Saturday, January 31, 2015

SoCon Reviews: January 31

Wofford 49, Mercer 46

Player of the Game: Lee Skinner scored 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting from the floor.  He also had six rebounds, three of them offensive. He also had two assists. On a night when no one had a big offensive night, Skinner had a solid all around game.

Stat of the Game: Four turnovers for Wofford. The Terriers somehow managed to commit just four turnovers. While the game was awful offensively, the Terriers protected the ball, which was crucial. If you are going to shoot 35.7% from the floor, not committing turnovers at least gives you more opportunities to score.

What It All Means: After I said in the previews that this would be a showdown of impressive, efficient offenses, these two teams turned in brilliant defensive performances. Of course, the two teams combined for just thirteen turnovers. For Mercer, they got the split they needed this week. They beat Chattanooga and lost to Wofford, both in great games. Mercer goes to The Citadel and Furman this week. The Bears still have a chance at the SoCon regular season title, but they definitely need some help now as they sit two games behind Wofford. They probably can not afford another loss. Only Ike Nwamu got to double digits with ten points in this one. They have to get more offensive production to win, but this was a throw back to out of conference for them. They were great on the defensive end, but struggled offensively. For Wofford, the Terriers have gained firm control of first place in the SoCon. Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins combined to shoot 8 of 27 from the floor and 17 points, and yet the Terriers won. That would have not happened a  year ago. Wofford has won five straight games. This week is going to be tough. The Terriers go to ETSU and VMI this week. It is a massively important week for Wofford. We'll see what happens here.

Western Carolina 78, UNCG 73

Player of the Game: There are several to choose from for Western Carolina, but I'll go with Mike Brown. Brown scored 12 points but also had thirteen rebounds, an assist, a block and three steals. He made 6 of 13 from the floor. Brown has really come on recently for the Catamounts and has made a big difference in this team's performance.

Stat of the Game: The Catamounts turned the ball over just seven times, and UNCG turned it over fourteen. Tevon Saddler turned the ball over seven times all by himself for the Spartans. That made a huge difference in who won this contest.

What It All Means: For UNCG, things are looking darker and darker. They are now in last place in the conference and it is difficult to find games to win. They played better defensively against the Catamounts in some respects, but did not force turnovers. This team has the talent to put a run together at some point, but when is that point? They have just one home game in their next five games, and that is against ETSU, who will be looking to avenge the loss in Johnson City. Their final three are at home against Furman, Samford and Chattanooga. By then, who needs where this team's head will be? The Catamounts did what they needed to do and now are in much better shape in regard to the bye. They sit in the fifth spot and are now up by one and a half games on the six spot and a full two games on the seventh spot. That is good shape if you are trying to get a bye. They are tied with ETSU for the fourth spot, though the only difference in fourth and fifth is which team wears white in the quarterfinals. Western Carolina has developed more weapons as the season has gone on. Mike Brown is showing vast improvement. James Sinclair and Rhett Harrelson have been good throughout the year and Torrion Brummitt has been solid. This team won two big road games this week against VMI and UNCG. Next week, they host Samford and Chattanooga.

Chattanooga 78, The Citadel 73

Player of the Game: Casey Jones scored 23 points on 10 of 16 shooting. He had two rebounds and two assists, while also coming up with three blocked shots. Jones scored 19 points in the first half when the Mocs jumped out to a big lead. He was not as good in the second half, but Jones really had a solid week, scoring 24 against Mercer and 23 tonight.

Stat of the Game: Chattanooga made 20 of 26 from the free throw line and The Citadel made 12 of 15 from the charity stripe. The eight additional made free throws really were important in helping the Mocs come up with the win.

What It All Means: The final score does not truly indicate how well the Mocs played. The Mocs were up 17 at halftime, and were up double digits most of the second half. The Citadel made a three at the buzzer to trim the final score to five. Still, for The Citadel, this loss leaves them at 3-7 in SoCon play and their defense continues to struggle mightily. They are just one game out of the final bye spot in the conference race, but also just up one game on last place. So they are downright complicated. Since beating Wofford, the Bulldogs have lost four straight games. They host Mercer and UNCG next weekend. Those two home games give them a chance to right the ship a bit. For the Mocs, the defense has now struggled in consecutive games and it may be time to start asking some questions about it. This is the second straight game a team shot over 50% against them. Still, after tonight's game, the Mocs are back alone in second place in the conference and in a position to make a run at the regular season title. With games at Furman and Western Carolina next week, we'll know much more about where the Mocs are heading in the conference race after that.

Samford 68, Furman 58

Player of the Game: Darius Jones-Gibson scored 19 points while having six assists, four rebounds and three steals. He made 6 of 11 from the floor. He did really struggle from the free throw line. He made 7 of 15 from there. Still, Jones-Gibson was very good.

Stat of the Game: Furman had 17 turnovers and Samford had 8 turnovers. That was a critical difference. The Samford pressure defense really bothered Furman and gave the Bulldogs the win.

What It All Means: The Paladins find themselves still in the final bye of the SoCon Tournament spot. But things just got a lot tighter. They are up just one half game on VMI and they are up just one game on The Citadel and just one and a half on Samford now. Things are certainly tight. Stephen Croone played fabulous, but Kris Acox and Kendrec Ferrara combined for four points and Geoff Beans and Devin Sibley combined so to shoot 3 of 12 from the floor. That's not good for the Paladins. They have two huge home games next weekend against Chattanooga and Mercer. For Samford, that is now three straight wins. They are now out of last place in the SoCon and possibly in position to make a run at the final bye. They have just two home games in their last seven though. But they are playing with more confidence now. Can the Bulldogs start winning away from home? They go to Western Carolina and ETSU next week. If the Bulldogs can somehow come up with a split or better, they will really thrust themselves into the bye discussion. This team needs to keep on winning now that they are heading away from home. All along it was obvious that Samford was not as bad as their record indicated. Their record is beginning to come closer to matching.

Friday, January 30, 2015

SoCon Previews: January 31

There will be no full preview of ETSU-North Carolina Central. However, I'll sum up. ETSU is desperate for a win after Thursday's disappointing loss. Coming home, the Bucs find a way to pull off the mild upset and give the SoCon a really important win.

Game of the Day: Mercer at Wofford (7:00)

What's The Story: The Bears win over Chattanooga on Thursday night made this game even more important. The winner will be in first place in the SoCon ten games into the conference schedule. If Mercer wins, they will be tied with Wofford (and possibly Chattanooga) at 8-2 and own the tiebreakers. If Wofford wins, they will be alone in first place at 9-1. These are clearly two of the top three teams in the conference. It is also the two teams from the conference that were both in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. This one should be very exciting.

Match-up: Ike Nwamu, Darious Moten and Phillip Leonard all played great for Mercer on Thursday night. They will need to be on their game again. Karl Cochran, Lee Skinner and Spencer Collins all also performed well for Wofford on Thursday. Mercer and Wofford are two of the more deliberate offenses in the conference.  This will be a battle of the wills, as each team will try to be more patient than the other one on the offensive end and create opportunities for themselves. These two teams rank first and second in the conference in offensive efficiency per Pomeroy. Neither team scores a ton, but their work on the offensive end is impressive.

Prediction: Expect this game to be as impressive of a display of good patient offense as you will see. The plays will be crisp and the offense will look good. These are two good teams. They will battle it out until the end. Since Wofford lost to The Citadel, they have won their four games by an average of 17 points per game. Prior to that in conference play, they were winning games by 5.5 points per game. It is hard to imagine Mercer walking into Wofford and coming up with the win, particularly after the emotional win on Thursday night against Chattanooga that required five extra minutes. Mercer can beat Wofford and when they play on February 26 in Macon, the Bears well may win. But not this night. Cochran makes a few plays in the final two minutes to seal the deal. Terriers 70, Bears 65.

Western Carolina at UNCG (5:00)

What's The Story: With ETSU currently going through what feels like a free fall, it is Western Carolina that is reaping some of the benefits. It has been the Catamounts sitting in the fifth spot in the conference standings, trying to fight off other teams contending for a bye. If Western Carolina wins this one, they move into a tie for fourth with ETSU in the conference standings. UNCG is in a different position. The Spartans are down just two games on Furman, who is in the sixth spot. However, they sit just a half game out of last place in the conference. The Spartans have shown momentary flashes of life in the last two games against Chattanooga and Wofford, but need to put a full game together here or risk falling into last place.

Match-up: Torrion Brummitt in the paint against RJ White and Kayel Locke should be plenty good enough to pay for admission. Can the Spartans possibly avoid fouling in this one? That has not been their strong suit this year. Ironically, they are playing the only team that has fouled at a higher rate in SoCon play in this one in Western Carolina. In other words, this could turn into a bit of a free throw contest and take upwards of two and a half hours to play. UNCG is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country, so that may not bode well for them. James Sinclair and Mike Brown both had big games on Thursday night. Brown scored 27 when Western Carolina beat UNCG by ten earlier in the year. White scored 22 for the Spartans. Tevon Saddler and James Sinclair both did not play the last time these two met. Which one of those players performs at a higher level may determine the victor in this one.

Prediction: Western Carolina is a tough team to figure out. They beat Mercer, then lose to Samford then win at VMI in their last three games. Can the Catamounts win in Greensboro? Well, only one D1 team has come away with a loss in Greensboro this year and that was VMI. The Spartans are mind boggling 1-10 against D1 teams since beating ETSU in Johnson City. Still, call me crazy. But I think that the Spartans have one game in them before another long losing streak ensues. Western Carolina is just up and down enough to take their eye off the ball in this one. White and Locke each score 15, while Saddler puts home 20 as the Spartans jump out to an early lead and then hold on for dear life at the end. Spartans 78, Catamounts 77.

The Citadel at Chattanooga (6:00)

What's The Story: The Citadel is just one game out of the final bye spot that Furman currently holds. The Bulldogs lost by 19 to Chattanooga in Charleston, but are playing much better basketball right now. How much better? We may be about to find out. They need to come up with a solid showing. A win would certainly help their cause as they try to get into position to earn one of the SoCon byes. For Chattanooga, the heartbreaking loss to Mercer on Thursday was a set back, but a win here basically would put them right back on solid footing. If the Mocs win and Wofford beats Mercer, then the Mocs would be right back ahead of Mercer and down one game on Wofford and in second place. If the Mocs win and Mercer beats Wofford, then the Mocs would be in a three way tie for the league lead (one they would lose both tiebreakers in and be the current third seed). Either way, a Mocs win has them in decent shape despite the loss Thursday night. Not letting one loss turn into two is very important for this club.

Match-up: The first time these two teams played, the Mocs dominated the glass and shot a very high percentage from the field and the three point line. Justin Tuoyo had fourteen points and nine rebounds. For The Citadel, PJ Horgan had 17 points and nine rebounds. Their match-up in the paint is very important. The Bulldogs need to claim a draw in that match-up. Tuoyo was not good against Mercer on Thursday night. Of course, the first time around, Casey Jones scored just two points. Will that happen again? The Citadel needs a big shooting night from Ashton Moore. The Bulldogs have one of the worst defenses in the conference, while the Mocs have the second best.

Prediction: It's interesting. Tuoyo was awful on Thursday and Jones was awful the first time around against The Citadel. It's hard to imagine either of those happening again. If neither of those two things happen, it is hard to come up with a way that The Citadel wins. The Bulldogs have won just one conference road game- an overtime win over UNCG. It's hard to imagine that they get their second one in Chattanooga on Saturday night. If Chattanooga comes out focused, they win. Mocs 72, Bulldogs 61.

Furman at Samford (8:00)

What's The Story: Let the chase begin. Samford is currently in last place in the SoCon, but has won back-to-back games. After Furman's upset of ETSU on Thursday, the Paladins sit alone in sixth place, and tied in the loss column for fourth place. The Bulldogs are just two and a half games behind the Paladins. A Samford win here gets them right back into the race for the sixth spot and the final bye. In some ways, winning their last two games has simply made this one more important for the Bulldogs. For the Paladins, a win here would help them prove where they stand in the SoCon race, and close the gap to one half game on the fourth spot in the SoCon race. This game is as important as they come in the battle for seeding.

Match-up: For the first time all year, Furman has won consecutive games. Of course, one was against non-D1 Allen, so does that even count? Regardless, Stephen Croone is a special talent for the Paladins and is a nightmare for any team to try to guard. He scored 33 in Furman's ten point win over the Bulldogs in December. Samford will be throwing Christen Cunningham and Darius Jones-Gibson at him. Those two are each solid newcomers and contributors. Speaking of newcomers, Furman has three freshman in Geoff Beans (who scored 21 against Samford in the earlier meeting), Devin Sibley and Daniel Fowler that are all contributing. Samford loves their pressure defense, and Furman has had trouble with turnovers at times this year. These are two teams on their way up in the league right now. Watching them go at it for 40 minutes on Saturday night is actually going to be pretty much fun.

Prediction: Samford, if they want a bye, is in must win mode. Not only are they two and a half games behind Furman, but they have just two homes left after this one and five road games. A loss here basically ends any real chance for Samford and a win doesn't exactly get them out of the woods. Furman has five at home and three on the road after this one, including a huge week of home games next week against Chattanooga and Mercer. Furman does not have to win this one to get a bye, but a win here puts them in position to maybe even make a run at the four or five seed. The Bulldogs have been much better at  home than on the road. The Paladins have not been a good road team in conference play. Look for Furman to miss out on back-to-back wins against D1 teams for the first time all year in what should be an entertaining game. Bulldogs 76, Paladins 72.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

SoCon Reviews- January 29

Mercer 75, Chattanooga 72 (OT)

Player of the Game: Phillip Leonard scored 18 points, had seven assists and five rebounds. He made 7 of 9 from the floor. It was Leonard's play late that really helped to cement the game. Of course, it was missed free throws late (he made just 2 of his final 6) that helped keep Chattanooga in the game. But he was in control of the game throughout as the point guard and really played well.

Stat of the Game: Mercer made 27 of 53 from the floor for 50.3%. The Mocs defense had been the most efficient in the SoCon heading into this game, but Mercer's #1 ranked offense was simply better than them on this night. The Mocs could not stop them if they got a shot off. It was a critical match-up of best on best, and Mercer's best was better.

What It All Means: For the Mocs, this one could leave a mark. After trailing by fifteen in the second half, the Mocs clawed back and had the lead late and had the final shot of regulation to win it but could not get it done. They struggled to start off overtime, but fought back and had a chance to take the lead late in overtime, but could not do it. The Mocs did a great job rebounding (outrebounding Mercer by eleven) and committed just eight turnovers. Those were the positives. The Mocs defense could not stop Mercer's offense. That was the negative. The Mocs need to not let this loss turn into multiple losses. They host The Citadel on Saturday. The Bears needed this win badly since it was a home game. Mercer lost at ETSU earlier this year and needed to prove where they fit in the SoCon race. This win was critical for them. Ike Nwamu was brilliant early, but it was Darious Moten and Phillip Leonard who were brilliant late. The Bears shut down the Mocs offense, other than forcing turnovers and collecting rebounds. Mercer has a chance at the SoCon lead when they go to Wofford on Saturday night. A win would put them in first in the standings. This team can go a long way to cementing their spot with a win Saturday night.

Western Carolina 85, VMI 70

Player of the Game: James Sinclair scored 28 point with nine rebounds, to go along with four assists, two steals and two blocks. He was 11 of 21 from the floor and 6 of 10 from the free throw line. Sinclair really filled up the stat sheet tonight.

Stat of the Game: Western Carolina 57 rebounds, VMI 29. Unreal rebounding numbers. The Catamounts collected 50% of the offensive rebounds and VMI had just 22% of their offensive rebounds. Torrion Brummitt and Justin Browning each had nine rebounds like Sinclair and Tucker Thompson had eleven. Thompson and Sinclair each had five offensive rebounds. It is very difficult to win games when you get outrebounded like that.

What It All Means: The Keydets continue to alternate wins and losses and now are 1-1 on the five game homestand that they desperately need as many wins as they can get out of. No starters scored in double figures, Craig Hinton made 1 of 11 from three and the entire Keydets team could not shoot from anywhere. This is becoming the norm far too often for VMI. They host UNCG on Thursday night. For the Catamounts, Rhett Harrelson scored just three points and yet they still won going away. Mike Brown was brilliant, scoring 21 points to go along with the performance by Sinclair. They did commit 22 turnovers, but all those rebounds made all the difference. They are 5-5 in SoCon play and just a half game out of the fourth spot in the SoCon. They go to UNCG on Saturday night in a game where they can not take their eye off the ball. They need to not lose focus and make sure they come up with the win in a game they will be favored in.

Furman 59, ETSU 55

Player of the Game: Stephen Croone has been taken on a smaller shooting role lately, but not tonight. He poured in 24 points with 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and a block. He made 6 of 14 from the floor and 3 of 7 from three point range, while knocking in 9 of 12 from the free throw line. Croone really stepped his game up to a new level tonight. Eleven rebounds for Croone? That's impressive.

Stat of the Game: ETSU 4 of 6 from the free throw line. It is not the percentage so much as that the Bucs only got to the free throw line six times. Furman got there 22 times and made 14. The Paladins made ten more free throws and won by four. So the free throw line was a key difference in this one. Furman was called for just ten fouls the whole game. It's pretty rare to see that few fouls called on a team for a game.

What It All Means: It's uh-oh time for the Bucs. They fall to 6-5 in conference play, which is tied in the loss column with Furman and Western Carolina. That puts them still in the top six, even in losses, but they are now just up two games for the final bye. They play a home game against Wofford next Thursday and that is almost a must win. The Bucs did not make many shots tonight. Jalen Riley and Rashawn Rembert combined for just 16 points. It has been true all year that if those two don't combine for a lot more points, the Bucs don't win games. For the Paladins, Stephen Croone was back to his scoring self. He had a tremendous game. Now, they are 4-5 in SoCon play and find themselves in sixth in the SoCon standings. Given how they have played for much of the year out of conference, the Paladins should be thrilled to be in this position. They go to Samford on Saturday night. That game will be critical to the Paladins as they try to chase down more teams in front of them. This team is really coming together.

Wofford 58, UNCG 42

Player of the Game: Spencer Collins scored 14 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the floor. He also had four rebounds. Collins has stepped up his game in the last couple of weeks. If he keeps on playing at the level he is playing at, Cochran continues to play at his high level and Skinner plays like he did tonight, the Terriers are going to be very difficult to beat.

Stat of the Game: Terriers 21 of 35 from the floor. Because of the fouls on UNCG, the Terriers took just 35 shots from the floor in 40 minutes of action, which is an incredible snail-like pace to begin with. Still, they knocked down 60% of their shots. The Spartans are known for not playing good defense against patient, fundamentally sound offensive teams. Tonight was no exception.

What It All Means: The Spartans fell to 2-7 in SoCon play. They started off well, jumping out to a 12-2 lead, but then basically didn't score the rest of the game, scoring just 30 for the remainder. They did not make shots. They did not defend, allowing Wofford to shoot the ball really well. The Spartans have dug themselves a deep hole. They host Western Carolina on Saturday in a game they have to win if they want to maintain contact in the bye race. Wofford came out and played about like expected. They struggled out of the gate, but efficiently put the game out of reach. Now, the Terriers are alone in first place in the SoCon. They get to host Mercer on Saturday. A win there would give them a pretty solid lead in the conference, while a loss could put them back into a three way tie for first. Wofford would have won by a lot more tonight, but they did not make free throws, making just 14 of 27. But the rest of the offensive numbers were impressive and the defense was solid too. This team is really coming into their own.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

SoCon Previews- January 29

Game of the Day: Chattanooga at Mercer (7:00)

What's The Story: The Mocs are 7-1 and tied at the top of the conference. The Bears are 6-2 and one game out of the lead. This game is all about the battle for first in the conference as each team would like to knock off the favorite, Wofford. The winner of this game does not necessarily become the main threat to Wofford, but it certainly doesn't hurt their chances. Mercer goes to Wofford on Saturday night, while Chattanooga hosts The Citadel. Mercer is very tough to beat at home, going 4-0 at home in conference play and 8-1 overall. The Mocs have been road warriors, going 3-0 in SoCon play on the road.

Match-up: Mercer is the biggest team in the SoCon. TJ Hallice has averaged 8.3 points and six rebounds in the Bears six SoCon wins, while averaging 2.5 points and seven rebounds in the two SoCon losses. At 6-9, he is one of the bigger players in the SoCon. Going up against the 6-10 Justin Tuoyo for Chattanooga should be a very interesting showdown. Hallice and Tuoyo may be the two most important players on their individual teams. Phillip Leonard has been great in January conference games. He has had 32 assists and just 6 turnovers in those seven games. He has been really improving at point guard. Greg Pryor has been rapidly improving for the Mocs as well. Then you have the two best players on the individual teams- Ike Nwamu and Casey Jones. Those two are very good players and very athletic. We'll see if one of them can carry his team to victory.

Prediction: Mercer is very good at home. The Bears have been the better defensive team throughout the year, but the Mocs have been better in SoCon play, ranking as the best defensive team in the conference. Mercer ranks as the best offensive team in the conference. This is going to be an intense, tightly played game. In the end, Mercer doesn't lose at home very often. It's pretty much that simple. Bears 71, Mocs 68.

Western Carolina at VMI (7:00)

What's The Story: Two teams. The fifth and sixth spots in the league at the moment. One half game separating them. In other words, this game is critical to sorting out where everyone is in the bye race. They are battling with each other for their order, but also fighting off the four teams behind them. This game really matters to both teams as they try to sort through all of this, even if the conference race is just over half over. The Keydets are playing their second home game in a five game home stretch that they have to collect a bunch of wins in. This game is absolutely a very interesting and important showdown.

Match-up: This game was made for Rhett Harrelson and James Sinclair to dominate. The two Catamounts like to shoot and they should get some open looks in this one. The Catamounts are the second worst team in the league at committing turnovers going up against the best pressure defense in the conference. Against The Citadel, VMI had just one starter in double digits, but had four bench players reach that mark. The Keydets are a really different team without QJ Peterson. There is no one on the team that is the go to player. Against The Citadel, no one took more than eight shots, while seven had between six and eight shots. Phillip Anglade is probably turning into their most consistent weapon. Since SoCon play started back in January, he has averaged 12.3 points per game and 6.4 rebounds, to go along with 2.6 blocks per contest. The 6-5 forward has really stepped up his game. He will need to continue to do so for the Keydets.

Prediction: Do the shots fall for VMI? They have been struggling for the floor, but shot better against The Citadel on Saturday, particularly for the first three quarters of the game. If they continue to shoot better, they will be in good position to win this one. If they don't, they could have problems. Since the loss to Wofford on January 8 pushed their losing streak to five, VMI has alternated wins and losses. They won on Saturday. Harrelson and Sinclair will have great shooting nights and the Catamounts will spring the mild upset. Catamounts 84, Keydets 79.

ETSU at Furman (7:00)

What's The Story: The Bucs are 6-4 in SoCon play and most believe that they are easily in the top of the conference. However, a loss to Furman could throw all of that into question. They go out of conference against North Carolina Central on Saturday night, and get their second shot at Wofford on Thursday. The Bucs have been up and down all year, but need to go through some ups in the coming days or risk losing out on a bye. Furman is 3-5 in SoCon play and just one half game out of the final bye. A win would put them right in position for that. The Paladins have three home games in their next four against the top of the conference, as they host Mercer and Chattanooga next week. Furman needs to win some of these games to maintain their contact with the final bye spot.

Match-up: The Bucs guard play is the reason they win, with Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley leading the way. But in this one, Petey McClain may be just as important. If his main role is to guard the Paladins' Stephen Croone, that could be the critical piece to this puzzle. McClain leads the team in assists and does not commit many turnovers. Despite the fact that he does not score much, he has been very important. How he contains Croone, if that is his assignment, may make or break this game. Of course, Croone is the most important Paladin, but he has been doing a lot less shooting and lot more other things recently. He is still the team's leading scorer and shot taker, and everything else, but he is shooting slightly less volume in SoCon play. Freshman Devin Sibley has stepped up, scoring 25 and 21 prior to the Wofford game, when he was held to just eight points. Sibley needs to continue developing for the Paladins to be competitive in March. Furman ranks last in the league in OR%, but ETSU is 8th in DR%. Furman ranks 4th in DR%, while ETSU is 7th in OR%. In other words, Furman should be competitive with ETSU on the boards. ETSU is a small team, and Furman needs to capitalize with Kris Acox and Kendrec Ferrara.

Prediction:  The Paladins are 2-1 in conference play at home, while ETSU is 2-2 on the road. Can the Paladins upset the Bucs and prove that they can be a dangerous club in March? This is a wonderful opportunity for them to do just that. They could really use this win to get there. But the Bucs are 0-4 in SoCon play on Saturdays and 6-0 every other day of the week. A fluke? Possibly. Or maybe they do better with the longer layoff between Saturday and Thursday than with Thursday to Saturday (though that doesn't really explain much). The Bucs come hungry and to prove a point. Teams that shoot the ball well blow out the Paladins. This won't be a blowout, but it won't end well for the Paladins. Bucs 76, Paladins 68.

Wofford at UNCG (7:00)

What's The Story: The Terriers are tied for the top of the standings in the conference. At 7-1, Wofford is in prime position to win the regular season title and earn the first automatic bid to the postseason from the conference. They host Mercer and go to ETSU in their next two games, so this game could be one where they get caught looking ahead if they are not careful. UNCG has as much talent as almost anyone, but the Spartans are 2-6 in conference play. Just one game out of the final bye and one game up on last in the SoCon, the Spartans could really use a win in this one. A win here could change the entire trajectory of the season. This is a huge night for the Spartans to try to turn things around.

Match-up: The Spartans talent starts inside with Kayel Locke and RJ White. The Terriers will need Lee Skinner to more than  hold his own inside. The Spartans will need Tevon Saddler and Diante Baldwin to play well at the guard spots. The Terriers counter with Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins. The Spartans have a tendency to commit a lot of fouls, rankings 7th in the conference in committing fouls, while they are just 9th in drawing fouls. Wofford is not exactly a team that drives a lot and draws fouls themselves though, rankings 8th in drawing fouls. The Spartans are 1-2 at home in SoCon play, while the Terriers are 2-1 on the road. But the Terriers road wins were a three point win at Samford (who is last in the SoCon at the moment), a four point win over Chattanooga (after trailing by  double digits for much of the first thirty minutes) and a three point loss to The Citadel (their lone loss in SoCon play). Can Wofford show up on the road? 

Prediction: Wofford showing up on the road may be a question, but the facts are that UNCG struggles against teams that play disciplined offensive basketball. That is the Terriers described perfectly. Yes, the Spartans have a chance, just like they do in any game they play. They are talented enough to beat anyone in the SoCon, they just have to go out and put it together. But it is tough to imagine that their defense will be able to slow down the Terriers on a continuous basis. Terriers 74, Spartans 61.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Scanning the SoCon- Week Three

It is Year Four of Scanning the SoCon, and the race is really heating up this week. Each week, a group of bloggers and fans will answer questions about the SoCon. I hope you all enjoy it.


Chattanooga at Mercer
ETSU at Furman
Western Carolina at VMI
Wofford at UNCG

Western Carolina at UNCG
The Citadel at Chattanooga
Mercer at Woford
North Carolina Central at ETSU
Furman at Samford


1)      Wofford 79 (7)
2)      Chattanooga 72 (1)
3)      Mercer 63
4)      ETSU 58
5)      VMI 42
6)      Western Carolina 41
7)      Furman 28
8)      The Citadel 26
9)      Samford 21
10)  UNCG 10


Chattanooga at Mercer- 6 votes

Others Receiving Votes- Mercer at Wofford (2 votes)


Michael Bradley, Samford- 2 votes
Jalen Riley, ETSU- 2 votes

Others Receiving Votes- Karl Cochran, Wofford (1 vote), James Sinclair, Western Carolina (1), Lee Skinner, Wofford (1), Justin Tuoyo, Chattanooga (1)


Sum up your team.

Samford- We are on our 3rd coach in 4 years, our 3rd system in 4 years, and basically our 3rd different roster in 4 years.  We were picked last in the conference, and rightfully so.  We got off to a terrible 0-8 start in league play mostly due to a really difficult stretch of games where 5 out of 6 league games after 1/1 were against arguably the top 3 teams in the league (Wofford, UTC, Mercer).  We've had some more winnable games this week (G and WCU both at home) and took care of business in both.  If Mike Bradley can give us what he gave us this past week (back-back double-double), we can be a tough team to beat. If we could somehow scratch out an 8th place finish and have minimal to no roster turnover in the offseason, it would be considered a moderate success, especially considering the start.

Western Carolina- The Cats split this week, beating the first place time (in Cullowhee) Mercer, and losing to the last place team, Samford (on the road).  The Cats are 0-4 on road games this season, and up until Saturday, all lthe losses had been to on of the top four teams in the conference, then we travel to Biringham, and gift wrap a victory for the Bulldogs by putting them on the charity strip for 28 attempts at free points, and they obliged by hitting 26 of their 28 attempts, for a blistering 93%.  The Cats now travel to VMI and UNCG next week, hoping to bust that road losing streak.  

Wofford- A week removed from a successful rebound—a tidy nineteen-point dismissal of Western Carolina helped bring the Terriers back into the right mindset after a crushing loss on the road against The Citadel—Wofford got the crowd involved last Thursday night with a "Whiteout Furman" event at the BenJo.  Behind Karl Cochran's five three-pointers and seventeen total points in the first half, the thirteen-point favorite Terriers shot out to a 38-20 halftime advantage. Wofford finished the game shooting 55 percent from the floor, and had three scorers in double digits.  The energy radiating from the Terriers' 25-point whipping of an arch-rival spilled over into Saturday's game, the first matchup between Wofford and ETSU since 2005. Although the home squad had a seven-point lead at the half, the Bucs staged a 20-7 drive in the second half that brought things in Spartanburg to a fever pitch with a few minutes remaining. Things culminated in contact between Wofford's Spencer Collins and ETSU coach Murry Bartow when he attempted to talk to his player near the sideline. Collins, who was guarding said player, remained near, much to Bartow's anger. Needless to say, things bubbled over and double technicals were administered.  At the end of the day, Wofford won 72-64, bringing them to a 7-1 SoCon record. 

How many losses do you think the winner of the league will wind up with?

Samford- 2.  Wofford is too good and too experienced to suffer another bad road loss like Citadel.  But, do see them losing at either ETSU or Mercer.  Don't see anybody going into Spartanburg and getting a W.

Western Carolina- I think the regular season title will be won by a team with 3 (maybe 4) conference losses.  My guess would be that two teams with finish with only 3 or 4 losses, and Wofford being one of those two teams, will hold the tie breaker, and take the #1 seed into the tournament.  However, that's just my guess.  

Wofford- I think the regular season title winner will have no more than three or four losses, because that's the way things go. It's what will likely happen in the stretch of season ahead. This is a close league race, but the top four/five are becoming a little clearer as we progress. 

What record do you think will get the final bye (sixth place)?

Samford- 7-11.  VMI is currently in the sixth spot at 4-6, but they just started a stretch where 7 of their last 9 conference games are at home, so I look for them to make a little run and for WCU to finish in the sixth spot.

Western Carolina- In my opinion, the sixth seed will have an overall losing conference record.  I think somewhere around an 8-10 mark.  I think the top three teams will have in the neighborhood of 14 conference wins, head and shoulders above the remainder of the conference in terms of wins.  

Wofford- For the sixth seed, I'm going with a record of 10-8 or 9-9. 

In the wake of #DeflateGate, this article was on CollegeBasketballTalk regarding the different balls in the NCAA. Do you think there should be a universal ball? How important do you think a different ball is to a team’s home court advantage?

Samford- I think the type of basketball matters little to none to a team's home court advantage. Teams like Wisconsin (referenced in the article) don't lose at home very much because they are a great team and their arena is a tough place to play.  If I were preparing a team to play at Wisconsin, I'd be much more concerned about facing a Bo Ryan coached half-court defense than what type of ball would be used.  I think things like being more familiar with sight lines when shooting and home crowd behind you, make way more of a difference than the type of basketball used.   I wouldn't be in favor of a universal basketball, just because I feel like it's an unnecessary requirement.

Western Carolina- I'm a firm believer in "if it's not broke, don't fix it" and I don't currently think it's broke.  In my opinion, the ball manufacturer situation in the SoCon is a problem, however I didn't know there was the flexibility to use all the different balls as described in the article.  It seems that in this country, we have a tendency to need a rule for everything, and must have that so called "level playing field" for all, however I think the current rules - levels the field as much as it needs leveling.

Wofford- This is an interesting topic, and I hadn't put much thought into this. Personally, I think it's fine that each program may have a varying preference in basketballs. I don't believe that a universal ball will curb any of the talk that started this discussion anyway -- there will be some that don't like certain aspects of it, and of course, whatever company's product they chose will leave a bad taste in the mouths of competitors. Nothing horribly wrong that I can see with each program having its own choice of a basketball; if the team likes it, I'd let them have their way at home. 

Sunday, January 25, 2015

SoCon Reviews- January 24

Wofford 72, ETSU 64

Player of the Game: Lee Skinner scored thirteen points and had ten rebounds. He also came up with four assists. Skinner has stepped up his game recently and that has made a huge difference.

Stat of the Game: ETSU shots 3 of 16 from three point range, a measly 18.8%. For a team that likes to shoot a bunch of three pointers, that is simply not a good enough percentage. The Bucs need to shoot the ball better if they are expected to win.

What It All Means: The Bucs flipped the script, where they fall behind by a large amount and then try to come back. The Bucs have jumped out to leads and seen them slip away, but fought back from a 21 point deficit in this one. Now, with four conference losses, their chances of winning the SoCon are now   incredibly thin, and truthfully, their chances of jumping into the top two or three are getting slimmer. Jaleny Riley did score 25, but Rashawn Rembert was held to just 2 points. Again, when that happens, ETSU is going to really struggle. The Terriers are now 7-1 in SoCon play and really looking good. They have  played great basketball in their last three games since they lost to The Citadel. Now, they go to UNCG for their first road game since losing to the Bulldogs and host Mercer, who is 6-2 in SoCon play. This team is really hitting their stride right now. The defense has been pretty solid. The Terriers exploited the Bucs lack of size and dominated them on the boards. This was a solid performance.

VMI 85, The Citadel 75

Player of the Game: Julian Eleby scored 15 points with three rebounds, three assists and two steals. Eleby played 21 minutes. He contributed in every way. He did not make a bunch of shots, but he did make a bunch of free throws. Eleby had a pretty solid game all the way around.

Stat of the Game: VMI shot 43.1% from the floor and 35.7% from three point range. That is significantly better shooting than they had done in recent weeks. That is why the Keydets were able to win in this one. They simply shot the ball better than they have been, particularly early in the second half.

What It All Means: For The Citadel, this is two straight games they have had the pace dictated to them. Not ironically, this is two straight losses. They did very well in rebounding, but did not shoot well and the Keydets shot the ball better than they have lately. This was a really disappointing performance for the Bulldogs. They still are just one half game out of the sixth spot in the SoCon, so things are not all that bad. They go to Chattanooga next Saturday and then host Mercer the following Thursday. If they lose both of those, they will find themselves in a bigger hole in the SoCon race. For VMI, the Keydets wound up making it into the sixth spot with the win. They are 4-6 and technically tied with Furman, who is 3-5. In their last six games, VMI is 3-3, never winning more than one or losing more than one in a row during that six. Next Thursday, they host Western Carolina, and have Saturday off. This team still has four more games in a row at home. It is time to go on a streak. They have not been shooting the ball well, but finally did against the Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.

Chattanooga 81, UNCG 72

Player of the Game: Justin Tuoyo had 19 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. He made 10 of 15 from the free throw line. He made 4 of 6 from the floor. He had four offensive rebounds. He still has not had a SoCon game with less than three blocks.

Stat of the Game: UNCG 27 fouls, Chattanooga 18. That meant that Chattanooga shot 38 free throws and the Spartans just 13. That was the key difference in this contest. The Mocs went to the free throw a bunch more times than UNCG and that was critical in this contest.

What It All Means: The Spartans have as much talent as anyone in the SoCon and it showed for much of the night. They are a talented bunch that can play with anyone when they play well. Tevon Saddler is athletic, Kayel Locke is very good and Diante Baldwin is also good. The Spartans did not play a bad game. But they made just 53.8% of their free throws and committed too many fouls. The team just could not do enough to come up with the win in Chattanooga. They host Wofford and Western Carolina next week. The Spartans are 2-6 in SoCon play and in real danger of falling out of the race altogether if they can't steal one next week. The Mocs are still tied for the SoCon lead at 7-1. They did not play their best basketball and yet they still won. Can't complain about that if you are a Mocs fan. They go to Mercer next Thursday and host The Citadel on Saturday. Casey Jones did not play well, but  Greg Pryor and Justin Tuoyo, along with Martynas Bareika and Eric Robertson stepping up. The Mocs did what they needed to so they could win, but the Mocs need to play even better if they want to win the regular season title.

Samford 78, Western Carolina 72

Player of the Game: Michael Bradley came up with a second straight double-double, going with 16 points and ten rebounds. He had six offensive boards. Is he finally developing into the type of player that the Bulldogs desperately need? He might be. If Bradley is really coming together, the Bulldogs are a much different team.

Stat of the Game: The Bulldogs made 26 or 28 from the free throw line, a shocking 92.9% from the line. That is really solid and in a six point game that is the sort of thing that can make all the difference.

What It All Means: The Catamounts followed up the win over Mercer with a loss at Samford. Western Carolina is 4-5 and in fifth in the SoCon right now. However, they are just one half game up on the seven spot. The Catamounts, who really do appear to be the fifth best team in the conference most of the time, has not been able to pull away for that spot. Of course, their schedule has been rough. James Sinclair played tremendous basketball. They outrebounded the Bulldogs, but committed a lot of turnovers and committed too many fouls. The Bulldogs have now won two in a row and are 2-8 in SoCon play and are closing in on getting out of last place. Of course, they are now down just two games from the final bye. There is a chance to get there for Samford. But they need to keep on playing solid basketball. Samford gets to host Furman next Saturday. Another win there would really put them in position to make a run. Michael Bradley had a second straight double-double. Darius Jones-Gibson was brilliant. Just like I said, once Samford wins one, they might run off several in a row. Here. They. Go.

Friday, January 23, 2015

SoCon Previews: January 24

There will be no preview of the Furman-Allen game, since it is not a conference game. Plus, hopefully Furman wins by 30+ points. No excitement, please, Paladins!

Game of the Day- ETSU at Wofford (7:00)

What's the Story: This is the Bucs chance to get back into the conference race. At 6-3, ETSU sits in fourth right now, but can get right into the conference race with an upset at Wofford on Saturday. The Bucs beat Mercer and lost to Chattanooga in close games. However, ETSU has also lost to UNCG and VMI. This team is such a mystery. No SoCon team (outside of possibly UNCG) is a bigger mystery. The Terriers are 6-1 in SoCon play, and tied for first with Chattanooga. Since losing to The Citadel, Wofford has played two dominating basketball games. Of course, those wins were over Western Carolina and Furman. ETSU is a definite step up in competition on that front. Next week, Wofford gets Mercer at home. It's a big couple of games coming up for the Terriers to try to continue re-establishing themselves as the best in the SoCon.

Match-up: Wofford has been the third best defense in the league for opponent's three point percentage. ETSU is the third best offense in the league on three point percentage. That is the key match-up in this one. Of course, the Bucs will have to find a way to slow down Lee Skinner inside. The Bucs lack height, but the Terriers are not exactly  known for their height. This is a good match-up for ETSU for that reason. Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley can outscore almost anyone in the league. That being said, Karl Cochran and the forgotten Spencer Collins have been very efficient lately.

Prediction: The Bucs match-up well with Wofford. This is not going to be easy for the Terriers. The Bucs offense will present real challenges to the Terriers defense. But Wofford is playing so well right now and they are at home. This is a game that they can really re-establish themselves as the SoCon frontrunner by winning. Skinner will get a double-double and the Terriers will win by almost double digits. Terriers 77, Bucs 68.

The Citadel at VMI (1:00)

What's the Story: These military academies hook up for the first time as SoCon opponents but the second time this year. VMI beat The Citadel, 66-65, in the season opener in the Military Forces Classic. Now, they hook up for the second time. The Bulldogs are tied for sixth at 3-5 in SoCon play while VMI is one half game back at 3-6. Conference play is halfway over for the Keydets and will be halfway done by the end of this one for The Citadel. It may be a little early to panic about the SoCon race, but a win by The Citadel would put VMI a game and half back of the Bulldogs. If The Citadel is serious about getting a bye, winning this one would be a huge step in that direction.

Match-up: These two teams could not have more different styles of play. The Citadel likes to slow the game down to a snail's pace and VMI likes to run up and down the floor. That is what makes this game so compelling. Which pace wins? Ironically, VMI's offense is rated as having the worst efficiency in the league and The Citadel's defense is rated as the least efficient. Which team does better at what it is not good at? In their first match-up, QJ Peterson scored 25 points, but now he is no longer with the team. Brian Brown scored 16 points for the Keydets and will be expected to score more now with Peterson out. He is 5-11. Ashton Moore will be the big scorer for the Bulldogs. The Citadel is better inside than VMI.

Prediction: Intriguing battle. The two played a great game on a neutral court in November. Now, without their leading scorer, how will the Keydets perform? It's an interesting setting, but I think that the Keydets will win at home. VMI will pass The Citadel in the standings with this win which is part of why this is so interesting. Keydets 74, Bulldogs 72.

UNCG at Chattanooga (6:00)

What's the Story: The Spartans have been up and down but are just one half game out of the sixth spot in the SoCon race. They are really still right in the thick of the race. They beat ETSU in Johnson City, but lost to The Citadel at home and on the road against Furman and Samford. Who can figure this team out? If the excellent Spartans show up, they could hang around in this one, and this team is desperate to get a win. They host Wofford and Western Carolina in their next two after this, so things don't get much easier. For Chattanooga, they find themselves tied for the SoCon lead with Wofford. There is a  huge road test at Mercer looming next Thursday, and four of their next five are on the road after this one. The Mocs really need to take care of business at home, get to 7-1 and get to this next stretch of the schedule, which is probably the toughest they will face all SoCon season long.

Match-up: Diante Baldwin is an underrated point guard for the Spartans, and Greg Pryor is what makes the Mocs go. That point guard match-up should be very entertaining to watch throughout the night. Almost as entertaining will be Tevon Saddler against Rico White. Saddler is a better driver to the basket (almost like Casey Jones for the Mocs) while White is a better shooter. The Spartans have solid post play when the guys perform. Kayel Locke and RJ White are good players. But Justin Tuoyo is waiting for them in there. After the way Michael Bradley of Samford played against UNCG on Thursday, Tuoyo must be licking his lips.

Prediction: The Spartans are inconsistent but have as much talent as almost anyone in the league. When they play up to their talent level, they can beat anyone. That includes this Chattanooga bunch. The Mocs are at home though and have been very good at home this year. If the Mocs take UNCG seriously and don't look past them, the Mocs should beat UNCG relatively easily. If they do look past them, and UNCG plays like they did at ETSU, the Spartans could easily come away with the win. The gut feeling is that  Rico White will not let the Mocs look past anyone on the schedule at this point. Mocs 76, Spartans 63.

Western Carolina at Samford (7:00)

What's the Story: These are two teams going in the same direction. Western Carolina came up with their biggest win of the year against Mercer on Thursday night, while Samford had their first SoCon win of the year over UNCG on Thursday night. Now, both teams are trending up. Which team can keep that positive momentum going? The Catamounts are currently fifth in the SoCon, but sit just two games out of third, which is where they would need to get to make any true difference in their seed. While Samford sits two games behind UNCG for ninth in the conference, they are really only two and a half games out of the final bye spot. If Samford can turn that one win into two and three pretty quick here, the Bulldogs can put themselves in position to be battling for a bye. This game is critical to both Samford and Western Carolina's hopes of moving up in the conference standings.

Match-up: Is Michael Bradley going to step up again for the Bulldogs? He was good against UNCG on Thursday, and they could use him again in this one. But Darius Jones-Gibson has turned into the star scorer for the Bulldogs. Western Carolina ranks 8th in the league in TO%, and the Bulldogs pressure defense can force turnovers. The Catamounts will rely on James Sinclair and Rhett Harrelson to keep them in the game. Western Carolina is 0-3 on the road in SoCon play while they are 2-8 overall. Western Carolina will need to show up and win a big road game against the Bulldogs.

Prediction: All along, I've been writing that if Samford won one game they would quickly win several more. They are at home against the Catamounts now, which is not an ideal situation to string a second win together. Harrelson and Sinclair are tremendous shooters and Mike Brown will also work to keep the team in the game. Torrion Brummitt is an excellent inside player. But the Bulldogs are in position to win this one and pull out the win. I think they get it done, in what may wind up being the best game of the day. Bulldogs 79, Catamounts 77.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

SoCon Reviews- January 22

Western Carolina 60, Mercer 52

Player of the Game: James Sinclair had 19 points, four rebounds and five assists. He made 6 of 13 from the floor. He made 2 of 5 from three point range and 5 of 7 from the free throw line. Sinclair is the most important player on the Catamounts roster. It's a good thing he was eligible, because the Catamounts do not win this one without him.

Stat of the Game: Mercer 29.6% from the field. The Bears have been shooting right around 50% every night in SoCon play. Tonight- not so much. The Bears were stymied by a hungry Catamounts defense and the Bears simply could not score enough to stay in the game all the way. The Catamounts deserve some credit. The Bears deserve some fault for it as well.

What It All Means: The Bears are no longer in first in the SoCon and have a week to stew about this loss before taking on the co-leaders of the SoCon in back-to-back games, Chattanooga and Wofford. Mercer jumped out to an early lead, but really struggled on the offensive end after that. I have consistently been impressed with how good Mercer's offense has looked in conference play because I did not think they looked that good offensively out of conference. Tonight, all the bad offense showed up again. Ike Nwamu only took five shots. They have got to get him more shots for them to be a more complete club. For Western Carolina, this game announces that they are a threat in the SoCon. It has been believed all along that they were one of the top five teams in the conference, and today was the first time they have played like it against one of the other top five teams. This was an impressive defensive show, while James Sinclair and Rhett Harrelson made just enough threes to keep the offense going. This team will not win the regular season title almost certainly. However, the Catamounts have now proven that they are a real threat to win it in Asheville. That's pretty good for January.

Chattanooga 86, VMI 64

Player of the Game: Justin Tuoyo had ten points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals. He made just 3 of 7 from the floor, but 4 of 5 from the free throw line. Tuoyo contributes and changes the game in so many facets. The Keydets are just the latest SoCon team to figure this out. That stat line doesn't stick out, but Tuoyo really impacted the game.

Stat of the Game: Mocs ten turnovers. The Mocs jumped out to an early lead, and nearly gave it all back during a stretch where they simply could not protect the ball. Late in the first half, the Mocs had eight turnovers. They only committed two more the rest of the night and were able to pull away. The Keydets thrive on forcing turnovers and the Mocs did not let them get many tonight.

What It All Means: For the Keydets, this loss was damaging. Without QJ Peterson on Saturday, they looked like a more complete team. Tonight, they looked like a much worse team. They did not force turnovers. They did not make shots. They did rebound the ball extraordinarily well, so that is a positive to take away from this one. Still at 3-6 in SoCon play, VMI now needs to get back to winning. Of course, their next five games are at home, along with seven of their last night. That's really good news for VMI. They are in good shape despite their 3-6 mark because of all the home games down the stretch. Chattanooga now finds themselves tied with Wofford for the SoCon lead. They did a good job tonight handling the adversity, committing just two turnovers in the second half and ten for the game. They did not shoot the ball great (though they did shoot fine) or rebound particularly well. But they played defense and controlled the tempo of the game. The Mocs did not let the Keydets tempo dictate the game and take the Mocs out of rhythm. The Mocs pretty much always looked comfortable out there. After a home date with UNCG on Saturday, the Mocs have a huge one at Mercer next Thursday.

ETSU 70, The Citadel 59

Player of the Game: Jalen Riley scored 18 points along with four assists and two steals. He made just 6 of 15 from the floor, but matched Rashawn Rembert for the most points on the team. Riley started tonight and earned it.

Stat of the Game: The Citadel shot 38.6% from the floor. They have been shooting the ball pretty well in conference play (much like Mercer), but really struggled tonight from the floor. The game was too fast paced for the Bulldogs, and they did not shoot the ball well enough to win the game. Too many possessions happened and the Bucs controlled the pace of play.

What It All Means: The Bulldogs fell to 3-5 in SoCon play, but it was really the first thirteen and a half minutes that did them in. The Citadel was down 34-12 at 6:30 left in the first half. They fought back to be down just 60-55 late in the second half, but the comeback took too much out of them. They could not get all the way back. This team showed a lot of grit and a lot of fight. There was a lot to be proud of tonight for the Bulldogs. They go to VMI and Chattanooga for their next two games. That game on Saturday between VMI and The Citadel is a critical one. ETSU did not play well after the opening minutes, but they did enough to win the game. Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley were just able to score 18 points apiece, and yet the Bucs won the game. That says a lot about how much more of a team performance this was. The Bucs generally controlled the pace, which was important in this one. The Bucs go to co-leader Wofford on Saturday. If they want to win the SoCon regular season title, they need to beat Wofford and get back within one half game of the co-leaders. Should be a pretty interesting game.

Wofford 74, Furman 49

Player of the Game: Karl Cochran scored 23 points on 8 of 12 shooting from the floor and 6 of 9 shooting from three point range. He also had seven rebounds, three assists and two steals. Cochran was a dominant force tonight for the Terriers and shot lights out all night long.

Stat of the Game: Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins 73.9 eFG%. This was the critical stat to the Terriers a year ago. Tonight, Cochran shot well, but Collins made 5 of 10 from the floor and 2 of 3 from three point range. It is really difficult to beat the Terriers when those two shoot the ball that well.

What It All Means: The Paladins simply got outplayed by a better team. Wofford shot the ball very well, while the Paladins did not. Furman looked nearly the same way at Western Carolina, and then rebounded with some good performances. That could happen again. Croone took 13 of the 43 shots the Paladins took on the night. No one else took more than eight shots. That has been a bad recipe for Furman. They take the day off from SoCon play to play Allen on Saturday night. The Terriers came out and played nearly flawless basketball from the beginning. That is how you take an underdog's will and crush it very early in the game. Wofford took it to them. Since that loss to The Citadel last Thursday, the Terriers have played their two best games in SoCon play yet. Eric Garcia did play 16 minutes, so that is very important to this team moving forward. The Terriers are tied for first in the SoCon with Chattanooga and host ETSU on Saturday night.

Samford 89, UNCG 78

Player of the Game: Michael Bradley scored 12 points with ten rebounds and three blocks. He needed to play a huge game against the Spartan big men and he came up with one of his best games as a Bulldog. He made 5 of 10 from the floor and really played an all around great game.

Stat of the Game: Samford made 21 of 25 from the free throw line. UNCG made just 12 free throws. Those nine points were huge. Samford made 84% from the free throw line. That is a remarkable percentage for one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the league. That is the main reason that the Bulldogs came up with the victory in this one.

What It All Means: For the Spartans, it is important to remember that they might be in ninth place in the conference, but they still sit just one half game out the sixth spot which would be good enough for a bye. This team played well offensively, and did a reasonable job against the press. Yes, sixteen turnovers is too many, but it was not disastrously bad. Kayel Locke scored 19, Tevon  Saddler was back from injury and scored 18, RJ White scored 9 and Diante Baldwin scored 13 and had eight assists. It really could not have been much better offensively. Defensively left a lot to be desired for the Spartans. They simply could not slow down the Bulldogs offense tonight, or most nights. The Spartans go to Chattanooga on Saturday evening. Samford finally got their first conference win and it was a lot of fun for them. They shot the ball extraordinarily well. They put five guys in double figures tonight and had 21 assists on 31 made field goals. They really just played exceptionally well. This team is capable of running off several in a row, with Western Carolina and Furman coming up at home in their next two games. Samford can still get out of the SoCon basement, but they need to keep the positive momentum going from here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SoCon Previews- January 22

Game of the Day: Mercer at Western Carolina (7:00)

What's the Story: Western Carolina has lost to ETSU twice, at Wofford and at Chattanooga. Those are their only conference losses. Unfortunately for the Catamounts, here comes another one of "those teams." Mercer is at the top of the SoCon right now (though even if they win this game, they could find themselves in a three way tie for first by the end of the weekend). The Catamounts really could use a win over one of the top teams in the conference to establish themselves. Mercer need this one  just to maintain their spot atop the conference.

Match-up: Western Carolina loves to shoot and shoot and shoot some more. Rhett Harrelson and James Sinclair are both shooters and scorers. Mike Brown is also a solid contributor. Particularly at home, this team has proven to be a dangerous shooting team. Torrion Brummitt may be the most important player, though. He scored just eight point and had five rebounds against ETSU. He did have fourteen and fourteen in the loss to ETSU. This guy can play inside. He'll probably be matched up against TJ Hallice for Mercer. Hallice is an important, but often forgotten, cog of the Bears game. Everyone who watches them play remembers watching Ike Nwamu. Phillip Leonard has been a solid point guard. Jordan Strawberry gets a lot of press- some for being the nephew of Darryl, but a lot for this good performance. Darious Moten even gets praise as the second leading scorer and rebounder. However, it is Hallice that helps clog up the paint, consistently rebounds well, and does a lot of little things to help Mercer win games.

Prediction: This is tough. I am a big believer that you can't just walk into Cullowhee and come away with a win. Western Carolina is a tough place to play. Still, Western has shown us who they are. They have gone 0-4 against the top four in the league and 3-0 against everyone else. It is difficult to believe that they are going to do anything different from that until it happens. Hallice and Brummitt provide some entertainment, while Sinclair and Harrelson try to shoot the Catamounts to victory. In the end, the Bears efficient offense guides them to the win. Bears 74, Catamounts 70.

VMI at Chattanooga (7:00)
What's the Story: No QJ Peterson, no problem for the Keydets against ETSU on Saturday. Can they go on the road and beat the Mocs too? VMI is just a half game out of fifth place in the conference race. Winning a game at Chattanooga would be a huge feather in the cap for this team. The Mocs are tied for second and a half game out of first in the conference race. As the Mocs try to win the regular season title, winning the two home games this weekend is very important, as they play VMI and UNCG.

Match-up: In his first start of the season, Fred Iruafemi scored 16 points and collected nine rebounds for the Keydets. The 6-6 freshman will be looking for more performances like that one. Phillip Anglade leads the team in rebounding with 6.6 per contest. Tim Marshall is now the team's leading scorer with 11.7 points per game. This VMI team has been ice cold shooting from the field recently. The points don't indicate it, but they have been staying in games because of their defense. Per Pomeroy, they have had the third most efficient defense in conference play, lead by a defense that has been forcing a ton of turnovers- which fits exactly with their style. Of course, Chattanooga has the most efficient defense, mainly relying on defense in the paint that capitalizes on Justin Tuoyo's shot blocking ability. How will that play against a team that likes to run down and jack up threes? Greg Pryor, Rico White and Casey Jones will be relied on heavily to keep the offense calm and focused and under control. Pryor was able to play just twenty minutes against Samford coming off of his injury. His ability to play more in this  one could be key.

Prediction: This does not appear to be a particularly good match-up for the Mocs. A defense that is predicated on shutting down teams in the paint has to face an offense that is designed to shoot a bunch of threes. VMI has not been shooting well, but if this is the night where they catch fire, look out. The Mocs offense may be able to beat the press, but they have committed turnovers at a higher rate than any team in the league except The Citadel. This game smells like trouble for the Mocs in a lot of ways. However, they have been a much better shooting team at home and been playing well in conference play. It will be high scoring, but very poorly played offensively, if that makes any sense. Mocs 78, Keydets 75.
The Citadel at ETSU (7:00)

What's the Story: ETSU is a riddle wrapped in mystery. They go out and hand Mercer their only conference loss. They lose to UNCG on the same floor. They lose at VMI. So which ETSU shows up? The Bucs are only up by 1.5 games on The Citadel heading into this one, while also trailing Mercer by just 1.5 games for first. The Bucs need to win games they should to get back into the conference race. Of course, The Citadel is riding high after upsetting Wofford last weekend. The loss to Furman did put a damper on their excitement, but they are tied for fifth right  now. A win over ETSU would firmly establish The Citadel as one of the better teams fighting it out in the middle of the SoCon.

Match-up: ETSU will rely offensively on the scoring of Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley. What else is new? When they score a bunch of points, the Bucs win. When they don't, they lose. That's how it seems to go. It does seem like Petey McClain and his 4.3 assists per game have been critical in getting them into good offensive sets. McClain has been a real leader for this club. The Citadel will be looking to capitalize on their size advantage with CJ Bray and PJ Horgan. The Bulldogs have the size advantage, but everyone does on the Bucs. ETSU likes to get up and down the floor. The Bulldogs are a very slow and deliberate (but very efficient) team. Ashton Moore shooting against Riley? Yes, please.

Prediction: This game will be a highly efficient offensive game, as both teams struggle on the defensive end. The  key may be the tempo the game is played at. The Citadel wants the game in the low 60s and to grind it out. The Bucs want a much faster pace. The problem is that I can not come up with a way that the Bulldogs stop the Bucs enough to come up with the win in this one. Riley and Rembert go nuts on the offensive end and ETSU wins. Bucs 79, Bulldogs 66.

Furman at Wofford (7:00)

What's the Story: These two neighbors don't particularly get along. The Paladins have a chance to upset the Terriers, as Furman has been playing pretty good basketball lately. At 3-4 in SoCon play, they are part of the glut in the middle of the conference pack. Did Wofford losing to The Citadel finally wake them up? They sure looked the part against Western Carolina on Saturday in their most impressive conference win to date. The Terriers need to keep on playing like that if they want to wind up on top of the SoCon at the end of the season.

Match-up: Stephen Croone is shooting less but doing more. That puts an increased scoring burden on Geoff Beans, Devin Sibley, Kris Acox and Kendrec Ferrara. The Paladins played well last week on the road, barely losing to Mercer and beating The Citadel. They will need to carry some of that over to this one at Spartanburg. Of course, the Terriers are looking to carry over their solid performance against Western Carolina into another one against Furman. Karl Cochran is a great scorer, but the Terriers need a healthy Eric Garcia back and running the point guard spot. Lee Skinner needs to continue to bring the energy that he brought against Western Carolina as well.

Prediction: The Terriers are a team on a mission right now. Remember when Furman was hammered at Western Carolina a couple of weeks back? This game has that same feel to it. Wofford is looking to make a statement and their defense will eat up the Paladins offense. Cochran and Skinner will bring the energy and lead the Terriers to a relatively easy win. The Paladins are improving, but it won't show here. Terriers 76, Paladins 61.

UNCG at Samford (8:00)

What's the Story: The Spartans are a stumbling, bumbling 2-4 mess in SoCon play, yet find themselves just a half game out of fifth in the SoCon standings. That's how tight things are. They get to battle Samford, who is 0-8 in SoCon play. Easy win for the Spartans right? Not so fast. If you've been following Samford, you know how well they've been playing at home in conference play, but a schedule that features Chattanooga, Wofford and ETSU as your home games would be tough for any team to be winning games. This Bulldog team just needs one win and then may run off several in a row. Is this the night they get their first?

Match-up: What to make of the Spartans? Some games they look like world beaters, others they look like D2 schools could beat them. Kayel Locke and RJ White are the inside presence that looked so good against VMI. They will need more of that against Samford. Michael Bradley is big and imposing, but Locke and White should still have their way if they play like they did against the Keydets. Christen Cunningham against Diante Baldwin at the point guard spot is highly entertaining as well. The Bulldogs have lost six straight, but have a real chance to run off some wins, as they play UNCG, Western Carolina and Furman at home in their next three. This is their chance to make a move to get out of the basement. Darius Jones-Gibson is their best scoring threat but was  held to just six points at Mercer. He has to be better.

Prediction: Samford plays with so little confidence down the stretch of games. Will this be the game where they get over the hump? With UNCG, it is always a bit of a mystery what you are going to get. Will they bring their A game this time around? Samford may be 0-8, but they are much better than that in reality. This is a game they should win, really. The Bulldogs are not necessarily the better team, but are clearly due for a win. Cunningham plays better than he has played recently, Jones-Gibson makes a shot late and Locke or White foul out (fouls are something that are called a lot in Samford games). Bulldogs 73, Spartans 71.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Scanning the SoCon- Week Two

Each week, fans and bloggers from around the Southern Conference answer questions and respond to polls to answer the burning questions around the conference. These are their stories.


1)      Wofford 67 (5)
2)      Mercer 64 (2)
3)      Chattanooga 57
4)      ETSU 49
5)      Western Carolina 33
6)      Furman 30
7)      VMI 30
8)      The Citadel 29
9)      UNCG 19
10)  Samford 7


Devin Sibley, Furman- 5 votes

Others Receiving Votes: Jalen Riley, ETSU (1 vote), Ike Nwamu, Mercer (1)


ETSU at Wofford- 4 votes

Others Receiving Votes- Western Carolina at Mercer (1 vote), The Citadel at VMI (1), VMI at Chattanooga (1)


Sum up your team.

Chattanooga- The Mocs played just one game this week and it was a win against Samford. The Bulldogs were up ten in the first half, but the Mocs pulled away and were up double digits late in the game before the free throw-a-thon broke out in the closing minutes and the Mocs won by a closer score. Chattanooga did get Greg Pryor back and looked better on offense, though he only played twenty minutes. This week, the Mocs get VMI and UNCG at home, before going to Mercer the following week. The Mocs are clearly developing into one of the better teams in the league, but it is hard to know exactly where they will finish.

The Citadel- The Citadel's slow-slower-slowest style of play on offense can be quite frustrating to opponents at times, and can also hide the fact that it is not a good defensive team. The Bulldogs struggle to control the defensive glass, and do not force many turnovers. However, The Citadel can still be dangerous, because it is one of the better shooting teams in the country. If The Citadel can hold its own on the boards and avoid committing too many turnovers on offense (a season-long issue), it is quite capable of beating any team in the league (as Wofford found out). The Bulldogs can also lose to any team in the conference. 

UNCG- Good luck figuring out UNCG. As a whole, the team has had a pretty down season in comparison to expectations. However, on Wednesday night UNCG played with a lot of energy and beat VMI on a poor shooting night for the Keydets. The Spartans won despite playing their second straight game without Tevon Saddler. G played well because they continually gave the ball to their big guys. Kayel Locke can be a matchup nightmare on nights when he's focused. The game did have a bit of interesting sidebar take place, though. Early in the second half UNCG head coach Wes Miller and associate head coach Mike Roberts got into a very heated exchange that left most Spartan fans in attendance feeling a bit on edge. I honestly think that Miller is coaching to keep his job at this point and that might have caused things to bubble over. I don't have an inside knowledge of what's going on in the locker room. So any theory I throw out here is just a wild guess. But coaches publicly arguing in not a good look. As far as the team goes, defense continues to plague this group. Any team interested in showing patience and reversing the basketball can create a ton of open looks. Offensively, the Spartans are very adequate. At times they individually press and get a bit selfish. But the problem is not on that end of the court most nights.

Let’s revisit a question from earlier in the year. Is the new SoCon better or worse than last year’s SoCon?

Chattanooga- I said before the season the conference would be deeper but maybe worse at the top…and I’ll stand by that statement. Wofford is not as good as Davidson, but the remaining teams in the conference are better than before. The conference had an RPI of 30 last year. Now, if you take out the Independents RPI out, the SoCon has an RPI of 24. That’s pretty good. The SoCon is improved. It’s not great, by any means, but it has clearly improved.

The Citadel- Mercer is obviously a very solid program. ETSU is holding its own, as is VMI (though losing QJ Peterson could be a problem for the Keydets). I think the league is better this year. It may have been even better if some of the schools that left were still in the league, but that doesn't really matter. Kenpom has the SoCon as the 23rd-ranked conference in the nation after having been 30th last season. That strikes me as about right.

UNCG- I think there's no doubt now that this group is better from top to bottom. Plus, at the very top Wofford ranks pretty even with Davidson, whose A10 defection was (supposedly) going to sink the conference. This whole league is competitive and it seems every team has to bring its very best effort every night in order to win games.

Which player do you believe is the most overrated player in the conference?

Chattanooga- VMI’s QJ Peterson is no longer on the team, and gets a lot of good press as a great player. However, he shot a very low percentage from the floor. Therefore, I always felt like he was slightly overrated. That being said, I wish him nothing but good luck as he works through whatever caused him to leave the team.

The Citadel- At this point in the season I am not sure any league player can be really "overrated". It's the SoCon; just trying to get players rated at all is hard enough.

UNCG-I'm going to call out one of my own players here and say RJ White. RJ is big, agile and has range to his shot. But too many times this season, he has completely disappeared during games. More often than not, he's sitting on the bench saddled with foul trouble. For someone who was being counted on to replace all conference center Kyle Cain, White's lack of production during games is one of many reasons why UNCG hasn't lived up to expectations. He's got to figure out how to keep himself from picking up silly and unnecessary fouls. However, he is only a sophomore and this is part of the maturation process of big men at the mid-major level. So, it's hard to be too critical of him.

Which SoCon arena is the toughest to play in?

The Citadel- The toughest building in the league for an opponent to play in is the one that has the best home team.

UNCG-Off the top of my head, I'd probably have thrown out "The Roundhouse" in Chattanooga, but UNCG has had some success there (both in the regular season and in a few SoCon Tournament appearances). For the Spartans, I'd say the answer has to be the Ramsey Center at Western Carolina. I really have thought a lot of seasons that UNCG and WCU had very evenly matched squads. However, the Catamounts have routinely beaten UNCG in their own building. Most of the time, convincingly. 

Western Carolina- For Western Carolina, it has to be the Roundhouse in Chattanooga.