Maybe they’re not historical rivals necessarily or geographical rivals, but Coastal Carolina has had no more persistent a nemesis on the basketball court these last couple years than UNC Asheville.
The teams meet again Wednesday night in Asheville, N.C., and though the circumstances have no doubt changed quite a bit, the matchup retains plenty of anticipation and potential significance nonetheless.
“I think both teams, because we’ve been battling each other for titles – regular-season and conference championship – there’s a lot of emotion there on both sides,” CCU coach Cliff Ellis said. “I think everybody gets each other’s best shot. We know we’re going to get their best shot and we’re going to give them our best shot.”
Neither the Chanticleers nor Bulldogs are considered favorites to win the Big South this year and both would have some catching up to do for that to happen, but it’s still early and in what looks to be a wide-open league race, well, neither should be counted out either.
Coastal (8-8, 3-2 Big South) and UNC Asheville (9-10, 3-2) each sit two games behind Charleston Southern in the conference’s South Division standings and are both in the process of reinventing themselves after significant roster turnover.
The Chants continue to mature behind senior guards Kierre Greenwood and Anthony Raffa and their young supporting cast and made a statement of sorts Saturday with a 72-49 win over North Division leader VMI.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, said goodbye to veteran guards Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm after a second straight NCAA tournament appearance last year, and have seen inconsistent results with their retooled lineup. The team has alternated wins and losses in its last seven games, but had a couple impressive moments in the non-conference schedule with a two-point loss to ranked N.C. State and a win on the road over Big East foe St. John’s.
“This team is every bit as good as I think last year’s team was, so we’ve just got to be ready to play,” Ellis said of the Bulldogs.
UNC Asheville has leaned on senior forward Jeremy Atkinson (16.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game) while sophomore Keith Hornsby – the son of famed musician Bruce Hornsby – has emerged as one of the Big South’s better scorers (14.6 points per game) in helping to fill the Bulldogs’ perimeter voids.
As for that history between the two, Coastal Carolina won back-to-back Big South regular-season championships in 2009-10 and 2010-11 while UNC Asheville took the title last season. The Bulldogs started the transfer of power in the 2011 Big South tournament championship game by upsetting the Chants in Conway and seizing the league’s NCAA tournament berth. Coastal, meanwhile, was one of just two teams to knock off UNC Asheville in league play last year while keeping the rivalry building.
And no matter what’s changed since then, the luster of the matchup hasn’t been lost on the familiar faces that remain.
“The last two out of three years we’ve been contending with them for a championship, and I feel like as the years have gone by it’s been Asheville and Coastal Carolina,” Raffa said. “It’s a big game.”
Contact RYAN YOUNG at 626-0318, or follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/RyanYoungTSN.