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.