Monday, October 20, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: Kennesaw State

This will be the Mocs sixth out of conference game against a D1 opponent. The Mocs will play on Wednesday and Thursday in Chattanooga in the Battle 4 Atlantis. Then, they will go to Kennesaw State and play on Saturday, just two days after Thanksgiving. This is a very difficult set up for the Mocs as they take on the Owls. These two teams have played some very interesting games in recent years, with the last four all going to the road team.

The Owls should be much improved this year. Jimmy Lallathin is the Owls new head coach and has the team up and ready to go. Seven of their top nine players from a year ago return, including their five leading scorers. This team finished dead last in the Atlantic Sun last year, but appear to be a team on the rise this year. An early home game against the Mocs will go a long way to determining just how good this team can be.

Delbert Love may be the Owls best player, averaging 12.6 points per game a season ago. Love was named to the preseason all Atlantic Sun team. He is one of the best players in the history of the program. But the most exciting news for the Owls was the recent news that Damien Lewis will be immediately eligible. He is transferring from Memphis and petitioned to be allowed to play right away, and it was granted. Lewis may be a stud in the making for this program.

Willy Kouassi was named the preseason Defensive Player of the Year for the Atlantic Sun. He had 35 blocks last year, while averaging 4.6 points and five rebounds per game. He will be one of the Owls expected to make an impact on that end of the floor.

The Owls will have played two SoCon teams before playing the Mocs. They will have gone to Mercer to play on November 19. They will host Samford on November 26. They will have played Syracuse, California, North Dakota State, the two SoCon schools and either Alcorn State or Hampton. This is a tough schedule for the Owls. This game will be a big test to find out just how good they are at this point in the year.

The Mocs will be in a somewhat similar position. Playing their third game in four days will be very difficult for this team. If the Mocs perform well in the Battle 4 Atlantis in Chattanooga, this will be a great test to see how they handle success. If they have struggled, this will be a way to find out how they respond to adversity. The Mocs are in the middle of an interesting stretch of four games in eight days against mid-major schools that can really show us how good the Mocs are at this point in the year. This is the final game for the Mocs. We'll see what happens here. This is a very interesting contest for the Mocs. It's important for the Mocs to come up with the win.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Tournament Previews with a SoCon Team Participating

All Military Classic
EMU Showcase
Great Alaska Shootout
Maui Invitational
Coaches vs. Cancer
CBE Hall of Fame Classic
Battle 4 Atlantis

Battle 4 Atlantis Preview

The Battle 4 Atlantis will be played on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and then on Thanksgiving Day. The SoCon team in the tournament is the Chattanooga Mocs. The tournament will be held in Chattanooga and will feature one of the better four team tournaments that a SoCon team is participating in. Robert Morris and Coastal Carolina both should finish up very near the top of their conferences, and UL-Monroe could easily be a top half contender in the Sun Belt. Of course, for those that know the SoCon, the Mocs are certainly expected to be near the top.

Yes, this tournament is going to be very interesting. It's too bad not too many people in Chattanooga will likely see it due to where it falls on the calendar.

Here's the schedule:

Wednesday, November 26
Robert Morris at Chattanooga- Noon
Coastal Carolina vs. UL-Monroe- 2:30 PM

Thursday, November 27
Consolation Game- Noon
Championship Game- 2:30 PM

Chattanooga will be relying heavily on Casey Jones and Rico White early in the year. The Mocs will be bringing in a bunch of new faces that are expected to make the Mocs better, but they might have a few struggles early in the year. What will Chuck Ester, Duke Ethridge, and Justin Tuoyo look like this early in the year? There's no telling from here. The Mocs will be at home and be looking to provide their season a boost early on. The Mocs pressure defense could cause a lot of problems for other teams in this field. The Mocs are deeper this year and that should help them as they run their system.

Robert Morris is also breaking in a lot of new faces, but  Lucky Taylor is their constant. The Colonials are a good mid-major and are going to be relying on Stephan Hawkins to continue his development. This team went 14-2 last year in the NEC before falling in an upset in the conference tournament. They will hoping that Marcquise Reed and Elijah Minnie step right in and make a huge impact on the team. They should be able to do that. Whether or not the Colonials can step in and win two games in Chattanooga is a very interesting question.

Coastal Carolina won the Big South a year ago, and are favored to do so again. The Chanticleers will be depending on Elijah Wilson and Warren Gillis to have a big year. Josh Cameron is a hot three point shooter. Shivaughn Wiggins is eligible and should be starting at point guard. This team has what is probably the most talented team in the Big South and a team that might be the favorite in Chattanooga in this field. This may be one of the better mid-majors in the country this year. They will be a very difficult team to beat by anyone in this field.

UL-Monroe has been trying to put it together for several years and just hasn't been able to, but this is the best Warhawks team in years. Tylor Ongwae averaged 16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per game a year ago. Nick Coppola is another key player. This team is probably the underdog in Chattanooga, but they are also a team that could easily find a win or two because this is a team that is really hoping to prove themselves on this stage.

This should be a great tournament with four competitive games. Coastal Carolina should beat UL-Monroe in the opener. I think Chattanooga slips by Robert Morris in the other first round game. That will leave the Colonials and the Warhawks, and for now, I'll take Robert Morris to beat UL-Monroe. The Mocs taking on the Chanticleers on Thanksgiving in the middle of the day? That should be a great game and I'm not sure who wins. I'll take the Mocs for now, despite the fact that I don't feel great about the pick. The home court advantage that I am counting on may not be in full effect due to Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: Coastal Carolina

The Mocs would only play Coastal Carolina if both teams wound up having the same result in their first game in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Chattanooga. The game would be the Mocs fifth D1 out of conference opponent and this game would take place on Thanksgiving Day at either noon or 2:30 depending on the first game result.

The Chanticleers went to the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and appear primed for another run at the Big South title. They host the Big South Tournament the next two years in Myrtle Beach. This is a very talented team who won 21 games a year ago. Warren Gillis was the Big South Tournament MVP and averaged  14.7 points per game a year ago. While John Brown (at High Point) is pretty clearly the best player in the Big South, Gillis could certainly be the second best. Elijah Wilson was on the All Freshman team and averaged 15.8 points per game a year ago. Josh Cameron is a streaky three point shooter. Shivaughn Wiggins is a transfer point guard that should step in and be a very good immediately. Marcus Freeman is a junior college transfer and at 6-8 may be the key to the entire roster as he will be the man in the middle. Badou Diagne averaged 6.5 rebounds per game a year ago.

This team may certainly be the best team in this tournament. The Chanticleers are probably the best team in the Big South. They are favored to win their conference, while Robert Morris and Chattanooga are just predicted near the top and UL-Monroe is a middle of the pack team in their conference. That probably makes Coastal Carolina the early favorite in this tournament.

Of course, the Mocs are at home, despite the fact that this will be played on Thanksgiving Day and could easily be a quiet home game. That will make it more difficult for the Mocs to win this game. The Big South is a very evenly matched conference top to bottom, but Coastal Carolina is still the favorite, especially with the tournament on their home court.

If the Mocs play Coastal Carolina, this will be a quality opponent on their schedule. I am hoping that this winds up being one of the Mocs opponents, because it will add the SOS and get the Mocs a quality win or loss, depending on the result.

Thanksgiving could be spent WORSE ways, I suppose.....

Friday, October 17, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: UL-Monroe

The Mocs will face UL-Monroe if both Chattanooga and the Warhawks have the same result in their first game in the Battle 4 Atlantis in McKenzie Arena. This would be the fifth game against D1 teams out of conference for the Mocs if they wind up matching up. This game would be played on Thanksgiving Day, at noon if they both lost on Wednesday and at 2:30 if they both won.

The Warhawks are coming off a 10-17 season, which saw them win seven Sun Belt games. Those seven conference wins matched their total from the previous three years combined. However, this appears to be the best ULM team in quite a while. They are returning four starters. The biggest returning player is Tylor Ongwae. The Sun Belt is returning just four of the fifteen All-SBC selections, and Ongwae is one of those four. He averaged 16.2 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest.

Nick Coppola may be one of the keys to the season for ULM. He averaged 6.9 points per game and over three assists per contest. Marvin Williams is a 6-8 senior center, and he averaged over 8 points per contest a year ago. Justin Roberson is a junior college transfer. At 6-1, he can score, rebound, pass the ball, and play great defense. He has tremendous athletic ability as well.

This ULM team is going to be halfway decent. This is the sort of team the Mocs should beat at home though. If the two teams match-up, the Mocs will be expected to win. That being said, the Warhawks have lots of experience, and the Mocs don't have a ton of it. Early in the year, on a quiet midday Thanksgiving game, the Mocs may not show up ready to play. There may be a lack of energy. The Mocs are going to have show up with energy to beat this team.

The Warhawks are unlikely to win the Sun Belt, but they could finish in the upper division of the conference. This game would be an OK win for the Mocs. It will be interesting to see who wins the Coastal Carolina and ULM game on Wednesday afternoon at 2:30. ULM will be the underdog in that contest. In fact, the Warhawks are likely the underdog against any of the three teams in this field. This tournament will be a chance for them to prove that they are better than expected.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

CBE Hall of Fame Classic Preview

The sub-host of the CBE Hall of Fame Classic will be held in Rochester, Michigan, home of the Oakland Grizzlies. From Monday, November 24 through Wednesday, November 26, four teams will play a round robin against each in the blustery Michigan. Western Carolina is the SoCon representative in this tournament. While the Catamounts advanced to the SoCon Championship Game a year ago and have been a quality program in recent years, there is a lot of rebuilding going on.

Below is the schedule:

Monday, November 24
Chicago State vs. Georgia State, 4:30 PM
Western Carolina at Oakland, 7:00 PM

Tuesday, November 25
Georgia State vs. Western Carolina, 4:30 PM
Chicago State at Oakland, 7:00 PM

Wednesday, November 26
Chicago State vs. Western Carolina, 4:30 PM
Georgia State at Oakland, 7:00 PM

The Catamounts will be relying heavily on James Sinclair this year, who burst onto the scene a season ago. This is a program that needs to prove it can sustain the gains that they have made in the  last several years. With Trey Sumler, Tawaski King and Tom Tankelwicz all gone from the roster, this team is replacing a lot. This is a tough field to prove themselves against. The Catamounts will be trying to show that they have not fallen off that far in this very early part of the season.

The Oakland Grizzlies are a Horizon League team hoping to bounce back after a mediocre campaign a year ago. Transfer Max Hooper will look to guide the Griz back on track. He is a shooter and can be a big time scorer. Corey Petros will be a difficult player to handle in the post. The Freshman of the Year Kahlil Felder will be looking to improve on a year where he lead the league in assists. This Oakland team has a chance to move up and be a solid bunch in the Horizon League this year.

Oh, the wacky WAC! Chicago State is the representative from that conference. The Cougars are replacing four starters. Senior Clarke Rosenberg is the lone returning starter, and he is a good one, averaging 14.0 points per game a year ago. Still, this is not a great team. Rosenberg and an influx of junior college transfers will be expected to carry the load.

The Georgia State Panthers are on the rise. This is a team that came up a point shy of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, despite finishing five games ahead of their closest competition in the Sun Belt. RJ Hunter and Ryan Harrow may be the two best players in the whole league, and both are on the Panthers roster. The famous Kevin Ware (he's famous for breaking his leg in gruesome fashion in the Elite Eight) may come in and be the third best player in the Sun Belt. This program may well spend some quality time in the Top 25 this year.

On the whole, it is difficult to see Georgia State losing a game in this bracket. In fact, they may well win their "un-bracketed" game against Iowa State. The Panthers are significantly better than any other team in this bracket. Personally, I don't know how it works out, but I think the other three teams split with each other and all wind up 1-2 in tournament play, with Georgia State dominating and going 3-0. That does mean that Oakland will be 1-1 with a shot at splitting the title with Georgia State heading into the final game. But still, this will not be close. Georgia State probably wins all three games by double digits. The other three teams are all so close to equal. Expect some really tight games in the rest of the games, and some good experience gained for the Catamounts in end game, close game situations.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coaches vs. Cancer Preview

The Coaches vs. Cancer Classic has multiple host locations. This year, one of those sites is Fairfield, Connecticut, home of the Fairfield Stags. It is a round robin format, featuring four teams all playing the other three teams in a three day span. They will play on Friday, November 21 through Sunday, November 23. The SoCon rep in this field is Wofford, the favorite to win the conference in the preseason. The SoCon could really use a solid showing from one of their best teams in this field against a solid overall group of teams. Below is the schedule:

Friday, November 21
Wofford at Fairfield, 7:00 PM
Sam Houston State vs. South Dakota, 9:30 PM

Saturday, November 22
South Dakota vs. Wofford, 5:00 PM
Sam Houston State at Fairfield, 7:30 PM

Sunday, November 23
Wofford vs. Sam Houston State, 12:00 PM
South Dakota at Fairfield, 2:30 PM

Wofford is the team to beat in the SoCon and have won the conference three times in the last five years. They have Karl Cochran, the preseason favorite to win the SoCon Player of the Year, and Spencer Collins. The two talented guards both shoot high volumes of shots to score their points. When they are efficient, this team is very difficult to beat. They also have Lee Skinner, who is the heart and soul of the team at forward. He can sometimes disappear for long stretches, though. Eric Garcia is another very talented player the Terriers will be relying on. This team can certainly win this tournament.

Fairfield struggled mightily last year and lost their leading scorer. But they return eleven players from a year ago and they will need to count on that experience to improve. These games are at home for the Stags, so there is an expectation that they will succeed, but they are a team still trying to learn to win. Marcus Gilbert and KJ Rose will be the two most important players on the team more than likely. This team will be looking to build on seven wins last year. They have a tough road, hosting Wofford in the first game. If the Stags get the win in that one, they could certainly come up with a tournament win.

Sam Houston State is a very good team in the Southland Conference, even if they are not as good as Stephen F. Austin. This Bearkats team returns four starters from a team that won 24 games a year ago. Jabari Peters, Kaheem Ransom, Paul Baxter and Michael Holyfield are the backbone of a team expected to make a real run at the Southland title. Sean Goodwin is a junior college transfer and could be a critical piece to the puzzle. The Bearkats have a real shot to run this tournament undefeated.

South Dakota is bringing back Brandon Bos, one of the best three point shooters in the Summit League. They have a new coach however. Craig Smith comes off the bench from Nebraska and will be head guy for the Coyotes. They won just twelve games a year ago, but Smith is bringing a change and some optimism to the Coyotes. This tournament will be the first test of where that optimism comes from. We shall see what develops.

In my opinion, there are two teams clearly better than the rest in this tournament- Sam Houston State and Wofford. South Dakota and Fairfield are a step behind. I think Fairfield has the edge of being at home in this tournament and would beat South Dakota. They may pull off an upset against one of the other two teams. I think the 12:00 game on Sunday between Wofford and Sam Houston State is likely to determine which team wins the tournament. I'll say both are 2-0 heading into that game and that South Dakota and Fairfield are each 0-2. The Stags beat the Coyotes, and the Terriers will slip by the Bearkate so the Terriers go 3-0, making this a big weekend for the SoCon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Maui Invitational Preview

On the Wednesday, November 21, and Thursday, November 22, in Little Rock, Arkansas, Maui on the Mainland will take place.

First round game
Samford vs. Cal State-Northridge
UMKC vs. UALR

It will feature one SoCon team, Samford. The Bulldogs are a brand new team this year. They are a team that will be picked near the bottom of the SoCon in the preseason. However, they will be implementing a pressure defense (the scores of the VMI, Chattanooga and Samford games should be outrageous), and could be a surprise. Tyler Hood should be the best player. Christen Cunningham appears to be a talented freshman and Darius Jones-Gibson could be good as well. This will be an interesting season. This will be a huge test for the Bulldogs in this tournament to see if they are going to overachieve this year or not.

The Matadors of Cal State-Northridge may well be a contender in the Big West. They have two senior forwards, Stephen Maxwell and Stephan Hicks. Those two averaged 17.5 and 17.2 points and 8.8 and 6.8 boards per game. In other words, they are two of the top players in the Big West and will be two of the top players in this tournament. There will be two big guys trying to play with them- Tre Hale-Edmerson and Kevin Johnson. The Matadors are a big team and will be a challenge to face in this tournament for any team.

UALR returns JT Thomas from injury. DeVonte Thomas lead the Sun Belt in assist-to-turnover ratio last year. Josh Hagins and James White each averaged in double digits last year. Roger Woods is a junior college transfer who should be a dynamic scorer. The Trojans went 15-17 a year ago, but look like a team in line for a major move forward in the Sun Belt. This tournament is on their home floor. A good showing would go a long way to proving that they are on the move. It's time for them to prove it.

The UMKC Kangaroos are in their second year under Kareem Richardson. It's hard to believe, but Richardson has recruited everyone on the roster except for one. This team is dangerous thanks to returning Freshman of the Year Martez Harrison. Reese Holliday and Shayok Shayok were transfers a year ago but get to play this year. This team has a chance to make a major jump in the WAC, but are likely still a year away under Richardson. That being said, a couple of upsets here would work wonders for this team's confidence.

This is set up for UALR and Cal State-Northridge to meet in the championship game. I have little doubt that those are the two teams that will survive to meet up in that game. I also think UMKC will beat Samford in the third place game. I believe that Cal State-Northridge will pull off the road win in the championship game.

Samford will not come away with a win but they will likely keep the third place game very close against UMKC. Samford is a year behind UMKC right now. All those transfers will have a major impact. No Tim Williams. No Isaiah Williams. This team will have problems, but will likely be a little better by the time SoCon play rolls around.  But Samford will not have it together yet by this point, though.