Five days. 12 games.
That’s all that separate us from having a complete Big South basketball season. It will – as always – be reflected in the books as an unconventional season.
Longwood won the North division – and, as of this writing, has a magic number of just one to win the league outright and clinch at least an NIT bid. Exactly three voters called that North finish before the season started. (I picked them second, so…close?) Winthrop’s a division champ again. I guess that’s a little conventional.
North Carolina A&T will leave as soon as it arrived. Its final game in the tournament in Charlotte will be the final time it wears the Big South logo – barring an automatic NCAA qualification, of course – as it departs for the CAA. Long-time MEAC frenemy Hampton will join them, returning the league to a 10-team circuit for 2022-23. As far as we know, anyway.
As with seemingly every year, we know a few things, and we don’t know many more things. While you prepare for those 12 games, let’s do a quick inventory, shall we?
WHAT WE KNOW
Longwood is the #1 overall seed for now, as you just saw above. That crept more toward finality with the Lancers’ 76-72 victory over Hampton in Willett Hall Saturday night – the same place where the Lancers scored a 92-88 victory over Winthrop earlier in the season that largely facilitated where we now are.
Winthrop can still win the league and take that top seed, but it will require a proverbial “inside straight” to do so. The Eagles need home victories over Upstate (Thursday) and Charleston Southern (Saturday), plus Lancer losses at home against Radford (Wednesday) and at Campbell (Saturday). Radford has been hot of late – but we’ll get to them later.
Gardner-Webb sits comfortably in the third spot and has clinched a bye. The Runnin’ Bulldogs can finish no worse than fourth, even with losses Wednesday (Asheville) and Saturday (at Upstate).
Charleston Southern will finish with the 12 seed. The Buccaneers are 1-13 in league play, and its only chance at a tiebreaker victory would come if High Point finished with a better record in the league than Campbell. The Camels would finish one game ahead of the Panthers in the worst-case scenario, so CSU will play in the afternoon session of the tournament’s first round.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW
Then there’s the Upstate situation. The Spartans have an increasingly tenuous grip on the fourth seed at the moment, but the Spartans have games with the top two teams in the South to close the slate. Only two teams could conceivably tie the Spartans. Let’s look at how those ties would be broken:
CAMPBELL: 1-0 vs. Upstate; Camels win tiebreaker ASHEVILLE: Split 1-1; both 0-1 vs. Longwood, AVL 0-2 vs. Winthrop (Upstate 0-1, teams play Thursday); AVL 0-1 vs. Gardner-Webb (teams play Wednesday), UPST 1-0 vs. Gardner-Webb (teams play Saturday)
Where this gets even more complicated is if Campbell, Asheville, and Upstate finish tied. The teams’ head-to-head against each other then would potentially come into play.
Campbell, Asheville, and either A&T or Radford could all tie. Campbell is 8-6, Asheville 7-7, and A&T and Radford are each 6-8. However, Radford and A&T close the season in Greensboro, so this would knock one of those teams out of that potential scenario.
Campbell and Asheville are easy to break as a two-way tie, as Asheville defeated Campbell earlier in the year. Radford is 1-1 against Campbell, 0-1 against A&T, and 0-1 against Asheville. A&T is 1-0 against Radford, 1-0 against Asheville, and 0-2 against Campbell.
My head hurts.
High Point is the potential tiebreaker mess in the middle of all this. The Panthers have dropped four straight, and now stand at 5-9. The Panthers close out at A&T and at home against Hampton. G.G. Smith’s club is within two games of Asheville, A&T, and Radford on the high side, and Hampton and Presbyterian on the low side.
Hampton is 4-10 in the league, but does have the potential to leap High Point and could finish tied with the Panthers and Radford or A&T. Both High Point and Hampton have the tiebreaker over Presbyterian, so neither of those tiebreaking scenarios favor the 3-11 Blue Hose.
If things ended today – which, as you can tell, there is still plenty more chaos to go – this is how the bracket would shake out:
FIRST ROUND (WEDNESDAY, MARCH 2)
#8 Radford vs. #9 High Point - 11:30am (ESPN+)
#5 Campbell vs. #12 Charleston Southern - 2:00pm (ESPN+)
#7 North Carolina A&T vs. #10 Hampton - 6:00pm (ESPN+)
#6 Asheville vs. #11 Presbyterian - 8:00pm (ESPN+)
QUARTERFINALS (FRIDAY, MARCH 4)
#1 seed Longwood vs. 8/9 winner - 12:00pm (ESPN+)
#4 Upstate vs. 5/12 winner - 2:00pm (ESPN+)
#2 Winthrop vs. 7/10 winner - 6:00pm (ESPN+)
#3 Gardner-Webb vs. 6/11 winner - 8:00pm (ESPN+)
SEMIFINALS (SATURDAY, MARCH 5)
1/8/9 winner vs. 4/5/12 winner - 12:00pm (ESPN+)
2/7/10 winner vs. 3/6/11 winner - 2:00pm (ESPN+)
FINALS (SUNDAY, MARCH 6)
TBD vs. TBD - 12:00pm (ESPN2)