Sports

Big South in final push for award ballots

While it probably makes more sense to do it after the league tournament, voting for all-conference, player of the year, rookie of the year, defensive player of the year and coach of the year will be done this week for the Big South Conference.

Coach of the year voting might be the most intriguing, with Winthrop's Randy Peele, UNC Asheville's Eddie Biedenbach, Coastal Carolina's Cliff Ellis and Liberty's Ritchie McKay the front runners.

The case for each:

Peele, in following Gregg Marshall, had more pressure than any coach in the league. He's played a demanding schedule and has the Eagles in the thick of the league race despite falling into an 0-3 hole. They could win their fourth straight title and 20 games again.

Biedenbach, the dean of Big South coaches, could win the title after being picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll. The Bulldogs haven't won the regular season since 2001 and could win 20 games for the first time since 1986.

Ellis, in his first year at Coastal, has somehow kept the Chanticleers in the conference picture despite losing Joseph Harris for the season, Everage Richardson for most of it and not having any kind of post presence.

Liberty, picked to finish sixth, has also been in the picture under McKay, also in his first season. The Flames have been difficult to beat at home and could earn a first-round home game in the tournament.

Brad Greenberg, the first-year coach at Radford, could also get some votes with the Highlanders making a late-season push.

The deadline for voting is Sunday night and this one could come down to the UNC Asheville-Winthrop game on Saturday.

• DAVIDSON VS. WINTHROP: Some numbers on Davidson and Winthrop that the NCAA tournament selection committee might find interesting.

The Wildcats have played a demanding schedule, but without much success, just as Winthrop did a year ago.

Davidson is 0-3 vs. teams rated in the top 50 of the latest RPI, losing to No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Duke and No. 9 UCLA. They Wildcats are 0-5 vs. the top 100, including setbacks against No. 74 N.C. State and No. 99 Charlotte. They're 3-6 vs. the top 150, with a loss to No. 118 Western Michigan and wins over No. 101 Georgia Southern, No. 121 Winthrop and No. 134 Chattanooga.

Winthrop is 1-3 vs. the top 50, beating No. 24 Miami and losing to No. 34 Baylor, No. 38 West Virginia and No. 45 Ole Miss. They Eagles are 3-4 vs. the top 100, with a loss to No. 61 Davidson and wins over No. 87 Georgia Tech and No. 97 Akron. And the Eagles are 5-6 vs. the top 150 with wins over No. 114 Old Dominion, No. 141 Illinois-Chicago and No. 150 Missouri State and a loss to No. 124 Marshall.

• TELLING NUMBERS: Winthrop has some offensive deficiencies, not the least of which is finding a way to score against good defensive teams. Unlike last year, when all five starters were capable scorers, this year's team can't apply the same kind of offensive pressure.

Michael Jenkins is the team's top perimeter threat, and if he has a bad shooting night, the Eagles suffer. And most of the better defensive teams the Eagles have faced have tried to lock him down and force others to beat them.

In the Eagles' 10 losses, Jenkins has had one game when he's shot better than 50 percent -- his 6-of-11, 23-point game vs. Missouri State.

But in the 10 defeats, Jenkins shot 36-of-117 (30 percent) and hit just 20-of-64 3-pointers (31 percent). Jenkins averaged 11.8 points in the losses and was held to single digits four times. In Winthrop's 19 wins, Jenkins failed to reach double figures only twice.

Overall, Jenkins is shooting 40 percent, 36 percent on 3-pointers and averaging a team-high 13.9 points.

• ROLLING UP POINTS: VMI's Reggie Williams set the the Big South scoring record earlier this season and his 27 points against Winthrop last week gave him 2,430. He's the school's all-time point leader, passing Gay Elmore (2,423).

Williams knocked down 34 in a win at Liberty on Tuesday and he's just five points shy of 2,500 for his career. He also had 12 rebounds against the Flames, pushing his career total to 804. He's just the sixth player in Big South history to go over 800 rebounds.

• 3-POINTERS: Winthrop's Taj McCullough has worn jersey No. 23 the last three games. His No. 31 disappeared from the locker room after the Radford game on Feb. 16. ... Michael Jenkins played in his 126th career game on Tuesday. He's now the Big South record-holder for career games played, passing former teammates Craig Bradshaw and Phillip Williams. The Eagles' Chris Gaynor has topped the mark, too, playing in 124 games. ... After climbing to as high as 12th, UNC Asheville dropped out of the mid-major Top 25. The Bulldogs were No. 32 in points this week, with Winthrop No. 34. ... Going into Wednesday's game at High Point, Radford had played a school-record four overtime games this season, winning three. ... Saturday's UNC Asheville at Winthrop game will be televised by SportSouth (cable channel 32 in Rock Hill).

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