SoCon Tournament Semifinals

All Southern Conference could have asked for was for four of the top five teams to make it to the semifinals.

That would mean that there would be two tremendously interesting match-ups on Sunday afternoon and early evening. It would mean that Asheville would have a buzz about how intriguing these match-ups would be.

In the end, on Saturday, we got what we wanted. We got four really good teams battling for conference supremacy on Sunday.

It should be wildly entertaining. Enjoy.

(1) UNCG vs.(5) Wofford
Time: 4:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: UNCG beat Wofford twice during the regular season. The game in Greensboro was very close, with Wofford leading big early but the Spartans fighting back and winning a very memorable game. The game in Spartanburg wasn’t as close as that one. The Spartans came up with the win. Of course, the Terriers had lost twice to Mercer as well and they took care of business on Saturday afternoon with relative ease. The Terriers will look to avenge a winless regular season against a team for a second consecutive day.

Key Players: Fletcher Magee was ice cold on Saturday, but Nathan Hoover picked up the slack. Trevor Stumpe and Storm Murphy both do not get the credit they deserve. These two have both turned into very solid contributors that know their roles on this team. It was not long ago that the Terriers couldn’t survive a cold shooting night by Magee. Now, with Hoover playing well, and Stumpe being solid, this team can survive that. Ironically, Francis Alonso was not particularly good on Saturday either. James Dickey stepped on the offensive end. Marvin Smith and Demetrius Troy (along with Isaiah Miller off the bench) were also very good. While the Magee-Alonso shootout would be entertaining, watching the “secondary” players could be just as entertaining.

Prediction: We did not even mention Jordy Kuiper or Cam Jackson up above. Unbelievable. These players are so good. This is such an interesting match-up. Jackson was remarkable on Saturday. He dominated Mercer. He won’t be that dominant against UNCG. However, much like against Mercer, Wofford is due to get one against the Spartans. They are too good to fall to this team a third time. Yes, my pre-tournament pick to win it all was UNCG. However, my tune is changing. The Terriers looked like a team on a mission Saturday. Wofford pulls the mild upset behind Hoover and Stumpe having big games. Terriers 72, Spartans 70.

(2) ETSU vs.(3) Furman
Time:6:30 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: In Greenville, ETSU survived on a last second basket. In Johnson City, the Paladins survived in the final minutes against the Bucs last Sunday. Two close games. There is absolutely no reason to think that these two should not play another classic in this one. The Paladins and Bucs played a fun semifinal game in Asheville two years ago, which the Bucs won. These two teams were part of the tri-champs last year. Furman was the preseason favorite to win it this year. ETSU was the favorite two weeks ago- and may still be the favorite today, depending on who you ask.

Key Players: Andrew Brown for Furman did not play particularly well on Saturday but he had scored in double figures the four previous games. The Paladins need someone like Brown to step up big in this game. It can’t just be Devin Sibley or Matt Rafferty. They need someone like Brown to step up for the Paladins in a big way. For ETSU, it seems to me that the Bucs go where Jalan McCloud goes. If McCloud plays very well, the Bucs tend to be better. It’s not just about scoring, but getting them into the right offense and being solid defensively. Jermaine Long is one of the best defensive players in the league. He will probably be guarding Devin Sibley and that will be a critical match-up in this one as well.

Prediction: Look- three weeks ago, I thought ETSU was going to run through the first two rounds of the SoCon Tournament and might have a bit of a battle against UNCG in the championship game. Now, I am just not comfortable picking ETSU to win this game. Could I be dead wrong? Absolutely. I am not going to swear that I’ve got this right. Picking a second upset on Sunday seems a bit risky. But again, here I am. The Bucs still looked a little out of sorts on Saturday and the Paladins still looked on a roll. It should be another tremendous showdown on Sunday night. Paladins 66, Bucs 65.

Note- I’m picking these games to be decided by a total of three points. I could see any combination of these teams playing in the championship. This is the best set of unpredictable semifinals in my memory. I seriously have no idea what’s about to happen.


SoCon Tournament Day Two Preview

On this second day of the SoCon Tournament in Asheville, the top six teams will all take the floor for the first time.

You’ll have the home town Western Carolina Catamounts, that play so well in this arena and always seem to be good for an upset.

You’ll have the ETSU Bucs, a team that appeared heading towards an at large bid in the NCAA Tournament possibly, until they lost four of their last five.

You’ll have the surging Mercer Bears, the hottest team in the league by far, that spent most of January towards the bottom of the conference and now are one of the tournament favorites.

You’ll have the UNCG Spartans, who received the number seed in this tournament for the second consecutive year.

You’ll have the hot Furman Paladins, who were part of the tri-champs a year ago, but were upset in their tournament opener and will be looking to undo that.

You’ll have the Wofford Terriers, who have one of the most exciting players in the conference in Fletcher Magee, who can shoot the Terriers to a win every single night.

These six teams will enter the arena. No more than four can survive to Semifinal Sunday.

There have been five top teams in the conference. Will any of the top three be shocked on Saturday?

Game of the Day
(4) Mercer vs.(5) Wofford
Time: 2:30 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: The Bears have beaten the Terriers twice this year, including on a Jordan Strawberry game winner last Sunday. These two teams are very evenly matched, and should produce one tremendous game. The Bears are on a huge run, but the Terriers beat ETSU on the road just last week, so it’s not like they’ve been bad. How hard is it to beat a team three times in one year? Pretty hard. Can the Bears get it done?

Key Players: The Bears will need to see Ross Cummings stay hot. He has been an almost unstoppable force recently for the Bears. Going toe to toe with Fletcher Magee should be interesting. Also, we could see Stephon Jelks going against Cam Jackson. That’s another very interesting match-up. This game is so full of great players, it is hard to pinpoint where the match-ups are.

Prediction: In Asheville, I’m going to stick with the team that has been red hot. The Bears get the job done. They have played like the best team in the conference over the last month. They have a very difficult run to get to the NCAA Tournament, but it is not an impossible run. The Bears come up with a really tight, really competitive quarterfinal win. Bears 69, Terriers 67.

(1) UNCG vs.(8) The Citadel
Time:12:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: The Spartans beat The Citadel by 14 and 16 points during the regular season. They have won both of the games with their defensive intensity. The Spartans have not turned the ball over a ton either time, and that has slowed the Bulldogs down substantially. After The Citadel won without Kaelon Harris on Friday night, the Bulldogs are hoping that they can pull off an upset on Saturday with Harris.

Key Players: Kaelon Harris will not be tired from playing Friday night. In a lot of ways, Harris will be a critical part of what the Bulldogs are doing on Saturday. He will need to step up and play huge, and I think we will see a huge game out of Harris on Saturday. If Harris does not play, then Matt Frierson will need to step up and knock down some big shots. The Spartans will need Demetrius Troy to step up at point guard. Against The Citadel, you need really solid point guard play. Troy can provide that, and he will have to if the Spartans are to come up with the win.

Prediction: This game feels kind of like a trap for the Spartans. The Bulldogs have played well against ETSU this year, but have not against UNCG. Is that match-up related? I don’t know. If Harris coming back, the Bulldogs may play their best game. It feels like they are going to play even better with him in the lineup and he is going to be on top of his game after the disappointment of not playing on Friday. If he does not play, this team seems to be rallying behind the idea that they are playing for him. Still, UNCG is the much better team. If they did not use up their emotional energy to win the regular season title last weekend, they will come up with the win here. Spartans 83, Bulldogs 78.

(2) ETSU vs.(10) Chattanooga
Time:6:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: The Bucs dominated the two showdowns with the Mocs earlier this year, winning by 19 and 20 points. But those ETSU teams were playing very well. This one is not. The Mocs are as complete of a team as they’ve been in a while, with Rodney Chatman back from injury. The Mocs might not be able to hang with ETSU, but this is their best set of circumstances to give it a run.

Key Players: Makinde London for Chattanooga was a force to be reckoned with against the Bulldogs on Friday night. Can London step up and continue to be that kind of a presence? If he plays with poise and aggression, this Mocs team is much better. He has enough talent to put a team on his back and carry them, which he did on Friday night. He also can sink a team if he shows up flat. For ETSU, this game is all about Peter Jurkin. He is a physical inside presence, something the Mocs lack. If Jurkin is a force in the paint, the Bucs could stroll away with another easy win. If Jurkin is controlled or is not playing his best basketball, the Bucs can be beaten by this Mocs club.

Prediction: ETSU lost 4 of 5. Their lone win of the bunch was against Western Carolina, the most undersized team they played during that stretch. The Mocs are also undersized. That should help the Bucs find themselves a bit and help propel them to a good win. It will not be without some scary moments, but the Bucs get the job done. Bucs 74, Mocs 63.

(3) Furman vs.(6) Western Carolina
Time:8:30 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: Furman beat Western Carolina by 23 and 34 points this year, including by 23 in Cullowhee just last weekend. Western Carolina always seems to be good for an upset or two during the tournament. Could they possibly get it going in Asheville? They have been ice cold lately, so turning it around in Asheville against this opponent would be a surprise.

Key Players: The Catamounts absolutely need Mat Halvorsen to be knocking down the three. He’s a 34% three point shooter, but capable of much bigger nights. He will need to be on fire to complement Mike Amius in the paint. The Paladins will want Matt Rafferty to do Matt Rafferty like things. He will need to control Amius in the paint and score some points on the offensive end.

Prediction: This is just a disaster for Western Carolina. They’re playing a team they lost to by an average of 28.5 points per game in the first game. It seems hard to believe the Catamounts are going to turn things around now. The Paladins will come up with a dominating performance and roll to the semis. Paladins 79, Catamounts 61.

Recap Of Day One at the SoCon Tournament

Game of the Day
Chattanooga 89, Samford 79

Both games were competitive late, but this one seemed close the entire way, as neither team ever got a double digit lead until the very end for the Mocs. The Mocs got Rodney Chamtan back and the offense looked much better than it had in recent weeks. Four Mocs were in double figures. Four Bulldogs were in double figures as well, as the Bulldogs had the pick and roll working like they in their first meeting for much of the first half, but the Mocs figured that out in the second half and played much better defense in the second half.

Player of the Day
Makinde London

London finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. That’s some mighty fine basketball. When London plays focused and aggressive, he is among the five best players in the SoCon. The problem is he does not play that way all the time. He played that way tonight. He’ll have to do it again tomorrow to give the Mocs a chance.

Team of the Day
The Citadel Bulldogs

VMI looked so good early, but the Bulldogs fought back and took a halftime lead, and then pulled way ahead, by as many as 16. Then VMI fought back and cut the lead to 3 with under three minutes left. But the Bulldogs held on. As a team that was playing without one of their best players in Kaelon Harris against a rival that they had lost to twice, this was an impressive showing.

What’s Ahead for the Winners?

The Citadel will face off with UNCG and the Bulldogs have proven to be dangerous in their performances against ETSU. The Spartans better be ready to go, because with Kaelon Harris back, the Bulldogs should be playing inspired basketball. This is a dangerous game.

Chattanooga squares off with ETSU for a third time. The Bucs easily won each of the first two meetings. There are questions about how well ETSU is playing heading into the tournament. If the game is close late, the Mocs have folded under pressure for a lot of the year, but seemed to thrive on it in this one. The Bucs had played well under pressure all year, but folded in those three home games to wrap up the season. These two old rivals square off one more time this year.

Looking Ahead for VMI

They have Bubba Parham and a whole lot of freshman. This team is almost entirely freshmen and sophomores. The Keydets should absolutely improve next year. They will be significantly better a year from now. What does that look like? It’s hard to say. To think they could contend for a bye is anything but ridiculous. They may be able to contend for a conference title in two years, but next year is the first step towards that.

Looking Ahead for Samford

Oh- what might have been. Wyatt Walker might be back with a medical redshirt. Josh Sharkey, Triston Chambers, Justin Coleman all will be back. Demetrius Denzel-Dyson is gone. There are pieces here to be much better than this year. That being said, this was supposed to be their year and it passed them by. They could be good if Walker is back. If he’s not, it’s hard to imagine them being much improved.

SoCon Tournament Day One Preview

It’s the first day of the SoCon Tournament!

No- none of these teams are particularly good. It would be possibly even more surprising than usual if one of these teams actually could get all the way to Monday night and cut down the nets.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t intrigue.

You’ll get to see First Team All SoCon performer Zane Najdawi.

You’ll get to see two teams (Samford and The Citadel) who both wonder what might have been if key pieces hadn’t gone missing before the calendar turned to 2018.

You’ll get to see two of the youngest teams (VMI and Chattanooga) in the entire conference, if not the entire country.

You’ll get to see two lower seeded teams that are a combined 3-1 against their higher seeded opponents.

You’ll get to see two really good natural SoCon rivalries.

So is the night worth watching? Well, it’s not exactly the semifinals on Sunday, but these two games both hold their own special charm.

Game of the Day
(8) The Citadel vs.(9) VMI
Time: 5:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: The Citadel beat ETSU once and nearly beat the Bucs the other time, exposing the Bucs to some degree. However, the Bulldogs were swept by VMI this year. The Keydets, led by freshman Bubba Parham, are a team that is improving and showing signs that they may be a tough out in the years to come. The Citadel was beaten soundly twice by UNCG this year, while VMI nearly beat them in Lexington.

Key Players: Let’s hit on the two stars. Zane Najdawi and Bubba Parham both had huge games in their match-ups this year. Najdawi is a big man and the Keydets struggle to slow that type of player down. Parham is a guard, but really played well against The Citadel, scoring 24 and 25 against the Bulldogs. If Parham scores in the 20s again, the Keydets will have a very good chance to get a third win.

Prediction: The Keydets played games the way they wanted to against the Bulldogs earlier this year. Should The Citadel be surprised if they lose a third time? Absolutely not. They are so up and down there is no telling what might happen here. The Keydets will bring the effort and Parham will respond with another big game in Asheville as VMI comes up with a nice win. Keydets 79, Bulldogs 74.

(7) Samford vs.(10) Chattanooga
Time:7:30 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

The Story: The Bulldogs are one of the most disappointing teams in the conference, though it is hardly their fault with Wyatt Walker and Christen Cunningham and others missing a lot of time due to injury. The Mocs are the youngest team in the entire country and lost a lot of close games this year. One team will see their season continue into Saturday when they will get to face off with ETSU, who blew both of them out twice this season.

Key Players: These two teams both do not have dominant big men. Josh Phillips for the Mocs is their most physical presence and if he can step up and play over his head, then the Mocs will have a very good chance to win. Against the Mocs the first time, Justin Coleman went off and dominated. In the second match-up, he did not. If Coleman can play like he did in the first match-up, the Bulldogs will be almost unstoppable.

Prediction: This is a total toss up. In games not against military academies this year, the Bulldogs are 2-12. Since they were 3-1 in conference play, Samford has not beaten a non-military academy, going 0-11 during that time not to VMI and The Citadel. Can the Mocs spring the upset? The Mocs have been struggling lately as well. Can Phillips and Nat Dixon get the job done? Or will Coleman dominate again? Will Demetrius Denzel-Dyson get rolling? Mocs 68, Bulldogs 67.

What Seed Would Your Team Receive?

The traditional article.

What seed would your SoCon team receive if they were to win the whole tournament in Asheville this week?

We’ll roll through the teams alphabetically and see what we’ve got.

Projected Seed: First Four.

The Mocs would be 11-22 with four wins in four days. So much youth. Of course, if this happened, Makinde London would get to go back to Ohio where he began his college career. If the young Mocs could figure out how to win some close games in Asheville, maybe they’d even win a game in Dayton. Not happening.

Projected Seed: 13.

There is a chance they fall to a 14 seed, but three wins would make them 24-8. So they could rise to a 12. Remember when they almost beat Xavier? Will the committee? Will they punish ETSU for the four losses in five games, or reward them for getting back on the right side by winning three straight games. There is no telling. My gut feeling is that ETSU (with their 97 RPI at the moment) would get a 13 seed- which is about right for them all things considered.

Projected Seed: 13.

Furman has an RPI of 93 right now. Three wins would make them 23-9. That might be enough to get up to a 13 seed, particularly if things go right for them and they face off with ETSU in the semis and UNCG in the championship and add two Top 100 wins. The Paladins need quality wins. At the moment, clearly their best win is at ETSU last weekend. That close lose to Tennessee looks better and better though.

Projected Seed: 15.

They have a current RPI of 165. With three more wins, they would probably jump into the top 120. With Wofford, UNCG and ETSU as possible wins that would be three more quality wins. They could wind up a 16 seed, but I think would probably rise up a bit from that and beating some quality tournament teams and being in the 16th ranked conference in the RPI.

Projected Seed: First Four

Oh how ironic this would be. The Bulldogs were a preseason favorite in the SoCon but were undone by injuries. If the Bulldogs made a run all the way through the Tournament with four wins, they would be 12-21. But they would suddenly find themselves heading to the NCAA Tournament, which is what they hoped they could do to begin with. So- four days to make this season right. And head to Dayton, of course.

The Citadel
Projected Seed: First Four

The Bulldogs would only be 11-20, but hey, they would finally be in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, so they’d take it. With how well the Bulldogs have played at times this year, it is not totally ridiculous to think they could make this run and if they did that they would be a dangerous team in Dayton. Zane Najdawi deserves this kind of attention.

Projected Seed: 13.

This gets overlooked a lot, but UNCG lost to Virginia by 12 and beat North Carolina State. They could easily jump to a 12 seed if they win the SoCon Tournament. They would only be able to play only one Top 100 team- in the title game. Of all of the top five, that is the lowest possible total. So they would do the least to help their resume. Still, their RPI would climb a good 15 spots. That could put them in the range of a 12 seed. I can see a 12-13 for UNCG. I’m going with the lower one for now, but could have my mind changed by the time Monday night’s game ends if they are the champs.

Projected Seed: First Four

Even with four wins in four days, the Keydets would still be 11-20. They are not good enough to win a game in Dayton, either, I don’t believe. This team, much like Chattanooga above, is still a year or two away from being an actual contender in the SoCon. Bubba Parham in Dayton would be fun to see, though.

Western Carolina
Projected Seed: First Four

The Catamounts struggled early in the year and late in the year. In between they were fine, but they still would be just 14-18. That would not be enough to get them out of Dayton and the First Four. Their RPI would be in the Top 200, but their other numbers (KenPom, etc)would not be that good. I don’t see any way they would stay out of the First Four.

Projected Seed: 14

Beat North Carolina, you are at least a 15 seed. They would be 20-11 with three wins in Asheville, and could beat two Top 100 teams in the process (UNCG and Furman/ETSU). Could they be better than a 15 seed? Well, I just projected a 14 seed. But I think that would be the ceiling. I wouldn’t be surprised by a 15 seed at all.olina State.

SoCon Postseason Awards 2018

So, it’s that time of year again. Award season!

John Hooper, Brad and I voted on our awards and without further ado, here are our postseason SoCon Awards. I believe official awards will be announced on Tuesday.

I’ll make a few comments afterwards:

1st Team
Francis Alonso, UNCG
Desonta Bradford, ETSU
Fletcher Magee, Wofford
Zane Najdawi, The Citadel
Devin Sibley, Furman

2nd Team
Mike Amius, Western Carolina
James Dickey, UNCG
Cam Jackson, Wofford
Stephon Jelks, Mercer
Jalan McCloud, ETSU

3rd Team
Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, Samford
Nate Dixon, Chattanooga
Daniel Fowler, Furman
Matt Rafferty, Furman
Marvin Smith, UNCG

Player of the Year
Desonta Bradford, ETSU

Defensive Player of the Year
James Dickey, UNCG

Coach of the Year
Wes Miller, UNCG

Freshman of the Year
Bubba Parham, VMI

Mostly I want these to speak for themselves, and I don’t want to try to explain anyone else’s rationale for the way they voted.

I know that I voted for Miller for Coach of the Year over Bob Hoffman (Mercer) and Steve Forbes (ETSU) because of the extended slumps both of those two teams had. Mercer was not good in January. ETSU was not good when the season was on the line these last couple of weeks. If I was picking a coach for my program, I would probably prefer Forbes or Hoffman to Miller, but Miller did a better job this year, I believe.

I also know that I voted for Parham over Isaiah Miller (UNCG) and Bo Hodges (ETSU) because of how he performed this year on the whole. Parham had more opportunity of course than either. If you asked me who would be better in two years, I would think that Miller or Hodges would be better than Parham. But that’s not the question.

That’s my reasoning. Others may have different reasoning (or different votes altogether). I’ll let them defend their own votes.

Game Previews: Final Day- Still So Many Unanswered Questions

Let’s go through the scenarios:

1) If UNCG wins on Sunday, they get the one seed and ETSU gets the two seed. If ETSU loses, UNCG gets the one seed and ETSU gets the two seed. If ETSU wins and UNCG loses, ETSU gets the one seed, UNCG gets the two seed.
2) If Mercer beats Wofford, Mercer gets the four seed, Wofford gets the five seed.
3) If Wofford wins and Furman loses to ETSU, Wofford gets the three seed and Furman gets the four seed. If Furman wins or if Wofford loses, Furman gets the three seed.
4) If Western Carolina wins or if Samford loses, Western Carolina gets the six seed and Samford the seven seed. If Samford wins and Western Carolina loses, Samford gets the six seed and Western Carolina the seven seed.
5) The winner of VMI-Chattanooga gets the nine seed. The loser gets the ten seed.

And there you have it. Only The Citadel is locked into the 8 seed so far. Things will be much clearer by Sunday at about 6:00 PM Eastern.

Game of the Day
Furman at ETSU
Time: 2:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: You read it up above. ETSU must win and hope UNCG loses to get the number one seed. If that doesn’t happen, they will be the two seed. Furman was win to clinch the three seed. A loss could send them down to fourth. But there is more to it than that. ETSU is in a bit of a free fall at the moment. If they lose their third straight home game and their fourth game in five contests, the Bucs will have no momentum heading to Asheville. On the other hand, if Furman loses, they will be 3-5 against the other top five teams. The Paladins have really struggled against the best teams in the SoCon, and looked dominant against the lower seeded teams in the SoCon. They could use this one to prove that their current hot streak isn’t just schedule related, but an actual turning of the corner.

Key Players: Peter Jurkin vs. Matt Rafferty could well be the deciding factor of this one. Rafferty needs to have a big edge against Jurkin for the Paladins to have the edge. If Jurkin can neutralize Rafferty, that would be huge. Of course, if John Brown keeps on shooting like he is, he could be just the X Factor the Paladins are looking for.

Prediction: How can you pick a side? The Bucs are stumbling and it was supposed to be a product of illness against The Citadel. But that didn’t seem to be the case against Wofford anymore. So are they in a free fall? Maybe. Jurkin will play well as the Bucs find a way to close out the regular season on a winning note. Bucs 76, Paladins 74.

Chattanooga at VMI
Time:1:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The winner gets the nine seed. The loser is the ten seed. These are the two youngest teams in the league, so it should not be particularly surprising that they are near the bottom. The Keydets can sweep Chattanooga with a win. The Mocs can prove that first loss (a heart breaker at home) was nothing more than a fluke.

Key Players: The Mocs need to find some offense. The most likely source of that is probably Nat Dixon. He will need to knock down some shots. The Mocs need him to do just that. The Keydets need Bubba Parham to be scoring. Parham is the most explosive scorer for VMI and he will need to score some points.

Prediction: Neither team is particularly good offensively and both teams are struggling. With Rodney Chatmon out for the Mocs, the offense is really not good. The defense is still solid, though. Still, in Lexington, VMI will come out and play a good game. This is a game that they are really wanting to claim. The Keydets win a nailbiter. Keydets 58, Mocs 56.

Mercer at Wofford
Time:2:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: If Wofford wins and Furman loses, the Terriers will climb to the three seed. If they lose, they will fall to the five seed. The Terriers, with their win over ETSU, has new hope as they head to Asheville and is looking to keep that momentum going. Mercer is the hottest team in the SoCon, and a win would put them as the four seed, while a loss drops them to the five seed. Not that that is particularly important in Asheville. Regardless, a Mercer win further establishes themselves as one of the teams to beat in Asheville.

Key Players: You all know what I’m going to say by now. Ross Cummings vs. Fletcher Magee should be tremendous shooters. They can both knock down a bunch of shots. I’m all for having a three point shootout to decide this game. No joke. Cummings and Magee should be a ton of fun.

Prediction: Look- I’m back on the Wofford bandwagon. I was off for a minute or two, but I’m back on. That being said, Mercer is the hottest team in the league. Cam Jackson will have his hands full with the Mercer big men, like Demetre Rivers. The Bears will eek out another close win over a top tier team. Bears 75, Terriers 73.

The Citadel at Western Carolina
Time:2:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: Western Carolina needs a win to clinch the final bye in the SoCon and get something resembling a positive thing heading into Asheville. The Citadel could not capitalize on the momentum gained from beating ETSU, but if they beat the Catamounts they could get some of that going again.

Key Players: The Catamounts are really needing Mike Amius to be a star. Amius is good, but maybe not quite to start level. They need him to be that star in this game. The Bulldogs will be relying on Matt Frierson to be hot and shoot lights out from long range. Furman was hot shooting on Friday night against Western Carolina. Frierson would like to keep that trend going.

Prediction: Can Western Carolina beat anyone right now? It’s hard to know. They are really struggling. The Citadel is the most complicated team in the league. Who knows how good they are? Still, the gut feeling is that, despite the game meaning more to Western Carolina, the Catamounts are just not playing well and the Bulldogs pull off the slight upset. Bulldogs 78, Catamounts 73.

Samford at UNCG
Time:4:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The race for sixth and first could be over by now. Or it could all come down to this game. If ETSU wins and Western Carolina loses earlier in the day, the Bulldogs and Spartans will both have things to play for in this one. UNCG will be looking to be the number one seed for the second consecutive season. Samford is looking to steal the final bye. It matters.

Key Players: The Bulldogs will need to have Demetrius Denzel-Dyson have his best game in a while. He is a key contributor for them and the most talented player on the roster. Against UNCG, they need him to have a huge game. UNCG will be hoping that James Dickey can put up a big game against the Bulldogs. He should have an edge in the paint against the Bulldogs interior defense.

Prediction: The Spartans are such a good home team and playing a team that is not the best right now. With so much on the line, look for the Spartans to play with a lot of passion. UNCG comes up with a pretty easy home win. Spartans 77, Bulldogs 63.

Game Previews: Two Days Left

Two days.

That’s all that’s left.

So much to do. So little time.

Game of the Day
Wofford at ETSU
Time: 7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The loss for ETSU to The Citadel on Tuesday was a shocker, but with Desonta Bradford out, may be it was less unexpected than you may have thought. ETSU is hosting Wofford now, and must come up with a critical win in order to try to get the regular season championship. Wofford is trying to move into third in the SoCon and could use the win here to get there. Of course, with the Terriers struggling, they really just need a win to get back to having some positive momentum.

Key Players: Jermaine Long is a long defender and he will be guarding Fletcher Magee, which could produce all kinds of problems for the Terriers star. It seems like the Terriers can’t perform well offensively without Magee playing very well. Watching Long try to defend Magee could easily decide which way this one goes.

Prediction: Does anyone really think the Bucs will blow another one at home? Yes, Bradford may or may not play, and if he’s out, the match-up certainly gets closer. If Peter Jurkin still is suffering from the flu, then the Bucs could find themselves in a battle. If Magee can make a bunch of shots, the Terriers could keep it close. In the end though, in Johnson City, the Bucs are the better team and will win relatively easy. Bucs 78, Terriers 68.

Mercer at The Citadel
Time:6:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: So The Citadel may not be the hottest team in the SoCon. They did lose to VMI less than a week ago. But they also won at ETSU in their most recent game. Can they get the seven seed or are they going to get the eight seed? Either way, they are a dangerous team that no one wants to mess with in Asheville. On the other hand, Mercer is the hottest team in the SoCon. Can the Bears get another win? Can they move up higher in the SoCon pecking order and get into the top five? If Mercer can stay hot for two more games, they will be one of the tri-favorites in Asheville.

Key Players: We all love Ross Cummings. How could you not love the story? He’s the story of the SoCon and he just stays hot. He is currently one of the hottest shooters in the conference and should be on a short list with Fletcher Magee and Francis Alonso for the best shooters in the conference. For The Citadel, Zane Najdawi is earning attention as a possible All SoCon player. He has earned that. Najdawi is very good and is a difficult match-up for any team in the conference.

Prediction: The Bulldogs have been a tough out in Charleston and there is no telling what might happen in this one. This is one of the better games of Friday. Mercer is the hottest team in the conference and needs to keep it going heading into Asheville. The Bears are the better team and I have a hard time looking past what Mercer has done lately…even in Charleston. Bears 86, Bulldogs 81.

Furman at Western Carolina
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Paladins are fighting for the three seed. A win would be critical for this club as they are striving to clinch that seed. The Catamounts are looking to clinch the final bye. A win for Western Carolina would do it. These two teams could be playing in a quarterfinal match-up on Saturday pretty easily. The Catamounts are in a slump and need to get going. This is a huge opportunity.

Key Players: The Catamounts have Mike Amius and will need big things from him. The Paladins will rely on Matt Rafferty to play well. These two playing against each other will be the key to the whole game. These are two of the better big men in the SoCon and both teams rely on their big men to get them going.

Prediction: In Cullowhee, Western Carolina is tough. In Asheville, Western Carolina is tough. But they are really not playing well right now. The Catamounts really need to get going if they want to contend in the tournament next weekend. This is a chance to do just that. However, Furman has been playing very well. The Paladins should be able to come up with the win on the road behind Devin Sibley and Rafferty. Paladins 69, Catamounts 62.

Chattanooga at UNCG
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Mocs shocked the Spartans in Chattanooga earlier this year. UNCG still has a shot at the regular season title. The Mocs still have an outside shot at the seven seed if they can win out. UNCG just needs to win out and have another ETSU slip up to claim the regular season title. The Spartans are hungry to get there and avenge their earlier loss.

Key Players: Josh Phillips scored 10 points and had 12 rebounds against the Spartans the first time around. Jordy Kuiper had 4 points and 2 rebounds in that match-up. If Phillips is going to outplay Kuiper, that would be a major reason that the Mocs would be able to hang around in this one. Kuiper is the emotional soul of the Spartans. If he comes out flat again, the Spartans could definitely be in trouble. Kuiper was out against Wofford with the flu and may still not be 100%. (Have you had the flu and tried to play basketball a few days later? Exhausting.) He needs to emotionally lead on this night.

Prediction: The Spartans will stay right in the SoCon title race by not getting swept. There is no way UNCG loses to Chattanooga for a second time. In fact, the Mocs should be prepared for the best the Spartans can be. That will not be a good match-up for Chattanooga. Spartans 79, Mocs 64.

Samford at VMI
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Bulldogs are really struggling, but get a shot at VMI. If Samford can win on the road, they can narrow the gap to the seven seed. They have an outside shot at the six seed as well. But they must win out. VMI can finish anywhere between seven and ten still. They get Chattanooga and Samford at home. It is not impossible to think the Keydets can win out.

Key Players: Justin Coleman has been playing great basketball and does not get mentioned too often. Coleman has scored in double figures in all except three SoCon games. He also has gotten in double figure assists in three games. He twice had nine assists and twice has nine points. Triston Chambers also scored 34 against VMI in their first match-up. Samford’s inside game is a bit of a weakness, so Tyler Creammer will try to take advantage of that. The 6-10 sophomore has only averaged 7.0 points per game this year, but he needs to do better than that against the Bulldogs here. If Creammer has a big game, the Keydets will be helped out.

Prediction: Honestly, this game is a toss up- maybe the biggest one of Friday night. Bubba Parham only scored three in his last game and will be looking to get back on track. The Keydets will rise up and come up with a big win over the Bulldogs, as Chambers will not be able to score like that again. Creammer and Parham will be very good. This game could easily be an 8-9 game next Friday. Keydets 71, Bulldogs 69.

Game Reviews: Did That Change Everything?

Well, did that change everything?

It could. ETSU was without Desonta Bradford, but still was stunned at home by the current eighth place team. In the mean time, UNCG was ravaged by the flu, but beat Wofford by double figures on the road.

And Mercer just kept on rolling.

ETSU still wins the regular season by winning out. On a day I predicted ETSU to clinch the regular season title, suddenly the Bucs may not win it if they don’t win out.

It may not have changed everything, but things got more interesting.

UNCG 76, Wofford 66

What Happened? Jordy Kuiper was out. More guys were down with the flu. They were playing at a good Wofford team. Yet, there was UNCG, sitting at the end of the game with a comfortable double digit win. Yes, the Spartans pulled away late to make it comfortable, but the fact that the Spartans were able to come up with the easy win was quite impressive.

Stat of the Game: The Spartans collected 15 offensive rebounds in this one. The dominated the glass and that made the difference for the Spartans as they came up with the win.

Player of the Game: Francis Alonso. He scored 24 points. He made 8 of 15 from the floor and 6 of 9 from three. Alonso was red hot. The Spartans are really hard to beat when he is on.

What does it mean to UNCG? The Spartans have clinched the two seed for the SoCon Tournament. They host Chattanooga and Samford this weekend. Win both of those and see if the Bucs lose to Furman or Wofford, which would give them the regular season championship. The Spartans have established themselves as one of the tri-favorites heading to Asheville (along with ETSU and Mercer). To play like this when fighting the flu is very impressive.

What does it mean to Wofford? Wofford fell to fourth in the standings and could still finish fifth, though that is mostly semantics. They go to ETSU and host Mercer. That is a very rough finishing kick. The Terriers need to get back to playing like they were in late December and January. This is a team struggling to regain their form. They look like a team that peaked too early.

Mercer 81, Western Carolina 64

What Happened? The Bears pulled away in the second half for a solid win. It was 28-27 Western Carolina, and the Bears just steadily pulled away from there, outscoring the Catamounts 54-36 the rest of the way. The Bears are the hottest team in the SoCon, and Western Carolina might be the coldest team right now.

Stat of the Game: Mercer knocked down 11 of 20 from three. With the Bears draining a bunch of big shots, the Catamounts had no answer. That was the biggest difference in this one.

Player of the Game: Demetre Rivers made 9 of 12 from the floor, including 3 of 4 from three. He also had 6 rebounds. Rivers is so good and often gets overlooked for some of the other Bears.

What does it mean to Western Carolina? Don’t lose out in Cullowhee. They host Furman and The Citadel. They could fall out of the final bye if they lose out. That’s not good. The good is that the Catamounts always perform better in Asheville. With their losing streak, momentum is way down.

What does it mean to Mercer? That’s six in a row. They are officially the hottest team in the SoCon. Can the Bears pull this off? It is clear that the Bears are now one of the favorites in Asheville. This team has come together and found themselves over the last few weeks. This is a senior laden team, looking for one big run. They’re finding it.

The Citadel 84, ETSU 82

What Happened? With 2:24 left in the first half, ETSU was ahead 43-32 and looked well on their way to an easy home win over one of the bottom tier SoCon teams, even without Desonta Bradford. Then, The Citadel went on a 17-3 run to take the lead 49-46. It was a lead they never relinquished. The Bucs hung around the entire second half, but were not able to overtake the Bulldogs. It did get tied several times, including just before Zane Najdawi knocked down a huge tiebreaking three in the final minutes. After such a narrow loss in Charleston, the Bulldogs got their revenge.

Stat of the Game: ETSU made just 8 of 15 from the free throw line, while The Citadel knocked down 19 of 23. Pretty clearly the free throw discrepancy was the difference in this one.

Player of the Game: Frankie Johnson. He’s 5-9, but collected 7 rebounds to go with 7 assists and 3 steals. He also scored 12 points. Johnson at his height getting 7 rebounds against that long ETSU team? Impressive.

What does it mean to The Citadel? The Bulldogs host Mercer and go to Western Carolina this weekend. At 5-11, they are not completely out of the race for the final bye, but it is unlikely. They are currently in the eight spot and would love to move up to the seven seed. This team is really tough to judge. One night they lose to VMI. One night they beat ETSU. Who knows?

What does it mean to ETSU? The Bucs just put the regular season title back in jeopardy. They host Furman and Wofford at the end, and that is not overly easy. If they lose one of those, the Bucs could easily fall into the two seed in the SoCon. This loss effectively ended any chance of the Bucs getting an at large bid, if there was any chance.

Furman 76,VMI 54

What Happened? When your starters combine for 24 points, and no one scores more than 8 points in that starting line up, it is normally not a good night. This was no exception for VMI. The Keydets hung around in the first half, but the Paladins eventually did what they were expected to- blew the game open and dominated the overmatched Keydets.

Stat of the Game: You mean other than that cool stat I just gave you about the starters points? VMI shot just 31% from the floor while Furman shot nearly 52%. That will make the game go about like this one did.

Player of the Game: Andrew Brown scored 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. He played only 17 minutes. Brown sometimes gets overlooked. However, he also scored 20 against Samford. If he is going to be a consistent double digit scorer, that could make a big difference in this team’s ability to go far in Asheville.

What does it mean to VMI? The Keydets can move up to the seven seed if they somehow win out against Samford and Chattanooga. The Keydets, though, are currently in the nine spot. There is a very real chance if they lose out that they will find themselves in last. This team continues to struggle and Bubba Parham looked like a freshman today. He needs to get back into the game.

What does it mean to Furman? The Paladins moved into the third spot. They can not move up to the two seed. They can, however, fall to the four seed. They go to Western Carolina and ETSU this weekend. This is going to be a very tough weekend for the Paladins. They have won four straight and are playing good basketball right now.

With three game days left before the teams pack up and head to Asheville, there is still plenty on the line.

Could Mercer sneak higher in the standings? What about Western Carolina?

Who will get the 7-10 seeds?

Which team will have the most momentum as we head to Asheville? Almost equally as important- which team will not?

Game of the Day
UNCG at Wofford
Time: 7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The only team that can catch UNCG for the two seed (in reality) is the Wofford Terriers. They’ll need a lot of help to get there, but they could pull it off. They should be more focused on securing the three seed and setting up a potential semifinal match-up with this Spartan team. The Spartans are more than likely out of the SoCon regular season title race. In one of the more memorable games of the SoCon regular season, these two teams hooked up in Greensboro in December. UNCG came back from double digits down, shutting down Fletcher Magee in the second half to get the win. What happens here?

Key Players: Let’s go straight with the match-up that was the highlight of the first showdown. Fletcher Magee was shut down in the second half by Marvin Smith. Magee is such a good shooter- it was shocking to see Smith shut down in Greensboro. Can he do it again? Smith can also score as well. He will need to be great defensively and also be solid offensively. Magee will need to have a hot shooting night for the Terriers.

Prediction: With the regular season title out of reach, the Spartans will come out just a touch flat. Magee will be looking to avenge his poor half against the Spartans. The Terriers are desperate to get this quality win at home. They will pull it off with an early run and hold on late. Terriers 74, Spartans 72.

Western Carolina at Mercer
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: These two teams are separated by one game in the standings. It may not particularly matter, as currently projected, the team that finishes fifth will play either Wofford or Furman and the sixth place team will play the other. The Bears are the hottest team in the SoCon and are still hoping to move up the standings. They’ll need a lot of help to get higher in the standings, but what both teams are looking for- momentum.

Key Players: Deriece Parks is an underrated player in this league for the Catamounts. He has scored in double figures in 8 of the last 11 SoCon games. The senior could be a valuable part of a run in Asheville in a week and a half. On the other hand, can Ross Cummings keep it going for Mercer? During this five game winning streak, he has averaged 19 points per contest. This after not scoring that many in a game all season prior to that. He had already scored double figures in three of four games prior to that. Let’s face facts, with Ria’n Holland coming back from injury, Demetre Rivers, Stephon Jelks, Jordan Strawberry, Desmond Ringer and the emergent Cummings, the Bears are certainly not a team to ignore in Asheville.

Prediction: The Bears are simply playing as well as anyone in the SoCon right now. The Catamounts are not. With the way the two teams are playing, there is just no way to pick against the Bears. The Catamounts are a nice dark horse pick in Asheville, but not in Macon. Bears 75, Catamounts 65.

The Citadel at ETSU
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: Remember when The Citadel almost beat ETSU in Charleston? Remember that week, when it appeared that The Citadel might be the second best team in the SoCon? It feels like forever. Now, the Bulldogs are battling to merely get out of the 8-9 game. The loss to VMI puts them in a position where they could wind up finishing ninth or last. The Bucs, on the other hand, are still looking to clinch the regular season title. Their magic number is two. They, too, are looking to avenge that close win.

Key Players: Matt Frierson is going to need to be hot for the Bulldogs. He is going to need to knock down long distance shots repeatedly. He is capable of doing it for sure, but he will need to be superb for the Bulldogs to have a chance. The Bucs will want to see Desonta Bradford get back on track. Over the last three games, he has shot just 33% from the floor and 1 of 11 from three point range. The Bucs would love for Bradford to get back on track in this one.

Prediction: The Bucs are going to come out angry, I expect. They are better than they showed in Charleston. Also, The Citadel is really struggling right now and very disappointed in having been swept by VMI. Bradford will get back to being Bradford and the Bucs come up with an easy win. Bucs 89, Bulldogs 72.

VMI at Furman
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: VMI still has a shot to move up to seventh. They need to win though or else they could still wind up last. In the mean time, the Paladins are trying to stay in the third spot in the SoCon standings. They desperately need to come up with the win and hang on to that spot. They can ill-afford an upset loss to VMI in this one.

Key Players: The Keydets always rely on Bubba Parham to have a big showing. Parham has been such a revelation for VMI this year. He will need to come up big in this one. On the other side, the Paladins would like Matt Rafferty to have a big showing. Rafferty is a big man that could present a lot of trouble to the VMI interior defense.

Prediction: The Paladins are the significantly better team, and they are playing good basketball right now. Furman has played some of their best basketball in recent weeks, but also have played some of their best basketball against teams like VMI that they can dominate. This one should be no different as Devin Sibley and Rafferty have huge games. Paladins 76, Keydets 58.