COASTAL CAROLINA (13-4, 6-1 Big South) AT UNC-ASHVILLE (12-6, 7-0 Big South)
Time/TV: 7 p.m./ESPN Full-Court, ESPN3
Location: Justice Center
RPI Ratings: Coastal Carolina 135 (Big South No. 2); UNC-Ashville 130 (Big South No. 1).
Coastal Carolina Players to Watch: F Chris Gradnigo, 6-7 Sr. (16.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 apg); G Anthony Raffa, 6-1 Jr. (17 ppg, 4 rpg, 49.3% FG); F Sam McLaurin, 6-8 Jr. (9.7 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.4 bpg). With his next blocked shot, McLaurin will have 143 for his career, making him Coastal Carolina’s all-time leader
UNC-Asheville Players to Watch: G Matt Dickey, 6-1 Sr. (16.1 ppg, 3.6 apg, 3.4 rpg); G J.P. Primm, 6-1 Sr. (14.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 37.9% 3s); G Chris Stephenson, 6-3 Sr. (14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 53.4% FG). Stephenson was last week’s Big South Player of the Week. He averaged 20.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals, while shooting 60 percent from the floor, in road victories over Campbell and High Point.
Storylines: Ashville is the last remaining unbeaten in the Big South at 7-0. The Chanticleers are just a game back at 6-1. Coastal’s lone league loss came at Campbell on Jan. 2 in overtime. This could be a big game toward determining who will represent in the Big South in the NCAA Tournament since the regular-season champion gets home-court advantage throughout the conference tournament. Campbell (5-2) and Charleston Southern (5-3) could still figure into the Big South race.
Keys: The key in this one could be size matchup. Coastal Carolina is much bigger with Gradnigo, McLaurin and 6-1 Jon Pack, while its rare that a Bulldog over 6-foot-4 sees more than a handful of minutes. However, the Bulldogs’ team speed and depth could be a big advantage if they try to push the pace. They average 82.5 point per game, which ranked eighth in the nation. … The Chanticleers are just 2-3 in true road games this season, although they did beat Clemson at Littlejohn Coliseum. Asheville is 6-1 and has won six straight at home. The Bulldogs, who were the pre-season Big South favorites, only loss at the Justice Center came on Nov. 13, 91-75 to North Carolina. … The Bulldogs have plenty of experience in big games with four seniors and junior Jeremy Atkinson in the starting lineup.
The Bottom Line: Home court, a slight experience edge and an explosive offense equal a close victory for UNC-Asheville.
The Pick: UNC-Asheville 81, Coastal Carolina 74.