Conference Tournament champions, and the No. 1 seed in this year's event after winning 16 of its 18 conference games to claim the league's regular-season title. The Bulldogs began play in this tourney in Wednesday's quarterfinal round, and easily dispatched with High Point (86-61) before routing Charleston Southern (91-64) in Thursday's semifinals. As mentioned, UNCA won last year's event with a 60-47 verdict against Coastal Carolina to claim its third BSC Tournament title.
UNC-Asheville won both regular-season meetings with VMI this year, and the last three against the Keydets overall to take a 15-7 lead in the all-time series. This is the first time the teams have met in the postseason.
The game pits two of the top scoring teams in the nation against each other, as VMI nets a gaudy 80.2 ppg, but is torched for 80.6 ppg, and UNCA puts up a robust 81.2 ppg, while foes score an average of 71.6 ppg.
You might think that it would take a little while for a player coming off the bench to get his legs under him, but such was not the case for VMI's D.J. Covington in Thursday's 20-point win over Winthrop, as he went a perfect 6- of-6 from the field and converted all four of his free throws in leading the Keydets with 16 points. Stan Okoye logged a double-double consisting of 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Ron Burks chipped in 11 points for a VMI squad that shot 53.2 percent from the floor, went 19-of-23 from the charity stripe and goaded the opposition into 15 turnovers. The Eagles won the rebounding battle (42-29), but the Keydets allowed them just a pair of treys on 15 tries, and VMI's reserves outscored WU's by a 34-22 margin.
UNC-Asheville's J.P. Primm had an outstanding game of his own in the recent shellacking of Charleston Southern, as he made good on 8-of-13 field goal attempts, which included four three-pointers, and 7-of-8 free throws en route to 27 points. Jeremy Atkinson hit all 11 of his foul shots to finish with 19 points and he grabbed eight of the team's 33 rebounds, while Chris Stephenson added 18 points and six boards. Matt Dickey, the team's leading scorer on the year, tallied 10 points in 20 minutes of action as he battled foul trouble. Overall, the Bulldogs drained 49.1 percent of their total shots, and they were nearly flawless from the charity stripe (28-of-30). Defensively, UNCA held its overmatched foe to 41.1 percent field goal efficiency, and took advantage of 18 turnovers by the Chanticleers.
UNCA's 23 wins this season is a new school record, and the Bulldogs aren't about to settle for anything less than complete dominance in the Big South, which includes winning this tournament and then getting plenty of rest before putting on their dancing shoes. Expect another shootout, but for the host team to prevail.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UNC-Asheville 88, VMI 77
03/03 10:57:33 ET