The Big South Conference leader, Coastal Carolina, is a 14 seed, according to the latest bracket predictions by Sports Illustrated. I have now seen every team in the conference at least once, and there is no doubt Coastal is heads above everyone else. Coach Cliff Ellis has patched together a team with transfers making up most of their big players. They have their problems internally, which is why they have already dismissed one player. Watching them make UNC Asheville look slow and sloppy in a 21 point defeat of the Bulldogs in Asheville was enough to convince me they are by far the best team in the Big South…now.
Tonight, UNC Asheville (10-9, 5-4 Big South Conference) travels to Lynchburg, VA to play the surprising Liberty Flames (14-7, 8-1). Liberty is second in the league currently, but did not show me much when I saw them. Yes, they defeated Asheville in Asheville, 59-55, but in that game, the Bulldogs were dominating the boards until center D.J. Cunningham (left) was injured. From that point on, the Flames poured it on and won. I have spoken to people from the other Big South schools and everyone says the same thing about Liberty – we just don’t see how they continue to win…but they do.
Other than Jon Nwannunu and Madison Davis (both injured…Nwannunu is out for the season with an ACL tear), the Dogs are at full-strength, and I believe they can come out of the Vines Center with a huge win tonight to send the league a message. Guards J.P. Primm and Matt Dickey are playing well, and lead the team in most categories. Primm leads Asheville in scoring (15.6), assists (91), steals (40) and three-point shots made (92) while Dickey is second in those same categories scoring 14.9 ppg, 56 assists, 33 steals and he has made 34 shots from beyond the arc.
As a team, UNC Asheville is tied for 10th in the NCAA in steals with 9.53 per game (along with Georgia Tech and Memphis).
“We’ve let a couple of home games slip away so we need to try and get some wins on the road to make up for those losses,” said Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. “This is a tough road trip as we’ll face two good teams who always play well at home. Liberty has played very well this season and has constantly been finding ways to win. They play great defense, have guys that can score and can beat you in a number of different ways.
“When we played them earlier this year, it wasn’t the prettiest of games, but they found a way to grind it out in the end. We’re going to have to be at our best to have a chance at winning on Thursday night.”
A win in Lynchburg tonight will set them up well for their rematch with VMI (11-8, 4-5 BSC) in Lexington, VA on Saturday afternoon. The Keydets also defeated the Bulldogs in Asheville back in December, but the Dogs were without senior forward John Williams, who continues to play hard in his comeback from a head injury. Williams has sacrificed his scoring this season to work hard on defense, and it is paying off.
The Dogs have a great opportunity to move up in the league standings this weekend. They are 3-1 in league road games, having won all three by over 20 points each. They have won four of their last five games and are in a tie for third in the Big South with Charleston Southern. The top four finishers get to host an opening round game at home, so they definitely want to be in the top four.
Liberty is riding a three-game win streak and is three games ahead of UNC Asheville and Charleston Southern, and is in very good shape coming into the second half of the season.