Big South: March 5-10, HTC Center (Host: Coastal Carolina) | Bracket
This was not a vintage season in the Big South, a league most people nationally know because of Winthrop's frequent presence in the bracket. This season, the Eagles are a relative non-factor, but the conference tournament should be wide open, with four or five teams having a reasonable chance to claim the auto bid. That's in part due to parity and in part to a landscape-altering injury at High Point.
Key Matchup: No. 4 Coastal Carolina vs. No. 5 Liberty in the first round
The tournament hosts have a winnable opening-round game that feeds into a quarterfinal matchup with No. 1 High Point, one of the league's two best teams but one that lost freshman star Josh Brown this week to a broken foot. If Coastal can take care of business against Liberty, that quarterfinal has to be looked at as an upset possibility and a bracket-altering result. I generally like when small leagues play their tournaments on campus sites, but having one of your 1-seeds play a road game in its quarterfinal seems a bit unfair.
Team to Watch: Gardner-Webb
The Bulldogs won their final seven regular season games, including a win at College of Charleston in BracketBusters. They also beat Charleston Southern in overtime in the final week of the season, completing a sweep of the Buccaneers. Gardner-Webb can't shoot at all, but it hits the glass very hard on the offensive end and force a lot of turnovers, so the offense can at least be opportunistic. In a field this balanced at the top, momentum may be key.
Hottest Storyline: Josh Brown's injury
The High Point freshman was the team's leading scorer (16.4 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (6.1 rpg). The Panthers lost last Tuesday, the game in which Brown was injured, and escaped Campbell at home by a point on Saturday after trailing by 14 points in the second half. There obviously is very little time for the Panthers to adjust to life without Brown. With him, they very well may have won the league. Now? They look a lot more vulnerable, especially if they get a road game in the quarterfinals.
The Pick: Charleston SouthernThe Buccaneers are a decently balanced team with some capable shooters, but more importantly in such a parity-addled league, they have a pretty solid draw in the bracket. They won all three games against likely semifinal opponent VMI or UNC Asheville. Meanwhile, High Point, Gardner-Webb and the tourney hosts are all on the other side of the bracket, minimizing exposure until the title game.