UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach has been around the college game for 40 years and understands what this time of year means.
He played at N.C. State, when only the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament winner advanced to the NCAA tournament. He coached at N.C. State, including in 1974, when the Wolfpack won the NCAA title after surviving the one-bid tournament format.
He's coached at big schools and small, and knows how cruel the game can be when it gets down to one-and-done time.
One and done has arrived.
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Tonight at 7, he and the Bulldogs (10-4, 21-8) open the Big South Conference Tournament against Charleston Southern (4-10, 10-19), knowing what's a stake. The Bulldogs are the tournament's No. 1 seed and a heavy favorite to win, since they'll be playing every game they play at home.
If they survive.
"The regular season is all about getting in a position to get a good seed (for the conference tournament)," Biedenbach said on Monday. "College basketball is a tournament sport."
And at Winthrop, the three-time defending champion Eagles, who have owned the Big South Tournament seven of the past nine seasons, get one more chance. After losing to UNCA on Saturday and missing out on the No. 1 seed, coach Randy Peele's Eagles, for the first time since 2004, approach one-and-done time as the underdog.
The second-seeded Eagles (10-4, 19-11) host No. 7 Radford (5-9, 10-19) at 7 in the Winthrop Coliseum.
"I'm really proud of our team," Peele said. "They wanted (the regular-season championship) badly. Our guys feel like it's a disappointment. We're not satisfied.
"I think every game in the tournament is going to be a dogfight, and I can't wait for (tonight)."
Tonight's matchup are interesting.
No. 6 seed Coastal Carolina plays at No. 3 High Point. The Chants swept the Panthers in the regular season.
No. 5 VMI plays at No. 4 Liberty. The Keydets won there a week ago. And a first-round win at Liberty last year jumpstarted their run to the conference tournament finals.
Asheville hosts the Bucs, a team they beat twice in the regular season. But Charleston Southern, under coach Barclay Radebaugh, pulled one of the tournament's biggest surprises in recent memory when they went on the road and beat No. 3 seed Birmingham-Southern in the first round of 2006.
Biedenbach, the dean of Big South coaches, said this is the most balanced the league has been in his tenure.
"We've had some good teams at the top -- Radford, Winthrop, UNC Asheville -- in different years," Biedenbach said, "but I've never seen eight teams as good as these eight."
The Winthrop-Radford winner moves on to play the High Point-Coastal winner at 6 and the UNCA-Charleston Southern winner takes on the Liberty-VMI winner at 8:30 on Thursday in UNCA's Justice Center.
UNCA hosts the semifinals even if the Bulldogs lose to Charleston Southern. If the Bulldogs are eliminated before the championship, set for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, the finals would move to the home court of the highest remaining seed.
Peele hopes that's his team, but he isn't looking past the Highlanders, who have improved dramatically in the last 10 games, going 5-5, with wins over Liberty, High Point, VMI twice and UNC Asheville.
The Eagles swept Radford in the regular season, winning by 18 and 15, but with four minutes to play in their last game at the Winthrop Coliseum, it was a seven-point game.
"There are some coaches in their first year who would cry they don't have any players," Peele said, "but he (Brad Greenberg) has a very good team."
The Highlanders have four players scoring in double figures, led by Kenny Thomas (14.8) and Martell McDuffy (14.8). McDuffy had an ankle injury and didn't play in the game at Winthrop. Thomas sat our Saturday's game at Liberty with an ankle sprain, didn't practice on Sunday and will be a game-time decision.
And 6-8 Joey Lynch-Flohr, arguably the most improved player in the league, is the player Peele might fear most.
"I love the way he plays," Peele said. "He loves contact. But they've got four players who can score."
Peele hopes he has a couple. The Eagles struggled to put the ball in the hole against UNCA, with seniors Chris Gaynor, Michael Jenkins, Taj McCullough and Antwon Harris a combined 11-for-36 for 29 points.
Jenkins, in the last nine games, is 39-for-105 overall, 37 percent, and 14-of-51, 27 percent, on 3-pointers. McCullough has made just seven of his last 44 3-pointers, 15 percent. Harris has had one double-figure game in his last 12.
Gaynor has been the one bright spot, with four double-figure games in his last five starts.
"Our seniors have done really solid jobs all year," Peele said, "but they need to step up."
If there's some good news, two of Winthrop's top six scoring games this season (77, 74) have come against the Highlanders.
But Peele, who's been around, too, understands what his team has to do to prolong the season.
"We've got to persevere, defend, take care of the ball and make shots," he said.
BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
No. 7 Radford at No. 2 Winthrop, 7 p.m.
No. 6 Coastal Carolina at No. 3 High Point, 7 p.m.
No. 8 Charleston Southern at No. 1 UNC Asheville, 7 p.m.
No. 5 VMI at No. 4 Liberty, 7 p.m.
at UNC Asheville
Radford-Winthrop winner vs. Coastal-High Point winner, 6 p.m.
Chas. Southern-UNCA winner vs. VMI-Liberty winner, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday's finals, 11:30 a.m.
at highest remaining seed