The games are coming fast and furious this week. There are four complete sets of games from January 2 until January 10. That's intense. This week will play a major role in shaping how we all feel about these teams moving forward.
We think we know who the four best teams are- Wofford, Chattanooga, ETSU and Mercer. I think it is going to be incredibly difficult to figure out who will finish where from five to ten. After watching The Citadel play well at Western Carolina and Samford nearly take down Wofford on Saturday, I feel like the bottom of the conference is even stronger than I thought- making this conference that much more unpredictable.
This is a huge day for teams like Chattanooga and Wofford, fighting for early conference supremacy. It's a huge day for teams like Western Carolina and Furman, both hoping to get to 2-1. VMI and The Citadel are trying to avoid their third conference losses (they are not playing each other) and Samford their fourth.
It's a huge night. Let's get to the previews.
GAME OF THE DAY- Wofford at Chattanooga (8:00 PM)
What It Means: This may be the biggest game of the SoCon season. Wofford is the clear favorite, while Chattanooga is considered one of the most likely teams to contend with the Terriers. The game is at Chattanooga, making it all the more interesting. Both teams are unbeaten in SoCon play. The Mocs are 2-0, and the Terriers are 1-0. The Terriers won the SoCon Tournament last year and went to the NCAA Tournament, but the Mocs beat them twice. This game has been circled on the calendar for both teams. This is a huge game.
Match-up: Lee Skinner is the Terriers best big man, and he will be going up against Justin Tuoyo. This will be a good match-up in the paint. The rebounding battle between the two teams will be critical to which team wins, making Tuoyo against Skinner all the more interesting. Eric Garcia, the Terriers point guard, going against Greg Pryor will also be an extremely entertaining individual showdown as well.
Prediction: The Terriers are the SoCon favorite, but the Mocs are playing at home and hungry for a critical win. They hammered Elon at home in a similar situation a year ago. The Terriers, on the other hand, have looked less than impressive since they upset North Carolina State. Maybe this sort of contest is just what they need to get the blood flowing and the team ready to prove that they are the best in the SoCon. The Terriers will try to come out inspired and win, but the Mocs are playing better basketball right now, and at home, they pull off the slight upset. Mocs 70, Terriers 69.
Mercer at VMI (7:00 PM)
What It Means: The Bears beat the Keydets at home back in December. VMI has lost their last two SoCon games and really needs to come up with a win to keep contact with the top part of the conference. A Mercer win would give them the tiebreaker advantage over VMI and really put the Keydets in their rear view mirror. A Mercer win would mean that they would be one of two conference unbeatens remaining at the end of the night. This is VMI's home conference opener, so this is a chance for the Keydets to show how difficult it will be in the SoCon to go to Lexington.
Match-up: Ike Nwamu and QJ Peterson might be matched up against each other, and that would be very fun to watch. Also interesting? Watching the Bears defense try to control VMI's offense. Peterson scored 32 in the two teams first match-up, while Nwamu only had 18, though both were the two leading scorers. VMI may need to force more than the 16 turnovers they forced the first time around to come up with the win.
Prediction: The first match-up was tied 78-78 with around three minutes left, so the Keydets may be more evenly matched than some think. This game is basically a toss up. Mercer has not won a road game until beating UNCG on Saturday. Do they have a second straight road win in them? I think Peterson and the Keydets will be fired up playing their first SoCon home game and come up with the win. Keydets 87, Bears 83.
The Citadel at UNCG (7:00 PM)
What It Means: The Spartans were humbled and embarrassed at home against Mercer on Saturday. This game could determine how the Spartans season goes. A loss here could send the team spiraling. A win keeps them on track to contend for a bye in the SoCon Tournament. This game matters a lot to the Spartans. For the Bulldogs, they sit at 0-2 in SoCon play, but have been competitive. They just need to come up with a big win to prove that they are a challenger for a bye. The Citadel has to get a win soon, or there will be no chance for a bye. This game is interestingly one of the more important games of the night given how badly both teams need to win.
Match-up: Interesting inside match-ups are in this one. PJ Horgan and CJ Bray are tough in the paint for the Bulldogs, while Kayel Locke and RJ White are capable of big games for the Spartans. Neither team is good defensively, though the Bulldogs try to slow the game down enough so that they can keep up with opponents. Can either defense slow the other one down? Ashton Moore is also going to be matched up with Diante Baldwin. That's a good match-up at point guard, as these two are both underrated point guards.
Prediction: This is a game the Spartans should win at home, but it's not like either team has proven anything yet. Baldwin will be the difference though. He will make just enough plays that the Bulldogs won't be able to answer. Like I said, both teams are really bad on the defensive side of the ball. One will come up with a stop late that will make the difference. Spartans 76, Bulldogs 69.
Furman at Western Carolina (7:30 PM)
What It Means: The Paladins and Catamounts are each 1-1 in SoCon play, making this a critical game to determine early pecking order in the SoCon standings. The Paladins will be looking to establish themselves as a potential contender for at least a bye in SoCon play, while Western Carolina is trying to prove that they deserve those same expectations that people who follow the conference have thrust upon them. Furman has home dates against UNCG and VMI this week, which are toss up games. If Furman wins here, they could be sitting at 4-1 in SoCon play. The Catamounts have to go to Chattanooga on Thursday. This is an intriguing match-up.
Match-up: The Catamounts need Torrion Brummitt to be great and will be relying on Justin Browning against the Paladins inside presence of Kris Acox and Kendrec Ferrara. The Paladins will need to get it inside frequently to have a chance. Stephen Croone is one of the SoCon's best players, but the Catamounts have Rhett Harrelson and James Sinclair, who each score points in bunches. Can Furman score enough points to keep up with them?
Prediction: The Paladins will need big games from Acox and Ferrara to have a chance against the high scoring Catamounts. Harrelson, Sinclair, Brummitt and Mike Brown all average in double digits for the Catamounts. Croone by himself will not be able to keep up. That's what makes Acox and Ferrara so important. In the end, the Catamounts will score more than enough points to come up with the win. Catamounts 75, Paladins 66.
ETSU at Samford (8:00 PM)
What It Means: After Saturday afternoon's performance, Samford is 0-3 in SoCon play, but feel pretty good after nearly beating Wofford. The Bulldogs take on another of the SoCon contenders at home in the Bucs on Monday, and Samford needs a win just to get off the goose egg. This Samford team is not that bad, they just need to win a SoCon game. The Bucs are 2-1 in SoCon play and get Mercer and Chattanooga in Johnson City this weekend. Getting to 3-1 sets up this weekend as a set of very important home games for the Bucs.
Match-up: Tyler Hood was awful against Wofford. He will have to have a bigger night against ETSU for the Bulldogs to have a chance to come up with the win. Neither team is particularly big unless you are count Michael Bradley for Samford. He plays right around twenty minutes a game. The rest of both teams is small-ish, again meaning guard play is critical. Christen Cunningham and Darius Jones-Gibson are good players for Samford, but they will have very difficult match-ups with the likes of Jalen Riley and Rashawn Rembert of the Bucs.
Prediction: Again, in a match-up primarily focused on guard play, the Bucs have the advantage over most teams in the SoCon. They will again have an advantage against Samford for that reason. Unless Hood or Bradley really step up and have huge nights, it is hard to imagine the Bucs losing this one. The Bulldogs don't match up well with ETSU. Bucs 80, Bulldogs 70.