Between Wednesday and Monday, the SoCon race is going to be turned on its head. ETSU plays two road games, Furman has two huge home games, The Citadel and Mercer both play at Samford (those three are separated by one half game in the standings) and at Chattanooga (who is only behind them by 2.5 games).
So this week is massive. When we look back in Asheville, this week will have played a major factor in the seeding.
Let’s enjoy this week. It all starts Wednesday.
Game of the Day
UNCG at Furman
Time: 7:00 PM (Wednesday)
Why it matters: Furman has gone 0-3 against the other top four teams in the league. However, they played road games against Wofford and UNCG and lost on a last second shot to ETSU at home. The Paladins need a big win. A win here would get them back in the race for second. A loss would pretty much eliminate them. At the same time, a win by UNCG would keep them in the race for the regular season title, while a loss virtually eliminates them from it. This game is critical to future seeding for both teams in Asheville.
Key Players: Matt Rafferty vs. Jordy Kuiper. These two big men are both very good. Rafferty is one of the best players in the entire conference. Kuiper is a critical player that does a lot of the small things that help the Spartans win. This match-up should be wildly entertaining to watch. Rafferty will probably have better stats than Kuiper, but if Kuiper has a solid showing, the Spartans become the favorite in this one.
Prediction: The Paladins at home are very good. The Spartans on the road have struggled this year. Expecting the Spartans to come up with this win is a lot. The Spartans are good enough to get this done and have responded in tough environments all year long, but Devin Sibley, Matt Rafferty and this defense at home are too much. Paladins 72, Spartans 68.
Samford at Wofford
Time:7:00 PM (Wednesday)
Why it matters: The Bulldogs fell to eighth in the standings with their two losses last weekend. They get a chance to get back into the race for the six seed with a win against Wofford. They have lost 7 of 8 though. The Terriers come stumbling in as well. The Terriers have lost three of their last four games and desperately need to get back on the winning track. They are still in the race for the second seed and need to start winning again to get them back into that position.
Key Players: The Bulldogs need Demetrius Denzel-Dyson to step up and have a huge contest. He is the player the most capable of having a huge game against the Terriers. Wofford needs Cam Jackson to step up against the Bulldogs lack of height inside. Jackson was out, but now that he’s back he needs to step up in a big way. He is the key player for the Terriers.
Prediction: The Terriers and Bulldogs are both struggling, but the Bulldogs are struggling more. Fletcher Magee is still really good. Cam Jackson is going to be very good in this one. Yes, Samford has some ability, but this match-up is too much for them on the road. Terriers 78, Bulldogs 67.
The Citadel at Chattanooga
Time:7:00 PM (Thursday)
Why it matters: The Mocs are trailing the Bulldogs by 2.5 games for the final bye, but have an opportunity to make up some ground this weekend with both The Citadel and Mercer coming to Chattanooga. This is basically the Mocs last stand. The Citadel has been the hottest team in the SoCon not named East Tennessee State. The Bulldogs looks to stay hot and stay in the sixth spot in the standings. This is another critical game for the Bulldogs.
Key Players: Zane Najdawi had a career night the first time the Mocs played. Of course, that day Josh Phillips fouled out and Makinde London did not play. The Mocs were very small. Can Phillips and London help provide enough height to help the Mocs slow down Najdawi and come up with the win? That will be the key in this one.
Prediction: These two teams are playing better than they were when they met a few weeks ago. That was the start of the hot streak for both teams. The difference in these hot streaks is that the Bulldogs are winning and the Mocs are losing close games. The Citadel finds a way to get things done. Bulldogs 81, Mocs 80.
Western Carolina at VMI
Time:7:00 PM (Thursday)
Why it matters: The Keydets sit in ninth place right now, up by one half game on Chattanooga. VMI is trying to stay in contact for the final bye race, down by two games. The Catamount are in fifth place right now, and only down by one game on the third seed. If Western Carolina can come up with a few wins this week, they could position themselves for a run at the two or three seed. This is a huge opportunity for the Catamounts to come up with a big conference road win.
Key Players: The player I am most interested to see is Devin Peterson. He was so good against Samford. If he is going to play like that again, the Catamounts might just be one of the best two or three teams in the SoCon. The Keydets always need Bubba Parham to have big games. Parham is a very good player that deserves all the credit he is getting. He is one of the better freshman in the conference.
Prediction: The Catamounts are playing for something right now, whereas it seems unlikely that the Keydets can come up with the win here. VMI plays better at home and has been playing better. Still, this is a tough test. Mike Amius will have a big game for the Catamounts and come up with the important win. Catamounts 64, Keydets 55.