Friday, October 24, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: UAB

The Mocs will battle UAB just three days after playing Middle Tennessee. It will be another opponent from Conference USA and this one will be in McKenzie Arena and televised on the American Sports Network. This is the second biggest out of conference home game of the year for the Mocs, only behind Georgia. This is a game that the Mocs would certainly like to win before the holidays. After this game, there will just be one game left before the start of SoCon play (other than the game against The Citadel in early December).

The Blazers started off well last year, beating North Carolina. Then they fell on hard times, wound up just 7-9 in CUSA play and were generally a disappointment. But the Blazers have a high level of excitement surrounding the program after signing two of the best players in the state of Alabama in recruiting- William Lee and Lewis Sullivan. Lee is 6-9 and Sullivan is 6-7. The two forwards should be solid performers for the Blazers.

CJ Washington is a preseason All Conference USA player. He is a 6-8 senior. He was the Blazers second leading scorer a year ago with 13.0  points per game and also collected 6.9 rebounds per contest. Washington will be a key component to this year's team. Combine him with Lee and Sullivan, and the frontcourt will be a potentially dominant force for the Blazers this season.

Chad Frazier was dismissed from the team over the summer. He was expected to be the starting point guard. He has left a major void. There are three main players trying to win that spot. Nick Norton is a true freshman who started on the overseas trip and appeared to take control of the team. Denzel Watts played fifteen minutes a game last year. He was injured on the overseas trip, so the Blazers may be expected to play him. Denzel Collins has one year of eligibility remaining, but is a senior transfer and is expected to be a solid contributor. Hakeem Baxter is a big time scoring transfer from Maryland-Eastern Shore who may play some at point guard as well.

The Blazers will challenge the Mocs with their size down low, but with no experienced point guard, the Mocs may be able to present some challenges to UAB as well. They are also competing in the Battle 4 Atlantis event, but in the one where they actually go to the Bahamas. They will play Wisconsin in their opener down there.

This will be the Blazers first true road game of the year. They will play three games in the Bahamas, but their other eight games will all be at home. That could make for an interesting night in Chattanooga, especially if a big crowd turns out for the Mocs home game. The crowd will depend largely on how the Mocs are playing at that point in the season. This is going to be a tough game to win, but the Mocs can certainly make a battle of it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: Middle Tennessee

The Mocs will be playing a couple of Conference USA teams back-to-back following the Northern Kentucky game. Both will be televised by the American Sports Network. The first of those will be at Middle Tennessee, in a return trip for a game that never happened. The Mocs agreed to play a game at Middle Tennessee if the Blue Raiders would play in the Dr Pepper Classic a year ago. The Mocs were going to play Grand Canyon in the first game (a game the Mocs were expected to win and did). The Blue Raiders were playing Maine, a team even worse than Grand Canyon. They were expected to roll. They did not show up and the Bears pulled off the upset. That meant that the in-state battle between Chattanooga and Middle Tennessee in McKenzie Arena for the Dr Pepper Classic Championship never materialized and the Mocs had a return trip to Middle Tennessee all lined up. This is that return trip.

The Blue Raiders finished in a tie for the Conference USA championship a year ago with Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and Tulsa. Yes, that's a four way tie at 13-3. The Blue Raiders, however, lost their top four scorers from a year ago. Reggie Upshaw Jr is the lone returning starter from a year ago. He averaged 6.4 points per game as a freshman from Baylor in Chattanooga. Gavin Gibson also attended Baylor.  Jacquez Rozier may be one of the most important players on the team. At 6-7, 220 pounds, he averaged 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per game a year ago. Jaqawn Raymond is the leading returning scorer, averaging 6.5 points per contest.

JaQuel Richmond is a freshman from Greensboro that is expected to start as a true freshman this year at point guard. His development could be a major key to this season and to this game in particular. As I've talked about in previous previews, good guard play can sometimes stop the Mocs pressure defense. Richmond will be a true freshman facing the defense.

The Blue Raiders schedule is not easy. They play Murray State, Cincinnati, either Ole Miss or Creighton, Belmont, Akron and Oklahoma State before taking on the Mocs, along with a host of other teams. This team will be battle tested by the time the Mocs play them. Of course, the Mocs will have already played Wisconsin, Butler, Tennessee Tech and Georgia. Both teams will have learned a lot about themselves by this point.

The Mocs will be seeking to come up with a win that would be noted by the faithful of Chattanooga. Beating Middle Tennessee on the road will send a signal back to the hometown, even if Middle Tennessee is not as good as they have been in recent years. The Mocs will want to send that signal with this one before hosting another strong Conference USA school, UAB, three days after this one. This game will be a very important one for the Mocs.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: Northern Kentucky

The Mocs will be playing Northern Kentucky two full weeks after playing Georgia. In between, they will play Montreat (a non-D1) and travel to The Citadel to open SoCon play. It is a full five days after playing The Citadel. The Mocs were beaten down by Northern Kentucky last year without Z Mason. They will be without Z Mason in this one as well, of course. Martynas Bareika had a massive game for the Mocs.

Northern Kentucky was partially let out of purgatory this offseason, when it was announced that they will be allowed to participate in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament this offseason. They were hoping to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament as well, but that was not granted.

While the Mocs do not come in with a ton of experience this year, Northern Kentucky has loads of experience. In reality, the Norse have six starters returning. Chad Jackson elected to redshirt last year so that he would possibly be able to participate in postseason play this season. He averaged 10.1 points per game two years ago. He joins the other five returning starters for the Norse. Tyler White and Jordan Jackson both averaged in double figures a year ago.

The three tallest players on the Norse roster are 6-7. Cole Murray and Jake Giesler are two of those, and they each started a handful of games a year ago. The other player is one the Mocs are familiar with- Jared Bryant. Bryant was a part of the last two Shulman coached Mocs teams. Jalen Billups is the team's leading returning rebounder, as he averaged 5.2 per game a year ago. He is 6-6, 240 pounds. He is a lot like Z Mason, in some ways- undersized, but good at blocking shots (coming up with 32 a year ago), rebounding and heart.

Northern Kentucky was picked to finish fifth in the preseason Atlantic Sun polls by the media and the coaches. That means they were picked one spot ahead of Kennesaw State. The Mocs will have a good idea where they are after they play Kennesaw State a couple of weeks before this. This is a match-up that could present some problems for the Mocs, because the guard oriented teams can present problems with the pressure defense. Then again, the Mocs are getting a little longer each year and that will just present more and more problems for teams like this one.

The Mocs will like to prove that last year was a fluke when they lost to Northern Kentucky. It was really after that game that the Mocs began playing substantially better. At this point, we will have a pretty good idea where the Mocs stand in the out of conference portion of their schedule. The new guys should be starting to gel at this point and this should be a game that the Mocs play well in. Of course, the game that the Mocs need to play the best in is the game against The Citadel on the Thursday before this one, because that game will stick with you in March. This one should be an interesting battle. At home, the Mocs will be favored, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: Georgia

The Mocs seventh out of conference D1 opponent will be the most anticipated home game of the year. Georgia comes to McKenzie Arena to take on the Mocs. While Georgia is not one of the top names in the country in college basketball, they certainly should draw a crowd, particularly if the Mocs are off to a good start. This game is on a Tuesday night in early December- not exactly an ideal time to get a big crowd. But knowing how Coach Wade has energized the community to come out in the past, my bet is that a pretty good crowd shows up for a Tuesday in December.

Georgia finished second in the SEC a year ago, though they missed the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs struggled out of conference, going 8-8 in non-SEC regular season games. The Bulldogs return a lot of players off of last year's team and look to build on it this year. They will need to perform well out of conference this year, because there are wins for the taking in the SEC. Another 12-6 SEC season needs to be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament this time around. Georgia will be coming off the Preseason NIT. They will have just wrapped up playing Gonzaga and either Minnesota or St. John's in New York. They will also have played Georgia Tech. That makes for a difficult start to their schedule. Will Georgia be prepared for this one after playing in Madison Square Garden? They may be a little bit emotionally down.

Georgia will be relying on the backcourt. Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines are juniors starting at the guard spots. Mann is 6-5 and scored13.9 points per game and 4.2 rebounds per contest, not to mention 2.9 assists. Gaines is 6-3 averaged 13.0 points per game and shot 37.5% from three point range. This is a talented set in the backcourt that will present problems for lots of teams. They are not small, and they score relatively easily.

Marcus Thornton is 6-8 and provided an interior defensive presence. He is athletic and very talented. He averaged 6.1 rebounds per contest a year ago. He also scored 8.3 points per game. Thornton is the most important part of the Bulldogs interior game. Yante Maten is a freshman who could have signed with Indiana or Michigan State, but chose Georgia. He could certainly step in immediately and be a major impact.

The Mocs actually can come close to matching Georgia's size but can't match the Bulldogs athleticism. Georgia has solid guards and may be able to handle the Mocs pressure defense. Still, if the Mocs have come together at that point and can start playing well together, a home date with Georgia could have McKenzie Arena rocking. Can the Mocs contend? Sure can. This will be one of the biggest games for the Mocs this year. Big night. Seems like a game the Mocs pull the upset in, but we'll all know a lot more after watching them play in the Preseason NIT.

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 Wilson will be immediately eligible. He is transferring from Memphis and petitioned to be allowed to play right away, and it was granted. Wilson 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.....