It’s Time To Overreact…Again

I overreacted to the first set of games on Friday night. Now, every team (except for UNCG) has played at least one more game, so it’s time to react/overreact again. Here’s five quick thoughts on what we’ve been watching since Friday night.

That’s 4-4 vs. D1 competition since Friday

I was not kind to the SoCon teams on Friday night after an 0-8 showing against D1 competition. Since then, the SoCon has played eight more games against teams from the top level of college basketball, and gone a very respectable 4-4. The wins came against Alabama A&M, Savannah State, Jackson State, and Elon, not exactly a Who’s Who of college basketball powerhouses. The losses were to Virginia Tech, UAB, Cincinnati, and Duquesne. In other words, the SoCon teams won the four games they should have won and lost the four games they should have lost. Couple that with the now 4-0 record vs. non-D1 teams, and the conference is right about where it was expected to be.

Tariq Simmons is the best freshman so far.

I spoke highly of Simmons after his performance against Oglethorpe, and I will again after what The Citadel freshman did against Virginia Tech. Yes, I know that the Bulldogs style lends itself to high scoring totals and can make it misleading. But if you’ve watched The Citadel play, you’ll notice Simmons out there making plays. Maybe he hits a wall at some point, but right now, Simmons deserves a lot of credit.

Mercer, Furman, Samford…that’s more like it.

If Mercer, Furman and Samford are the conference favorites (and UNCG may have something to say about that), they have played like it since Friday night. Furman was fine on Friday playing a non-D1, but Samford was dreadful in their loss to Arkansas. Mercer had a bad ten minute stretch against UCF and lost because of it. But since then, Mercer dominated a non-D1 and then blew by Jackson State tonight. The Bears have looked very good, and while they probably do not deserve to be the preseason favorite like the coaches made them, they have looked like they belong in the conversation. Ria’n Holland has been shooting very well, knocking down 13 of 21 shots in the two wins. They have, as a team, shot over 50% in both games. Furman has the best win in the SoCon over a pretty good Elon team. Devin Sibley did not look great in the first half, but got 16 in the second half to propel the Paladins to the win. This team needs Matt Rafferty to be good. He has been so far. For Samford, their win over Alabama A&M was good, but Wyatt Walker needs to stay on the floor. He finished with a team high 14 points, but fouled out, playing just twenty minutes. He makes the Bulldogs so much better when he is on the floor. The Bulldogs are counting on him.

Inconsistency mars Chattanooga.

The Mocs hung around with a pretty good Wyoming team on Friday night, but were completely dismantled by a UAB that shouldn’t be much better than the Cowboys. When you are a team as young as Chattanooga, there are going to be nights like that. UAB packed it into the lane and forced the Mocs to shoot over them and dominated the young guys physically. That’s not the last night that will happen to Chattanooga this year. The question is if there will be more nights like Friday or like Monday.

ETSU out of sorts again, but gets the win.

The Bucs did not look great at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half against Northern Kentucky. They lost. On Monday, they played really well at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half against Savannah State. They won. I have to believe that the Bucs do not want to rely on Devontavius Payne to score 28 points every night to get the win. The Bucs have not looked particularly good this year yet. Yes, they are 1-1. But they have a bunch of newcomers and should improve as the year goes on. But there has been very little flash of greatness from these Bucs yet. Still, a 16 point win on the road is a 16 point win on the road. Now, the Bucs go to Kentucky on Friday night. Can they upset the young Cats?

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5 Quick Opening Night Thoughts

The SoCon opened their season on Friday night with all ten teams in action. It was…not a particularly good day, as the only wins were against non-D1 competition. Here are 5 thoughts on the first night of the season.

It wasn’t all bad.

The SoCon did not lose to a non-D1. Yes, Oglethorpe and Bob Jones are not exactly strong competition, but The Citadel and Furman won by an average of 44.5 points. That’s strong, even if the competition was not. Did we learn anything? Not really, but at least there wasn’t an embarrassing loss in there. The SoCon needs to not lose games like these, and through one night, no losses. Whew!

Only three teams lost by less than 18 points, raising some serious questions.

Of the games tonight, ETSU could have beaten Northern Kentucky. Samford could have upset Arkansas. Wofford could have beaten South Carolina as the Terriers opened their new home arena. Those three lost by an average of 26 points. Yes, 39 of those were Samford’s total no show at Arkansas. I know that can happen at an SEC team, but wow. For a team that everyone thinks is a real contender in the SoCon that was shocking. I actually thought Wofford would beat South Carolina at home- not even close. Wofford was totally outclassed by the Gamecocks. Then ETSU played well for a half but then completely collapsed in the second half against Northern Kentucky to lose by 18. Not a good look SoCon. Not a good look.

Mercer, UNCG and Chattanooga may provide some bright spots.

No one is going to mistake UCF for a national title contender, but Mercer did go on the road and play the Knights close for most of the night. They had a bad ten minute stretch where the game kind of got away from them, but the Bears only lost by nine. UNCG went to Virginia and showed that last year wasn’t really a fluke with a solid performance. They were not great offensively, but we’ve heard about the Cavaliers defense, right? A twelve point loss to open the year could have been worse. Chattanooga was expected to really struggle this year, but they hung around with a decent Wyoming team all night in Laramie, before falling by nine points. It will be interesting to see the Mocs develop, as they are obviously young, but showed real flashes of being a decent team tonight.

Tariq Simmons impresses.

Yes, it was Oglethorpe. But The Citadel freshman Tariq Simmons stood out in the opener. In the first half, he seemed to be doing everything. He wound up with 15 points, 8 assists and 4 steals. I was very impressed with his play. Of course, things get much more real against Virginia Tech on Sunday, but if Simmons is going to be a solid contributor with Zane Najdawi and Preston Parks, this team gets much more dangerous. Sorry if after one day I’m starting to buy into The Citadel a bit. I know- it was one game against Oglethorpe. But with the way the rest of the conference looked, it actually did feel like it might mean a bit more than usual. We’ve all got to see what happens at Virginia Tech on Sunday.

Western Carolina and VMI may be as bad as advertised.

Yes, this is probably a gross overreaction to one game. But Western Carolina still couldn’t shoot, making under 40% of their shots as a team and only one player (Brad’s choice Haboubacar Mutombo) got into double digits, and he just got 10. They turned the ball over twenty times. There are still major questions about the Catamounts offense, which is why they were picked to finish so low in conference play to begin with. That was a 28 point loss to Clemson. Sure, Clemson is an ACC team, but that wasn’t good looking basketball from Western Carolina. VMI was bad as well, losing by 35 to North Carolina State. The Keydets shot 36% from the floor, gave up 15 offensive rebounds and allowed the Wolfpack to shoot over 50%. VMI does not appear to be good. There was little doubt that they were going to struggle early in the year. They may improve as the season progresses with all of those young players. But they are far from being a good team right now.