Game #9-291: Virginia Military Institute Keydets at Presbyterian Blue HoseJanuary 5, 2013 7:00 pm
After High Point's big win at Winthrop
, I was not yet done with Big South basketball for the day. I would head to Winthrop's old travel partner Presbyterian for another Big South showdown between the new North and South divisions. While Presbyterian and Winthrop are not too far apart in South Carolina, the roads between Clinton and Rock Hill are not exactly the best. The road connecting Clinton is South Carolina State Route 72, a mostly two lane road that winds around for 70 miles and isn't exactly fast access between the two places. Fortunately, I had a lot of time getting to Presbyterian for the 7 PM start after getting out of Winthrop's parking lot at 4:15 PM. The road takes you through the narrow streets of one small town in Chester and then through the even smaller town of Whitmire. Most of the way however you just wind your way through the Sumter National Forest, which might be the most isolated part of the state aside from the Francis Marion National Forest near the coast halfway between the Grand Strand and the Lowcountry. After 70 miles and 90 minutes, I finally came to Clinton. And while there were still no students on campus, most other PC fans in the area were there. It was finally Presbyterians time in the Big South. As I have written on here before
, Presbyterian like all Division I schools had to wait to make it to be eligible for Division I's postseason. And for Presbyterian, it was an even longer and more tumultuous wait for most schools. Their incoming freshman class who arrived in Fall of 2007 to play Division I basketball were faced with a challenging schedule. The Blue Hose were still a year away from playing their first Big South schedule after having been accepted by the conference upon joining Division I. PC played a schedule with a slew of guarantee games that only had five home games on it. The only Division I teams PC played at home were in the 2007-08 season were during Christmas break against Radford, as well as a February game against Army that quickly sold out. But the core of that team had promising freshmen such as Al'Lonzo Coleman, Pierre Miller, and Josh Johnson. After a good record when playing their first Big South schedule in 2009, those PC players were redshirted in 2010. The hope was that they could play in 2012 for the Big South title, just as North Dakota State did in their "Bison Fever" run in winning the Summit/Badlands in their first year of eligibility. But because of paperwork and technical issues related to the required self-study, Presbyterian was rejected for postseason eligibility of 2012. Much of the issues stemmed from an athletic director change in the middle of the self-study process. The failure to get this completed in accordance with NCAA certication meant that the hard work of Gregg Nibert and his first Division I recruiting class would only get themselves another season where it would end before a loss in either the conference or NCAA Tournament. But that recruiting class was able to leave the program in good hands to the next group of players, and starting this night in Clinton Presbyterian could work towards its first meaningful conference title.
But this Blue Hose team no longer has that group of quality players that had played together for five years. This year's Presbyterian team has a few good big guys like William Truss and Joshua Clyburn, but not quite at the level of Al'Lonzo Coleman. The Blue Hose also lack a sharpshooter like Pierre Miller on this year's team either, which is vital in a slow tempo system like the one run by Nibert. Presbyterian still has an athletic forward in Khalid Mutakabbir, but the depth isn't there like when he backed up Josh Johnson in that role the last couple years. This year's team is eligible for the Big South tournament finally, but they will not win it most likely. But at least the Blue Hose can now finally start working towards that goal. It may feel like they have to start over again, but at least now they are a full-fledged Division I school made credible by the previous players who came in during the transitional period. Presbyterian can now promote the Big South Tournament as a way to "see the beach and your Blue Hose at the same time" (the beach is nine miles away through heavy traffic from the conference tournament venue, but still). Presbyterian can begin conference play now knowing that a successful season has the potential to take them to the NCAA Tournament, even if that seems far-fetched in the current moment. It is a similar situation to that Parks Smith talked about with his game at Longwood earlier in the day, with the Lancers finally starting any conference play
(I am pretty sure Longwood's past situation is why the NCAA created the post-moratorium role of requiring a conference invite for new Division I membership). It was now Presbyterian's time to finally shine. But they had to start with a challenging opponent, a VMI team that has looked as strong as anyone in the Big South's North Division. PC would need to jump out to get a good start in conference play.
While not having a sharpshooter hurts, the biggest thing that hurts Presbyterian with losing their core players from recent teams is a lack of solid defensive players. VMI got the early lead simply by working their way inside and scoring, which would have been more difficult to do against Al'Lonzo Coleman. Duggar Baucom is best known as a coach for his offense, but in the past Baucom has mostly relied on pushing the tempo. This group of Keydets never really tried to push the tempo against the Blue Hose. But VMI still got lots of points by getting scoring nearly every time they had the ball during the middle portion of the first half. VMI scored 38 points on their first 28 possessions en route to a 38-29 halftime lead. The one scary moment for the Keydets of the first half was when VMI star Stan Okoye was fouled hard as he went out of bounds and hit the floor hard at the baseline.
But Okoye would come up and deliver once he got back on his feet. Okoye had a great night playing all positions on the floor, making shots from outside and inside and getting to the line. Like Reggie Williams before him, Okoye is an athletic and versatile forward that thrives in Duggar Baucom's system. Okoye showed tonight why he was the preseason player of the year, and scored 39 points (the second most I have ever seen in a Division I game by one player) and would have netted a TMM team 37 points on the night if anybody claimed him as a fantasy player. Okoye and D.J. Covington dominated the boards inside tonight and both had eight rebounds, giving VMI many second chances and building their offensive efficiency.
Presbyterian was not out of the game at halftime, and would not be dominated in the second half. But VMI did well enough to make sure the game was never in doubt. A too little too late run made the game single digits at the end, but VMI still would win the offensive slugfest 86-77. Going into the game, the Massey Ratings had the top five teams in the Big South being from the South Division. But the team not in that group was Presbyterian, ranked at the very bottom. There is no shame in losing to VMI for Presbyterian, as the Keydets might be the best in the Big South North Division. With apologies to Parks Smith
(who defended the division on Twitter during this game), that is not saying much. According to the RPI, the best team in the division is Campbell at #233
, and that is with the RPI not taking into account Campbell's Black Line Upset loss to NAIA Rio Grande. The only other team in the six team division with a top 300 RPI is High Point at #286. To the credit of the North Division, North teams have a winning record against South teams so far (although the matchups so far have been favorable in terms of homecourt to the North teams mostly). And it's not to say that the South Division has been that good either. No team in the Big South has done that well so far in either division, as the whole conference is probably at its worst in a while (which is unfortunately saying a lot).
And that means that Presbyterian might still have a chance! Everybody in the conference has a chance at winning, as there is no team to beat right now. I guess that sort of makes the conference race fun, even if Big South basketball right now is not considered "relevant" compared to other conferences below the Red Line. Anybody can get hot in March when playing in Conway and earn themselves a trip to Dayton. Presbyterian is not likely going to win the conference tournament and make it to the NCAA Tournament in their first year of eligibility. But they can always hope, and at least they have a chance. Because that chance is what Our Game is all about, as technically Presbyterian can still win a national championship even with the third worst RPI currently in the country. And that is something to play for.
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 86, at PRESBYTERIAN 77
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE 6-7 (1-0) -- S. Okoye 12-22 12-14 39; B. Brown 2-8 0-0 6; R. Glasgow 5-10 6-6 17; N. Gore 1-3 0-0 2; D. Covington 7-8 4-6 18; T. Marshall 1-2 0-0 2; P. Anglade 0-0 1-2 1; J. Carr 0-0 0-0 0; D. Albritton 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 28-53 24-30 86.
PRESBYTERIAN 3-12 (0-1) -- K. Mutakabbir 7-14 3-3 19; J. Downing 4-8 1-2 12; E. Washington 3-11 0-0 8; J. Clyburn 7-12 1-2 15; R. Hargrave 4-9 0-0 8; W. Truss 5-5 1-2 11; R. McTavish 0-4 4-4 4; A. Anderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-63 10-13 77.
Three-point goals: VMI 6-19 (S. Okoye 3-8; N. Gore 0-1; R. Glasgow 1-3; B. Brown 2-6; T. Marshall 0-1), PRES 7-20 (R. Hargrave 0-2; K. Mutakabbir 2-5; J. Downing 3-5; R. McTavish 0-4; E. Washington 2-4); Rebounds: VMI 31 (S. Okoye 8), PRES 31 (R. Hargrave 7); Assists: VMI 8 (R. Glasgow 4), PRES 14 (E. Washington 6); Total Fouls -- VMI 14, PRES 18; Fouled Out: VMI-None; PRES-None.