Where: Kenny Powers Conway, South Carolina
When: Tuesdasy, February 14, 7 P.M.
Media: WWNC 570, Big South Network (online)
First, just a reminder of what happened last year in Conway:
This week is going to be a tough one for the Bulldogs, as they face two very good teams on the road. Fortunately for us, Asheville is also very good (and by very good, I mean undefeated in conference) on the road.
Last time, Asheville won by playing smarter against a much bigger team. The game plan for tomorrow needs to be the same. The Bulldogs can’t let off the gas pedal just because they’ve won the regular season. If anything, Coastal is going to come out strong knowing that it’s still battling for 2nd place and playing a team that it genuinely dislikes. Come to think of it, I don’t like Coastal either, but then again I don’t like many things from South Carolina (looking at you, Clemson). This is going to be a very physical, nay ugly game, and Asheville needs to make sure that they (a) avoid injury, and (b) don’t let themselves be provoked by lesser players like Anthony Raffa, leading to (a).
Coastal will likely be without Nieman tonight, but even if they’re a man down Coastal will be a challenge. I won’t be watching the game due to prior engagements with Ms. UNCAFanBlog but I may get a few tweets in.
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.
I guess we got our swagger back. Not that it ever left.
When: 2/11, 4:30 P.M.
Where: Kimmel Arena, Asheville, N.C.
Media: WWNC 570/Big South Network
While most basketball fans in North Carolina were falling into a deep depression this week (except for N.C. State fans, who seem to think that Duke is the greatest thing since sliced bread; seriously, I don’t get it), Asheville fans saw the Bulldogs pull 3 games ahead of their closest competition for the Big South regular season title. Now, Asheville has a chance to increase that distance with a win today. A win today over Radford would clinch a tie for the regular season title, while a win plus a Coastal loss would clinch the #1 seed in the conference tournament and a NIT invitation. So yeah, it’s a big game.
Radford is the worst team in the league by record. However, they beat Gardner Webb at home this week. This is a game in which Asheville needs to demonstrate its experience and senior leadership. Radford’s two impact players this year are both freshmen, but as the Asheville seniors know that won’t stop them from being forces to reckon with on the court.
This is a game that Asheville should win and will win if they play like they’ve been playing for the last month and a half. If you’re in town today, brave the snow and head over to Kimmel to watch what should be a great game.
Asheville and Coastal Carolina. That’s for all the (NIT) marbles, folks.
As of right now, the Bulldogs are two games ahead of the Chanticleers. That will change by the time the two teams meet a week from Tuesday, as Coastal plays Campbell, High Point, and Winthrop this week. Barring any unforeseen upsets (a big disclaimer, I know), Coastal should be one game behind Asheville (at most) when the two teams meet on Valentine’s Day (how sweet!) next week.
Right now, Asheville has four conference games left: Radford, Coastal, Gardner Webb, and Winthrop. Of those four, only one has an RPI within 100 points of Asheville. You guessed it: it’s coastal. This isn’t to say that Asheville should under-prepare for the other games, but it just restates the importance of the February 14th matchup. A lot of things can happen between now and March. But right now, the regular season title (and home-court advantage, thanks to the Southern Conference) is Asheville’s to lose. Given the performance of this year’s team, that is a very comforting thought.
When: Saturday, 7:00 PM
Where: St. Falwell Liberty University, Roanoke, V.A.
Media: ESPN3, WWNC 570/iHeartRadio
“You win your home games, and then steal some on the road.” – Eddie Biedenbach. If that’s the standard by which to measure this season, then Asheville is becoming a criminal mastermind.
The Bulldogs did not play their best basketball of the season on Thursday night, but they came away with a win against a hot-shooting VMI team. In the end, what mattered was free throw shooting, and Asheville demonstrated its prowess at the line. I’ll put it this way: a friend called me when he saw the box score and said: “free throws win championships.”
Matt Dickey had a stellar game, but more than anything last night’s victory proves the mantra “there is no ‘I’ in team” true. The Bulldogs play best together when they’re firing on all five cylinders, and it’s a credit to the four starting seniors that this team functions as well as it does on the court. At times Asheville looks more disciplined and focused than major-conference teams, who are plagued by the NBA siphoning off players after one or two years, before they’ve really had time to gel and develop team chemistry that’s so important to winning championships.
The Bulldogs take their 12-1 conference record to Liberty this evening, where the Flames have been streaky as of late, winning four of their past six games. Liberty is a short team, much like the Bulldogs, and also feature a balanced attack with five players averaging ten or more points per game. Nonetheless, this is a game that Asheville should win before getting a week off to prepare for another road trip to Virginia.
Just a reminder: the Bulldogs travel to Lexington, VA, this Thursday to take on the VMI Keydets. In the meantime, two news items of note.
First, Asheville landed a difficult (and ESPN3 televised) “Bracketbuster”game against Ohio on February 18th. Ohio, which has a 17-4 record and is currently 2nd in the Mid-American Conference.
On one hand, this game doesn’t really mean that much. Asheville plays in a small conference, and in order to dance in March they’ll have to win the conference championship. This game will not affect the conference record and therefore the seeding for the Big South Championship. Nonetheless, this game matters and the Bulldogs should approach it as an opportunity to play a good mid-major team with a significantly higher RPI than the Bulldogs. Should the Bulldogs pull off the upset (and it would be an upset), it would also have possible implications for seeding in the NCAA tournament. Last year, if you recall, Asheville was relegated to first-four status before stubbornly falling to Pitt. A win, combined with an NCAA berth, could put Asheville in 14-13 seed category and give the Bulldogs a real opportunity, with the right matchup, to be a true bracket buster.
JP Primm also added another credential to his long list of accomplishments by winning the Lou Henson Player of the Week award for the best mid-major player in the country. Needless to say, this is a huge honor and very deserving for Primm, a four-year starter who dropped 31 and 23 points this past week. Primm’s achievement underscores the talent of this year’s squad, who stand a good chance to repeat last year’s appearance in the Big Dance (and, as mentioned above, get a higher seed).