The games this Saturday are all huge. Outside of ETSU-VMI, it is hard to know who will win any of the four games on Saturday.
There are two huge match-ups between four teams fighting for the final bye spot. There are two games between teams currently seeded 2-5 in SoCon play as we try to sort out the seedings for Asheville.
So, we sit here, with teams like Chattanooga and Western Carolina having a chance to make huge statements. If one of those teams pull an upset on Saturday, it could change the expectations for those two teams moving forward. Not that the games don’t matter to the other six teams in those games, but those two have the chance to totally change the expectations with upsets.
It should be a tremendous Saturday of games.
Game of the Day
Wofford at Furman
Time: 4:30 PM
Why it matters: The Terriers and Paladins are separated by one game in the SoCon standings. The Terriers are up by one game in the standings and also currently own the tiebreaker. Wofford can stay in the race to finish second…and can really make themselves the heavy favorite for no worse than the third spot with a win. Furman is trying to get back into the race for third. A loss here would put that in serious jeopardy. It would also give them the very real chance that they might finish fifth in the conference. That’s a pretty far fall for the preseason favorites. The Paladins also are 0-4 in SoCon play against teams currently ahead of them in the standings. They need to get a win in a game like this.
Key Players: Fletcher Magee vs. Devin Sibley. Yes, that’s well worth watching. These are two of the best players in the conference. Of course, the game might hinge on Cam Jackson vs. Matt Rafferty. The Paladins seem to be missing one inside presence from really being elite right now. Rafferty needs to step up in a big one against Jackson.
Prediction: The Terriers are the better team. I do believe that. But this is the Paladins last chance to get a home win against one of the elite three teams ahead of them. That extra motivation will be huge for the Paladins. Sibley and Rafferty will outplay Magee and Jackson by a nose and the Paladins come up with a tight, important win. Paladins 74, Terriers 71.
ETSU at VMI
Why it matters: The Bucs are trying to stay unbeaten in SoCon play and get into a position that they can possibly receive an at large bid in the NCAA Tournament. Playing the last place team in the SoCon, they are the heavy favorites here. The Keydets are looking to get out of last place in the SoCon. They are capable of keeping the game close, as they’ve proven several times. Can they actually come up with a win?
Key Players: Of course, for VMI, Bubba Parham is the most dynamic player on the Keydets roster, which we’ve said time and time again in these previews. The Bucs are lead by Desonta Bradford, and he should step up and have a big game here. Of course, Peter Jurkin against this interior defense should also have a big game. Jurkin needs to come up big.
Prediction: There is almost no reason to think that this will be where the Bucs trip up. They have a huge game at UNCG on Monday, so maybe they will find a way to struggle in this game. Still, I just don’t see it. The Bucs are much better than the Keydets and will roll. Bucs 78, Keydets 59.
Mercer at Chattanooga
Why it matters: This is the Mocs last stand. If they want to get the six seed, they must win this game. They trail the Bears by two games and can cut it to one game with a win in this one. These two teams went to overtime the first time they met up, so it would not be surprising to see another close one. The Bears are trying to stick around in the sixth spot. A win here would go a long way to helping them do just that.
Key Players: Stephon Jelks is a player for the Bears. He always seems to make all the plays that helps the Bears stick around in games. He is always around the ball. The Mocs need Makale Foreman to keep on playing as well as he has lately. Foreman has been making a lot of shots lately for the Mocs and could give them a big boost in this one.
Prediction: The Mocs have not won back-to-back games against D1 teams all year. This would be the first time if they could get it done. The Mocs need to come up with one of their best performances of the year to get it done. The Bears have been up and down, but with the mid-week break, I expect to see Mercer play a solid game, and, like in Macon, that will be just enough. Bears 76, Mocs 73
Western Carolina at UNCG
Why it matters: The Spartans need a win here to set up Monday’s huge showdown with ETSU at home. On the other side, a Catamounts win could put them right in position to maybe move up to a two seed in the SoCon Tournament. Currently, Western Carolina is tied for fourth, but only one game out of third and only two and a half games behind the Spartans. A win here and a loss by UNCG on Monday to ETSU would suddenly put the Catamounts down only one game on two seed UNCG. Who would have thought we’d be in mid February and talking about a realistic path for Western Carolina to get the two seed? Not this guy.
Key Players: The Catamounts need someone other than Mike Amius to step up. UNCG does a good job of winning the inside match-ups, so Amius can not be counted on in this one. Make no mistake- Amius will need to be good. Deriece Parks played well on Thursday night. It would be important for him to step up again. The Spartans need Marvin Smith to have a big game. He is capable of scoring and playing very well defensively. If Smith has a huge game, it will be that much more difficult to beat UNCG.
Prediction: It is possible that UNCG will be looking ahead to ETSU on Monday. If they are, it would not be shocking for Western Carolina to sneak in and come up with the upset. The Spartans should be well focused on this one, at least by the second half. Look for Amius to be kept in check and the Spartans defense to step up in a big way. Spartans 65, Catamounts 58.
The Citadel at Samford
Why it matters: In the race for the sixth spot, this game is a huge moment. The Citadel trails Mercer by a half game and Samford trails the Bears by one full game. The loser of this game finds themselves in trouble for getting the six seed. The winner of this game really helps themselves a lot. Samford has Mercer on Monday at home. They have lost 8 of their last 9, but they can forget about all of that if they win these next two games. The Citadel has been red hot, but lost at Chattanooga by three on Thursday night.
Key Players: Triston Chambers scored 24 the first time Samford beat The Citadel by 16 points in Charleston. Samford shot 62% from the floor. Chambers will need to be hot like that again for the home team to have a good shot at winning the game. The Citadel will want Zane Najdawi (who has been playing very well lately) to play huge in the paint. Najdawi is capable of putting up huge numbers against this Samford defense.
Prediction: On paper, I think Samford is the better team. They beat The Citadel by 16 in Charleston even. But right now, Samford is struggling and The Citadel is playing very well. I just don’t see Samford turning that around right now. They are in a tailspin at this point. Can they pull out of it? Matt Frierson and Najdawi will have big games and pull out the contest. Bulldogs 88, Bulldogs 82
Wait, that didn’t tell you anything.
Bulldogs of The Citadel 88, Bulldogs of Samford 82