All Southern Conference could have asked for was for four of the top five teams to make it to the semifinals.
That would mean that there would be two tremendously interesting match-ups on Sunday afternoon and early evening. It would mean that Asheville would have a buzz about how intriguing these match-ups would be.
In the end, on Saturday, we got what we wanted. We got four really good teams battling for conference supremacy on Sunday.
It should be wildly entertaining. Enjoy.
(1) UNCG vs.(5) Wofford
Time: 4:00 PM
The Story: UNCG beat Wofford twice during the regular season. The game in Greensboro was very close, with Wofford leading big early but the Spartans fighting back and winning a very memorable game. The game in Spartanburg wasn’t as close as that one. The Spartans came up with the win. Of course, the Terriers had lost twice to Mercer as well and they took care of business on Saturday afternoon with relative ease. The Terriers will look to avenge a winless regular season against a team for a second consecutive day.
Key Players: Fletcher Magee was ice cold on Saturday, but Nathan Hoover picked up the slack. Trevor Stumpe and Storm Murphy both do not get the credit they deserve. These two have both turned into very solid contributors that know their roles on this team. It was not long ago that the Terriers couldn’t survive a cold shooting night by Magee. Now, with Hoover playing well, and Stumpe being solid, this team can survive that. Ironically, Francis Alonso was not particularly good on Saturday either. James Dickey stepped on the offensive end. Marvin Smith and Demetrius Troy (along with Isaiah Miller off the bench) were also very good. While the Magee-Alonso shootout would be entertaining, watching the “secondary” players could be just as entertaining.
Prediction: We did not even mention Jordy Kuiper or Cam Jackson up above. Unbelievable. These players are so good. This is such an interesting match-up. Jackson was remarkable on Saturday. He dominated Mercer. He won’t be that dominant against UNCG. However, much like against Mercer, Wofford is due to get one against the Spartans. They are too good to fall to this team a third time. Yes, my pre-tournament pick to win it all was UNCG. However, my tune is changing. The Terriers looked like a team on a mission Saturday. Wofford pulls the mild upset behind Hoover and Stumpe having big games. Terriers 72, Spartans 70.
(2) ETSU vs.(3) Furman
The Story: In Greenville, ETSU survived on a last second basket. In Johnson City, the Paladins survived in the final minutes against the Bucs last Sunday. Two close games. There is absolutely no reason to think that these two should not play another classic in this one. The Paladins and Bucs played a fun semifinal game in Asheville two years ago, which the Bucs won. These two teams were part of the tri-champs last year. Furman was the preseason favorite to win it this year. ETSU was the favorite two weeks ago- and may still be the favorite today, depending on who you ask.
Key Players: Andrew Brown for Furman did not play particularly well on Saturday but he had scored in double figures the four previous games. The Paladins need someone like Brown to step up big in this game. It can’t just be Devin Sibley or Matt Rafferty. They need someone like Brown to step up for the Paladins in a big way. For ETSU, it seems to me that the Bucs go where Jalan McCloud goes. If McCloud plays very well, the Bucs tend to be better. It’s not just about scoring, but getting them into the right offense and being solid defensively. Jermaine Long is one of the best defensive players in the league. He will probably be guarding Devin Sibley and that will be a critical match-up in this one as well.
Prediction: Look- three weeks ago, I thought ETSU was going to run through the first two rounds of the SoCon Tournament and might have a bit of a battle against UNCG in the championship game. Now, I am just not comfortable picking ETSU to win this game. Could I be dead wrong? Absolutely. I am not going to swear that I’ve got this right. Picking a second upset on Sunday seems a bit risky. But again, here I am. The Bucs still looked a little out of sorts on Saturday and the Paladins still looked on a roll. It should be another tremendous showdown on Sunday night. Paladins 66, Bucs 65.
Note- I’m picking these games to be decided by a total of three points. I could see any combination of these teams playing in the championship. This is the best set of unpredictable semifinals in my memory. I seriously have no idea what’s about to happen.