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.