SoCon play gets started in earnest on Friday night with ETSU hosting VMI. On Saturday, four SoCon games take place.
No team has played more than two SoCon games, and only five teams still have no losses in SoCon play, and only four have played a game yet. On Saturday, there are two match-ups between teams that are 1-0 already in SoCon play, while Wofford opens conference play at Samford. So, yes, it is a very interesting day full of fun (and important) SoCon games.
Here is a quick preview of each of the five SoCon games, pretending right now like they are all on the same day.
GAME OF THE DAY- Mercer at UNCG (Saturday, 5:00 PM Eastern)
What it Means: The Bears are 1-0 in SoCon play and so are the Spartans. The Spartans shocking upset in Johnson City against ETSU has given them an interesting opportunity to get into good shape in the SoCon. A win over Mercer would be two wins over two of the four perceived best teams in the SoCon. On the other hand, the Bears beat VMI in their SoCon opener, and are hoping to get to 2-0 before going to visit the Keydets on Monday. This is the first of three straight road conference games for Mercer. They have not won a road game yet this year, so showing up here would be huge.
Match-up: Ike Nwamu and Tevon Saddler are two of the better pure athletes in the conference. Nwamu is as good as anyone and is almost certain to come up with one explosive dunk in this one for the Bears. Saddler is as good off the ball as any guard in the SoCon. If these two match-up on each other, which would not be a total shocker, they will be fun to watch go head-to-head. Also, Mercer may be the best defensive team in the SoCon, and UNCG is one of the better offensive teams in the conference.
Prediction: Mercer is such a solid defensive team that the Spartans will find it tough to score on the Bears. But the Bears do not look like a great offensive team either. Can the Spartans defense possibly slow them down as well? It’s going to be tough. Mercer has not won a true road game this year, but will find a way to get an important conference win here. Nwamu goes off. Bears 69, Spartans 65.
VMI at ETSU (Friday, 7:00 PM)
What it Means: These two old newcomers to the SoCon square off, each at 1-1 in SoCon play. This game becomes much more important to both teams after both lost their second SoCon games in December. The loser finds themselves falling behind in the SoCon race. With VMI playing at ETSU and at Wofford and playing at home against Mercer in between, this could be a really rough week for the Keydets. For the Bucs, this is a key moment to finding out if they can be contenders without Ron Giplaye.
Match-up: Neither team has size, which makes this interesting. ETSU has lost three out of four without Giplaye. But the guard combo of Jalen Riley and Rashawn Rembert are as good as any guard combo in the conference. Of course, VMI likes to get up and down. QJ Peterson is their leading scorer and will be trying to contain Riley or Rembert on the other end. This game will be all about how the ETSU guards handle the VMI pressure. They have not been committing a lot of turnovers this season.
Prediction: Something just says to me that VMI should have no interest in playing a team like ETSU that thrives on their guard play on the road in a game that the Bucs desperately need. Everything about this game screams a great performance by ETSU. Look for the Bucs to handle the pressure and come up with an impressive win. Bucs 88, Keydets 75.
The Citadel at Western Carolina (Saturday, 2:00 PM)
What it Means: The Bulldogs and Catamounts are each 0-1 in SoCon play. Both teams need to win this one to get on the board in SoCon play. The Catamounts would fancy themselves as SoCon title contenders, but a home loss to The Citadel would call that into serious question, and would actually be a major hurdle to earning even a bye. The Bulldogs would like to prove that they are going to be better this year in the SoCon, and they appear to be slightly better. Unfortunately for them, so is a lot of the rest of the bottom of the conference. Getting a road win against the Catamounts would show that they may be able to contend for a bye yet.
Match-up: The Citadel actually has some size that could present a challenge to the Catamounts. PJ Horgan and CJ Bray are legitimate big men who can take advantage of the small-ish Catamounts. Torrion Brummitt and Justin Browning will need to step up against those guys. Of course, the Catamounts guard play, led by James Sinclair and Rhett Harrelson, will present their own set of concerns to the Bulldogs.
Prediction: Harrelson and Sinclair are so good. They have been shooting lights out, and are a concern for any team hoping to take out Western Carolina. The Bulldogs do not have the ability to match that kind of offensive output. The Citadel will try to slow the game down and turn it into a slog, and it will probably work to some degree. But in the end, the Bulldogs don’t have enough offense to win a game like this. Catamounts 65, Bulldogs 52.
Wofford at Samford (Saturday, 3:00 PM)
What it Means: The Terriers are playing their first conference game, while Samford is playing their third already. The Bulldogs are 0-2, but a win over the conference favorite would go a long way to turning this season around. The Terriers are looking to establish their dominance in the SoCon, and beating the Bulldogs may not do that, but beating Samford and Chattanooga on the road in these next two games might do that.
Match-up: How will Wofford handle the pressure defense of Samford? The Bulldogs are not a great defensive team unless they force a turnover. They are in the bottom 50 in the country in Pomeroy’s Defensive Efficiency, but right around the Top 100 in forcing turnovers. The Terriers will have to deal with that. The Terriers also have an interesting battle of momentum. They have lost two straight games (admittedly against two Top 25 teams), while Samford has actually won four in a row. Does Samford have the confidence to come up with their biggest win so far in the Scott Padgett era?
Prediction: This game has the feel of the moment the Padgett era could really take off for Samford. A win here changes the fans views of the team in a heartbeat and gets the confidence to a sky high level. Can Samford pull off the upset? Yes. Michael Bradley, Tyler Hood and Christen Cunningham are all good players. But they are no match for Karl Cochran, Lee Skinner and Spencer Collins. Wofford is glad to be back playing SoCon teams after facing ACC and Big 12 teams in three of their last four games. Winning their conference opener would be huge as they prepare to go to Chattanooga Monday night. Terriers 74, Bulldogs 71.
Furman at Chattanooga (Saturday, 7:00 PM)
What it Means: These two teams are each 1-0 in SoCon play so far this year. While Chattanooga has had a decent season so far, and many expect them to contend for the SoCon title, not many people expect Furman to be a contender. That can all change in an instant with a Paladins upset at Chattanooga. They would be 2-0 in SoCon play and find themselves going to Western Carolina before hosting UNCG and VMI. That could lead to a pretty big start in SoCon play. The Mocs host Wofford on Monday night in one of the bigger SoCon games of the year, but for that one to have the meaning it could, they need to not falter against the Paladins now.
Match-up: Stephen Croone is one of the best players in the SoCon, but Greg Pryor has been one of the most improved players in the conference. These two will likely spend a lot of time matched up on each other, and that will be intriguing. Kendrec Ferrara is a critical players for the Paladins, and he could be matched up a lot with Justin Tuoyo, one of the best defensive players in the conference. The Mocs have been a different team at home this year. They have gone 7-1 at home this year, and beaten some quality teams to do it.
Prediction: The Mocs have been a different team at home this year. While stopping Croone will be difficult, who else will present a challenge to the Mocs? The Paladins will need Ferrara or possibly Kris Acox to step up and deliver. Eric Robertson has been red hot for the Mocs, and Rico White has been solid. The Mocs pull away late for a relatively easy SoCon home win. Mocs 79, Paladins 64.