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
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
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
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
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.