The current leader in the fourth bye spot is Samford. They are 5-4 in SoCon play. Sitting just one half game back is Appalachian State- they are 5-5. Sitting just one game behind the Mountaineers at 4-6 is Georgia Southern.
There are seven teams within two games of the final bye spot, and both of these are among them. Despite the fact that seven teams are within two games, just three games this week are between teams who are both in that position. One is UNCG at Furman on Thursday night. One is Western Carolina's trip to Georgia Southern on Saturday night. The other is this game.
In other words, this game is very important in the SoCon bye race. This game is criticala to the chances of either team getting the bye. In fact, if Samford loses to College of Charleston and Western Carolina loses to Davidson, if Appalachian State wins they would be in fourth in the bye race. If that happens and Georgia Southern wins, they would be within one half game of the final bye spot.
To say the least, this one is important.
Appalachian State beat Georgia Southern in overtime in Boone earlier this year, 64-62 thanks to a three by Chris Burgess with twelve seconds left. That was after blowing a seventeen point second half lead. But the fact is that the Mountaineers rely heavily on Nathan Healy. Healy leads the team in points with 14.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per contest. He is shooting 50% from the floor on the season, and on top of that is shooting 41.8% from three point distance, or 38 or 91 on the year. That's a remarkable season for Healy. He's ninth in the league in scoring and fourth in rebounding.
Jay Canty has also been very good. He is averaging 14.5 points per contest and 6.1 rebounds per game to go along with 2.9 assists per game. That is good for second on the team in every category. Canty has been a very good player for the Mountaineers so far this year.
Mike Neal's return really sparked Appalachian State. He is averaging 3.2 assists per game on the season. That would be good for eighth in the league if he qualified. Tab Hamilton has knocked down forty threes so far this year. He also is averaging 10.5 points per game on the year. Tevin Baskin (who only plays 20.5 minutes per game) is averaging 10.3 points per contest. The Mountaineers are one of the better teams in the league at blocking shots and defending the three point shot. Healy averages 1.5 blocks per game and Baskin averages 0.9 blocks.
Georgia Southern relies heavily on Eric Ferguson, a potential future NBA player. Ferguson is averaging 14.2 points per game and 7.0 rebounds per game. Ferguson is shooting 48.4% from the floor. He comes up with 1.8 steals per game and one block per contest. He is one of the better all around players in the SoCon.
CJ Reed was hot against Chattanooga on Saturday night. He made fifty percent of his shots in that one and scored a team high 19 points. He's made 45 threes on the year, shooting 38.8% from long range. He is averaging 12.4 points per game, three rebounds per game, and leads the team with 3.8 assists per contest.
Tre Bussey is the third Eagle averaging in double figures. He is averaging 10.1 points per contest. Cleon Roberts can also get hot from three point range, shooting 40.5% from there. Cameron Baskerville and Kameron Dunnican are both big guys that can alter shots, but don't bring a ton offensively. Actually, that kind of describes the Eagles. Georgia Southern is not a great offensive team and has a tendency to go through long stretches where they do not score. They are a very good defensive team, but just struggle to score at times throughout the year.
LEAD PIPE LOCK PREDICTIONS THAT ARE SURE TO GO WRONG
--Ferguson and Healy both will play very well. They are both hoping to make first team All SoCon, so their performance here could be important.
--The Mountaineers and Eagles both are solid defensive teams, and both are capable of going long stretches without scoring. Expect several long stretches without a lot of points.
--Look for a lot of blocks in this one as these two teams are two of the better shot blocking teams in the SoCon.
--Georgia Southern 57, Appalachian State 54. There won't be a ton of points, but there will be a ton of excitement. This game will be intense. The Eagles are a very good home team, having beaten College of Charleston and Davidson in Statesboro. That home court advantage will provide the final difference in the showdown. The Eagles are going to move into a tie with the Mountaineers in the standings and inch them closer to the fourth bye spot.