If you’re playing in the Big South, the regular season has one primary purpose: to determine seeding for the conference tournament. Asheville took care of that over the weekend, clinching the #1 seed in the tournament as well as a guaranteed postseason bid to the NIT. So what do the next four games have to offer Asheville?
First, they offer an opportunity to improve the team’s seeding in either the NCAA or NIT tournaments. All four games are important here, but the biggest by far is the one out-of-conference game at Ohio. Ohio’s RPI has been harmed by two losses over the past week or so, but they’re still ranked higher than the Bulldogs and a win in Athens would go a long way towards putting the Bulldogs out of “First Four” purgatory and, in the same vein, out of one-and-done territory. The same goes for the NIT: further victories will only help Asheville with the selection committee for either tournament.
These games also offer an opportunity to give players who aren’t Matt Dickey or JP Primm more playing time. We saw this on Saturday when Corey Littlejohn, Trent Meyer, and Keith Hornsby got big minutes. Asheville will not be as talented next year, but Coach B can mitigate that impact by ensuring that a core group of returning players comes in next year with more than marginal conference experience. This isn’t necessarily an issue for the frontcourt (Jaron, Atkinson, DJ) but the issue of replacing Matt and JP is a big one and should result in some exciting competition among the three reserve guards. This can also help rest starters to get ready for what will be an intense week in March.
Having said that, Asheville needs to be careful that they don’t let off the gas and lose the well-earned momentum they have gained by going 13-1 in conference play, a school record. I’m not ready to call this the best team in school history, but check back with me in 3 weeks. My answer then will be based in large part on how these guys play at Kimmel on the 29th, 1st, and 3rd.