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.