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Big South tournament: Preview, prediction, TV info

By Matt Norlander | College Basketball Writer

C (USATSI)
VMI's D.J. Covington is a senior who has power and big-time scoring ability. (USATSI)

Latest in hoops: Top 25 (and one) | Bracketology | Bubble Watch

What: Big South championship.

When: March 5, 7-9.

Where: All games played at the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina University.

Bracket: View tournament field here.

TV: Championship game on ESPN2 (March 9, 12 p.m.).

Last year's champ: Liberty (15-20, No. 16 seed)

What matters: The Big South is one the handful leagues in college basketball that has a two-division setup. High Point won the North, Coastal Carolina the South. Now, given CCU's location -- Conway, S.C., adjacent to Myrtle Beach -- it makes for an attractive spot to host the league's tournament. The area has ample hotel options and is a nice attraction for fans to make the trip as spring begins. But there is the inherent advantage of having CCU get hosting duties every year, and that can cause unbalance. In this case, it can be a benefit, as CCU is arguably the best team in the league, and small leagues should be trying to send their best team to the NCAA Tournament (giving them the best chance at getting a win).

Overall, it really is one of the more balanced mid-major leagues in the country. VMI, UNC Asheville, Gardner- Webb and Winthrop could win this. Charleston Southern is considered a threat. Could be a a seed-busting bracket, and we love that.

Who matters: John Brown, High Point sophomore forward, won the league's Player of the Year award. In a league that doesn't feature a lot of players willing to attack the rim, draw fouls, and take advantage of a a quick whistle, Brown's among the best. D.J. Covington at VMI is a powerful senior forward, averaging 18.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. If he has a huge tournament, his team has a great shot. These two matter the most, but Asheville's Andrew Rowsey is capable of having a big week, and so is his teammate, D.J. Cunningham, who is the best rebounder and shot-blocker in the conference.

Fun fact: VMI loves to get out, run, and score. It long has, in fact. This season, the Keydets are putting up 88.5 points per game, best in the country, and also average 74.7 possessions per game according to KenPom.com, making them the second-fastest team in the country to Northwestern State. UNC Asheville (71.5 possessions per game) is also top 20. This is in great contrast to High Point, the league's best team, which is among the slower-tempo clubs in college hoops.

Also, seven of the past 11 NCAA tournaments have seen the Big South's rep earn a No. 16 seed.

Prediction: Going with VMI. The Keydets only have three NCAA tournament appearances in program history, the most recent coming in 1977. The program has spent the past 11 seasons in the Big South, and next year will head back to its original home, the Southern Conference. With Rodney Glasgow's 3.19 assist-to-turnover ratio (best in the conference), I'm taking my chances on the plucky No. 3 seed. VMI will leave with a bang, repping the league they've never won a regular-season title at.

 
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