Tuesday, January 13, 2015

SoCon Previews- January 14 & 15

Game of the Day- ETSU at Western Carolina (7:00 Thursday)

What Does It Mean: With James Sinclair not out, the Catamounts are a real threat to contend in the SoCon. While it is most people's opinion (and every single voter in Scanning the SoCon) that Western Carolina is the fifth best team in the SoCon, with Sinclair, they have the ability to win games that they are not expected to. At 3-2 in SoCon play, the Catamounts have a chance to make a statement about where they fit in the SoCon race. With ETSU at 4-2, the Catamounts can jump ahead of the Bucs. The Bucs are looking to re-establish themselves and get back into the race with Mercer and Chattanooga for second. The Bucs own the current tiebreaker with the Bears, but not with the Mocs after last week's games. A loss here would not be devastating to the Bucs chances of catching up (obviously), but it does start to make the path more difficult.

Match-up: The Catamounts are known for their guard play, behind James Sinclair and Rhett Harrelson and even Mike Brown (the reigning SoCon Player of the Week). But they have Torrion Brummitt, who has often gone underappreciated (especially by me). ETSU has very little outside of guard play. Petey McClain is a solid presence at point guard. Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley are the scorers. The Bucs do not have a lot of size, but they make up for it with effort. They outrebounded the much bigger Mercer and Chattanooga teams last week. If the Bucs are outrebounded by the Catamounts and Brummitt has a big game, that will make it much more difficult for ETSU to win this game, obviously.

Prediction: The Catamounts have shot the ball so well at home recently. Can they have another hot shooting night? Can Brummitt dominate in the paint? It is going to be difficult to outscore Rembert and Riley, but Harrelson and Sinclair will do their best. The Catamounts are prepared to pull off this upset. They will be rejuvenated by Sinclair's return and pull off the mild upset in this one. Western Carolina 77, ETSU 75.

VMI at UNCG (7:00 Wednesday)

What Does It Mean: UNCG is 1-4 in SoCon play and likely to be without Tevon Saddler. The Spartans are heading in the wrong direction, but are only one game out of the six seed in the SoCon race. A win here would be huge for the Spartans confidence as they try to get back into that position. VMI is 2-4 after winning on the road at Furman on Saturday. The Keydets are only one half game out of the six spot in the SoCon. The team that wins here will get themselves into position to contend for the final bye. If UNCG loses, they will be in major trouble for the bye. A VMI loss wouldn't be quite as bad for the Keydets, but it would still be damaging.

Match-up: QJ Peterson has been struggling for the Keydets from the floor. He has made 8 threes in 38 attempts in the last four SoCon games. With how the Spartans defense has been playing, will this be the game that Peterson goes off? Tim Marshall has been playing pretty well lately and is the Keydets second leading scorer. The most important player in this game for the Spartans? Diante Baldwin. Without Tevon Saddler, this is a game where all the guard play that can be found needs to be found. Baldwin is a decent ball handler and a good shooter. He is going to have to have a huge game against this Keydets defense.

Prediction: Truthfully, this is a good match-up for the Spartans at full strength. VMI kind of makes or misses shots almost regardless of the opponent, and the Spartans defense is their weakness. Their defense doesn't matter in this one. The problem is that without Saddler, it is hard to figure out how they win this one. In the end, VMI will beat UNCG without Saddler. If Saddler was playing, UNCG would win. VMI 88, UNCG 81.

Wofford at The Citadel (6:00 Thursday)

What Does It Mean: This is it. This is the opportunity for The Citadel to get into the bye race. The Bulldogs are 2-3 in SoCon play and could pull off a major upset at home against the Terriers. This is the moment that The Citadel program has been waiting for. Can they take advantage? This Bulldogs team has looked decent all year, and Wofford has struggled with everyone before winning. Could an upset happen here? The Terriers have to keep on wining if they want any shot at an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Of course, never forget that they are just up one half game on Chattanooga and Mercer for first in the SoCon. Things could get interesting quickly.

Match-up: The Terriers have been playing with a hampered Eric Garcia and a sick Lee Skinner. That has lead to some of their problems putting teams away early in conference play. Still, with Karl Cochran lighting it up and Spencer Collins starting to shoot a little better, this Terriers team is a tough match-up. But Skinner needs to be prepared to deal with PJ Horgan and Brian White. The inside game of the Bulldogs is actually pretty good. Ashton Moore is the Bulldogs biggest scorer. The Bulldogs defense is the worst in the SoCon, but they slow the game down. Wofford likes to play ugly and slow the game down too. Expect a slow paced contest.

Prediction: Wofford wins ugly, but The Citadel's defense does not match-up well with the Terriers. The Terriers are an offense that will take what you give them, and the Bulldogs give up a lot. This game will be close and a low scoring, low possession slugfest. But The Citadel is not ready to win this kind of game, even if it does shape up as their best opportunity in recent memory to score a truly significant home win. Wofford 62, The Citadel 55.

Furman at Mercer (7:00 Thursday)

What Does It Mean: The Paladins are currently in a tie for the sixth position in the SoCon race. They are 0-2 on the road and 2-1 at home in SoCon play. This is a very difficult road game for them. A win here would establish themselves as the team to beat in the race for sixth in the SoCon. The Bears are just one half game out of first and are tied with Chattanooga for second. Mercer is 6-1 at home on the season. They need this home game to stay on track in the SoCon race.

Match-up: These two may spend some time on each other or they may not, but there are few games featuring two players like Ike Nwamu and Stephen Croone. Nwamu is the sort of player that can make a highlight reel play at any moment. Croone is a player that can get red hot and simply not miss shots for stretches. That should be worth the price of admission right there. TJ Hallice against either Kris Acox or Kendrec Ferrara (whoever is playing better, because that seems to be how they determine who plays) will also be a critical match-up.

Prediction: Furman has played OK at times in SoCon play, but let's face it- they are not going to go on the road and beat Mercer. The Bears are, quite frankly, the better team and are a very good home team. Furman let's teams shoot the ball very well, and Mercer's defense is very good. Furman will fall behind quickly by double digits and get stuck being behind by about that much for the rest of the game, never really making a move, but never falling completely out of it either. Mercer 72, Furman 60.

Chattanooga at Samford (8:00 Thursday)

What Does It Mean: The Bulldogs are 0-6 in SoCon play. They have played ETSU and Wofford within five combined points at home. Samford goes to Mercer after this and suddenly, the Bulldogs could be 0-8. This is a near must win game for Samford. The Mocs are a half game behind Wofford for first in the SoCon and tied with Mercer for second. The Mocs are coming off an emotional road win at ETSU. If they survive this, they will get to play two games at home against UNCG and VMI next week with a 5-1 SoCon record. Yes, the Mocs can go on a winning streak here, but this game is far from the lay up it would appear to be based on Samford's record.

Match-up: Samford has a great young point guard in Christen Cunningham. The Mocs have Greg Pryor, if he's healthy. He's only a sophomore. Assuming everything goes as planned, this is the first of at least six match-ups between these two over the next three years. This should be a lot of fun in the coming years. Samford's Darius Jones-Gibson has scored at least 15 points in every game in January, and no less than 13 in any of his six SoCon games. Michael Bradley is 6-10 and one of the few players in the SoCon that can match up with Justin Tuoyo inch for inch. Still, Tuoyo is talented and should still present match-up problems with Bradley.

Prediction: The Mocs are the better team, but Samford has been so close to pulling off a SoCon upset. Cunningham against Pryor is a deeply intriguing match-up. The Mocs better come ready to play or else they will not survive this trip. Casey Jones and Rico White should be rejuvenated after having four days off and, if he is healthy, Pryor is a huge asset to this offense. The up and down style of Samford could be interesting for Chattanooga to deal with, even if that is also a style the Mocs prefer at times. Chattanooga 68, Samford 65.

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