Monday, February 23, 2015

Big South: Down the stretch

Big South 
Conference tournament - March 3, 5, 7-8, HTC Center, Conway, S.C.

Standings (conference records only): 1. Liberty 17-1; 2. Radford 13-5; 3 (tie) Campbell, High Point, Winthrop 12-6; 6. Presbyterian 9-9; 7. Gardner-Webb 9-10; 8 (tie). Coastal Carolina, UNC Asheville 6-12; 10. Longwood 3-16; 11. Charleston Southern 1-17

Who we're keeping an eye on:

LIBERTY (21-6, 17-1)
RPI: 88
Still to play: Tuesday vs. Winthrop; Saturday at Campbell
   - Clinched conference regular season title and No. 1 seed in Big South tournament. Will play the 8-9 winner (Coastal Carolina or UNC Asheville) in the first quarterfinal at noon on March 5. The Lady Flames have won 44 straight games against Coastal - the second-longest such streak in Division I - and eight in a row vs. UNC Asheville.
Postseason outlook: The Lady Flames did lose at Winthrop back in January and have looked vulnerable at times in recent victories against Longwood and Charleston Southern, so nothing is guaranteed. Still, Liberty will go into the league tournament as clear favorites to seize the title and advance to the NCAAs. If the Lady Flames slip up, they'll assume the league's automatic bid to the WNIT

RADFORD (16-11, 13-5)
RPI: 188
Still to play: Tuesday vs. UNC Asheville; Saturday at High Point
   - The Highlanders are in sole possession of second place and can lock down the No. 2 seed by winning out. While that's certainly doable, it doesn't figure to be easy - Radford beat Asheville by two points and High Point by three in the teams' previous meetings. A split of the two games or losses in both muddles the picture considerably as Winthrop, Campbell and High Point all sit a mere game back of the Highlanders with 12-6 conference marks.
Postseason outlook: The Highlanders have at least one win over every team in the league except Liberty, and they had a second-half lead on the Lady Flames in the teams' first meeting before things got away. In other words, it should surprise no one if the Highlanders advance to at least the final no matter what seed they wind up with. Finishing second should still be a coveted goal, though, especially since it would position Radford for the league's automatic WNIT bid if Liberty wins the Big South tourney. No matter what happens from here, the Highlanders have already dramatically exceeded its own league's expectations - Radford was picked to finish ninth of 11 teams by the Big South head coaches.

LONGWOOD (3-25, 3-16)
RPI: 346
Still to play: Saturday at Charleston Southern
   - Credit the severely undermanned Lancers for continuing to battle - just last week they got the better of Liberty for about 35 minutes before falling by five, then fell in overtime to Presbyterian. Granted, both those games, and most of Longwood's better outings, have come at home, as the Lancers are 0-16 on the road. But Saturday's season finale offers a great opportunity for a rested Longwood team to succeed away from home against equally snake-bitten Charleston Southern.
Postseason outlook: Win or lose Saturday, the Lancers will go into the league tournament as the No. 10 seed  and face the No. 7 seed - either Gardner-Webb or Presbyterian - in a first-round game on March 3.

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