Game Previews: Two Days Left

Two days.

That’s all that’s left.

So much to do. So little time.

Game of the Day
Wofford at ETSU
Time: 7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The loss for ETSU to The Citadel on Tuesday was a shocker, but with Desonta Bradford out, may be it was less unexpected than you may have thought. ETSU is hosting Wofford now, and must come up with a critical win in order to try to get the regular season championship. Wofford is trying to move into third in the SoCon and could use the win here to get there. Of course, with the Terriers struggling, they really just need a win to get back to having some positive momentum.

Key Players: Jermaine Long is a long defender and he will be guarding Fletcher Magee, which could produce all kinds of problems for the Terriers star. It seems like the Terriers can’t perform well offensively without Magee playing very well. Watching Long try to defend Magee could easily decide which way this one goes.

Prediction: Does anyone really think the Bucs will blow another one at home? Yes, Bradford may or may not play, and if he’s out, the match-up certainly gets closer. If Peter Jurkin still is suffering from the flu, then the Bucs could find themselves in a battle. If Magee can make a bunch of shots, the Terriers could keep it close. In the end though, in Johnson City, the Bucs are the better team and will win relatively easy. Bucs 78, Terriers 68.

Mercer at The Citadel
Time:6:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: So The Citadel may not be the hottest team in the SoCon. They did lose to VMI less than a week ago. But they also won at ETSU in their most recent game. Can they get the seven seed or are they going to get the eight seed? Either way, they are a dangerous team that no one wants to mess with in Asheville. On the other hand, Mercer is the hottest team in the SoCon. Can the Bears get another win? Can they move up higher in the SoCon pecking order and get into the top five? If Mercer can stay hot for two more games, they will be one of the tri-favorites in Asheville.

Key Players: We all love Ross Cummings. How could you not love the story? He’s the story of the SoCon and he just stays hot. He is currently one of the hottest shooters in the conference and should be on a short list with Fletcher Magee and Francis Alonso for the best shooters in the conference. For The Citadel, Zane Najdawi is earning attention as a possible All SoCon player. He has earned that. Najdawi is very good and is a difficult match-up for any team in the conference.

Prediction: The Bulldogs have been a tough out in Charleston and there is no telling what might happen in this one. This is one of the better games of Friday. Mercer is the hottest team in the conference and needs to keep it going heading into Asheville. The Bears are the better team and I have a hard time looking past what Mercer has done lately…even in Charleston. Bears 86, Bulldogs 81.

Furman at Western Carolina
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Paladins are fighting for the three seed. A win would be critical for this club as they are striving to clinch that seed. The Catamounts are looking to clinch the final bye. A win for Western Carolina would do it. These two teams could be playing in a quarterfinal match-up on Saturday pretty easily. The Catamounts are in a slump and need to get going. This is a huge opportunity.

Key Players: The Catamounts have Mike Amius and will need big things from him. The Paladins will rely on Matt Rafferty to play well. These two playing against each other will be the key to the whole game. These are two of the better big men in the SoCon and both teams rely on their big men to get them going.

Prediction: In Cullowhee, Western Carolina is tough. In Asheville, Western Carolina is tough. But they are really not playing well right now. The Catamounts really need to get going if they want to contend in the tournament next weekend. This is a chance to do just that. However, Furman has been playing very well. The Paladins should be able to come up with the win on the road behind Devin Sibley and Rafferty. Paladins 69, Catamounts 62.

Chattanooga at UNCG
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Mocs shocked the Spartans in Chattanooga earlier this year. UNCG still has a shot at the regular season title. The Mocs still have an outside shot at the seven seed if they can win out. UNCG just needs to win out and have another ETSU slip up to claim the regular season title. The Spartans are hungry to get there and avenge their earlier loss.

Key Players: Josh Phillips scored 10 points and had 12 rebounds against the Spartans the first time around. Jordy Kuiper had 4 points and 2 rebounds in that match-up. If Phillips is going to outplay Kuiper, that would be a major reason that the Mocs would be able to hang around in this one. Kuiper is the emotional soul of the Spartans. If he comes out flat again, the Spartans could definitely be in trouble. Kuiper was out against Wofford with the flu and may still not be 100%. (Have you had the flu and tried to play basketball a few days later? Exhausting.) He needs to emotionally lead on this night.

Prediction: The Spartans will stay right in the SoCon title race by not getting swept. There is no way UNCG loses to Chattanooga for a second time. In fact, the Mocs should be prepared for the best the Spartans can be. That will not be a good match-up for Chattanooga. Spartans 79, Mocs 64.

Samford at VMI
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Bulldogs are really struggling, but get a shot at VMI. If Samford can win on the road, they can narrow the gap to the seven seed. They have an outside shot at the six seed as well. But they must win out. VMI can finish anywhere between seven and ten still. They get Chattanooga and Samford at home. It is not impossible to think the Keydets can win out.

Key Players: Justin Coleman has been playing great basketball and does not get mentioned too often. Coleman has scored in double figures in all except three SoCon games. He also has gotten in double figure assists in three games. He twice had nine assists and twice has nine points. Triston Chambers also scored 34 against VMI in their first match-up. Samford’s inside game is a bit of a weakness, so Tyler Creammer will try to take advantage of that. The 6-10 sophomore has only averaged 7.0 points per game this year, but he needs to do better than that against the Bulldogs here. If Creammer has a big game, the Keydets will be helped out.

Prediction: Honestly, this game is a toss up- maybe the biggest one of Friday night. Bubba Parham only scored three in his last game and will be looking to get back on track. The Keydets will rise up and come up with a big win over the Bulldogs, as Chambers will not be able to score like that again. Creammer and Parham will be very good. This game could easily be an 8-9 game next Friday. Keydets 71, Bulldogs 69.


Game Reviews: Did That Change Everything?

Well, did that change everything?

It could. ETSU was without Desonta Bradford, but still was stunned at home by the current eighth place team. In the mean time, UNCG was ravaged by the flu, but beat Wofford by double figures on the road.

And Mercer just kept on rolling.

ETSU still wins the regular season by winning out. On a day I predicted ETSU to clinch the regular season title, suddenly the Bucs may not win it if they don’t win out.

It may not have changed everything, but things got more interesting.

UNCG 76, Wofford 66

What Happened? Jordy Kuiper was out. More guys were down with the flu. They were playing at a good Wofford team. Yet, there was UNCG, sitting at the end of the game with a comfortable double digit win. Yes, the Spartans pulled away late to make it comfortable, but the fact that the Spartans were able to come up with the easy win was quite impressive.

Stat of the Game: The Spartans collected 15 offensive rebounds in this one. The dominated the glass and that made the difference for the Spartans as they came up with the win.

Player of the Game: Francis Alonso. He scored 24 points. He made 8 of 15 from the floor and 6 of 9 from three. Alonso was red hot. The Spartans are really hard to beat when he is on.

What does it mean to UNCG? The Spartans have clinched the two seed for the SoCon Tournament. They host Chattanooga and Samford this weekend. Win both of those and see if the Bucs lose to Furman or Wofford, which would give them the regular season championship. The Spartans have established themselves as one of the tri-favorites heading to Asheville (along with ETSU and Mercer). To play like this when fighting the flu is very impressive.

What does it mean to Wofford? Wofford fell to fourth in the standings and could still finish fifth, though that is mostly semantics. They go to ETSU and host Mercer. That is a very rough finishing kick. The Terriers need to get back to playing like they were in late December and January. This is a team struggling to regain their form. They look like a team that peaked too early.

Mercer 81, Western Carolina 64

What Happened? The Bears pulled away in the second half for a solid win. It was 28-27 Western Carolina, and the Bears just steadily pulled away from there, outscoring the Catamounts 54-36 the rest of the way. The Bears are the hottest team in the SoCon, and Western Carolina might be the coldest team right now.

Stat of the Game: Mercer knocked down 11 of 20 from three. With the Bears draining a bunch of big shots, the Catamounts had no answer. That was the biggest difference in this one.

Player of the Game: Demetre Rivers made 9 of 12 from the floor, including 3 of 4 from three. He also had 6 rebounds. Rivers is so good and often gets overlooked for some of the other Bears.

What does it mean to Western Carolina? Don’t lose out in Cullowhee. They host Furman and The Citadel. They could fall out of the final bye if they lose out. That’s not good. The good is that the Catamounts always perform better in Asheville. With their losing streak, momentum is way down.

What does it mean to Mercer? That’s six in a row. They are officially the hottest team in the SoCon. Can the Bears pull this off? It is clear that the Bears are now one of the favorites in Asheville. This team has come together and found themselves over the last few weeks. This is a senior laden team, looking for one big run. They’re finding it.

The Citadel 84, ETSU 82

What Happened? With 2:24 left in the first half, ETSU was ahead 43-32 and looked well on their way to an easy home win over one of the bottom tier SoCon teams, even without Desonta Bradford. Then, The Citadel went on a 17-3 run to take the lead 49-46. It was a lead they never relinquished. The Bucs hung around the entire second half, but were not able to overtake the Bulldogs. It did get tied several times, including just before Zane Najdawi knocked down a huge tiebreaking three in the final minutes. After such a narrow loss in Charleston, the Bulldogs got their revenge.

Stat of the Game: ETSU made just 8 of 15 from the free throw line, while The Citadel knocked down 19 of 23. Pretty clearly the free throw discrepancy was the difference in this one.

Player of the Game: Frankie Johnson. He’s 5-9, but collected 7 rebounds to go with 7 assists and 3 steals. He also scored 12 points. Johnson at his height getting 7 rebounds against that long ETSU team? Impressive.

What does it mean to The Citadel? The Bulldogs host Mercer and go to Western Carolina this weekend. At 5-11, they are not completely out of the race for the final bye, but it is unlikely. They are currently in the eight spot and would love to move up to the seven seed. This team is really tough to judge. One night they lose to VMI. One night they beat ETSU. Who knows?

What does it mean to ETSU? The Bucs just put the regular season title back in jeopardy. They host Furman and Wofford at the end, and that is not overly easy. If they lose one of those, the Bucs could easily fall into the two seed in the SoCon. This loss effectively ended any chance of the Bucs getting an at large bid, if there was any chance.

Furman 76,VMI 54

What Happened? When your starters combine for 24 points, and no one scores more than 8 points in that starting line up, it is normally not a good night. This was no exception for VMI. The Keydets hung around in the first half, but the Paladins eventually did what they were expected to- blew the game open and dominated the overmatched Keydets.

Stat of the Game: You mean other than that cool stat I just gave you about the starters points? VMI shot just 31% from the floor while Furman shot nearly 52%. That will make the game go about like this one did.

Player of the Game: Andrew Brown scored 15 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals. He played only 17 minutes. Brown sometimes gets overlooked. However, he also scored 20 against Samford. If he is going to be a consistent double digit scorer, that could make a big difference in this team’s ability to go far in Asheville.

What does it mean to VMI? The Keydets can move up to the seven seed if they somehow win out against Samford and Chattanooga. The Keydets, though, are currently in the nine spot. There is a very real chance if they lose out that they will find themselves in last. This team continues to struggle and Bubba Parham looked like a freshman today. He needs to get back into the game.

What does it mean to Furman? The Paladins moved into the third spot. They can not move up to the two seed. They can, however, fall to the four seed. They go to Western Carolina and ETSU this weekend. This is going to be a very tough weekend for the Paladins. They have won four straight and are playing good basketball right now.

With three game days left before the teams pack up and head to Asheville, there is still plenty on the line.

Could Mercer sneak higher in the standings? What about Western Carolina?

Who will get the 7-10 seeds?

Which team will have the most momentum as we head to Asheville? Almost equally as important- which team will not?

Game of the Day
UNCG at Wofford
Time: 7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The only team that can catch UNCG for the two seed (in reality) is the Wofford Terriers. They’ll need a lot of help to get there, but they could pull it off. They should be more focused on securing the three seed and setting up a potential semifinal match-up with this Spartan team. The Spartans are more than likely out of the SoCon regular season title race. In one of the more memorable games of the SoCon regular season, these two teams hooked up in Greensboro in December. UNCG came back from double digits down, shutting down Fletcher Magee in the second half to get the win. What happens here?

Key Players: Let’s go straight with the match-up that was the highlight of the first showdown. Fletcher Magee was shut down in the second half by Marvin Smith. Magee is such a good shooter- it was shocking to see Smith shut down in Greensboro. Can he do it again? Smith can also score as well. He will need to be great defensively and also be solid offensively. Magee will need to have a hot shooting night for the Terriers.

Prediction: With the regular season title out of reach, the Spartans will come out just a touch flat. Magee will be looking to avenge his poor half against the Spartans. The Terriers are desperate to get this quality win at home. They will pull it off with an early run and hold on late. Terriers 74, Spartans 72.

Western Carolina at Mercer
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: These two teams are separated by one game in the standings. It may not particularly matter, as currently projected, the team that finishes fifth will play either Wofford or Furman and the sixth place team will play the other. The Bears are the hottest team in the SoCon and are still hoping to move up the standings. They’ll need a lot of help to get higher in the standings, but what both teams are looking for- momentum.

Key Players: Deriece Parks is an underrated player in this league for the Catamounts. He has scored in double figures in 8 of the last 11 SoCon games. The senior could be a valuable part of a run in Asheville in a week and a half. On the other hand, can Ross Cummings keep it going for Mercer? During this five game winning streak, he has averaged 19 points per contest. This after not scoring that many in a game all season prior to that. He had already scored double figures in three of four games prior to that. Let’s face facts, with Ria’n Holland coming back from injury, Demetre Rivers, Stephon Jelks, Jordan Strawberry, Desmond Ringer and the emergent Cummings, the Bears are certainly not a team to ignore in Asheville.

Prediction: The Bears are simply playing as well as anyone in the SoCon right now. The Catamounts are not. With the way the two teams are playing, there is just no way to pick against the Bears. The Catamounts are a nice dark horse pick in Asheville, but not in Macon. Bears 75, Catamounts 65.

The Citadel at ETSU
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: Remember when The Citadel almost beat ETSU in Charleston? Remember that week, when it appeared that The Citadel might be the second best team in the SoCon? It feels like forever. Now, the Bulldogs are battling to merely get out of the 8-9 game. The loss to VMI puts them in a position where they could wind up finishing ninth or last. The Bucs, on the other hand, are still looking to clinch the regular season title. Their magic number is two. They, too, are looking to avenge that close win.

Key Players: Matt Frierson is going to need to be hot for the Bulldogs. He is going to need to knock down long distance shots repeatedly. He is capable of doing it for sure, but he will need to be superb for the Bulldogs to have a chance. The Bucs will want to see Desonta Bradford get back on track. Over the last three games, he has shot just 33% from the floor and 1 of 11 from three point range. The Bucs would love for Bradford to get back on track in this one.

Prediction: The Bucs are going to come out angry, I expect. They are better than they showed in Charleston. Also, The Citadel is really struggling right now and very disappointed in having been swept by VMI. Bradford will get back to being Bradford and the Bucs come up with an easy win. Bucs 89, Bulldogs 72.

VMI at Furman
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: VMI still has a shot to move up to seventh. They need to win though or else they could still wind up last. In the mean time, the Paladins are trying to stay in the third spot in the SoCon standings. They desperately need to come up with the win and hang on to that spot. They can ill-afford an upset loss to VMI in this one.

Key Players: The Keydets always rely on Bubba Parham to have a big showing. Parham has been such a revelation for VMI this year. He will need to come up big in this one. On the other side, the Paladins would like Matt Rafferty to have a big showing. Rafferty is a big man that could present a lot of trouble to the VMI interior defense.

Prediction: The Paladins are the significantly better team, and they are playing good basketball right now. Furman has played some of their best basketball in recent weeks, but also have played some of their best basketball against teams like VMI that they can dominate. This one should be no different as Devin Sibley and Rafferty have huge games. Paladins 76, Keydets 58.

Game Previews: The Moment Is Now

Want to make a run?

Now is the time.

Hey- Samford and The Citadel? Want to make one final push at the final bye? Time to do it.

Hey- Chattanooga and VMI? Want to make a run at the seven seed? Stop messing around. It’s time.

Hey- UNCG? Want to run at first place ETSU? Don’t blow it now.

Hey- Mercer? Want to keep on running at third? Go for it now.

Hey- Furman and Wofford? Want to make your run for third? Make it happen.

Hey- Western Carolina? Think you can run to fifth or higher? No more time to waste.

Hey ETSU? Want to make that run at the regular season championship? You’re already there-just hold on!

Time for a run.

Game of the Day
UNCG at Mercer
Time: 4:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Bears have moved all the way up to a tie for fifth in the conference, even if they currently lose the tiebreaker with Western Carolina. The move has been impressive as they’ve won four in a row after a four game losing streak. The Bears find themselves only two games out of third right now. A win right now would serve notice to the rest of the conference- they may not catch the leaders in the regular season, but they are coming for all of them in Asheville. The Spartans win over ETSU on Monday night got them back in the regular season race, but any chance at getting there depends on them winning out. Any slip up between now and the end of the regular season will basically hand the regular season title to ETSU. This is certainly one of the Spartans toughest remaining tests.

Key Players: Ross Cummings made his first big splash against UNCG in OT last month. Since then, Cummings has been tremendous. Demetre Rivers is also playing excellent basketball right now. This team is really coming together right now with Ria’n Holland coming back from injury. The Spartans will need Jordy Kuiper to have a big game. They also need Francis Alonso to shoot the ball lights out in this one.

Prediction: The Spartans are playing their best basketball of the season. Then again, the Bears might be as well. This is really interesting. I have no idea what will happen in this one. The Spartans might get it done and keep the regular season title in question heading into the final two weeks. It should be interesting. Spartans 75, Bears 74.

VMI at The Citadel
Time:1:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: VMI and The Citadel are military school rivals and both are desperately in need of a win to get back on the winning track. The Keydets sit a half game out of ninth in the conference. The Bulldogs sit a half game out of seventh. This is an important game between two old rivals, and VMI got one of their two conference wins against The Citadel.

Key Players: The Bulldogs will want to get Zane Najdawi going against the VMI inside players. Najdawi should be able to have a big game against that interior defense. Bubba Parham is also going to be looking to have another one of his biggest performances. Parham has been so good for so much of this season, but can get overshadowed since he plays for VMI.

Prediction: The Citadel has been struggling lately after their really good week a few weeks back. They are back in eighth and in desperate need of a win. They should be able to beat their rivals at home. Matt Frierson and Najdawi should be enough to carry the Bulldogs. Bulldogs 86, Keydets 73.

ETSU at Western Carolina
Time:2:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Bucs are in first, but their grip on first is not as strong as it once was. Another slip up opens the door to UNCG possibly stealing the regular season title. This game may be their toughest remaining test. They are at home for the rest of the season. This is their final road game, against a Catamounts team that has been stumbling a bit, but it still very dangerous in Cullowhee. Western Carolina is tied for fifth and only two games out of third. They are up by two and a half games for the final bye. With their remaining schedule, they should hang on to the final bye, but could fall out if they are not careful. This is a chance to get a huge home win over the reigning SoCon champs.

Key Players: Desonta Bradford is always the key to the Bucs lately with his play. He has been so good lately. He will need to keep on being tremendous. The Catamounts will need Mike Amius to be huge as well. Peter Jurkin for the Bucs can give Amius huge problems. Can Amius beat out Jurkin? He has to for the Catamounts to have a chance.

Prediction: The Bucs should come out hungry to prove that the loss to UNCG was a fluke. It’s hard to imagine that the Bucs come out and blow this one. Yes, Cullowhee is tough. But Western Carolina just doesn’t have enough in the tank to pull this one out. Bucs 68, Catamounts 61.

Furman at Samford
Time:2:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: If Samford wants to make a push for the final bye, this well may be the time to do it. They are down by two and a half games. They can not afford any more slip ups. If they want to avoid the 8-9 game, they can’t afford many slip ups. They are up only one half game on The Citadel for the seven spot. Furman currently sits in a tie for third and needs to keep on winning if they want to get to second or third. The Paladins are in critical games that they really need to have.

Key Players: The Paladins need Devin Sibley to continue to show what made him the Preseason SoCon Player of the Year. When Sibley is on, this team is incredibly difficult to beat. He is so good and such an important part of how this team plays. The Bulldogs need Demetrius Denzel-Dyson to get back to being himself. Against Mercer last time out, he fouled out in only 18 minutes of action, scoring just three points.

Prediction: The Paladins are back to playing good basketball, it appears. The Bulldogs still are not. Furman has been blowing teams out that they are better than this year. I do not see that changing here. The Paladins will come up with a relatively easy win. Paladins 78, Bulldogs 65.

Wofford at Chattanooga
Time:5:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Mocs are two games out of seventh right now. They need to win to get into that position. They played the Terriers very close in Spartanburg. Wofford is tied for third and has an outside shot at the two seed if they can keep on winning. The Terriers got a big win in Cullowhee on Thursday night. They need to keep on winning to get into good position heading into the last two weeks.

Key Players: Big men can dominate against the Mocs inside game, which sets up Cam Jackson to have a huge game. The big men have not been causing as much trouble lately against the Mocs though. Josh Phillips had a huge game against, scoring 16 points with 13 rebounds. If Phillips could somehow play Jackson to a draw, then the Mocs would have a real shot at home.

Prediction: It is difficult to imagine the Mocs being capable of pulling this upset. The Terriers are the better team but the Mocs match up pretty well with them. This should be interesting, especially since the other games most impacting these teams will be over by the time this one starts. There could be a lot more pressure on these teams by the time the game gets underway. The Terriers are the better team and get the job done in a close one in Chattanooga. Terriers 75, Mocs 70.Bust a

Game Previews: The Bounce Back

Bouncing back. It’s hard to do.

How will Wofford bounce back from getting destroyed by Furman?

How will UNCG bounce back from their emotional win over ETSU?

How will The Citadel bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing road swing?

How will Furman bounce back from their best performance of the year against Wofford?

This day is all about finding out how these teams of 18-22 year olds will bounce back from some of the most interesting games of the year in the SoCon. In other words, there’s no telling.

Game of the Day
Wofford at Western Carolina
Time: 7:30 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Terriers are tied with Furman for third in the SoCon at the moment, three games out of second. Western Carolina is down by one game from Furman and Wofford. The Catamounts would like to get into third place in the conference race. They also are trying to hold off Mercer, who is just one game back at the moment. Wofford and Western Carolina both need to get this win to try to solidify their position in the SoCon race.

Key Players: Mike Amius and Cam Jackson will go at it, and it will be entertaining. The Catamounts have to get a good showing from Amius if they are going to keep this one close. He needs to perform on both sides of the floor. The Terriers need Jackson to at least neutralize Amius. If he does, it will become very difficult for the Catamounts to win this one.

Prediction: The Terriers are probably the better team. Jackson and Fletcher Magee are both top level players. But this game is in Cullowhee, and the Terriers are struggling, going 2-4 in their last six games. This is a critical game to both teams and this is the time that the Catamounts step up and come up with the win against a top team. Catamounts 72, Terriers 70.

UNCG at The Citadel
Time:6:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Spartans beat ETSU on Monday and got back into the SoCon race. But it could all be for nothing if they can’t stay focused on the game at hand. The Citadel beat Wofford and Furman in consecutive home games a couple of weeks ago, so they are more than capable. If The Citadel wants to stick around in the race for the final bye, they need to get this one. They can not afford a loss- even a loss to a team as good as UNCG.

Key Players: The Spartans big win was sparked defensively, but what happens in this gym that may not be alive with atmosphere? The Spartans respond to Jordy Kuiper emotionally a lot of the time, so Kuiper’s emotional energy could be a real key to this game. The Bulldogs will need Matt Frierson to be hot shooting the three. Frierson has become such an offensive threat. If Frierson can be an elite shooter in this one, it will help open things up for Zane Najdawi.

Prediction: In Charleston, with the Spartans coming off an emotional win, it is really tempting to pick the Bulldogs. They’ve been playing well at home, even though they lost two in a row on the road last week. Still, I just can’t pick against UNCG right now. They are playing their best basketball at the moment. Wes Miller will have his club refocused by the second half and have the Spartans come up with a close win. Spartans 86, Bulldogs 81.

Chattanooga at Furman
Time:7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Paladins are clinging to their tie for third, but could fall as far as sixth if they do not win games down the stretch. They are only up by two games on the sixth spot at the moment. The Mocs are only down by 1.5 games on the seven spot and could make a big jump in the coming weeks if they win some games.

Key Players: The Paladins have lacked solid inside play, despite how well Matt Rafferty has basically played. Rafferty will need to have a big game against the smaller Mocs. Rafferty should be able to come up with a huge game in this one. The Mocs need Makale Foreman to step up and continue his solid play. The guard has been a key cog to the team lately and he has been playing well. He will need to shoot well and control the offense for the Mocs to have their best chance.

Prediction: The Paladins dominated the Mocs in Chattanooga for the most part. They will likely do so again in Greenville. The Mocs have been playing everyone close. They can keep this one reasonably close, but I expect Furman to play a really solid game in this one and come up with a tougher than the score indicates double digit win. Paladins 75, Mocs 64.

VMI at Mercer
Time:6:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The Keydets are down by one half game for the nine spot and are only down two games for the seven spot. Mercer, with their recent winning streak, has put themselves into the six spot solidly. Suddenly, they sit only two games out of the three seed. Could the Bears actually get back to the three seed? It’s not impossible.

Key Players: For the Keydets, I love to highlight Bubba Parham, but let’s highlight Austin Vereen in this one. The first time they played, Vereen scored 15 points and had 7 rebounds. If he can perform like that again, the Keydets will have a chance to come up with an upset. Desmond Ringer will need to step up for the Bears. Ringer is the biggest player for the Bears and he can be a critical part of the gameplan against the undersized Keydets.

Prediction: Mercer is on a roll right now. They are simply a team starting to come together and look like a team that is dangerous in Asheville. This is another game that the Bears will come up with a win. They are not blowing teams out, but they are winning consistently and getting the job done. More of the same here. Bears 68, Keydets 57.

Game Reviews: Spartans, Bears Come Up Big

On a huge Monday, UNCG opened up the race for the regular season title. Mercer pulled away in the race for sixth.

It was not two shocking results, but the ease with which UNCG won was really impressive. Samford is struggling, but there should be no real questions about ETSU at this point.

ETSU is good. UNCG is good. Mercer is rising. Samford is falling. That sums it up.

UNCG 74, ETSU 56

What Happened? Ummmm…something strange? ETSU has not played like that in recent months. The Spartans jumped out to a commanding early lead, but ETSU had trimmed the lead to two by halftime and it looked like they had weathered the storm. But the storm was just starting. The Bucs only scored 25 points in the second half and the Spartans scored 41. The Bucs rebounded well, but their shooting was off all night long as they shot just 30% from the floor.

Stat of the Game: The Spartans shot 49% from the floor and 55% from three. In other words, the Bucs elite defense did not travel to Greensboro Coliseum. The Spartans were shooting lights out in this one and against the Bucs defense that was remarkable.

Player of the Game: So many to choose from, and Francis Alonso was great, but I want to highlight Demetrius Troy. He went 6 of 8 from the floor and 4 of 4 from three. He wound up with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 steal. Troy was huge in this one.

What does it mean to ETSU? A lot. And nothing. The Bucs chances at an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament PROBABLY just went away. The longest winning streak in the country is over. They visit Western Carolina on Saturday, but that is their last road game of the season. Furman and Wofford could beat them in Johnson City. If the Bucs win out, they win the regular season title. One more loss brings the Spartans right back into it. It seems likely that the Spartans would win a tiebreaker. The Bucs do not want that. I think it is safe to say that ETSU is the most consistent team in the SoCon…

What does it mean to UNCG? …but I think it is also safe to say that the Spartans have a higher ceiling than the Bucs. They are more likely to lose to someone they have no business losing to in Asheville, but if you put the Spartans in a one game setting, they may well be the better team. The Spartans go to The Citadel, Mercer and Wofford still. Are they going to lose one of those? It would be a little surprising if they did not. The Spartans are still the favorite to get the two seed, but probably can not get to the one seed. Regardless, they are very dangerous in Asheville.

Mercer 74, Samford 69

What Happened? Jordan Strawberry made a big shot in the final minute and a half and Ross Cummings made a layup in the final minute to put the game out of reach for the Bears. They were up by just one at that point, but lead pretty much throughout. The Bears came up with the critical road win to really put them in good position for the six seed.

Stat of the Game: Samford, who is playing their best when they are knocking down threes, went just 6 of 27 from long range. That struggle made it very difficult for the Bulldogs to come up with the win on this night.

Player of the Game: Jordan Strawberry scored 18 points with 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals. Strawberry made 6 of 13 from the floor.

What does it mean to Mercer? Hello, sixth place! The Bears now lead The Citadel and Samford both by two games. They trail Western Carolina by one game for fifth place. Their schedule is not easy from here on out, having to host UNCG and Western Carolina and go to The Citadel and Wofford, but with Ria’n Holland due back soon, this team is looking more and more like a team that could go on a run in Asheville.

What does it mean to Samford? The Bulldogs are now 2-9 in their last eleven games and appear heading towards missing the sixth spot in the conference tournament. They have just three conference games remaining (host Furman and at VMI and at UNCG) and need to win a game or two to avoid the 8-9 first round game. The Bulldogs are still struggling. Demetrius Denzel-Dyson scored just three in this one. He needs to be better than that.

Game Previews: Big Monday

The two games on Monday night are huge in very different ways.

In one, you’ve got the top two teams in the league squaring off as the league title is on the line. In the other, the sixth and seventh place teams square off in a battle to determine who will finish with the final bye in the SoCon.

This matters. More than most days, this day has well defined meaning built into it.

Let the games begin.

Game of the Day
Time: 7:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: This is the one we’ve been waiting for. If ETSU wins in the Greensboro Coliseum, the Bucs will basically lock up the regular season SoCon title and will have overcome their toughest challenge to being undefeated heading to Asheville. If UNCG wins, they will stay in contention for the regular season championship and will drastically help their seed if they happen to win the SoCon Tournament in Asheville.

Key Players: The Bucs have Jalan McCloud playing great basketball and Desonta Bradford is as well. The key for the Bucs could well be if Peter Jurkin can be the equal to Jordy Kuiper and James Dickey. The Spartans big men have to create an advantage for the Spartans because that is where they create mismatches with other SoCon teams. They will have to create some mismatches with the Bucs as well.

Prediction: I have picked against the Bucs three times on the road this SoCon season. Obviously, they have won all of them. I picked them to lose at Mercer, at Wofford and at Furman. Now, I’m going for it one more time. This two teams are the two best defensive teams in the SoCon by my eyes and this will be a defensive war. The Spartans pull out a tight, defensive win. Spartans 65, Bucs 64.

Mercer at Samford
Time:8:00 PM
Viewing: ESPN3

Why it matters: The race for the six seed is less wide open than it was a week ago. The Bulldogs trail the Bears by one game in the standings. If Mercer gets the win, they will have swept this weekend (on a weekend that The Citadel got swept) and put themselves in position to really lock down the six seed. If Samford wins, they will be tied with Mercer and The Citadel will be right in the thick of the race as well. This is a very important game for these two teams.

Key Players: The Bears would like to get a big game out of Ross Cummings, who is playing such great basketball right now. With Ria’n Holland out, Cummings has been brilliant. They need him to be great again. The Bulldogs will continue to rely on Demetrius Denzel-Dyson. He is such a big part of what Samford does and he will need to come up huge in this one.

Prediction: The Bulldogs are at home. They are not as good as Mercer, though, and I expect Mercer to come up with the road win and really put some separation in the race for the six seed. Cummings and Stephon Jelks are playing good basketball and the Bears get the big road win. Bears 81, Bulldogs 78.