The SoCon season opens on Thursday night, and Western Carolina will battle UNCG on that night.
That will tell us a lot about the importance of this game. If the Catamounts are going for 2-0, this will be a massive game. If they are going to avoid 0-2, this will be a massive game. So no matter what, this is a huge game. The Catamounts desperately need to come up with at least a split this weekend, while a 2-0 start would establish Western Carolina as possibly the SoCon favorites. An 0-2 start would put them in a big hole in the race for the SoCon title, and maybe create some trouble in the race for the bye.
In the mean time, Elon will be trying to start 1-0 in SoCon play. The Phoenix feel like this is their year to advance to the NCAA Tournament and they don't want anything to stand in their way. The Phoenix were dominated by Duke in their last game, and there are some questions about just how good Elon will be this year in the SoCon. They want to come out and establish early in SoCon play that they are the team to beat in the SoCon. This is an opportunity to do just that.
Western Carolina is lead by Trey Sumler, the reigning SoCon Player of the Week. He scored 40 his last time out against Milligan. Really, that just means, he's doing what he does. He is a scorer, and has been ever since he entered the league. He can score and score in bunches. He can drive the ball, but also shoots 43% from three point range. He is not a big guy, but he also leads the team in assists with 4.3 per game and rebounds at 4.6 per game. Yes, Sumler may be the most important player on any team in the SoCon, even if he is not the best player. If Western Carolina winds up finishing in the top two in the SoCon, it will be tough to deny Sumler the Player of the Year.
The Catamounts are not a big team, but you have to love the effort that Tawaski King shows. He is tied for the team lead in rebounds with Sumler at 4.6 per game. He only scores 6.7 points per game. However, it is his effort that guides this team, possibly even more than Sumler. The gameplan centers on Sumler- the heart centers on King.
Tom Tankelwicz has been another Catamount (like King) that I have really enjoyed watching the last couple of years. Tankelwicz is only shooting 38% from three point range this year, but he is critical to the team's success. They need him to shoot the ball effiiciently to give them the best chance to win the game.
Sebastian Koch and Tanner Samson are also very important players for the Phoenix. Samson has made 46 threes and is shooting 49.5% from three point range. Koch is shooting 43.6% from three point range and has made 41 on the year. When the Phoenix have the inside outside game working properly, they are very efficient offensively.
But there is something strange about this Elon team. While they are a reasonably big team for the SoCon, they rank 350th in the country in OR% out of 351 teams. They have not been a good offensive rebounding team for several years. I have a hard time getting behind a team that can't come up with offensive rebounds as a real contender. So this is a real flaw to me.
Sumler will step up and play big, but Elon is too big on the whole. I don't know if Elon will use their height to the full advantage that it should be against the Catamounts, but Troutman will score plenty and Samson and Koch will hit some threes. The Catamounts won't have quite enough to win this one in Cullowhee. Elon 74, Western Carolina 69.