Game Previews: Now Things Get Fun

Now things are about to get real. UNCG and ETSU, who have played some epic games in the last several years, hook up again. Mercer faces a critical game in Cullowhee. We find out if Samford can play on the road.

That’s three, count them three, really compelling contests spread across two nights of SoCon action. This is the best set of SoCon games that we’ve had yet this season.

At the same time, Harvard visits Wofford in a semi-important out of conference game. The Terriers need a win to continue to bolster the SoCon’s resume. I will not have a full preview below of the Terriers-Crimson game, but I think Wofford gets the job done at home.

On this critical Wednesday/Thursday set of games, we should sit back and thoroughly enjoy these games.

Game of the Day
UNCG at ETSU
Time: 7:000 PM (Thursday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The last game of the regular season a year ago was going to decide the SoCon regular season title. UNCG got the job done. The two met a week later in the SoCon Championship Game with a spot in the NCAA Tournament on the line. ETSU got the job done. These two have a growing rivalry. They are each undefeated in SoCon play so far, and UNCG has been one of the biggest thorns in ETSU’s side in recent years. This game should be really entertaining and give an early edge to one team in their quest to win the regular season title this year.

Key Players: Peter Jurkin won SoCon Player of the Week for his performance against Samford and Chattanooga, two teams that lack inside presence. In some ways, his performance might be more important against UNCG, though I doubt that his stats will end up anywhere near the same. James Dickey and Jordy Kuiper are two critical players for the Spartans and really are difference makers. Francis Alonso also gets a lot of positive publicity for the Spartans and is one of the best players. I’m actually very intrigued to see how Jalan McCloud matches up with Demetrius Troy and Isaiah Miller. The Spartans seem to be missing a point guard that makes the team go and McCloud could have a big game for the Bucs here. He will need it. Desonata Bradford and Marvin Smith are probably the two most under talked about stars in this whole league. Their match-up could be very interesting.

Prediction: The Bucs are at home, and while the Spartans have won in Johnson City in recent years, it is a difficult proposition to beat ETSU there. Can the Spartans spoil the conference home opener for the Bucs? It is very possible. This is a budding rivalry and the two teams genuinely seem to dislike each other. That’s perfect, because these two teams should be right at the top of the Southern Conference again. These two teams could certainly meet three times this year, and have big things on the line each time. The Bucs win at home and McCloud has a big game. Bucs 74, Spartans 71.

Mercer at Western Carolina
Time: 7:00 PM (Wednesday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: Western Carolina is 2-1 in SoCon play. Mercer is 0-2. While the Bears are supposed to finish ahead of the Catamounts in SoCon play (comfortably), a loss in Cullowhee could suddenly change things around drastically. We could suddenly find the Catamounts up two in the loss column and three in the win column if they can come up with the win. Suddenly, it might be time to talk about whether or not Mercer really is going to get into the top six in the conference race. It seems hard to believe based on what we thought as recently as two weeks ago, yet here we are. Huge game for both teams.

Key Players: The Bears need Ria’n Holland to get back to being Ria’n Holland. He was one of the top offensive players in the conference (and according to Pomeroy, in the country) through their out of conference games. Since conference play started, Holland has gone 1 of 9 from three, scored 11.5 points per game, made 36% of his shots from the floor, and made just 50% of his free throws. Holland has got to start scoring again with regularity. Desmond Ringer and Demetre Rivers will be trying to control Mike Amius in the paint. The Catamounts really are a just an OK three point shooting team, but Amius gives them an inside presence when he is playing well and he will need to have a big game.

Prediction: This is a really intriguing game and a near must win for Mercer. The Bears need to get wins when they can get them. A loss here would really damage the Bears in their quest to finish near the top of the SoCon. It would totally change our perspective of Western Carolina as well if they can get this win. They would suddenly have to be taken seriously as a threat to crack the Top Five of the SoCon. The Catamounts play well in Cullowhee and could easily win, but I’m taking the more desperate Bears by a nose. Bears 73, Catamounts 72.

Furman at Chattanooga
Time: 7:000 PM (Wednesday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: Furman is 3-0 in SoCon play and Chattanooga is 0-3. The Mocs desperately need something positive to happen in conference play. The Paladins are looking to just keep on rolling through the early part of their conference schedule. After the Paladins come back win against Mercer on Saturday, they need to be ready to play again against the Mocs and get back to playing their best ball.

Key Players: Matt Rafferty for Furman. The Mocs are really struggling stopping players in the interior at this point. Rafferty is the type of player that can cause trouble for any team, and he will continue to cause trouble for the Mocs. Makinde London needs to be the key player for the Mocs. He picked up a T against Samford and fouled out against ETSU. If he can not keep himself in the game emotionally and physically, then the Mocs will have very little chance to win.

Prediction: Furman is significantly better than Chattanooga right now. I keep on thinking the Mocs are going to come out with a solid game at some point, but I’m not sure this is the spot. The Mocs are thin and beat up. The Paladins are rising high right now. Furman has been dominating the lesser foes in this league so far. Furman will handle the Mocs with relative ease. Paladins 74, Mocs 60.

Samford at The Citadel
Time: 6:00 PM (Thursday)
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: It’s Bulldogs vs. Bulldogs. Samford is 2-1 in conference play but taking the road for the first time. As Samford is hanging on waiting for Wyatt Walker to come back from injury, they are trying to put themselves into position to contend when he gets back. The Citadel is 0-3 in conference play, but playing at home against Samford, they have every chance to get in the win column.

Key Players: Zane Najdawi for The Citadel is a big man and capable of putting up solid numbers. He is one of the better players for the Bulldogs. He is averaging just 8.9 points per game. He is capable of much bigger things than that though. Najdawi will need to have a big game because Samford is not particularly big. For Samford, Demetrius Denzel-Dyson is the player that The Citadel will have the most difficult time containing. He’s tough to contain and will need to score a lot of points for Samford to have the best opportunity to win it.

Prediction: Bulldogs win. I’m serious. They will. This is going to be an interesting game. This is a chance for The Citadel to get back into the SoCon race for the bye. For Samford, this is a chance to continue to put distance between themselves and the bottom of the league. I have had zero feel for this Samford team so far. I have no idea how good they are going to be or what is going to happen in this game. I guess I’m leaning towards Samford, but I don’t really know why. Samford Bulldogs 94, The Citadel Bulldogs 91.

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