Monthly Archives: March 2012

NCAA coaches reveal all in candid interviews

What if…I were on Bourbon Street and I ran into some NCAA coaches who were not playing this weekend?  Would they be forthcoming about the officiating we have all witnessed?  Do you think they would really say how they feel?  After a couple of Pat O’Brien’s famous Hurricanes, any subject would be open.  And some of them even had a few daiquiris on their way in…so…

Mizzou Coach Frank Haith

If I saw Mizzou coach Frank Haith, I’d ask him one simple question: “What happened?”  Coach Haith seems like a good guy…he turned Missouri into a cohesive team, using basically the same kids who were totally undisciplined last year, and this year they were good enough to earn a No. 2 seed.  So, coach, what happened?

“I’m still trying to figure it out.  I knew I’d be here in New Orleans, but I figured my team would be with me.  Say, these Hurricanes are delicious…you want one?”

“Sure…mind if we talk about Norfolk State?” “Well, what you gotta know is that any school has the ability to knock off another on any day.  Kind of like the NFL…any given Sunday.  Our kids were not happy about getting a No. 2 seed.  We felt we earned a one…then, Sunday night, we see that we actually were the eighth team listed…closer to a three seed than a one.  We were not happy.  Then we see we drew a MEAC team, and we’re looking ahead to the next round already. We’re thinking Florida could give us problems…but, hey, don’t tell anyone…we didn’t even look at film.  I mean, c’mon.  The MEAC?  All I know about the MEAC is that Fang Mitchell made a name for himself and his Coppin State team when they played about 15 guarantee games a year to make a lot of cash.  Seems like he always was in the tournament…with a 15-16 record.  Imagine, the MEAC having better athletes than the Big 12…HEY…where’s my Hurricane?  You know I used to coach the Canes…so dammit, where’s my drink…”

“Thanks, Coach…as a Mizzou grad I can tell you I’m proud of what you and the team accomplished this year…and not surprised you flamed out in the first round.  25 NCAA Tournaments and not one Final Four.  Enjoy NOLA!  Hey, there’s Coach K.” (NOTE: I was shocked to see Coach K on Bourbon Street…you NEVER see anyone from Duke (fans, team members, administrators) at any Final Four event…they are all sequestered in some fancy, rich hotel far from the action…trust me.)

“Coach K…a word?”  “Sure…don’t I know you…you’re from UNC Asheville, right?” “Yeah…but today I’m just talking to people for my sports blog.  I just have one question for you…but before that, congratulations on becoming the winningest-coach in NCAA history.” “Thanks, but you know when you’ve won as many games as I have, the losses are the games that stick with you.”

Duke's Coach K

“And speaking of losses, I just talked to Coach Haith…you might want to buy him a Hurricane…poor guy still doesn’t know what hit him…but I guarantee another drink and he won’t care.”

“Ha…lightweight.  When he was in the ACC he couldn’t even compete with us from the REAL part of the league…you know us, that school in Chapel Hill, Wake, NC State and, occasionally, Maryland.  One year in the Big 12 the guy blows everyone out except Kansas – and he did beat them in Columbia, so yeah, he’s got that going for him.  Waitress? Could you bring an extra strong Hurricane over to Coach Haith over there and bring us a couple, too…tell him it’s from the ACC. What the hell, I can expense it.”

“Uh, coach…speaking of tough losses, what happened to your team against Lehigh?”

“We got confused.  We were playing away from Cameron Indoor Stadium for only the seventh time this year…Heck, we’re so important to the ACC that some of our scheduled league road games are actually played in Durham…we play the real game – the one that counts – the night before…then we just go on the road, have a nice dinner and play kind of a pick-up game at the other school.  Their students love it, especially when we “lose” (yes, he did use the quote marks thing in the air when talking to me) the “scrimmage”.  But ACC officials know, we get a one or two seed in the tournament every year.  SO imagine this…waitress, these Hurricanes are pretty good…can I get another?  Okay…we, DUKE, are travelling all the way to Greensboro – mind you, that’s a whole 40-minute drive for most of our fans, to play against Lehigh.  Our guys got confused.  Smart as they are, sometimes they just plain forget things.  Anyway, we’re told we are playing the Lehigh Engineers, so we design a great game plan to beat the Engineers.  Then, out of the blue, this team changes their nickname to the Mountain Hawks.  What the hell?  We cannot for the sake of things find out what a Mountain Hawk is.  Now our student fans are really upset too.  They had all these great chants about engineers…geeky things, too…and now none of these will work against the Mountain Hawks.  Austin Rivers came to me and said he was done…he did all he could do at this level and he was going to announce he was taking his talents to the NBA.  Kid, I said, think hard about this.  There are so many great players in the League…I should know, I coached a lot of them.  And maybe there’s someone on Lehigh who’s good also.  Yeah, we had a good laugh about that one.

“Anyway, we get to the Greensboro Coliseum early…the place is packed…Hey, this Hurricane sure went down quickly…Waitress, another Hurricane, please.  Wow, my wife, Mickie is gonna be pissed when she learns how delicious these things are.  Maybe if she had a couple of these, she could earn some of those beads, ya know what I mean?”

“Yeah, coach…but she seems kind of refined to “earn” (and yes, I did use the quote mark thing also) beads.” “Naw, she’s kinda easy when she’s had a few…should have seen her at the after-party when we won in 2010!  Anyway, turns out Lehigh has a kid who was better than Rivers…C.J. McCollum.  Kid scored 30 and had 6 assists…AGAINST US.  How I missed this kid is beyond me.  I’m blaming my assistant coaches anyway. (NOTE: at this time Coach K was feeling no pain.) Lettem all go get head coaching jobs and see how “easy” (again with the quote marks…) it is.  Waitress…you’re so cute…can I have another Hurricane? HEY…anybody here have FOUR NCAA RINGS?  YEAH, THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT…”

“Time to move on, Coach.  Glad to see the loss hasn’t hurt you too much…HEY, COACH FEW!”

Gonzaga's Coach Mark Few

“I remember you. Didn’t we meet back in 2002 in the Atlanta Marriott?  In a very slow elevator?”  “Yep, we did…that’s how I get to know most of the coaches I interview.  I remember asking you about how great it was being the Cinderella team in the tournament.  You were very polite and really wanted to talk about fly-fishing.  Anything changed in ten years?”

“Well, we’re no Cinderella anymore.  I mean think about this…and, yes, I’ve had a couple of Hurricanes, so definitely quote me…uh…yeah…anyway the NCAA, in their infinite wisdom, makes us a 7 seed.  GONZAGA…a little Jesuit school in Spokane, WA…a 7.  Not bad for us.  But…these people sitting in a hotel room in Indianapolis all week, barely getting any fresh air or fresh food…these people – “The Committee” (again with the quote marks? What – people I know what you mean.) has us playing the 10 seed in the EAST, West Virginia.  So, the higher seed or is it lower…I never know and now that I’ve had a couple of those frozen daiquiris they sell about every fifty feet on every street in New Orleans I really have no idea if a 7 is a lower or higher seed than a 10…ANYHOO, “The Committee” has us playing those ugly Mountaineers in Pittsburgh.  Isn’t WVU located about 50 miles south of Pittsburgh in Morgantown.  How do they get basically a home game against the better-seeded team? Huh?  Answer me that!”

“Mark, you got screwed.  But you overcame it, much to the bookies delight, I might add.  You were favored but everyone thought that WVU would beat you since they basically had an hour’s bus ride up to the Burgh so all the money went on the ‘Eers.”

“Yep, we did that…waitress, another couple of Hurricanes over here…the “writer” (okay, Coach, that hurt) over here is making too much sense. Anyway, we thought we’d have a good shot at Ohio State, but they were too good for us.  So, now we head back on a flight – and man are we happy the NCAA provides the charter jets for us…do you know how much trouble it is flying to Spokane…gotta fly to Seattle, sit around Sea-Tac for hours and get a puddle-jumper back over the mountains to God’s Country.  But at least I can fly-fish there…five minutes from my house is the best stream in the Northwest.  And (Coach Few comes in very close to me now and whispers) that’s why I keep turning down all those big schools.  None of them have streams near their campus’.  And I make a boatload of money at GU.”

“Can’t blame you, coach…and wow, that Hurricane is deceptively sweet…just can’t be any liquor in it, it went down too fast…Let’s get another.  Waitress…another round!  And can you get one for Coach Shaka Smart while you’re at it.  You guys know each other?  Shaka keeps turning jobs down also…just turned South Carolina and Illinois down this year…and he only got a meager bump in salary.  Shaka why?”

VCU Coach Shaka Smart

“It’s not for the fly-fishing…we don’t do that in Richmond.  But you have to understand I made a commitment to these young men and to the university.  I intend to stick with it.  Thanks for the Hurricane, by the way…it’s delicious!  (NOTE: Coach Smart really put his Hurricane away quickly and moved onto number two.) Anyway, I am happy at VCU and don’t need the kind of pressure a $1.7 or $2 million job would bring.  I have a nice house, my wife and kids like the neighborhood, and if I lose, no one’s gonna fire me.  Look at me…I’m Shaka Smart…doesn’t the name say it all.  You fire me and you know for sure Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would be rallying in Richmond faster than you can say, hey, big name school…hire me! You know I’m just kidding…I’m a civilized man and an educated one.  I know coaches are hired to be fired, but I just want to see my commitment through to the end.  Is that asking too much?  You saw Kansas State coach Frank Martin just take that South Carolina job…and his athletic director didn’t even offer anything to keep him…and he’s a great coach.  That’ll cost the AD his job…mark my words.  Mark, tell me about that fly-fishing thing…”

UNC Asheville Coach Eddie Biedenbach

So, off into the night I went, thinking these last two coaches have it right.  Coaching at small schools where the pay is not as huge as it could be, but doing it for the right reasons…the kids.  Which brings me to one final comment.  UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach whose team came thisclose to beating No. 1 East seed Syracuse this year (and last year had No. 1 East seed Pitt on the ropes early in their game).  According to documents recently released, Coach B was the second-lowest paid coach of the 68 in the tournament.  He has been at UNC Asheville for 17 years…and deserves better.  Coach B will not talk about the officiating that, while it did not cost UNC Asheville the game, it certainly cost them an opportunity to possibly tie or win the game.  And there have been so many games this tournament that have shown us how officials are all too human…blown calls…travelling…lane violations…When these calls are not made up until the last minutes of a game – why suddenly do the rules change?  Shame on these officials for taking away the player’s chances to do something special.

I have not commented on the UNC Asheville-Syracuse game because I am very close to the Bulldogs team…however, seeing the out-pouring of love that the Dogs were shown made me so proud of these guys.  To the seniors, Honorable Mention All-American Matt Dickey, J.P. Primm, Chris Stephenson, Quinard Jackson and Jeremy Harn, best of luck in your futures.  And remember, one game does not define your career.  You went out in style and set a standard that will be tough to match.  But, speaking to the younger players on the team, they saw how hard you have to work to just get to the NCAA Tournament, and they take on that burden with pride.

As for who will win the 2012 NCAA Tournament, if I say Kentucky, I’m on the bandwagon.  I think the Wildcats will beat Louisville and Ohio State will beat Kansas on Saturday…and Monday night, the newest residents of Lexington, KY, the Lynch family, will be glad they moved there as they can celebrate with the rest of Big Blue Nation another national title for Kentucky.

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March Madness Predictions:

The NCAA Tournament gets underway Tuesday night in Dayton as 68 teams hope to end their season with a win in New Orleans.  Only one will, however, so here is a quick look at what I think MIGHT happen.  (Remember, this is fiction…not fact!)

DAYTON FLIERS:

The 2012 version of March Madness starts with the “First Four” games.  As I am writing this, eight teams are flying to Dayton to prepare for a special time. We all know what these games really are…they’re play-in games…but I will tell you from personal experience (last year) the good people in Dayton make sure you have a big-time experience.  From the time you step off your plane, these people give you something special.  The hotel(s) staff treat you like this is New Orleans and you are in the Final Four.  Even if you are one-and-done, you will come away with a great feeling.

This year, playing for the right to go onto the court against the overall No. 1 seed, Kentucky will be Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky…and playing for the right to test North Carolina’s front court will be Lamar and Vermont.  Also in the First Four games are teams who will be playing for a 12 seed (California and South Florida) against the No. 5 seeded Temple Owls and teams playing for a 14 seed (BYU and Iona) against No. 3 Marquette.

Last year, UNC Asheville played in the first game against Arkansas-Little Rock.  The game was a good one…and in overtime, the Bulldogs advanced.  A little-known team (at the time) was also housed at our hotel – VCU and they ended up sticking around the tournament longer than Asheville did…it’s great to see both teams returning to the tournament this year.

As the East’s No. 16 seed this year, Asheville (24-9), I feel, was thrown under the bus by the Committee…with several teams having lower RPI’s than the Bulldogs’, they still stuck Asheville in the worst possible opening game of all…against the No. 1 seed, Syracuse.  It’s a bad match-up on paper with the Cuse having a lot of height.  Asheville’s tallest starter is 6’5″.  I know the Dogs will come out with defensive intensity and, if they hit their three point shots, could surprise the Orange.  I saw them do this last year against No. 1 Pitt…for a half.  Then size and pure athleticism took over.  This year’s Asheville team has great athletes…for a smaller conference.  But they would not go 16-2 in the Big East.  Syracuse, unless they look way ahead, will have their way with our local boys.

CUSE CAUSE:

Dion Waiters may be the best player on Syracuse's talented team...and he doesn't even start. The Cuse could win it all...or be the first No. 1 Seed to lose.
Dion Waiters may be the best player on Syracuse's talented team...and he doesn't even start. The Cuse could win it all...or be the first No. 1 seed to lose.

I certainly can see Syracuse going to the Final Four…but I also can see them losing to Florida State in the Regional FinalsFSU has been playing very nicely, winning the ACC Tournament in a closer-than-I-expected game against North Carolina.  They are athletic and can keep up with anyone.  While they do not have a great point guard, they can score points in a hurry.  This is a dangerous 3 seed in the East.

THINGS THE COMMITTEE DOES TO MAKE YOU GO HMMM:

Funny, isn’t it, how the Committee likes to screw with nice folks.  Take Roy Williams, for instance.  And keep in mind that his last job before UNC was as Kansas’ head coach…His Tar Heels are the No. 1 seed in the MidwestKansas is No. 2.  They are on a collision course to meet in the Regional Finals…in St. Louis.  The Gateway to the West is a LOT closer to No. 2 KU than to the top-seeded Heels.  Hmmm…

And speaking of great match-ups, how about the Second Round game in the East between No. 5 Vanderbilt and No. 12 Harvard.  The GPA’s must be off the chart!  Harvard (the Vanderbilt of the East) has had a great season and have beaten quality teams (Florida State, for one…).  And Vandy (the Harvard of the Mid-South) just beat Kentucky to win the SEC Tournament.  I think this will be a fun game to watch…as long as the players’ pocket protectors don’t slip out of their jerseys.

UPSET ALERTS:

There are a couple of upset possibilities, as always in the tournament.  In the East, No. 4 Wisconsin and No. 13 Montana…the Badgers won’t get past the Vandy-Harvard winner, and neither would Montana…but since my wife was born in Hot Springs, MT, I have the Griz as an upset winner.  I think the Badgers’ outstanding coach, Bo Ryan, has gotten as much out of their talent as possible this year.  They are an outstanding defensive team, but boring as hell to watch offensively.

In the South, No. 12 VCU begins their assault on the Final Four again playing No. 5 Wichita State.  Too bad one of these teams is going home after this one.  Both teams are entertaining to watch and could make some noise (until playing against Kentucky in the Regional semifinals).  It would not shock me is the Rams beat the Shockers…and a 5 ALWAYS beats a 12 in this tournament.

Another 5-12, in the West, features No. 5 New Mexico vs. No. 12 Long Beach StateLBSU has been up and down this year, while UNM has quietly taken care of business.  I’m always a fan of the Lobos, but this 49ers team could surprise people who have not seen them this season.  (Their long-ago win at Pitt is not as impressive as we then thought, but nevertheless…)

FIRST NO. 1 SEEDS OUT:

Roy Williams "Squat of Intensity"...will his Tar Heels be good enough to win another NCAA title? If so, they have to get by his former employer, Kansas, in an all-too-close-to-home (for KU) Regional Finals game in St. Louis, MO

North Carolina could…should fall to Kansas. KU getting a very favorable seeding in St. Louis, will drag their “Chickenhawk” fans across the Show-Me State (passing, coincidently, driving on 70 right through Columbia, home of their arch-rival, MIZZOU) and will make a lot of noise.  KU is an outstanding team, and whenever a No. 1 and No. 2 meet, it’s never an upset.

Syracuse could lose…to Vanderbilt, Florida State or Ohio State.  The Big East has not fared well getting to the Final Four and this year might be another disappointment.  The Orange have found ways to win…they have an outstanding team and seem to really enjoy playing with one another.  It would not, however, surprise me to see them gone at the end of the Regional’s.

REGIONAL PREDICTIONS:

In the South, the overall No. 1 seed, Kentucky, will find their path to NOLA pretty easy.  While I hate the smugness (I guess if you have the kind of program UK has, you CAN be smug…but still…) of their “Big Blue Nation”, John Calipari certainly can coach and he can recruit.  I think they have a very easy path (UConn, VCU or Wichita State, Baylor, Duke or UNLV) to NOLA.

Will No. 2 seed (West) Mizzou's 25th NCAA Tournament appearance lead to their first Final Four? Only time will tell...and probably a Regional Final match-up with No. 1 Michigan State.

I’m certainly picking with my heart when I pick the West Region champ.  Lots of great teams here…Michigan State (and I do not like to pick against Tom Izzo, who ALWAYS has his team ready in March), and Marquette brings a nice team into the bottom half of that bracket.  But, my Alma Mater, Missouri, the No. 2 seed, looks like they want to prove something.  While the Spartans are a great pick, and play much better defense than the Tigers, Mizzou is the top offensive efficiency team in the nation. As long as the three’s are dropping, MIZZOU, after 25 tournament entries, will finally get to the Final Four.

Kansas forward Thomas Robinson (0) works against Baylor forward Quincy Acy (4) during the first half of their game in last week's Big 12 Conference basketball tournament

And for the Midwest, how do you not pick Kansas (especially if you want the dream match-up – for Big 12 fans anyway – in the championship game) to beat UNC close to home.  I don’t see any upsets along the way, and a Regional Final matching up two of the most storied teams in NCAA history, will be a great one.  But KU wins.

In the East, Syracuse and Florida State will meet in Boston for the title.  In a future ACC match-up, the Cuse will go on to break the Big East curse and head to NOLA for a semifinal match-up with Kansas.  The Orange just look good.  They look athletic.  Jim Boeheim can coach.  Need I say more? Syracuse to NOLA!

FINAL FOUR (SEMIFINALS) PREDICTIONS:

The overall number one seed, Kentucky, can live up to expectations. Question is...will they?

Kentucky vs. Mizzou:  In a preview of next year’s SEC title game, the Wildcats prove to be too much for the Tigers.  Very few first-year Final Four teams understand what it takes to win.  In 2001, Maryland had Duke down by 19, I believe, in the first half of their Final Four semifinal game…only to lose.  The next year, the Terps took care of business. Kentucky, even with a young (aren’t they always young) team, will shake off the SEC title game loss to Vanderbilt and will win.

Syracuse vs. Kansas:  I just think The Cuse has been much more consistent this year and will prove out in NOLA.  The fact that KU is in this game says they can win. And, I said, there are NO UPSETS when No. 1 meets No. 2.  I give the edge to the Orange.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION:

Kentucky vs. Syracuse:  In a classic game, the Wildcats make Big Blue Nation very happy, and therefore even more smug than ever, as they beat Syracuse, 75-69.  The game will be closer that six points, but in the end, free throws make the difference.

Then again, maybe Michigan State and Florida State make it here…who knows?

And that’s why it’s called March Madness.

UNC Asheville Wins Big South Tourney – Gains Automatic Bid to NCAA’s

An overwhelming favorite to win the Big South Conference Tournament, UNC Asheville more than lived up to its expectations with an 80-64 win over VMI in the championship game Saturday. As a sold-out crowd of 3,205 was roaring their approval, Kimmel Arena celebrated two firsts – the 2012 BSC title and the first court-storming by hundreds of excited students.

UNC Asheville - 2012 Big South Conference Champions

The victory, a school-record 24th of the season, gave them the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year. The five Asheville starters each scored in double digits and harassed the Keydets (17-16) into 20 turnovers and 39 percent shooting. The fact that the senior-laden Dogs won on their new home court, Kimmel Arena, made this one more special.

UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach has led the Bulldogs to three Big South titles in 10 years

“We’ve always been the underdog, so this year we really had to change our thought process because this year there was always the target on our backs,” UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team over the whole season. What they have done off and on the court all season long to get them to this point. Defense was the difference in the game and our guys were solid on the defensive end. VMI did a great job of coaching their team to get them here today and they had a great run this week. That’s why we won the tournament: because of defense.”

The Bulldogs only led by one at halftime after briefly trailing by four points. But Matt Dickey, the Big South player of the year, provided a key spark midway through the second half that put the Bulldogs ahead for good.

He had 10 points in the second half and added six assists and made all seven free throw attempts.

Matt Dickey (2) and Chris Stephenson(4) enjoying a moment before the Bulldogs clinched with Big South title

“I wasn’t shooting as well as I liked, but they found me in the corner and I was able to knock that one down and that was big,” Dickey said. “We were able to go on that run because of our defense and how we play as a team.”

Not to be out-done by his roommate and running-mate at guard, senior J.P. Primm joined Matt Dickey (2011) as back-to-back Most Valuable Players in the Big South Conference Tournament

Biedenbach called Dickey and tournament MVP J.P. Primm “two of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached.  J.P. played football in high school and he worked with Matt to toughen him up and Matt worked with J.P. to keep him on the straight (path),” Biedenbach said with a laugh.

Keith Gabriel led the seventh-seeded Keydets (17-16) with 12 points. VMI was looking for its first NCAA berth since 1977. They had to win three tournament games to get to the finals, including an upset of No. 2-seed Coastal Carolina.

“I felt like we were playing with house money all week,” VMI coach Duggar Baucom said. “First and foremost, congratulations to Asheville. They have had a tremendous season and played well. Give credit to Coach Biedenbach and their coaching staff. I thought the difference in the game was all five of their starters were in double figures and we barely had anybody in double digits. I am proud of my guys. This week has been remarkable for my kids, for my staff and our fans. I think we just ran out of gas today. It was special for our guys, especially for our four seniors.”

This is the last year the Big South Championship will be held at the top remaining seed’s home court. Next year the tournament will move to an as-yet undetermined neutral site.

“It was wonderful to win here at home,” said Primm. “I told Matt (Dickey) this would be the best time of our lives. “And it is. We were hugging and crying after the game. What a wonderful, wonderful moment.  We were out there celebrating (with our fellow students) crying tears of joy. The fans were great. There were times I couldn’t hear the ball bouncing on the floor it was that loud.”

Jeremy Atkinson led Asheville with 18 points and was named to the All-Tournament team. The junior forward will be playing in his first NCAA Tournament this year.

“These seniors went through this last year, but this is my first time going to the NCAA tournament,” said junior forward Jeremy Atkinson, a junior college transfer who led Asheville with 18 points and added six assists and five rebounds.

Dickey finished with 15 points, six assists and five steals, while Primm had 16 points, seven assists and four steals.

The Bulldogs broke open a close game early in the second half, thanks in large part to Dickey. From a 47-47 tie, Asheville scored nine straight points, with Dickey contributing a 3-pointer, a pair of free throws, an assist and a steal.

After a jump shot by Quinard Jackson, Dickey hit a 3-pointer and added two more foul shots. Dickey the slashed through the lane and dished down low to Jackson, who sealed his man off for an easy layup to give the Bulldogs their biggest lead of the game at 56-47 with 11:44 left.

The Keydets could never get within six points after that and the Bulldogs began to pull away. “We called a timeout to try to diffuse the run, but I looked at them in the huddle and the guys didn’t have anything left,” Baucom said. “That’s the first time this year that I’d seen that. They were just really fatigued.”

That gave Asheville a comfortable lead with 10 minutes remaining, and the Keydets – looking to be the lowest seed to win the tourney – didn’t get closer than six points the rest of the game.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of these guys,” said coach Biedenbach, taking his third team in 10 years to the Big Dance.  “I can’t tell you why, but I’m happier about this one. Maybe it’s because we did it at home, maybe because we felt some pressure from being picked to win and everyone expected us to win.”

“It’s definitely different,” said senior forward Chris Stephenson. “(Assistant coach Nick) McDevitt told us, “Let’s be the most dominant Big South champion, and I think we did that.  We won three games (by a combined 68 points) and showed on the court we were the best team.”

“Last year was special because it was the first one for us, but this feels a lot better,” said Dickey. “We win on our home court in front of this great crowd and we’re going back to the NCAA tournament in my senior year. I just couldn’t be happier.”

Asheville is the League’s first back-to-back champion since Winthrop won four-straight from 2005-08, and is the first No. 1 seed to win the title since 2009.

Quinard Jackson (mouth open, leading cheers in center) is joined by hundreds of students who stormed the Kimmel Arena court to celebrate the Bulldogs automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as the Big South Conference tournament champs.

As the first team in the country to earn a spot in the NCAAs, the Bulldogs will have to wait a week until Selection Sunday before finding out who, when and where they play. Asheville’s two other NCAA trips began as No. 16 seed in Dayton, Ohio, the play-in game in ‘03 and as part of an expanded first round last season. The Bulldogs won both games in Dayton in overtime before losing to No. 1 seeds, Texas in ‘03 and Pittsburgh last season.

Primm, Atkinson and Stephenson of UNC Asheville were chosen for the All-Tournament team along with VMI’s Gabriel and Stan Okoye.

SEASON NOTES: Dickey was in double figures in scoring for the 30th time this season…Asheville has now reached eight Big South Conference title games and is 4-4 in those contests…the Bulldogs finished the year 15-2 at Kimmel Arena this season…the crowd of 3,205 at Kimmel Arena was the second largest crowd of the year to watch Asheville play..the victory was Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach’s 20th tournament win, tying him with former Winthrop coach Gregg Marshall for most tourney wins.

UNC Asheville Swamps Bucs – Plays Tomorrow for Big South Title

Very pressed for time today after a late night of basketball Big South-style and very early Southern Conference games today…so I will be succinct.  WOW!  UNC Asheville has now played the three best halves of basketball of the season, starting with the second half of their quarterfinals game and continuing into last night’s game against Charleston Southern.

DEFENSE…that is all.  Coach Eddie Biedenbach stresses it and this team has really brought intensity to the court for the past 120 minutes.  There is no reason to expect anything less than this tomorrow at noon when they host No. 7 VMI in the conference finals.  The winner gets the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and I fully expect to see the Bulldogs heading to Dayton for a second consecutive “First Four” game, probably playing the MEAC winner.

The top-seeded Bulldogs went on one of their patented runs (this one a 24-7 run around halftime) and defeated CSU 91-64 at Kimmel Arena.

Since I am short on time today, please click this link to read the UNC Asheville Athletics website article on the game: http://www.uncabulldogs.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=19200&ATCLID=205390064

Tomorrow’s game will be on ESPN2 beginning at Noon.

 

Big South Conference Adds Longwood; Will Create Divisional Play in 2012-13

The Big South Conference will add Longwood University (Farmville, VA) as its 12th member beginning in the 2012-13 season.  League commissioner Kyle Kallander also announced the league will begin divisional play in basketball for that season and, in addition, the league will play their post-season tournament at a single site.

The Lancers have competed as an NCAA Division I Independent since 2007.  Longwood was invited to join the conference following a vote by the Big South Council of Chief Executive Officers.

Big South Conference Commissioner Kyle Kallander

“Longwood University will be an outstanding member of the Big South Conference,” said Kallander. “Longwood features strong leadership, an outstanding academic reputation, and a commitment to Division I athletic success. It also values student-athlete well-being. These are all characteristics that are shared by Big South members and make Longwood a wonderful fit. We are excited to welcome the Longwood Lancers to the Big South family.”

“We are excited and thrilled that Longwood University has been invited to join the Big South Conference,” stated Longwood President Patrick Finnegan. “We believe that participation in the Big South will enhance school spirit by developing rivalries both in state and beyond, will boost our recruiting abilities, and will allow us to demonstrate the skill of our student-athletes in a conference setting where they could be rewarded with participation in NCAA tournaments.

“By limiting the travel time for our student-athletes through conference play close to home, we will be able to continue to put the ‘student’ first. We look forward to showing that our Lancers can be competitive both on the field of play and in the classroom, while increasing the visibility for our outstanding institution.”

Longwood sponsors 14 intercollegiate Division I sports, 13 of which are sponsored by the Big South: baseball, men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s cross-country, men’s and women’s golf, women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s soccer, softball, along with men’s and women’s tennis. The Lancers’ field hockey program will continue to compete within the Northern Pacific Field Hockey Conference (NorPac), as it has since 2005.

“I am overjoyed by the news that we will be joining the Big South Conference in 2012,” said Longwood Director of Athletics Troy Austin. “The student-athletes, coaches, and athletics staff members now have a place to call home. Knowing that we will be associated with a fine group of institutions enhances this fantastic opportunity. My thanks go to the Longwood family and all of the individuals who helped to elevate Longwood during our time as an Independent. This moment would not be possible without their support. Now that we have found conference affiliation, the future of Longwood Athletics is brighter than ever, and I am excited to be a part of it.”

The addition of Longwood necessitated the forming of divisions in the league.  Longwood will be the fourth Virginia-based Big South institution (Liberty, Radford and VMI are the others).  These four schools plus High Point and Campbell will make up the North Division.  The remaining current Big South schools (Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Gardner-Webb, Presbyterian,   UNC Asheville and Winthrop) will comprise the South Division.

In basketball, each divisional foe will meet on a home-and-home basis and will each play one game against each foe in their opposite division.  There will be a total of 16 league games beginning next season, down from the current 18 games.  This will allow teams to play more local opponents while still maxing out on the number of “guarantee” games they play.

The league is also committed to hosting their post-season tournament at one site next season.  Several cities and schools have expressed an interest in hosting the tournament, including Charlotte, Myrtle Beach, Winthrop University, Asheville and UNC Asheville.

Asheville Advances to Semifinals With Huge Win Over High Point

The Big South Conference Tournament got underway Wednesday afternoon, and in the first two games, higher-seeded teams were upset.  No. 2 Coastal Carolina and No. 3 Campbell were routed by VMI and Winthrop respectively, so coming into the night session, top-seeded UNC Asheville was on upset-alert.

The Bulldogs played shutdown defense on the league’s leading scorer and had five players score in double figures in an 86-61 quarterfinal win over No. 8 High Point at Kimmel Arena.

Asheville (22-9) reached the semifinals for the sixth consecutive year and will play No. 4 Charleston Southern Thursday evening.  CSU routed No. 5 Liberty to earn their berth.  The game will be televised on ESPNU.

The league’s leading scorer, Nick Barbour, averaging 20 points per game, was just 2-of-17 from the field and finished with seven points.  “We just chased Barbour all over the floor and tried not to give him good looks,” said Asheville guard Matt Dickey, who guarded Barbour.  “We had great help-side defense and I think we made it pretty tough on him.”

Senior Chris Stephenson had another great game for UNC Asheville

Asheville’s Chris Stephenson (18 points), Jeremy Atkinson (16 points and 8 rebounds), J.P. Primm (15 points plus 6 assists), Jaron Lane (13 points) and Big South Player of the Year Matt Dickey (11 points) led the Bulldogs.

“The first two games helped our attitude and got our attention,” said Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach.  “I thought we did a very good job, our whole team, except about a five-minute stretch in the first half, as we played focused and played our game. I told our guys to focus on High Point at the start of the tournament and I thought they did that and I am extremely happy about that. High Point has played great basketball since they changed their lineup and switched to a zone about six or seven games ago. They are good enough to play Purdue to two points and they are a very good basketball team. We had no chance to relax in this game, not against High Point, or anybody in this League.”

The Bulldogs, who led 34-25 at the half, came out very focused in the second half.  A 25-5 run midway through the second half put the game out of reach.  Asheville shot 65.2% (15-of-23) from the field in the second half and made 21-of-30 free throws after the intermission.

GAME NOTES:  Asheville is 13-2 at Kimmel Arena this season and has won 23 of their last 25 games against Big South Conference opponents.  Eddie Biedenbach has 18 Big South Tournament victories, second most in league history.  The Dogs out-rebounded High Point 36-28 and has now out-rebounded seven of its last eight opponents.

PERSONAL THOUGHTS:  Tonight’s game against CSU will be a challenge, as they are one of two teams to beat Asheville in Kimmel Arena – UNC was the other.  Coach Barclay Radebaugh’s Buccaneers are a dangerous team – very athletic and never quit.  Personally, this is Asheville’s tournament to lose…especially with the winner of this semifinal game going up against either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in Saturday’s finals.