When the Big South tournament tips off Thursday at Campbell’s Gore Arena in Buies Creek, there’s no clear favorite to win the title and its all-important automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
At one point this season, six teams – Coastal Carolina, Gardner-Webb, High Point, Liberty UNC Asheville and Winthrop – were in contention to win the regular-season title.
High Point and Winthrop eventually shared the conference’s regular-season championship, with the Panthers taking the No. 1 seed into the Big South tournament. But Coastal Carolina and UNC Asheville – both past tournament champion – finished a game behind the leaders.
What’s at stake
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The winner gets a coveted automatic berth in the NCAA tournament. The losers must hope one of the other postseason tournaments - NIT, CBI or CIT – calls.
▪ High Point: Preseason choice to win title, Panthers made late run to share regular-season title, get No. 1 seed in tournament.
▪ Winthrop: Surprise tournament finalist last year, Eagles could return to NCAA tournament for first time since 2010.
▪ UNC Asheville: After missing the postseason the past three years, Bulldogs in position to win first tournament title since 2012.
Don’t be surprised if ...
▪ Coastal Carolina repeats as tournament champion, especially since this is the Chanticleers’ last season in the Big South.
▪ Only two or three teams make it into postseason tournaments. Only two teams have 20-win seasons and two others are on the bubble.
▪ Gardner-Webb pulls off an upset or two. The Bulldogs were in the running for the regular-season title until the final weeks.
Three to watch
▪ John Brown, forward, High Point: Two-time conference player of the year also named league’s defensive player of year. First player to make first-team all-conference four years.
▪ Chris Clemons, guard, Campbell: Conference’s Freshman of the Year averaged 18.8 points per game, sixth-best among freshmen nationally.
▪ DeSean Murray, forward, Presbyterian: Northside Christian graduate led conference in scoring (20.1 per game) and was second in rebounding (7.4 per game).
▪ Eight teams in conference history have advanced to the NCAA tournament: Campbell, Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, Liberty, Radford, UNC Asheville, UNC Greensboro and Winthrop.
▪ The last - and only - Big South qualifier to advance past the full opening round of the NCAA tournament was Winthrop, which upset No. 6-seed Notre Dame, then lost to No. 3-seed Oregon.
▪ UNC Asheville has the most NCAA tournament wins in Big South history with two, having won opening-round games in 2003 and 2011.
▪ Winthrop has the most NCAA tournament appearances from the Big South with nine.
Thursday: No. 8 Longwood (9-22, 5-13) vs. No. 9 Charleston Southern (9-20, 5-13), 2 p.m.; No. 7 Radford (16-14, 9-9) vs. No. 10 Presbyterian (10-19, 5-13), 4:30 p.m.; No. 6 Gardner-Webb (15-15, 10-8) vs. No. 11 Campbell (12-17, 5-13), 7 p.m.
Friday: No. 1 High Point (20-9, 13-5) vs. Longwood-Charleston Southern winner, 12 p.m.; No. 4 UNC Asheville (19-11, 12-6) vs. No. 5 Liberty (13-18, 10-8), 2 p.m.; No. 2 Winthrop (21-8, 13-5) vs. Radford-Presbyterian winner, 6 p.m.; No. 3 Coastal Carolina (18-10, 12-6) vs. Gardner-Webb-Campbell winner, 8 p.m.
Saturday: Semifinal games, 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Sunday: Championship game, 2:30 p.m.