Game Reviews: Injury Mars Exciting Day

The injury to Devin Sibley takes top headline tonight for Furman. It is hard to know when he will be back, but it looked ugly.

Another injury to a big name SoCon player? Seems like par for the course.

Furman is solid and should be able to survive without Sibley, but they probably take a small step back without him, but any team losing their unquestioned best player would be in the same position.

Things did become a little clearer tonight. Wofford, ETSU, Mercer and UNCG all won, which are the teams that needed to win to create some clarity in the conference race. It’s still early, but things are becoming more clear.

ETSU 62, Furman 61

What Happened? The Bucs defense is smothering. John Davis made some big shots for the Paladins, but ETSU jumped out to a double digit second half lead and then had to hold on. The Paladins had taken the lead, though until Desonta Bradford made a layup with 4 seconds left to come up with the one point win for the Bucs.

Stat of the Game: Furman made just 7 of 26 from three point range. They made 26.9% from three point range. The Paladins did not do well in that regard. The Bucs defense- it travels.

Player of the Game: Desonta Bradford. Make a game winning shot with four seconds left, match the team high in points with 12, and it becomes relatively easy to pick Bradford to become the player of the game.

What does it mean to ETSU? It seems like a long time ago that the Bucs were 2-3. Since then, they are 13-1 with the lone loss being a 20 point blown lead against Xavier. This Bucs team is very good and by winning on the road tonight, they established themselves as the no doubt favorite in the conference. I think the top of the conference is too good for them to go unbeaten in SoCon play, but this team is really good.

What does it mean to Furman? No Sibley? Not the end, but this team takes a small step back until he returns. Without Sibley, this team is closer to fourth in the league than first. That’s not terrible. That’s back to back losses for the Paladins. They need to get back up when they are hosting Samford on Saturday.

Mercer 62, VMI 56

What Happened? The Bears lead pretty much the entire way but they were never able to shake the Keydets and put them away. VMI hung around the entire way. The Keydets trimmed it to three in the final minute but Jordan Strawberry knocked down several free throws in the closing minute to put it away.

Stat of the Game: Bears 46.5% offensive rebounding percentage. Of the 43 available offensive rebounds, Mercer claimed 20. They dominated the offensive glass and that was the main reason that despite shooting 36.5% from the floor, they were able to pull out the win.

Player of the Game: Stephon Jelks collected 13 points with 11 rebounds. Jelks has been so important to this Bears team and he came up with a bunch of huge plays in this one.

What does it mean to Mercer? The Bears goes to UNCG and ETSU in their next two. If the Bears could get one of those, it would be huge. They are back to 3-3 in conference play, which is huge. After their 0-3 start in conference play, they are back to sixth in the conference again. Look out for the surging Bears.

What does it mean to VMI? The Keydets are still winless in conference play, but VMI is close to winning. They host The Citadel this weekend, and both teams have been playing OK given their competition. VMI is not completely out of the race for sixth, and Bubba Parham was very good in this one. They Keydets are not particularly good, but they are improving.

UNCG 72, The Citadel 58

What Happened? The Spartans were far from perfect offensively, but were brilliant against the Bulldogs defensively. Holding The Citadel to just 58 points is amazing (more on that below). The Spartans were never really threatened in front of their home crowd.

Stat of the Game: The Citadel was held to 58 points, a remarkable 29.8 points below their average in SoCon play. The Bulldogs had been averaging 87.8 points per game in conference game and were held below 60, which is truly remarkable. The Spartans defense was unreal.

Player of the Game: Isaiah Miller scored thirteen points. He also had five rebounds and two steals. He played excellent defense throughout. He made 6 of 11 from the floor. Miller has been a very good freshman representative off the bench for the Spartans. He continued that tonight.

What does it mean to The Citadel? The Bulldogs go to VMI on Saturday and that is a must win for the Bulldogs. At 1-5, they remain just two games out of the six spot in the bye race. They must win against teams like VMI. This loss was disappointing, but the Bulldogs played well enough in Greensboro, especially defensively.

What does it mean to UNCG? The Spartans defense was amazing, but their offense was severely lacking. Four straight SoCon opponents had scored over 100 and UNCG was not anywhere close. Opponents have been averaging 101 points per game against the Bulldogs in conference play. The Spartans have got to get better offensively. They host Mercer on Saturday in a huge game.

Wofford 93, Samford 89

What Happened? Wofford shot very well from the floor and jumped out to an eight point halftime lead. But the Bulldogs never gave up and fought back the whole way. They tied the game in the second half and fought back from a late nine point deficit to cut it down to a one possession game several times late as the Terriers came up with enough big plays down the stretch to win the game.

Stat of the Game: Terriers 64.2% eFG. Their 14 of 30 shooting from three point range definitely was the major factor in Wofford coming up with the win. They also made almost 60% from two point range. That was an amazing shooting display and is the main reason the Terriers came up with the win.

Player of the Game: Fletcher Magee scored 31 points on 8 of 15 from three point range. He is one of the best shooters in the SoCon and he was on fire this night. When Magee is shooting like that, this Terriers team is virtually unstoppable.

What does it mean to Wofford? A huge win for the Terriers on the road. The Terriers are now 4-1 and host Chattanooga and go to VMI before hosting ETSU on January 27. This Terriers team has a really good chance to take on the best teams in the conference and come out on top. Wofford is so good offensively. They just seem to be getting better every game.

What does it mean to Samford? The Bulldogs dropped to 3-3 in conference play. They go to Furman and Chattanooga and host UNCG in their next three games. Things are not looking good for Samford. This was back-to-back losses. Until they get Wyatt Walker back, this team is middle of the pack at best in the SoCon. Still, this was not a bad performance against one of the better teams in the SoCon.

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Game Previews: Clear or Muddled?

There are several very interesting games on Thursday night, as ETSU goes to Furman and Wofford goes to Samford. On top of that, you have up and down Mercer visiting upset minded VMI. Also, I think The Citadel could be a bad match-up for UNCG this year and that could make things interesting in Greensboro.

Get ready to try to sort out who belongs where in the SoCon standings after this one. It could get a lot clearer by the end of the day Thursday or a whole lot more muddled.

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

Why it matters: This is ETSU’s first road trek against another of the top four teams in the SoCon. Yes, they answered the bell at Samford, Chattanooga and Mercer. Furman is on a whole other level. With the Bucs as the current conference favorite and unbeaten in SoCon play and the Paladins right behind with only one conference loss, this game has plenty of meaning. These were also two of the three tri-champs from a year ago. These games matter. A lot.

Key Players: Peter Jurkin vs. Matt Rafferty could certainly be the key match-up. These two big men present interesting challenges to one another. I’m really curious to see what happens. Rafferty had been playing well, but struggled with Wofford’s Cam Jackson on Saturday. If he loses this match-up with Jurkin in similar fashion, it could spell doom for the Paladins chances of the big win.

Prediction: I just can’t go against a home team. The Bucs (I think) are the better team, but the Paladins are at home. Rafferty will play better in this one and that will be the difference in this one as the Paladins come up with a huge conference win. Paladins 64, Bucs 63.

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

Why it matters: Mercer needs to win to get back to 3-3. VMI has lost a couple of close games but remains winless in conference play. The Keydets are hungry to get their first conference win. If the Bears want to get back into the SoCon race, they’ve got to come up with wins in spots like this.

Key Players: The Bears will need to get Ria’n Holland again. When he is shooting well, this team is a top of the SoCon kind of team. When he is not, they are a bottom of the SoCon kind of team. They need to build his confidence heading to Greensboro this weekend. The Keydets need freshman Bubba Parham to keep on playing solid basketball and maybe even exceed what he’s been doing a little bit.

Prediction: VMI is going to get someone. With the way Mercer is so up and down, it could be in this one. The Bears still should win, but VMI is playing hard and is at home. Holland goes off for 20+ and the Bears get the hard fought win. Bears 74, Keydets 67.

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

Why it matters: The Bulldogs have just one conference win so far this year over Chattanooga, but they can score points in bunches. Can they throw a scare into UNCG? The Spartans have sometimes played up and down to their competition. The Spartans need to get a win as they head into Saturday’s contest against Mercer. If Furman upends ETSU, a win here would move them into a tie for the conference lead.

Key Players: UNCG will need to get Jordy Kuiper and James Dickey on track against the Bulldogs inside presence of Zane Najdawi. If Matt Frierson is knocking down threes for The Citadel like he was against Chattanooga, he could keep the Bulldogs in the game for sure. But, the most important player against The Citadel is often the point guard. That’s the Spartans weak spot. Demetrius Troy needs to play well against the Bulldogs pressure to hold on.

Prediction: This will not be your typical high scoring The Citadel game. That means that I don’t think UNCG gets over 100. They just don’t have the point guard to do that. The Spartans defense is good enough to slow down The Citadel and come up with the win but it won’t be beautiful. Spartans 89, Bulldogs 80.

Wofford at Samford
Time:8:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: Samford is 3-2 in SoCon play and is clearly one of the pleasant surprises of conference play. But the blowout loss at Mercer really put a damper on the team. A win over Wofford at home would do wonders to get this team heading back in the right direction. Wofford, with a Furman win over ETSU, would move into a tie for first in the conference. This is an interesting test for the Terriers.

Key Players: Cam Jackson should be able to have his way against Samford’s inside players. He’s too big and too strong for them without Wyatt Walker. Jackson has been playing so well lately. This is a great match-up for him. For Samford, they need Demetrius Denzel-Dyson to continue putting up big numbers. If he can continue to carry the club, then the Bulldogs will have a chance late in this one.

Prediction: The Terriers are the superior team. But the Bulldogs were embarrassed their last time out and will be looking to get back on track. Will they be able to do so? I think the Bulldogs keep this close for a long while, but at the end, Jackson is too much for Samford and makes a few huge plays at the end. Terriers 82, Bulldogs 77.

Game Reviews: Very Interesting

Four teams entered really needing to come up with conference wins. The two home teams were both considered heavy favorites.

But something funny happened.

The two road teams hung around much longer than expected and nearly took the home favorites out.

This conference is very competitive. Even the worst teams are capable of pulling upsets or making things very interesting.

Mercer 75, Chattanooga 71 (OT)

What Happened? Mercer jumped out to the early lead but could never quite put away the Mocs. At the buzzer of regulation, Joshua Phillips drained a two to tie it for Chattanooga. They hung around in overtime, but Jordan Strawberry took a big charge to help keep the Bears in the lead and to give them the critical conference win.

Stat of the Game: Mercer outrebounded the Mocs 39-20 in this one. The Bears are much bigger than the Mocs. It really showed in this one. They totally dominated the glass against the massively undersized Mocs.

Player of the Game: Jordan Strawberry took a big charge, scored 18 points, 3 rebounds and had 6 assists. Strawberry scored 5 points in the overtime period as well. Strawberry was the most important player on the floor in overtime and was part of the biggest moments in this one.

What does it mean to Chattanooga? This will be a tough one to get over for the Mocs. On this three game road trip, the Mocs have lost the first two, both in overtime. That’s frustrating to this young, incredibly thin team. This team is playing hard and if they somehow manage to get a player or two back from injury, they could still be dangerous in Asheville and maybe pull a quarterfinal upset. They go to Wofford this weekend before a three game homestand where they should pick up a conference win.

What does it mean to Mercer? The Bears are now back to 2-3 and getting the win the had to have. They still need to get one more (at VMI) on Thursday. If the Bears get that one, they will even their conference record at 3-3. Then the Bears will travel to UNCG this weekend in a game that will go a long way to determining if Mercer can get back into the race. This was a must win for Mercer. They got it. Huge.

Western Carolina 65, VMI 58

What Happened? Western Carolina was up by 13 in the second half and looked comfortable. Then VMI went on a run and trimmed the lead all the way to six and hung around for the rest of the contest. The Catamounts couldn’t put the Keydets away, but they came up with the win. It did get down to 4 with under two minutes left.

Stat of the Game: Western Carolina made 17 free throws and VMI made just 8. The Catamounts did not make a particularly high percentage (26 attempts) and VMI only shot 9 free throws. But Western Carolina made nine more free throws than VMI and won by seven. That was a huge difference.

Player of the Game: Marc Gosselin scored 16 points, collected 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 steals and 3 blocks. Gosselin was tremendous in this one. He was 6 of 7 from free throw range and 5 of 9 from the floor. Gosselin was the most important player in this one.

What does it mean to VMI? The Keydets played their best road game of conference play. Still, they are 0-6 in conference play. Mercer, The Citadel and Wofford all come to Lexington in their next three home games. Can VMI steal a home win? Possibly. This VMI team is not particularly good, but they continue to fight. If they keep on improving, they can win a Friday game in Asheville.

What does it mean to Western Carolina? The Catamounts improved to 4-2 in SoCon play. Their next three conference games are road games against ETSU, Wofford and Furman. It is hard to have a much tougher stretch than that. I really like this Western Carolina team, but there are quite a few teams that would be winless on that road trip. The Catamounts needed to get this win before that stretch so they had another win in the bank. Big win.

Power Rankings: January 14, 2018

With each passing week, the power rankings get more interesting. With none of the top four teams having won a road game against another Top 4 team, and with none of the top four teams having lost to any team not in the Top 4, it is clear who belongs in the top 4.

But in what order?

Again, John, Brad, John Hooper and Jerry Love all voted to come up with power rankings after Saturday’s games.

1) ETSU
2) Wofford
3) Furman
4) UNCG
5) Western Carolina
6) Mercer
7) Samford
8) The Citadel
9) Chattanooga
10) VMI

–Mercer only has one conference win. Samford has three. But we all had Mercer ahead of Samford. I guess a 31 point win by the Bears over the Bulldogs right before the voting makes a major impact on our decisions.

–While ETSU is the clear number one, they are the only one of the top four to have not played a top four team on the road yet. That will change Thursday at Furman. It’s possible ETSU is not that much better than the three teams behind them and it is merely a product of the schedule.

–We all agreed on where every team should be ranked, except the 2-4 teams, who we all had slightly different orders on. Why is that? Because they have all only lost to other top four teams. All the losses were on the road. It’s impossible to distinguish those teams.

–I’ll explain my vote and let others explain theirs if they wish. My vote for 2-4 was the way the rankings wound up (the teams were all tied prior to my vote). I had UNCG 4th because they played a close game with VMI. Furman and Wofford both crushed VMI. Both also beat The Citadel handily, and Wofford just beat Furman. The difference between the three is incredibly subtle in my mind, and I’d have no problem moving around any of the top four anywhere next week based on this week’s results. ETSU is starting off with the slight edge. The other three are essentially tied in my mind.

Game Previews: Who Will Get The Big Wins on Monday?

On Monday, we get two SoCon basketball games.

That is better than nothing. But just barely.

The teams have combined to go 4-14 in SoCon play so far this season. While Western Carolina is 3-2 in SoCon play, the remaining teams are 1-12 in conference play. Mercer was supposed to be a title contender but just looked like it for the first time this season against Samford on Saturday. Chattanooga was supposed to be a real contender for a top six spot, but injuries have done them in so far.

Can any of the three teams that are a combined 1-12 come out with a big SoCon win and get back into the race?

Game of the Day
Chattanooga at Mercer
Time: 7:00 PM
Viewing: Stadium TV

Why it matters: The Mocs are 0-5 in SoCon play. If they want to get back into the bye race, they really need to come up with a win in this one. The Bears are 1-3 in SoCon play so far. After their 0-3 start, with a win over Samford already under their belts, Mercer can get back to 2-3 in SoCon play and find their way right into the middle of the bye race simply by winning at home against an 0-5 teams. That’s not that hard, right? Shouldn’t be. But the Mocs are hungry and looking to get back on track. They’ve actually played better their last two games. Can they come up with an upset road win?

Key Players: Makale Foreman scored 30 on Saturday night against The Citadel on Saturday afternoon. Foreman needs to continue to have big nights. Of course, Nat Dixon is the team’s leading scorer and had 20 points on Saturday. Dixon and Foreman are being relied on heavily. Big men have been having huge games against the Mocs in the paint recently. The Mocs are so undersized due to injury at this point that they just can’t control them. Desmond Ringer is 6-9. Stephon Jelks is 6-6. It seems like this has a real chance for Rivers to explode for a big game.

Prediction: The Bears rely heavily on Ria’n Holland to have good games. But in this one, they should be able to win with Ringer and Jelks providing the bulk of the scoring. The Mocs are just too beat and too thin to win this one. At 100%, winning in Macon may have been too much for these Mocs. With five healthy scholarship players, getting that win seems impossible. The Bears continue their resurgence. Bears 79, Mocs 60.

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

Why it matters: VMI is 0-4 in conference play and needs to get a win to get back on track in their race for getting into the bye race. Western Carolina, after losing to UNCG on Saturday, could use a win to get back on the winning track. The Catamounts are 3-2 in SoCon play and a win would make them 4-2. They can make a run at a really good seed in the SoCon Tournament if they can keep on winning. This is one they are expected to win, so they need to try to get the job done.

Key Players: Western Carolina’s defense is very good and against the undersized Keydets, Mike Amius could have another huge game. Tyler Creammer is the Keydets biggest player at 6-10. The sophomore has been playing 20 minutes per night. Creammer will need to have a big game and help control Amius. This is a big night for these two guys trying to control the paint and help their team come up with a win.

Prediction: The Catamounts are much better than the Keydets. In two conference road games (admittedly against Wofford and ETSU), VMI has been outscored by an average of 40 points per game. They’ve averaged just 50.5 points and allowed 90.5 points per contest. This team is not good on the road. They’ll get a few teams in Lexington probably. But in Cullowhee? Unless Western Carolina is caught looking past the Keydets, the Catamounts get the easy win. Catamounts 69, Keydets 47.

Game Reviews: The Real Season Hasn’t Even Started

While ETSU was rolling, Wofford was beating Furman, Mercer was getting back to how they played before conference play started and UNCG was holding off Western Carolina.

In other words, this was the biggest set of results so far this season. If you can figure out the proper order behind ETSU at the top of the conference, I am very interested to hear it.

Of course, of the four top teams in the conference, ETSU is the only one not to go on the road yet against another of the top four teams. Wofford, Furman and UNCG all have only one SoCon loss this season. All of them have come on the road against another top four team.

You know how there is an old saying that an NBA playoff series doesn’t really start until a road team wins a game?

If that’s true, this SoCon season hasn’t really even started yet. This race is going to be fun.

Wofford 79, Furman 70

What Happened? It was 62-57 Furman with under eight minutes left in regulation. The Terriers went on a 14-0 run and took a commanding 9 point lead that they would not relinquish. During that stretch, Cam Jackson and Fletcher Magee combined for nine points. The Terriers won a huge home game and find themselves right in the thick of the SoCon race.

Stat of the Game: Furman was 9 of 14 from the free throw line. Wofford made 16 of 19. That’s seven additional free throws. The Paladins low shooting percentage from the charity strip really hurt them. Furman also only collected 13.2% on offensive rebounds. If you take these things in tandem, you see how the Terriers won this game. It was rebounds and free throws.

Player of the Game: Coin flip time. Trevor Stumpe or Cam Jackson? I’ll got Jackson because of his big play late and the way he filled up the boxscore. He had 20 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks. Yep, Jackson was a dominating force. Rafferty won up with just six points for Furman (though he did have 8 rebounds and 2 assists). The battle between Jackson and Rafferty was clearly won by Jackson. As predicted, that battle really mattered.

What does it mean to Furman? The Paladins fall to 4-1 in SoCon play, but given that this was a road game, not much was lost. Furman needs to answer by beating ETSU at home on Thursday. If they do that, they will be right where they need to be. This set of home games is even bigger now for the Paladins. They play Samford as well this week. They really need a sweep if they want to win the regular season title this year.

What does it mean to Wofford? The Terriers are now 3-1 in SoCon play. There are three teams with one loss and ETSU is unbeaten. The Terriers won a home game, just like they had to do. The Terriers have won nine of their past ten games. Their lone loss was a blown huge lead against UNCG on the road in the conference opener. Wofford may be the hottest team in the SoCon. They get Samford, Chattanooga and VMI in the next three games. Those are three winnable games for Wofford. They’ll get ETSU at home on January 27, and if they could find themselves playing for first that night.

The Citadel 110, Chattanooga 101 (OT)

What Happened? The Mocs, without Makinde London and with Josh Phillips in foul trouble, not to mention three other players out with injuries, fought to an early 15 point lead and lead by 11 about halfway through the second half. From there, the Bulldogs were the better team as the Mocs simply ran out of gas. Makale Foreman had 30 for the Mocs and Nat Dixon contributed 20 and the Mocs, despite the size gap, actually outrebounded the Bulldogs. Matt Frierson poured in 31 for The Citadel, knocking down 9 of 18 from three point range. He was not the player of the game of the Bulldogs. They were the clearly dominant time in the overtime period.

Stat of the Game: The Citadel shot 61.7% from the floor. While that’s not totally shocking given the inside looks the Bulldogs were getting, their shooting advantage is why they were able to hang around. The Mocs are not able to play good defense right now with their lack of size, but the Bulldogs hot and dominant shooting made a huge difference in this one.

Player of the Game: Zane Najdawi had the game of his career. He scored 37 on 15 of 17 shooting from the floor. He also had six rebounds, three assists and three blocks. Najdawi was opening up the floor for Frierson as well. He was the star of the team.

What does it mean to Chattanooga? The Mocs are 0-5 in what is quickly becoming a lost season. The injuries and the short roster to begin with has ended this team’s chances of getting anywhere near the top of the league. This team plays hard and will probably win a few conference games before it is all said and done. Their next two games are at Mercer and at Wofford. Yikes. Probably gets worse long before it gets better.

What does it mean to The Citadel? The Bulldogs are now 1-4 in conference play and are in strong position to get up to the 7 seed and possibly make a run at the 6 seed. Still, that seems unlikely. They have three straight road games coming up at UNCG, VMI and Mercer before coming home for ETSU, Furman and Wofford. Much like the Mocs, things probably get worse before they get better.

Mercer 81, Samford 50

What Happened? It was 12-0 Mercer before Samford even scored and it seemed to just get worse from there. The Bulldogs looked like the team that has been struggling through out of conference play. The Bears looked like the team that had been one of the league favorites heading into conference play. They looked nothing like the teams that had been playing during the early part of conference play. Which team is going to show up in the coming days? Who knows? Tough to judge.

Stat of the Game: Nothing showed the extra effort that Mercer put into this one than the rebounding stat, which saw Mercer collect 43 and Samford just 26. The effort difference in this one was the difference and nothing showed it more than the battle on the glass.

Player of the Game: Ria’N Holland. Finally. That was more like it. Holland scored 23 points on 8 of 14 shooting from the floor and 5 of 9 from three point range. It had to be only a matter of time before he got hot again. It was. Holland was tremendous in this one and when he is on, the Bears are tough to beat.

What does it mean to Samford? Forget about this game and send the Bulldogs on to their next one. They are still 3-2 in conference despite this unbelievably bad showing. The Bulldogs get Wofford at home on Thursday night and need to get their head screwed back on right and come up with a better performance. Thursday night could be the biggest night of the year for Samford.

What does it mean to Mercer? Chattanooga at home and then a trip to VMI await this team. Could they be back to 3-3 heading to UNCG next Saturday? Absolutely. This was the shot of confidence this team needed as they head into the rest of the SoCon schedule. Things were not looking good for this team mentally. They seemed to get well in this one.

ETSU 89, VMI 48

What Happened? The Keydets trailed by just 5 ten minutes into the game. Remember in the preview how it was discussed that ETSU may well struggle early in this one because of the big win on Thursday against UNCG? Well, it happened. It was also said that the Bucs really only needed to play well for ten minutes to win this one easily. The Bucs did more than that and won even more easily. The Bucs are very good.

Stat of the Game: VMI shot 26% from the floor. The Bucs defense was simply smothering on this night and the Keydets shooting was not good at all. VMI is not a great shooting team as it is. When they play a team like the Bucs who can smother you defensively, it becomes even more difficult.

Player of the Game: Devontavius Payne was tremendous. He showed off his athleticism throughout the game. He had 17 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists and four steals. Again, the Bucs are so balanced they seem to have a different start every night. It was Payne’s turn.

What does it mean to VMI? Not much. The Keydets were supposed to get blown out here, and they did. VMI is looking for a conference win. At Western Carolina on Monday? Unlikely. Home against Mercer Thursday? Seems improbable. Against The Citadel on Saturday? That’s not a terrible shot. The Keydets are 0-4 in SoCon play, but they still have a shot to get up to the seven seed.

What does it mean to ETSU? The Bucs took care of business against a bad team at home just like they are supposed to do. Now they move on to their massive road game at Furman on Thursday night. ETSU is still the best team in the SoCon until further notice. Beating VMI like this did nothing to change that.

UNCG 66, Western Carolina 55

What Happened? The Spartans and Catamounts both struggled offensively in the first half, but the Spartans found a little bit more offense in the second half and that was enough. The Spartans dominated the glass, outrebounding them all around. The Spartans size really bothered the Catamounts, which is not totally surprising. Let me post my semi-weekly comment on how much I love Mike Amius of Western Carolina and say how well he played, but the Spartans size still really bothered the Catamounts on both ends of the floor.

Stat of the Game: The Spartans had a 50% offensive rebound percentage. That’s really impressive and is the main reason that the Spartans were able to control the glass and take care of the Catamounts. The Catamounts didn’t get many offensive rebounds to counter-balance that edge for UNCG on the other end.

Player of the Game: Marvin Smith. He finished with 24 points and nine rebounds. He was 9 of 15 from the floor and 3 of 8 from three point range. He also had 2 steals. Smith had a great game. When Smith can play like that, it takes a lot of pressure off Alonso and makes the Spartans much better offensively.

What does it mean to UNCG? The Spartans are now 3-1 in SoCon play and move into a tie for second in the loss column. They get to return home, hosting The Citadel, Mercer and Furman in the three game stretch. UNCG has been much better at home than on the road and just completed a 2-1 road trip. This will be an interesting home stretch where they have a chance to make some noise.

What does it mean to Western Carolina? The Catamounts drop to 3-2 in conference play, but have clearly put themselves in position to get in the top six. If they get to play in Asheville with a bye, they are going to be an incredibly difficult out. They always are. But this team is looking like a more dangerous team than many they have had in recent years. I like this team more and more. This game did nothing to distract from that. They need to beat VMI at Thursday to get back on the winning track.

Game Previews: Can Samford and Western Carolina Make Another Statement?

Furman and ETSU are unbeaten in SoCon play and while the two hook up next Thursday, each have a game on Saturday to get through first before they can play in a match-up of unbeaten.

While ETSU has a relatively easy test at home against VMI, Furman must face their rival Wofford in a road game. So it is still too much to ask to know if it will be a match-up of two conference unbeaten or not.

Of course, that’s not it for Saturday. Samford and Western Carolina, the unquestioned two most pleasant surprises in conference play, both play really intriguing games on Saturday that could further solidify themselves as conference contenders.

All in all, it should be a tremendously interesting Saturday of SoCon basketball.

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

Why it matters: The Paladins and the Terriers are rivals in the upstate and this game really does matter. These are two of the perceived top four teams in the conference. If Wofford loses, suddenly they would have two conference losses and that would put them behind the eight ball in their quest for the regular season title. A Furman win would keep them unbeaten heading into their showdown with ETSU. A Wofford win would move both into a tie with one conference loss (along with either UNCG or Western Carolina and possibly Samford). This game could also be the first of three meetings this year. It is not ridiculous to think these two could meet in the semifinals or finals in Asheville.

Key Players: Cam Jackson with Wofford and Matt Rafferty for Furman should produce a very interesting big man match-up. These two will fight and scrap in the lane. Both are really playing well and are becoming key cogs in their team success. Fletcher Magee and Devin Sibley get a lot of headlines for these two teams, but it could easily be the two big men that are more important, especially in this match-up between these teams.

Prediction: Maybe the Paladins can get a road win here and make us all forget about the Bucs win on Thursday night at home against UNCG. Maybe the Paladins can establish themselves as the conference frontrunner in this game. Then again, the Terriers may come up with the win and prove where they fit into the conference race. The Terriers have Magee and he seems ready to explode in a huge game. Remember that second half at UNCG? Magee does, and he has been waiting for another game against a top level SoCon team to prove that was a fluke. Look for the Terriers to come up with a hard fought home win behind Jackson and Magee. Terriers 78, Paladins 75.

Chattanooga at The Citadel
Time: 1:00 PM (Wednesday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: If either one of these teams wants to make a run at the six seed, now is the time to do it. Both are 0-4 in SoCon play. Of course, with four winless SoCon teams, a win here puts the winner right into contention for seventh easily, which would put them back (at least modestly) into the race for sixth. Neither team is playing with a bunch of confidence right now. So a win here could change the confidence level for one team and make a major change in the future for both teams.

Key Players: Rodney Chatman will matter for the Mocs. The point guard always matters against the Bulldogs and their pressure defense, and Chatman may matter even more than usual. The Mocs will have to handle the pressure against The Citadel, and that is not something they have been doing well in conference play. The Mocs have also been allowing big games from other teams big men in recent weeks, as injuries have depleted their inside play substantially. That means that Zane Najdawi could be in for a big game for the Bulldogs. He’s been averaging 9.7 points and 3.1 rebounds. The 6-7 big man scored 21 against Samford. He could be due for another big outing.

Prediction: Who do you believe in more? The Bulldogs have been remarkably consistent recently. They have allowed 107, 109 and 107 in their last three games, scoring 91 and 92 in their last two (67 in the first of those 3). The Mocs do not seem to be a team capable of putting up offensive numbers like that. They have also lost all four of their conference games by double figures. Normally, I’d go with the home team here, but I can’t help but remember a few weeks ago when Chattanooga was expected to finish 6th in the conference and The Citadel was either 9th or 10th. I think the Mocs get it done in a very closely contested game. Mocs 92, Bulldogs 91.

Samford at Mercer
Time: 4:00 PM (Wednesday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Bulldogs are rolling at 3-1 in conference play and with a road win here would be 4-1. That would all be without Wyatt Walker. That would mean that if they get Walker back, they would be well positioned to possibly make a run at the regular season conference title. Is that a pipe dream? Perhaps. But it is certainly not as easily discounted as it would have been this time a week ago. The Bears are 0-3 in conference play. If they can get a win here, they will get back into the race for sixth, which is suddenly starting to look like they are further and further away from. This game really matters.

Key Players: I’ll say it again. Ria’n Holland needs to get back to being the guy we saw earlier this year. He’s knocked down just one three pointer on 16 attempts in conference play. This after knocking down 59.4% out of conference from long range. He’s scored an average of 11 points per game in conference play. He’s made just over 30% of his shots from the floor in conference play. This after shooting over 57% out of conference. This is a ridiculous cold slump, but it is why the Bears are struggling. On the other hand, the Bulldogs best scorer, Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, has averaged 14.3 points per game in conference play, despite scoring just a total of 10 points in his first two conference games. That’s what back-to-back 21 and 26 point games will do for you. If Denzel-Dyson continues that hot play, the Bulldogs are a much more difficult team to stop.

Prediction: I’m back on board with Samford. I had fallen off the bandwagon in out of conference play, but with each win, they win me more and more back over. With Walker’s return coming soon, hopefully, I am starting to buy in. That being said, Mercer is the desperate team and they are at home. The Bears just don’t lose home games all that often and so that makes Mercer the pick here. But I would not be surprised if Samford won. Bears 74, Bulldogs 69.

VMI at ETSU
Time: 4:00 PM (Thursday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Keydets are desperate for their first win after almost coming up with one against UNCG last Saturday. VMI has not been as good away from home, but a win here would obviously do wonders for their confidence. For ETSU, it is all about focusing on the game at hand. They played UNCG in a huge game on Thursday and get Furman in a huge game next Thursday. Can they focus on this game against winless VMI in between?

Key Players: VMI simply lacks big bodies, which means that Peter Jurkin is likely due for another top notch performance against the Keydets. He has scored 15, 15 and 11 in his last three games. He does not give a ton of minutes (averaging around 20 per game this year), but he will put in quality minutes while he is in the game. Truthfully, the freshman point guard match up of Bo Hodges vs. Bubba Parham should also be entertaining. Parham needs to have a huge performance for the Keydets to have a chance late in this one.

Prediction: This one has ugly written all over it. In their only conference road game, VMI lost by 39 at Wofford. ETSU has not won a conference game by less than double digits. The Bucs will probably sleepwalk early in this one coming off the big win on Thursday and looking forward to next Thursday’s big one, but the Bucs can sleepwalk for a half and then turn it on for ten minutes in the second half and come away with an easy win. Bucs 85, Keydets 65.

UNCG at Western Carolina
Time: 7:30 PM (Thursday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: Can UNCG keep one loss from turning into two? The Spartans tend to struggle on the road, and Cullowhee is always tricky. Throw in that Western Carolina is already 3-1 in SoCon play, and suddenly this becomes a big game. If Western Carolina can come up with the win here, they would be 4-1 in SoCon play, and it would be a high quality win that would suddenly raise expectations through the roof for this Western Carolina team.

Key Players: It will be a very interesting match-up of big men as Western Carolina’s Mike Amius and Marc Gosselin go up against UNCG’s Jordy Kuiper and James Dickey. This is interesting, because these are four of my favorite big men to watch in this league. The match-up between these four could absolutely determine this showdown in Cullowhee.

Prediction: Does the first team to 50 win? Both teams play great defense. Both teams can struggle offensively at times. If Francis Alonso is not hot shooting for UNCG or if the Catamounts control him, then the Spartans will likely struggle scoring. That being said, Alonso is unlikely to struggle for a second consecutive game. These teams will not score well, but the Spartans are going to be hungry to get back on the winning track and will play their best game since beating Wofford. Spartans 62, Catamounts 57.