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19 days, 19(ish) notes: Key things to watch as the Big South winds down

We have just shy of three weeks remaining in Big South play, and there is still a shockingly high amount of questions to address in those remaining days.

First, let's look at the current standings, courtesy of College Basketball Reference:

Longwood currently leads the North -- and the entire league -- with its 9-0 league mark. Winthrop is atop the South at 8-2 (15-8). Here's what this means for everyone (we'll get into the individual teams in a bit):

  • The division winners get the top two seeds, irrespective of record. Right now, that would obviously be Longwood and Winthrop.

  • The top four teams get byes to the quarterfinals. As of right now, Gardner-Webb and USC Upstate would join the division winners to collect those byes.

  • The first round goes like this: 9 vs. 8 (winner plays 1), 12 vs. 5 (winner plays 4), 10 vs. 7 (winner plays 2), 11 vs. 6 (winner plays 3).

  • The tournament will be played at Bojangles' Coliseum in Charlotte.

Before we can get there, though, we have to look ahead at the big storylines for each team. Let's start in the North and work our way around the league.

LONGWOOD (17-5, 9-0 Big South) Games remaining (7): HOME: USC Upstate (2/10), High Point (2/14), Hampton (2/19), Radford (2/23) AWAY: NC A&T (2/12), High Point (2/17), Campbell (2/26) NOTES: The Lancers are doing things under Griff Aldrich that have never been done in Farmville in the D1 era. It's hard to overstate how big this year has been. There have been some signs of worry for Lancer fans of late, though. Aldrich's club had been held below 70 exactly once (Gardner-Webb) in Big South play before last week. Each of last week's opponents pulled the feat, though. Longwood escaped Asheville with a 56-48 result after a 20-point Lancer lead evaporated to a too-close-for-comfort four in a second half in which the Lancers hit five buckets from the deck -- two from two-point range. Saturday, Lancer forward Zac Watson -- for whom I would be incredibly tempted to cast a vote if the league had a Most Improved Player plaudit -- both grabbed a rebound and blocked a last-second shot that very possibly kept the Lancers' first loss from coming at the hands of the league's bottom seed.

After years of waiting, Longwood finally gets its chance to show off Willett Hall to the world Thursday, as current third-seed Upstate visits for an ESPNU tilt. This will be a battle of teams that play long on the perimeter, love to get downhill on straight-line drives, and want a game in the 80-85 point range. The season-ender with Campbell could be consequential; however, with the Lancers up three-and-a-half games with six remaining for the Camels, time will tell.

WATCH OUT FOR: In a strange schedule quirk arising from High Point's prolonged COVID pause, the Lancers and Panthers square off on back-to-back dates. High Point has gotten off the mat following a dicey start and scored recent wins over two preseason frontrunners (Winthrop and Asheville). The game at the Qubein Center will be another ESPNU tilt, and the atmosphere there should be just as wild as Longwood's recent tilts at Willett.

WINTHROP (15-8, 8-2)

Games remaining (6):

HOME: Radford (2/9), Presbyterian (2/12), Upstate (2/23), Charleston Southern (2/26)

AWAY: Gardner-Webb (2/16), Asheville (2/18)

NOTES: Following a 92-88 loss at Longwood which Winthrop guard Sin'Cere McMahon said he felt "helped" the team, the Eagles got back to basics over their last two games. Playing without regular players Pat Good (medical), Cory Hightower (medical), and Josh Corbin (personal), Mark Prosser's club tightened both its rotation and its defense in the second halves of victories against A&T and at Hampton. Those two foes managed to knock down just 16-of-53 shots (30.19 percent) in those two second stanzas.

With six games remaining -- and Longwood having the head-to-head -- the path for Winthrop to claim the top seed in the tournament appears murky. Eagle fans would cling to 2020 in that scenario, though -- that Winthrop club entered as the second seed behind Radford, but still hoisted the trophy after turning away No. 7 Upstate, No. 3 Gardner-Webb, and No. 5 Hampton.

WATCH OUT FOR: There's not an inconsequential game left on Winthrop's schedule. Don't pay attention to Radford's record -- the Eagles always have a tussle with the rival Highlanders. The same can be said for Asheville, and going to Kimmel is never easy for visiting teams. The Eagles have also been clipped in their last two outings on Gardner-Webb's home deck (2018, 2019).

The Eagles have the tiebreaker on every South club at the moment. However, Gardner-Webb and Upstate are eagerly waiting one game back. The tiebreakers get even wackier once head-to-head is removed from the equation, so the more that can be avoided, the better. Every Winthrop game from here out is must-see TV.

USC UPSTATE (10-12, 7-3)

Games remaining (6):

HOME: Asheville (2/12), Presbyterian (2/16), Gardner-Webb (2/26)

AWAY: Longwood (2/10), Charleston Southern (2/19), Winthrop (2/23)

NOTES: What Dave Dickerson has done with this club is nothing short of miraculous. The Spartans lost their top three scorers from last year's team -- a year in which Dickerson coached "remotely" to protect his wife Laurette, who has battled breast cancer. The Spartans have seamlessly blended new faces like high-production guard Jordan Gainey with veteran standouts like Bryson Mozone and Dalvin White to produce a high-energy brand of basketball that keeps foes on their heels.

The Spartans have won just three of their last five, however. This icy stretch comes at an inopportune time, but will provide quite a bit of insight into the resilience of this group.

WATCH OUT FOR: The Spartans started this hot streak with a huge victory at Asheville, so the return in the Hodge Center should be interesting. The games to watch, though, are the battles against the top three teams in the league. Two of those games are on the road. The mettle of Dickerson's club will certainly be tested over the next three weeks, and that quick trip down NC/SC 150 and I-85 from Gardner-Webb to Upstate on the season's final day could decide the third and fourth seeds -- or potentially much more.

GARDNER-WEBB (13-10, 7-3)

Games remaining (6):

HOME: Charleston Southern (2/12), Winthrop (2/16), Asheville (2/23)

AWAY: Campbell (2/9), Presbyterian (2/19), Upstate (2/26)

NOTES: The Runnin' Bulldogs started the league slate 3-0 for the first time since having joined the Big South. They've gone just 4-3 since, though, with an incredibly tough loss at Longwood part of that stretch. The 'Dogs led 54-44 late, before surrendering a 22-6 Lancer run to close out the game.

Peel back that 4-3 view further, however, and you'll see the 'Dogs are victors of four in a row. Like Winthrop, defense has been the key for Tim Craft's club. A&T scored 62 in a Saturday loss, making the Aggies the only club to crack 60 against Gardner-Webb in the stretch. Craft's teams have finished below .500 just twice in nine seasons.

WATCH OUT FOR: The Winthrop and Upstate games carry obvious weight. Asheville always laces 'em up for their regional rival, though, and Mike Morrell's Bulldogs will be looking to avenge a Gardner-Webb win on ESPNU on Jan. 27.

CAMPBELL (13-8, 6-4)

Games remaining (6):

HOME: Gardner-Webb (2/9), NC A&T (2/19), Longwood (2/26)

AWAY: High Point (2/12), Radford (2/16), Hampton (2/23)

NOTES: Kevin McGeehan's Camels drew a lot of preseason attention, serving as the trendy pick to claim the North division. Things have not worked out according to plan -- not because the Camels are a faulty club in any fashion, but because a couple of factors went against Campbell. The Camels dropped their first two league games to Asheville and Winthrop, but have since bounced back to take six of the next eight. Campbell claimed a solid decision at Upstate Saturday.

However, Longwood's start has created such separation that a division title appears challenging for the Camels. Longwood also claimed a 72-64 decision over Campbell earlier in the year, which, combined with the deficit the Camels currently face, presents quite the problem. If Campbell were to drop the final game of the season against the Lancers, it would need to win almost every remaining game and get a lot of help.

WATCH OUT FOR: The Longwood game. Not to belabor the point, but this game will likely carry huge consequences. Also, watch out for the High Point game. Campbell is up by 1.5 games over High Point -- the Panthers have seven to play -- and has the tiebreaker for now. A Panther win in that contest could complicate things.

HIGH POINT (10-13, 4-5)

Games remaining (7):

HOME: Campbell (2/12), Longwood (2/17), Hampton (2/26)

AWAY: Presbyterian (2/19), Longwood (2/14), Radford (2/19), NC A&T (2/23)

NOTES: Tubby Smith's Panthers have taken three of their last five, and have suddenly jumped back into the race in the North. The ascent only got more interesting Saturday night, as HPU dropped a big late lead, only for John-Michael Wright to score the final seven points of regulation for the Panthers on two fouls while attempting threes. Wright's Panthers went on to take down Asheville in extra time.

WATCH OUT FOR: Campbell, for reasons we mentioned above. The two with Longwood also carry huge consequences -- if, somehow, the Panthers were to sweep the Lancers, things could get really interesting.

ASHEVILLE (12-11, 4-6)

Games remaining (6):

HOME: Hampton (2/9), Winthrop (2/19), Presbyterian (2/26)

AWAY: Upstate (2/12), Charleston Southern (2/16), Gardner-Webb (2/23)

NOTES: Mike Morrell's Bulldogs were riding high after a 23-point victory over Charleston Southern on Jan. 8, giving the club a 2-0 start in the Big South. Asheville has won just twice more since, though -- an overtime result at Radford and one-point victory at Presbyterian have been the club's lone victories. It's dangerous to ever count out a team with talent like Tajion Jones, Drew Pember, L.J. Thorpe, and Trent Stephney. Also, Asheville sits a comfortable third in the league from beyond the arc at just shy of 36 percent.

WATCH OUT FOR: Every Asheville-Winthrop game is a war. The games at Upstate and Gardner-Webb also hold quite a bit of intrigue.

NORTH CAROLINA A&T (9-15, 4-6)

Games remaining (6):

HOME: Charleston Southern (2/9), Longwood (2/12), High Point (2/23), Radford (2/26)

AWAY: Hampton (2/16), Campbell (2/19)

NOTES: Will Jones' Aggies drew three first-place votes in the North before the season, and with talent like Kam Langley, Collin Smith, Marcus Watson, and the like on the roster, it's easy to see why. The Aggies have struggled a bit, though, and Watson was not on the deck with A&T Saturday at Gardner-Webb due to undisclosed personal reasons. It's not known how long Watson will be out, but the Aggies are not in a great spot to be without him for any period of time. A&T has lost five in a row, and needs to right the ship in a hurry.

WATCH OUT FOR: The High Point game will be fun to watch, given the close proximity of the two schools. A&T only has two wins (Radford and Presbyterian) against the remaining squads on its ledger.

PRESBYTERIAN (11-13, 3-6)

Games remaining (7):

HOME: High Point (2/9), Gardner-Webb (2/19), Charleston Southern (2/23)

AWAY: Hampton (2/7), Winthrop (2/12), Upstate (2/16), Asheville (2/26)

NOTES: The Blue Hose have bounced back with consecutive wins after a string in which they lost four games by a combined seven points. One of those victories came over Campbell in Clinton, which bumped the Hose over .500 in the Templeton Center for the year. PC's 11 wins also mark the highest total in Quinton Ferrell's three seasons on the maple in Clinton.

WATCH OUT FOR: Everything on the slate is of significance for the Hose. The likelihood of Ferrell's club getting a bye is not great, but if they can go 5-2 in this grouping and finish 8-8 in the league, that's an inarguably solid season.

RADFORD (7-15, 3-7)

Games remaining (6):

HOME: Camp[bell (2/16), High Point (2/19)

AWAY: Winthrop (2/9), Hampton (2/12), Longwood (2/23), NC A&T (2/26)

NOTES: It's been a tough year for Darris Nichols in his first year back home in the New River Valley, but don't count on those tough times to last long. Josiah Jeffers has been an absolute rock for this Highlander club, just one steal behind Asheville's Trent Stephney for the league lead and sitting comfortably among the league's top ten free throw shooters.

The Highlanders do have one of the better wins in the league this year, clipping Upstate, 82-77, in Spartanburg to start the league campaign.

WATCH OUT FOR: Hey, that Longwood game looks intriguing. The Highlanders took the Lancers to extra time on the Carilion Clinic Court at the Dedmon Center earlier this year, before Longwood won the game. Radford will look to turn the tide on the deck at Willett Hall.

HAMPTON (6-14, 2-7)

Games remaining (7):

HOME: Presbyterian (2/7), Radford (2/12), NC A&T (2/16), Campbell (2/23)

AWAY: Asheville (2/9), Longwood (2/19), High Point (2/26)

NOTES: Stars like Jermaine Marrow, Davion Warren, Chris Shelton, and the like have departed the program, and it shows. The Pirates were beset by COVID, then by injuries. Hampton's lone league wins came in overtime against High Point and against Charleston Southern. Hampton still has an elite shot blocker in Dajour Dickens, club leaders in Deuce Dean and Najee Garvin, and a coach in Buck Joyner that is loved and respected throughout the game.

The Pirates depart the circuit for the CAA on July 1, so one might understandably wonder how the Pirates will close out the season.

WATCH OUT FOR: This marks the final time -- for now, at least -- that Hampton and A&T battle as conference foes. It's not every day that two schools maintain a rivalry -- especially one with the history this one has -- across multiple conferences.


Games remaining (7):

HOME: Toccoa Falls (2/7), Asheville (2/16), Upstate (2/19)

AWAY: NC A&T (2/9), Gardner-Webb (2/12), Presbyterian (2/23), Winthrop (2/26)

NOTES: The Bucs got their lone league win Jan. 19, a four-point result over High Point. They've since lost five in a row, with three of those losses coming by four points or fewer. The other D1 win for CSU came at Tarleton State on Dec. 5.

Barclay Radebaugh is a respected, veteran coach and teacher with many plaudits to his credit. He lost a ton of returning talent to the portal, though, and he's had to build, adjust, and develop this season. As a sign of what he and his staff have been able to do this season, the Bucs have lost to the top two teams in the league by a combined total of just seven points. Longwood had to grab a rebound and swat away a potential game-winning triple Saturday night to escape the Buc Dome with a win.

WATCH OUT FOR: The book-closer at Winthrop. The Bucs took down the Eagles to close the 2017-18 season, knocking Winthrop down to the third seed in the conference tournament, despite their tying for the regular-season crown. Winthrop won by just five points at the Buc Dome earlier this year.

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