The 2022 Big South tournament gets underway with the major headline being Longwood as the Lancers capped off its best regular season in Division I history, by winning 16 of its last 17 and easing its way to an outright conference championship.
Winthrop has won the last two regular-season titles while Gardner-Webb brings in an elite defense that has kept opponents under 65 points in seven of its last 10, holding them to only 25% from behind the arch.
With so many storylines bound to unfold, VAVEL takes a look at how the action will play out.
For the first time since 1994, all games will be held at a neutral site as the Bojangles Coliseum in Charlotte. The top four seeds receive a bye into the quarterfinals.
First round (March 2)
#9 North Carolina A&T vs #8 Radford, 11:30am
#12 Charleston Southern vs #5 UNC Asheville, 2pm
#10 Hampton vs #7 High Point, 6pm
#11 Presbyterian vs #6 Campbell, 8pm
Quarterfinals (March 4)
North Carolina A&T/Radford vs #1 Longwood, 12pm
Charleston Southern/UNC Asheville vs #4 USC Upstate, 2pm
Hampton/High Point vs #2 Winthrop, 6pm
Presbyterian/Campbell vs #3 Gardner-Webb, 8pm
Semifinals (March 5)
The first semifinal will be at Noon with the upper half playing. The second semifinal is scheduled for 2pm with the lower half playing.
Final (March 6)
Semifinal winners, Noon
Longwood has had a historic season led by Justin Hill, who averages 13.9 points per game. Along with him in the backcourt, seniors Isaiah Wilkins and Deshaun Wade have shined from three-point range and that’s shown as the Lancers rank 17th in KenPom’s 3-point percentage ranking.
Griff Aldrich was the Big South Coach of the Year, leading Longwood to a 23-6 record, including 16-1 at home. He was on the UMBC coaching staff that upset Virginia as a 16 seed, so he knows his way around March.
Winthrop come into the tournament on the back of an eight-game winning streak with DJ Burns the Player of the Year in the conference, averaging 15.3 PPG and shooting 63.5% from the field. He also takes 38.3% of his teams’ shots, third in the country.
The Eagles rank fifth in effective field goal percentage and sixth in two-point percentage. Patrick Good is one of the best shooters in the country, ranking fourth in the country in true shooter percentage.
Gardner-Webb look for a second NCAA bid in the last four seasons and they have a potent duo in D'Maurian Williams and Lance Terry, both averaging 14.4 points per game The Runnin' Bulldogs are 11-0 against every other team outside of the top four.
Led by the top three-point shooter in the country and freshman of the year in the Big South in Jordan Gainey, coach Dave Dickerson has turned around a USC Upstate program that has not finished with a winning record since 2017.
Cedric Henderson Jr. paces Campbell, shooting 50.8% from the floor and averages 14.1 points per game. Ricky Clemons is averaging 10.1 PPG while shooting 62.1% from the field.
Longwood is the clear favorite, but they won't be without challengers. Winthrop is the flagship program in the conference and Burns is it's best player. Williams and Terry give Gardner-Webb a chance while USC Upstate and Campbell can't be counted out.
It's seasons like this that programs like Longwood, long strugglers in the Big South, have been building towards and they need to pay it off with an NCAA bid. Winthrop is their likeliest opposition and it's a shame the Big South doesn't use the home-court format this year, where the Lancers are 16-1.
With all of that being said, expect the top two seeds to reach the final with Longwood authoring one of the best stories of March by making program history with their first NCAA berth.
Prediction: Longwood def. Winthrop