UNC-Asheville became the first basketball of team to earn an automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA Tournament by defeating top-seeded Coastal Carolina University to win the Big South Conference Championship.
Congratulations to UNC-A’s Head Basketball Coach and one of the greatest Wolfpackers to ever live, Eddie Biedenbach. Link to article and an video of an interview with Coach Biedenbach.
It was a devastating end to a promising season. The Chanticleers once had the nation’s longest winning streak at 22 games and were on the cusp of the Top 25. But they lost three of their last six games.
Coastal Carolina coach Cliff Ellis nicknamed this team “The Great Eight” because they played their final five games with just seven scholarship players an a walk-on after leading scorer Desmond Holloway was suspended for an eligibility issue and starting point guard Kierre Greenwood suffered a season-ending knee injury.
“I can’t be any more proud of a team about what they did with eight guys down the stretch. They’ve got a lot of character,” Ellis said. “And they almost pulled it off.”
McLaurin warned the rest of the Big South that the Chanticleers have every intention of dominating the league again, but next time the ending will be sweeter.
“I’ll tell you one thing, we’re going to be back next year,” McLaurin said “We’re not going to have eight guys. We’re going to have a full roster, God willing.”
Hanging over the title game was a New York Times article reporting the NCAA was investigating Coastal Carolina for possible illegal benefits that former player Marcus Macellari told the newspaper were given to Holloway and other players. The school acknowledged reporting violations in 2010 to the NCAA, but didn’t give specifics.
In that same article, Biedenbach suggested Ellis played with fire and got burned, upping the tension for Saturday’s game even more.
Biedenbach said after the win he didn’t realize the reporter was going to quote him. He said he apologized to Ellis and the league’s commissioner.
With eight days before NCAA tournament pairings are announced, Biedenbach wants his players to celebrate and enjoy the title for a while. His team won the opening-round game in 2003 and the coach said he doesn’t mind opening the tournament again. The Bulldogs are on a six-game winning streak and he thinks they can play with anyone.
“This championship here will last for a long, long time in Asheville and with these guys and with each other,” Biedenbach said. “But we’re not done.”
The New York Times article referenced in the above quote can be found by clicking here.
Coastal Carolina has become the latest example of the underside of college athletics — a small college that dreamed big, took risks and is now paying the price. The N.C.A.A.’s enforcement staff is investigating Coastal Carolina’s leading scorer, and a flurry of off-the-court problems have left the Chanticleers with only seven scholarship players.
Two players are ineligible, their most talented player was dropped from the team after a fight, and their starting guard is injured. With only eight players dressing, Coastal Carolina (25-4) has lost two straight conference games and has gone from darling to desperate in a few weeks.
“I keep saying my prayers that those eight guys will stay healthy,” Coastal Carolina’s athletic director, Hunter Yurachek, said. He added, “It’s not where we’d prefer to be.”
This is not what Coastal Carolina’s president, David A. DeCenzo, envisioned four years ago when he hired Cliff Ellis as coach despite Ellis’s history of running programs that were later punished by the N.C.A.A.
“We did our due diligence with the N.C.A.A,” DeCenzo said. “There was no record. There were no infractions. Cliff was by far the best candidate that we had.”
It did not take long, though, for Ellis to take an aggressive approach to recruiting. By this season, his roster had eight transfers. Renee Madison, associate director for N.C.A.A. enforcement, has been in Conway investigating whether Desmond Holloway, the team’s leading scorer, received improper gifts as inducements to transfer. Holloway was suspended last week. The university is awaiting the N.C.A.A.’s decision on whether he will be reinstated while the investigation continues.
Two other transfers have landed in trouble and are not playing. Mike Holmes, the most talented player, was thrown off the team in January after an altercation. He had transferred from South Carolina, where he earned all- freshman Southeastern Conference honors in 2008 but was dismissed after a series of incidents, including a fight with a teammate.
Willie Kirkland, a reserve guard who transferred from junior college, is ineligible for academic reasons.
Ellis, 65, made no apologies for his recruiting and said that giving troubled players another shot was part of his coaching philosophy.
“I believe in second chances,” he said. “That’s important. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t. Is there risk? Yeah. In order to succeed, you have to be able to sometimes take that risk.”