The 2023 Big South men's basketball tournament kicks off on Wednesday as ten teams fight for the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament bid.

Top seed UNC Asheville is the prohibitive favorite thanks to Drew Pember, who has had a remarkable season for the Bulldogs. 

Other challengers include second seed Longwood, third seed Radford and fourth seed USC Upstate as the action gets underway at the Bioplex.

Tournament schedule

All ten teams will be participating as the tournament will take place at the Bioplex, the third year in a row the conference has held the tournament at a neutral site.

Longwood is the defending champion after blowing away Winthrop in last year's final as the Lancers clinched their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

First round - March 1 (ESPN+)

#9 Charleston Southern vs #8 High Point, 6pm

#10 Presbyterian vs #7 Campbell, 8pm

Quarterfinals - March 3 (ESPN+)

Charleston Southern/High Point vs #1 UNC Asheville, 12pm

#5 Gardner-Webb vs #4 South Carolina Upstate, 2pm

Presbyterian/Campbell vs #2 Longwood, 6pm

#6 Winthrop vs #3 Radford, 8pm

Semifinals - March 4 (ESPN+)

Charleston Southern/High Point/UNC Asheville vs Gardner-Webb/South Carolina Upstate, 12pm

Winthrop/Radford vs Presbyterian/Campbell/Longwood, 2pm

Final - March 5 (ESPN2)

Semifinal winners, 1pm

UNC Asheville heavy favorite behind play of Pember

Pember is one of the finest players not just in the mid-major ranks, but in all of college basketball and he dropped 40 in UNC Asheville's season-opening win over Central Florida.

The 6-11 senior forward averaged 20.4 points and 9.2 rebounds, shooting 46.8 percent from the floor in being named Big South Player of the Year as the Bulldogs won their first regular-season title since 2018.

Coach Mike Morrell has the best defensive team in the Big South as well as the top three-point shooting team, making UNCA a prohibitive favorite to win the tournament.

Longwood, Radford, USC Upstate top challengers

Longwood return most of their key pieces from last season's title-winning squad and are more than capable of defending their championship.

Isiah Wilkins hopes to lead Longwood to a second straight Big South tournament title/Photo: Longwood University athletics

Behind an outstanding defense that allowed less than 70 points per game, the Lancers rank fourth in the nation in non-steal turnover percentage.

The one-two punch of DaQuan Smith (13.5 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 42.1% FG%) and Bryan Antoine (11.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 46.5% FG%) power third seed Radford, but the Highlanders have lost three of four since coach Darris Nichols was arrested for DUI.

South Carolina Upstate enters the tournament on fire, winners of six of their last seven. With two-way guard Jordan Gainey averaging 15.1 points per game and leading the Big South in steal percentage, the Spartans can cause a few shocks in Pensacola.

Prediction

It's hard to pick against UNC Asheville. Pember is head and shoulders above any other player in the conference and the Bulldogs can shoot from deep as well as defend.

If any team has a chance to keep them out of the NCAA Tournament, it's Longwood as the Lancers know what it takes to win this time of the year as their tournament title from last year suggests.

Gainey is a player that can throw a major scare into UNC Asheville in the semifinals, but it remains to be seen if he'll get the necessary help to pull off the major upset.

Look for UNC Asheville and Longwood to contest the final with Pember and the Bulldogs punching their ticket to the field of 68.

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