Sports

Big South basketball finding quality wins hard to come by

With the exception of Winthrop, UNC Asheville and Liberty, Big South Conference teams aren't doing much to enhance the league's ranking among the country's 31 NCAA Division I conferences.

Through Wednesday, the Big South's eight teams had 32 wins, but only half had come against Division I opponents.

Winthrop had four (Illinois-Chicago, Georgia Tech, East Carolina, Akron), UNC Asheville three (Furman, Campbell, Western Carolina) and Liberty three (East Carolina, Niagara, Presbyterian).

Two of the league's wins came against Presbyterian, which is moving up to NCAA Division I and ranks No. 336 out of 340 Division I programs in the latest Sagarin Ratings. Charleston Southern's lone Division I win came against North Florida, which is No. 340.

High Point, the league's preseason favorite, is 3-4 after Wednesday's loss at Dayton and has one D-I win against New Jersey Tech, another program just moving up to play with the big boys.

So, you could say the league really has just 12 quality wins against D-I teams.

In the latest Sagarin Rating, the Big South is the No. 27-rated league. In the team ratings, Winthrop is No. 60, followed by UNC Asheville (198), High Point (205), Liberty (238), Coastal Carolina (248), Radford (305), VMI (309) and Charleston Southern (320).

Winthrop owns the league's most impressive wins (Georgia Tech, Akron) and the Eagles have played four teams ranked in Sagarin's top 60 and six rated in the top 150.

"When you look at the league schedule as a whole," Winthrop coach Randy Peele said after beating Akron, "we've played the league's toughest."

And it gets no easier.

After breaking for exams, the Eagles play at unbeaten Ole Miss on Dec. 13, go to Mount St. Mary's, host Old Dominion and go to Miami to close out 2007.

• OUT OF THE POLL: With Saturday's loss at West Virginia, Winthrop dropped out of the Mid-Major Top 25 rankings for the first time since the 2005-06 season. The Eagles were four points shy of staying in the top 25 and continuing their record as the only Big South team ever to be rated in that poll.

Akron, which lost to Winthrop 68-58, was ranked ninth, and Missouri State, which beat the Eagles 73-69 after coming from 22 points down, was 12th.

• ON A ROLL: Liberty, under first-year coach Ritchie McKay, is the league's hottest team, winning three straight and five of six to move to 5-4. The only loss was at Kentucky.

Alex McLean, a 6-foot-8 forward, has averaged 23.3 points and 9.3 rebounds the past three games, including a 33-point, 11-rebound effort against Longwood.

• MACK PACKED: Joshua Mack, the Big South freshman of the year last season, has left Coastal Carolina.

Mack asked for and was granted a release by coach Cliff Ellis.

"Under the circumstances," Ellis said in a statement, "it was best for both parties." Ellis added he would have no further comment.

Mack averaged 12.3 points in 26 starts at point guard last year, but lost his starting job in preseason practice and was averaging just over a point in 13 minutes per game, while shooting 19 percent from the field.

Jack Leasure, who is averaging better than 20 points per game, has moved from shooting guard to the point.

• IN THE BREEZE: It took 6-5 freshman Anthony Breeze four games to crack Coastal Carolina's starting lineup and he's averaging better than 11 points and leading the team in field goal percentage (60 percent).

At 190 pounds, Breeze is filling in where graduated Moses Sonko left off inside.

Breeze reportedly has a 42-inch vertical leap and it's said he can stand flat-footed and get up high enough to touch above the square on the backboard.

• GEORGE HURT: UNC Asheville center Kenny George has missed the past two games with a foot injury. The diagnosis is a sore foot, but no one's sure when he'll return.

George, listed at 7-7 and 370 pounds, played the first six games, averaging 12.3 points, eight rebounds and shooting 75 percent from the floor and the free throw line. He also had 39 blocks, good for a 6.5 average. More importantly, he was playing 22 minutes a game.

By the way, the tallest player in college basketball has apparently grown. According to a story in the Asheville Citizen-Times, coach Eddie Biedenbach measured George and the number is now 7-9, but that's with shoes on.

• 3-POINTERS: With 24 points in Tuesday's loss at S.C. State, VMI's Reggie Williams has 2,057 career points, becoming just the fourth player in league history to pass 2,000. He needs 154 to catch Liberty's Larry Blair at the top. ... Leasure has 327 career 3-pointers and needs just 75 to break Doug Day's league mark. Leasure is shooting 55 percent from behind the arc and 58 percent overall. ... Winthrop's Michael Jenkins needs 101 points to become the school's 17th member of the 1,000-point club. ... Winthrop's Chris Gaynor needs 42 more assists to become the seventh player in league history with 500 for a career. He has 458, fourth all-time at Winthrop, and is 16 shy of catching Tyson Waterman for third.

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