Saturday, February 28, 2015

SoCon Previews- February 28

Game of the Day- Samford at VMI (1:00 PM)

What's The Story: VMI has one objective- locking up the number six seed in the SoCon Tournament. They can do it with a win. A loss could send them slipping to seventh and not getting a bye in the tournament. Samford has a different objective- getting back to winning. They have now lost four straight after their five game winning streak. They are searching to get the best seed they can possibly get. This is a very important and intriguing game, between two of the teams that play full court pressure defense in the conference.

Match-up: The Bulldogs struggles have been highlighted, and they could use another big body. Michael Bradley has been fine, but he is all alone in the paint. VMI has Phillip Anglade in the paint. Anglade against Bradley should be at least entertaining. Which VMI shooter steps up in this one? Julian Eleby? Tim Marshall? Brian Brown? Those guys have taken turns shooting well in recent weeks. How Christen Cunningham handles the pressure for Samford may be the difference in this one. When they played at Samford, the Bulldogs had twenty turnovers, four by Darius Jones-Gibson. Jones-Gibson needs to be a scorer and not commit too many turnovers. Eleby scored 19 in their first match-up and was a major player. The Bulldogs have not been knocking down free throws during this losing streak at the same rate they did during the winning streak. That has been one major difference.

Prediction: Samford is a better team than they showed in the 22  point loss to VMI in December or in the 14 point loss to UNCG on Thursday. They will make this game interesting. How strong will VMI be after playing two double overtime games in a row. That equates to an extra half of basketball. Will they be fresh enough to play their tempo and shoot the ball well? Or will they have tired legs? That may well be the difference in this one. Still, with VMI at home, playing with so much on the line, they get the job done. Keydets 82, Bulldogs 76.

Western Carolina at The Citadel (1:00 PM)

What's The Story: The Bulldogs win over ETSU on Thursday gave The Citadel an opportunity to move as high as the seven seed. In the mean time, Western Carolina lost to Furman in a really ugly performance. The Catamounts are in a free fall and need to stop it before they get to Asheville. This team will be playing in the 4/5 game in Asheville next weekend no matter what, but they would love some positive momentum going in there. The Bulldogs are trying to keep their positive momentum going as they battle this one out.

Match-up: The Citadel matches up well with teams that do not necessarily like to get the ball in the paint. Western Carolina likes to shoot lots of threes. James Sinclair and Mike Brown are both good three point shooters, but Torrion Brummitt is the inside presence that will need to have a big game for the Catamounts to come up with the win. Rhett Harrelson scored 15 that time out, and he has not played that well in a while. In fact, he hasn't scored that many points since that outing. The Citadel needs Ashton Moore to keep on doing what he does. He has become a clutch shooter and an exciting player. Jake Wright is a very good shooter for The Citadel. He makes a bunch of threes. With how cold Western Carolina was shooting the other night, they will have to warm up to keep up with the Bulldogs offense in this one.

Prediction: The Bulldogs are at home and looking to close this out on a positive moment. The Catamounts are really stumbling right now, having lost three straight. The Bulldogs are actually better than the Catamounts right now. Western Carolina may get things going again in Asheville, but it won't happen in this one. Bulldogs 68, Catamounts 60.

Wofford at Furman (4:00 PM)

What's The Story: The Terriers have locked down the number one seed, so there is not much to this one for them...except for beating their rival on the road again. Wofford has dominated the Paladins recently and would love nothing more than to add another loss to the Paladins ledger. The Paladins are currently in last place, but their upset of Western Carolina on Thursday puts them in a position to where they can get out of that position with another upset. The Paladins are not a bad team given that they are in last place and would love to put on hold their recent struggles with their rival for at least one night.

Match-up: The Paladins showed up with a surprising effort against the Catamounts. Kris Acox had 12 points and 17 rebounds, making it his second 17 rebound effort in the last four games. Is Acox going to turn into a consistent threat? Maybe. It is still Stephen Croone's team, though. They need him and at least one other player to step up in a big way in this one. The Terriers will rely on Karl Cochran, Spencer Collins and Lee Skinner. Skinner and Acox (two guys that do a lot of little things on the floor) will be going against each other and that should be entertaining. Each just had two points in their first match-up. It will be interesting to see if Collins can continue to play at the level that he did against Mercer, when he was hot from the floor. If Collins is going to play like that the rest of this season, Wofford just got a whole lot better. He's always been a threat, but on Thursday he was on a different level.

Prediction: The Terriers are just vastly superior to the Paladins right now. Could Furman pull the upset? Absolutely, particularly since Wofford has nothing to play for. Plus there is always the chance that Croone has a game that reminds us why he was the Player of the Month in December. But this Paladins team needs things to break right for them to win this one. They have shown so few signs of being able to beat Wofford recently, it is hard to imagine that this is the day that changes. Terriers 72, Paladins 57.

ETSU at Mercer (4:00 PM)

What's The Story:
This game has the least on the line of any game this Saturday. Mercer is locked into the three seed. ETSU is locked into the 4/5 game next Saturday. However, both teams had tough losses on Thursday night and would like to get back onto the winning track before heading to Asheville. Also, ETSU won by one point against Mercer earlier this year, inspiring Mercer to want revenge and ETSU goes for the sweep. Which team shows up and plays with passion in this one?

Match-up: ETSU has become one of the harder to predict teams in the league. Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley are good enough that they can score points on anyone. AJ Merriweather has been stepping up in a big way as this season has progressed. But, without any true inside presence, this is a team that is hard to rely on. The Bears will have opportunities with Darious Moten and TJ Hallice to score in the paint. In fact, Hallice should have a pretty solid performance against the Bucs. This is one of the biggest teams in the SoCon against one of the smallest. However, the Bucs kept up rebounding with the Bears the first time around.

Prediction: The Bucs can be dangerous if they are shooting well, but it is hard to figure out how they will guard Hallice consistently. Ike Nwamu's athleticism is also a challenge, but the Bucs are athletic enough on the perimeter to play with anyone. If this is the game where the Bucs get their act together, they may well win this one. That being said, the Bears will find a way to win this one at home on Senior Night. Bears 69, Bucs 63.

Chattanooga at UNCG (5:00 PM)

What's The Story: The Mocs have the two seed locked up and by the time this game tips off, UNCG will know a lot more about their fate. If VMI has won earlier the day, the Spartans will no longer be able to get the final bye. Only three teams in the league have currently won more than one game in a row. One is Wofford. The other two match-up in this one. In the end, these two have a chance to take some real momentum into Asheville, as it could be argued that these are two of the teams playing the best basketball as they go into the tournament. Yes, UNCG could still finish at the very bottom of the league, but the Spartans are playing well. The Mocs are gunning for their 20th D1 win of the season.

Match-up: This is one of the most interesting inside match-ups in the whole league. RJ White is playing so well right now. Kayel Locke is not an easy match-up for anyone. The Mocs have Justin Tuoyo, who is certainly one of the best big men in the conference. That makes this match-up really interesting. The Mocs will need Greg Pryor and Rico White to do a good job on Tevon Saddler and try to force him into some turnovers. Diante Baldwin has become the quiet engine on this Spartans team. Casey Jones needs to be a difference maker in this one. He only had eight points in the Mocs first match-up with the Spartans. Pryor did score 19. The Spartans need more from Nicholas Paulos, who scored just nine the first time around.

Prediction: It is Paulos' Senior Night. How will he handle his emotions on this night? My bet- he scores in double digits and has a solid performance. White is playing really well right now- much better than the first time these two teams hooked up. Stopping the Mocs will be tough for the Spartans, but with how they are playing right now, the Spartans find a way to eek out a close home win. Spartans 73, Mocs 70.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

SoCon Reviews- February 26

Wofford 76, Mercer 72

Player of the Game: Spencer Collins poured in 26 points on 7 of 11 shooting from the floor and 8 of 9 free throw shooting. He also made 4 of 6 from three point range. Collins has been kind of quiet at times this year- not Thursday.

Stat of the Game: The Terriers had an eFG% of 64.8. They shot the ball incredibly well in this one, making up for the first time they played the Bears and could not make shots. This was the offensive performance that was expected from the Terriers and it was very impressive.

What It All Means: For Mercer, this one hurts. While they played Wofford close twice, they were unable to finish either time and now are 1-3 against Chattanooga and Wofford, with their one win coming in overtime against the Mocs at home. The offense was much better this time than against Wofford the first time, but the defense was not good. The Bears do not have one scorer that they can rely on to get a shot when they need it, and that can hurt them. They also had no answer inside for Lee Skinner on Thursday, not to mention Collins big game. The Bears are the third seed, but I would say at this point, they look like they are clearly third on that list of three teams. The Terriers locked down the number one seed with this win, and they played well, especially offensively. They were so efficient, and they survived a couple of big runs by the Bears and did what they needed to do to win. The Terriers are the favorites to win in Asheville by a nose. They go to Furman on Saturday to wrap up the regular season. Collins, Skinner and Karl Cochran seem to be getting things going at just the right time for this club.

The Citadel 74, ETSU 73

Player of the Game: Ashton Moore knocked down the winning shot at the buzzer, part of his 21 points, six rebounds and eleven assists. He made 5 of 10 from the floor. Moore has been the Bulldogs best player game after game.

Stat of the Game: The Citadel made 18 of 18 from the free throw line. That was critical for the Bulldogs, as they needed every one of the freebies they could get.

What It All Means: This Bucs team is just so puzzling. They looked great in the first half against Chattanooga and then fell apart. In this one, they just couldn't ever get anything going consistently. Yes, they were ahead thanks to Jalen Riley with just a few seconds left, but it just wasn't enough. Still, if this team wins on Saturday at Mercer, they wrap up the four seed. A loss and a loss by Western Carolina would still get them the four seed. They can go no lower than the five seed. That's good news for the Bucs. This team is too small to be able to win consistently because their shooters have to be on, but they are still a contender because they have great guard play. The Bulldogs came up with the huge win to get their sixth conference win. This team seems to be starting to peak again...and just in time! The free throw shooting was huge, and Moore knocking down two game winners in three weeks shows that this team can win a close game. The Citadel can not get to the six seed because of their two losses to VMI, but they can get the seven seed simply by winning at home against Western Carolina on Saturday. This club has been a bit of a mystery, but they are playing good basketball right now, knocking down shots, which means, just like last year, they could spring an upset or two in Asheville.

Chattanooga 86, VMI 82 (2OT)

Player of the Game: Casey Jones scored 17 points with ten rebounds and three blocks. He made 7 of 14 from the floor. He played 44 minutes and continues to make a push for SoCon Player of the Year.

Stat of the Game: VMI had an eFG% of 44.1. That's not awful, but it's not good either. They shot under 40% from the floor and knocked down just six threes. The Keydets have been shooting much better during their winning streak, but just could not put the ball in the hoop tonight with enough consistency to come up with the win.

What It All Means: VMI had a shot at the four seed if they could win this one, but now are locked in to no better than the six seed. They could get as low as the seven seed with a loss to Samford and a UNCG win over Chattanooga on Saturday. This club did not shoot the ball well in this one. That can be deadly to this club that relies on knocking down shots. They defended pretty well, though they just forced thirteen turnovers. They did not rebound well and the Mocs did what it took to win the game. Phillip Anglade and Julian Eleby were very good, each scoring over 25 points. VMI is an incredibly dangerous team in Asheville, no matter who they play. The Mocs made just 12 of 24 from the free throw line, and that is the reason this game was close. They rebounded well, did not commit a lot of turnovers, and held VMI to a poor shooting night. Still, it was close. The Mocs got a win, and have the two seed locked up. They showed enough grit and determination to come up with the win as the game continued to roll through regulation and then the first overtime. They have a tough game at UNCG on Saturday that does not matter in the conference standings to the Mocs.

UNCG 81, Samford 67

Player of the Game: RJ White scored 24 points with 12 rebounds. Since he has been coming off the bench, he has been a much better player. He seems to get into the flow of the game better coming off the bench. He looks like an All SoCon type of player right now. He made 10 of 13 from the floor.

Stat of the Game:  The Spartans only turned the ball over nine times against the Bulldogs pressure defense. That pressure defense has been reasonably successful against UNCG this year, but not in this one, as the Spartans did a good job protecting the ball.

What It All Means: Now there need to start being questions about Samford again. That was not a good performance. When they won five straight in the middle of conference play, the Bulldogs seemed to be coming along. Even in these last three losses, they have competed well and looked pretty good, to the point that they were a team people did not want to play in Asheville. But they did not look like that team in this one. They looked quite mediocre in this one. They did not shoot particularly well, did not defend well and did not force turnovers. This was a major disappointment for Samford. They will try to get back on the winning track Saturday against VMI. UNCG kept their chances of the bye alive with this win. They looked good doing it and continue to look like a team that is destined to be trouble in Asheville. This club is getting better all the time. They host Chattanooga on Saturday evening in the final SoCon game of the season. The Spartans have really developed in the last few weeks and are taking more advantage of their size. This club is showing more than just signs of life- they are all out alive.

Furman 53, Western Carolina 49

Player of the Game: Kris Acox scored 12 points with 17 rebounds. He had ten offensive rebounds and made 4 of 8 from the floor. Acox showed off in this one. He was a solid contributor Thursday night. If he continues to play like that and collect double doubles, this team will be tough in Asheville.

Stat of the Game: The Catamounts shot 28.0 eFG% in this one. Yikes. That is horrid. Furman wasn't much better, going 31.5 eFG%. But the Paladins solid defense and the sheer number of free throws the Paladins shot (42 to 18) was the difference in this one.

What It All Means: Western Carolina has to look at themselves and ask some real questions. One point from their starting forwards (Tucker Thompson and Torrion Brummitt) is simply unacceptable. The Catamounts have now lost three straight games after winning at Mercer and looking like they might steal the two or three seed in the SoCon Tournament. Wofford was acceptable. Double overtime loss to VMI is a little less so. This one is a little less acceptable than that. All three together is completely outside of the realm of acceptable. This team is too talented to be playing like this. They have to go to The Citadel on Saturday. The Catamounts are always dangerous in Asheville, but are not looking like a team capable of doing damage right now. Things can change between now and  next Saturday, but wow. Furman had looked like a team ready for the season to be over. Now, they look like a different team. Acox really played great, and like the player I've been wanting to see. Kendrec Ferrara played reasonably well, too. Stephen Croone only knocked down 5 of 11 from the free throw line. That was the reason this game was close to begin with. Furman was the much better team on Thursday night. They are still a dangerous team, after all.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

SoCon Previews- February 26

Game of the Day- Wofford at Mercer (7:00 PM)

What's the Story: Mercer is pretty well locked in to the number three seed, though they have a slim chance of still sneaking into the number two seed. Wofford can lock up the number one seed with a win in this one. Mercer really wants to prove that they can beat Wofford and avenge that three point loss in Spartanburg. The Bears need this win, not for seeding, but for confidence heading to Asheville. Wofford is trying to go in and win in Macon, something that is very difficult to pull off. This game should be a very intriguing match-up all the way.

Match-up: The first time these two teams hooked up, neither team shot 40% from the floor, and neither team got to 50. I'm going to say the same thing I said in the preview of that game- these are the two of the most efficient offenses in the conference and they are very good offensive teams. Mercer is an overrated defensive team. Both teams like to slow the game down, which is why they don't score huge points, but it is their offense that really makes both teams go, especially for Mercer. The Bears will need Phillip Leonard playing his best and Ike Nwamu to unleash some of his best play. Darious Moten is the other big scorer. The Terriers have Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins that can shoot from anywhere and Lee Skinner that can score on the inside.

Prediction: This should be tremendous. I am going to call again for two efficient offensive performances, despite the fact that both teams get more credit for their defense. The Bears really want to win this one, probably more than any game they've wanted this year. This should be one of the best games of the conference season, and should be a lot of fun to watch. The Bears will sneak away with a hard fought win, where both teams shoot better and look more like the offenses I expected to see the first time around...and neither team breaks 70. Bears 66, Terriers 65.

ETSU at The Citadel (6:00 PM)

What's the Story: The Bucs are trying to scratch out their seeding, between fourth and sixth. There is a difference there. At the six seed, they would be forced to play likely Mercer but possibly Chattanooga in their first game and possibly the other in the semifinals just to get to the finals. If they are the four or five seed, they would face the other (either Western Carolina or VMI) in the quarterfinals and then likely Wofford in the semifinals. The Citadel has been eliminated from the race for the six seed, but still can finish anywhere from seven to ten. Can the Bulldogs pull an upset over either ETSU or Western Carolina at home to finish up the season? The Bulldogs are looking for a little momentum as they head to Asheville.

Match-up: The Bucs will have a healthier Rashawn Rembert in this one and that will be huge. Jalen Riley has been tremendous all year, and scored 31 against Chattanooga last time out. Those two will need to play well, but against the Bulldogs that could be easier. The Bulldogs defense has been porous all season long. The Bulldogs need Ashton Moore and Jake Wright to shoot the ball extraordinarily well in this one to keep them in the game. The Bucs like to get up and down the floor, and with Rembert healthy, they should be able to do that better than they did against Chattanooga. The Citadel likes to slow the pace and keep the opposition from getting going. The Citadel shot just 38.6% from the floor the first time around and that is why they lost by eleven. The Bulldogs need to run their offense and shoot better than that this time around.

Prediction: Can The Citadel win in Charleston? Sure they can. However, this game feels like one that the Bucs are going to play well in. They need a solid showing and want to come up with a road win after kind of letting one get away against Chattanooga the last time out. The Citadel is not playing well enough to be able to win a game like this. Bucs 68, Bulldogs 61.

Chattanooga at VMI (7:00 PM)

What's the Story: VMI could still finish anywhere from fourth all the way down to eighth. The Keydets can salt away the final bye with a win in Lexington over the Mocs. This is a huge one for VMI, or else they really risk losing the bye altogether, while they can still get all the way up to the four seed. It would be huge for them to get up to the four or five seed. The Mocs can absolutely clinch the two seed with a win in this one. If Wofford loses at Mercer, a Mocs win would tie them for the conference lead, and give the Mocs a chance to win the conference on the season's final day. These are two of the hottest teams in the conference too, and they look to carry that momentum forward as they go to Asheville.

Match-up: Can VMI's recent hot shooting continue? That has been the difference for this club as they have won three straight games. The Keydets shot just 31% the first time they played the Mocs and  lost by 22 in Chattanooga. The Mocs are a team that turns the ball over at a fairly high rate- 7th in the SoCon. The Keydets force turnovers at the highest rate in the conference. In the first match-up, the Mocs turned it over just ten times, and that was a huge difference in the game. Greg Pryor and Rico White will be critical in this one with their ball handling abilities. The Keydets are one of the worst shooting teams in the conference still, despite their recent hot streak. Can Julian Eleby score 40 points again? What of Brian Brown and Tim Marshall, who had been the hot hands prior to the Western Carolina game? If the Mocs are able to break the press, how will VMI, with their lack of big men, slow down Justin Tuoyo?

Prediction: This is a deeply intriguing match-up. The Keydets are as hot as any team in the SoCon. Hosting a team like Chattanooga is a great measuring stick for where they are as the team heads to Asheville. Still, the Mocs are the better team. If VMI is knocking down shots and forcing turnovers, they can win this game, and possibly win it easily. If the Mocs can keep turnovers down, they should be able to hang around and eventually pull this one out. Based on the first go round, they should do a decent job of that. Mocs 78, Keydets 74.

Samford at UNCG (7:00 PM)

What's the Story: This game would be much more interesting if both teams were only a game behind VMI. Instead, they are two games back of the Keydets with two to play. If VMI wins, then neither team has a chance at the bye. If VMI loses, then the winner of this game will be the only team that can catch VMI for the final bye. Samford plays VMI on Saturday in a winner-take-all game. If UNCG wins, they will need Samford to beat VMI and to beat Chattanooga to earn the six seed. For my money, these two teams are playing as good of basketball as anyone in the bottom half of the conference right now. Samford would love to stop their losing streak, while the Spartans would love to turn in a winning streak.

Match-up: The Bulldogs rely on Tyler Hood to be their heart and soul, while Michael Bradley also guides them. Darius Jones-Gibson only scored five points against Mercer and they will likely need more than that to beat the Spartans on Thursday night. The Spartans rely on their inside presence, with Kayel Locke and RJ White, but they need Tevon Saddler and Diante Baldwin to play well and not turn the ball over against this pressure defense. Saddler turned it over five times the first time they met and the Spartans turned it over 16. That's why even though both teams shot over 50% from the floor, the Bulldogs won by double figures.

Prediction: Samford has hit a bit of a lull and good times are still ahead for this program. That being said, the Spartans are playing really solid basketball right now. They probably do not want to rely on White knocking down four threes again, but the Spartans are capable of winning this game. It will be a close battle all the way around, but UNCG will find a way to come up with the narrow home win. Spartans 72, Bulldogs 70.

Western Carolina at Furman (7:00 PM)

What's the Story:
The Catamounts incredibly disappointing loss at home to VMI last Saturday leads them into a tough place in this one. They are seeking to earn the four seed and avoid the six seed. The Paladins are currently in last place, and not really playing well either. Both teams need to get some positive momentum going as they head down the stretch of the season and head towards Asheville. Furman still has a shot at as high as the seven seed, but more than that, they just need to play better. Western Carolina has been inconsistent throughout the year and they need a quality performance or two down the stretch to feel good about themselves.

Match-up: Wow, Furman was bad against UNCG the last time out. A 35 point beatdown exposed all of their flaws. They have let teams shoot lights out from three recently, and Western Carolina is a team that loves to shoot the three. James Sinclair, Mike Brown and even Rhett Harrelson are all good three point shooters that should be licking their chops based on what recent teams have done to the Paladins. Torrion Brummitt has been a very nice piece for the Catamounts and will certainly be a challenge for the Paladin big men. That may be the most important piece to this game. Stephen Croone can shoot and keep them in it, but can they slow down Brummitt as well?

Prediction: The Paladins still have a chance to do something here, but they are looking more and more like a team that is not going to put it together this year. Will they do it in this one? Possibly. It's not like Western Carolina has been playing great lately. Regardless, with all the threes Furman has been giving up, it's hard to imagine that Brown and Sinclair don't both go off for 20 points. Catamounts 76, Paladins 69.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Scanning the SoCon- Week Seven

This is the fourth season of Scanning the SoCon, and hopefully we are getting bigger and better every year. People from around the conference answer questions regarding their team and other issues around the SoCon. Hopefully, it is our best year yet.

SCHEDULE

Thursday
ETSU at The Citadel (6:00 PM)
Wofford at Mercer (7:00 PM)
Chattanooga at VMI (7:00 PM)
Samford at UNCG (7:00 PM)
Western Carolina at Furman (7:00 PM)
 
Saturday
Samford at VMI (1:00 PM)
Western Carolina at The Citadel (1:00 PM)
ETSU at Mercer (4:00 PM)
Wofford at Furman (4:00 PM)
Chattanooga at UNCG (5:00 PM)

POWER RANKINGS
 
1)      Wofford 69.5 (6.5)
2)      Chattanooga 63.5 (.5)
3)      Mercer 56
4)      ETSU 49
5)      VMI 39
6)      Western Carolina 37
7)      Samford 25
8)      UNCG 21
9)      The Citadel 18
10)  Furman 7

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Julian Eleby, VMI- 3.5 votes

Others Receiving Votes: Karl Cochran, Wofford (1 vote), RJ White, UNCG (1), James Sinclair, Western Carolina (.5)

GAME OF THE WEEK

Wofford at Mercer- 4 votes

Others Receiving Votes: Chattanooga at VMI (1 vote), Samford at UNCG (1)

QUESTIONS

Sum up your team.

Chattanooga- The Mocs found a way to sweep Mercer and ETSU at home last week, keeping their slim hopes of winning the SoCon regular season title alive, and coming very close to locking up the number two overall seed. Duke Ethridge is really coming along and proving his worth. Casey Jones is making a push at Player of the Year and Justin Tuoyo has been an incredible find. Rico White, Lance Stokes and Martynas Bareika all had their Senior Night. All have started quite a bit, but only White has been contributing big minutes recently. That is a testament to the depth that this team has gained under Will Wade. They are one of the favorites in Asheville. 

Furman- Right now Furman is reeling...The last four games combined have seen opponents shoot better than 50% from three-point range against the Paladins, while Furman is struggling to score. Furman seems to have lost confidence and the season doesn't get any easier before the tournament with games against WCU and Wofford. I sympathize with Niko Medved...He's got a tough job...I hate it for a kid like Croone, who gives his all every night...Anyone who thinks Croone isn't one of the best players in the league judging him on Furman's record is just being ignorant in my opinion...There's no guard quicker in this league, but unfortunately, he's been the only dependable scorer, and when he hits a rough patch, Sibley has been good, but they never seem to have big games on the same night.

VMI- VMI continued their hot streak last Saturday, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat with a win on the road at Western Carolina in double-overtime, 113-111. Down by five in the first overtime with under 20 seconds left, Julian Eleby ran down the court and hit a step-back three pointer to cut the lead to two. After an intentional foul, WCU's Devin Peterson made only one of two free throws to put the Catamounts up 99-96. On the final possession, Peterson went for a steal and Eleby wisely went up in the air for an awkwardly missed three, but got fouled on the play. After calmly sinking all three free throws, Eleby went on to score 7 points in the second overtime (he had 13 in the first), and VMI was on-target from the charity stripe to preserve a 113-111 win. All told, Eleby scored 43 points on 11 for 22 shooting (13 of 15 FTs), the most ever points scored by a VMI player against a Division I team. Tim Marshall chipped in 18 and Jordan Weethee had 15. It was the Keydets' only game of the week, as they currently ride a 3-game winning streak and sit just a game behind WCU for fifth place. One more win (either against Chattanooga or Samford) clinches at least sixth place and that coveted first-round bye.

Read this article from Dean Keener. Should college athletes be paid and how will this impact the SoCon?

Chattanooga- I am not a fan of college athletes getting paid particularly. However, I am not sure what difference this makes to SoCon schools. If they do not comply and Power Five schools do, does that hurt the SoCon? I’m not sure. I mean, how many guys that were going to Power Five schools are SoCon schools also going after? Not many. Would a player choose to be the tenth player on the bench at Virginia Tech or a starter at UNCG? Is it worth $2000 to him to be on the bench and not playing or starting at UNCG? The players that would choose Virginia Tech in that situation are probably the players that were going to choose Virginia Tech anyway. If that guy would have gone to UNCG but now chooses Virginia Tech, then the Hokies now have one less scholarship to offer and that guy may wind up at UNCG now. Maybe that player turns out to be better. I’m not sure this is death of mid-major basketball as much as people say it could be, because I just don’t think it is quite what we all make it out to be. Maybe it is and I’m na├»ve. I just don’t think it necessarily means what so many people make it out to mean.

Furman- Paying student athletes is sort of like Lance Armstrong in my opinion...Armstrong always states that he was wrong in taking performance enhancers to compete at the highest level, but he says if he didn't do it, he would not have been competitive at all...In what Dean Keener is saying, he's right. Players are going to go where the money is being offered, and that's why the SoCon and other smaller mid-majors must comply or else not be competitive at all with the upper echelon of Division I college basketball. I might not agree, but no one wants to see a diminished product either.

VMI-
I am generally opposed to the idea of paying college athletes. Are scholarships not enough? Scholarship athletes are given access to free education, books, meals, and tons of other nameless perks that regular students do not have. Admittedly, having to balance sports and school as a Division I athlete is incredibly challenging, but most if not all low-major colleges (SoCon included) could not afford paying a stipend to major college athletes. VMI, for example, operates their athletic budget on a deficit like almost every other FCS/mid-major program. The Power Five conferences would be fine, I suppose, but it would further separate the divide between the haves and the have-nots in major college sports. This of course leads us to the attempt to make the Power Five Schools an autonomous body, which is a whole different issue.

What team is playing the best as we head towards Asheville?

Chattanooga- There are semi-obvious teams like Chattanooga and Wofford, but I’m going to say that no one really wants to play VMI, UNCG or Samford. The Keydets have suddenly found their shooting touch, which makes them a remarkably dangerous club. Samford’s style could be really tough on a team playing a second game in two nights. UNCG has been playing much better recently, and they have talent that is good enough to win the whole thing if they play together. I’m not sure which of those three teams is playing the best, but I don’t think any of the higher seeded teams really wants to see any of them.

Furman- Wofford is hard to go against, but also Chattanooga and VMI are both starting to play the kind of basketball that could be dangerous in Asheville...Again, I like the Mocs to cut down the nets in Asheville, but it wouldn't surprise me to see any one of the top six teams win it.

 
VMI- I actually think Chattanooga is the team no one wants to play come tournament time. With four straight wins and 6 of their last 7, including three against top-four teams, the Mocs have now clinched a 20-win season and have an RPI of 111, second only to Wofford. They allowed a mere 59 points to an ETSU team averaging 74.2 per game. Ronrico White has found his stride with 37 points in the last two games. The Mocs (and Wofford) are the team to beat in the SoCon.

What team is playing the worst heading into the final week?

Chattanooga- Furman is completely falling apart in every possible way. They have not developed a consistent second scorer to Stephen Croone, and Croone seems to be wearing down from shouldering so much of the load. I maintain that the young Paladins will be much better next year in Croone’s senior year, but my faith has been shaken with recent performances. I thought this team was dangerous in Asheville just about two weeks ago. Now I am afraid that they will just be a speed bump. Still, if they get everyone to contribute on one night, they can beat anyone.

Furman- Furman is not a team with a lot of confidence right now having lost seven straight, including a pair of games in blowout fashion. Medved has a tough job on his hands, but this team has been resilient and will eventually play their way through this rough stretch. It gets no easier with games against Wofford and Western.

VMI- Since starting league play 4-5, Furman has imploded with seven straight losses since an impressive victory over ETSU on January 29. The Paladins lost two of these games in overtime, but another two were blowouts on the road at VMI (34 points) and UNCG (35 points). There three-point defense has faltered after allowing the Spartans to shoot 60% from behind the arc. Look for the Paladins to be a one-and-done in the tournament.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

SoCon Reviews- February 21 & 22

Mercer 62, Samford 61

Player of the Game: Phillip Leonard made a runner with under ten seconds remaining to give the Bears the one point road win. He scored just eight points, had three rebounds, two assists and a steal. But he scored the biggest two of the game.

Stat of the Game: Samford made just 6 of 12 from the free throw line. If the Bulldogs made 8 of 12 free throws, they win this game, and that would have been just 67% from the free throw line. The Bulldogs made a much higher percentage of their free throws during their five game winning streak. They certainly could have used a little bit better last night.

What It All Means: For Samford, the Bulldogs had no one score in double figures. They go to UNCG and VMI in their final two games, but both of those could be wins for this club, and if they are, then they still have a chance to get the final bye if VMI loses out. The Bulldogs have lost three straight games, but are still playing as well as anyone in the bottom half of the conference, outside of possibly VMI and UNCG. This club is coming. No one will want to play them in Asheville this year, and next year should be an even better season. For the Bears, this was an escape that helped to clinch the number three seed for them. Nothing they do this week can change their seed in Asheville. They are the only team completely locked in to their seed. Still, these last two games matter to them. They host Wofford on Thursday with a chance to prove that they can beat one of the league's best that night. Then they host ETSU, a team that beat them by a point in Johnson City earlier this year. This is an important week for Mercer to prove where they fit in this conference. Mercer needed to get this road win. It was a quality win for this club.

VMI 113, Western Carolina 111 (2OT)

Player of the Game: It is hard to do better than Julian Eleby. He wound up with 43 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals. He made 11 of 22 from the field and 8 of 15 from three, while knocking down 13 of 15 from the free throw line. Eleby made a number of clutch shots late in regulation and overtime as well. He was truly a star on Saturday.

Stat of the Game: The Keydets made 20 of 46 from three point range. Since the game went to double overtime, it is not quite as impressive to knock down twenty threes. Still, VMI made a big number of threes and that is how the biggest reason they came up with the win.

What It All Means: For Western Carolina, they remain a bit of a mystery. Since beating Mercer at Mercer, they have now lost two straight games, both in Cullowhee. This team is 8-8 in SoCon play, and now can kiss good bye any chance of catching Mercer for the three seed. The Catamounts now have a much bigger concern- being caught from behind by VMI for the five seed. The Catamounts need to find some measure of consistency before they get to Asheville. However, they have done this before down the stretch, only to have a remarkable run in the SoCon Tournament. Do not count this team out. They have the shooters to be able to do that, as evidenced by James Sinclair scoring 40 points. For VMI, with Chattanooga and Samford coming up, they still have a shot at the four seed, believe it or not. If they win out and ETSU and Western Carolina lose out, they get the four seed. Who saw that coming? Regardless, they have to win at least one to keep the six seed in tact. They could not get it if they lose both games. Still, VMI has suddenly won three games in a row and is one of the league's hottest teams. When this team shoots the ball well, as they have been recently, they are a very tough out for any team. It was the second half against Wofford that everything turned around and got better for this club. We'll see where they are this week in Lexington.

Chattanooga 67, ETSU 59

Player of the Game: Rico White, on Senior Night, lead the Mocs with 20 points, including huge shots in the second half. He made 4 of 7 from three and had three rebounds, two assists and two steals. He also knocked down 8 of 9 from the free throw line. White was on top of his game in his final home game.

Stat of the Game: ETSU shot 33.3% in eFG. That means they were quite simply not making shots. They were ice cold, particularly in the second half. The Bucs built up a halftime lead, but couldn't do anything in the second half and that was the reason the Mocs were able to pull out the win.

What It All Means: The Bucs looked good for a half, and considering that Rashawn Rembert was seriously limited by illness, this was a good showing. The Bucs are trying to hold onto the number four or five seed though. VMI is gaining on them from behind. They go to The Citadel and Mercer in their next two games, which will not make this easy. The Bucs need at least one more win and maybe two more to avoid falling to the six seed. That game at The Citadel is huge. Jalen Riley was brilliant, scoring 31 points. A complete ETSU in Asheville will be a difficult out. The Mocs kept their hopes alive for the number one seed and they also locked down the number two seed. Chattanooga was down by eight points at halftime and fought back with a solid second half. Justin Tuoyo really changes things defensively, and Casey Jones is a good talent. The Mocs got to 20 wins for the first time in ten years. Chattanooga is in good shape and a real contender for the SoCon title.

Wofford 78, The Citadel 52

Player of the Game: Lee Skinner scored 13 points with seven rebounds and four assists on 6 of 7 shooting. Skinner continues to see his play improve down the stretch and he had a very memorable Senior Night.

Stat of the Game: Terriers four turnovers. The Bulldogs are not a good defensive team and they don't force a lot of turnovers. Still, four turnovers in forty minutes is impressive. The Terriers did just that. Very impressive, indeed.

What It All Means: The Bulldogs were no match for an angry Wofford team. They host ETSU and Western Carolina in their next two games, and were eliminated from the final bye race by the Keydets win over Western Carolina. The Bulldogs did not play well, and saw their chances done. Still, this season has been an improvement for The Citadel and they are a much better team than a year ago. In Asheville, their offense will be tough to handle. Wofford now just needs to win one of their last two at Mercer and at Furman to lock down the regular season title. The Terriers avenged one of their two losses and became the second team in the conference to defeat every team at least once (Chattanooga being the other). The Terriers played hungry and played angry. When they do that against a SoCon team like The Citadel, they are almost impossible to beat. This was a complete performance by a Terriers team that had been waiting for revenge.

UNCG 84, Furman 49

Player of the Game: RJ White. This game was all about White's start. He made four threes in four possessions for the Spartans...which is something he should probably not do. It was his shots that put this game away early. He scored 18 points with nine rebounds, one assist, two steals and a block. He really filled up the stat sheet.

Stat of the Game: Furman had a 40.2 eFG%, while the Spartans shot 64.2 eFG%. The Spartans really could not miss and Furman was simply not making shots. It was really an unbelievable show by the Spartans all the way around.

What It All Means: For Furman, they are really struggling now. They are officially in a tailspin. They didn't rebound, didn't shoot, and didn't defend Sunday. Once things started going south, they could not recover. They have to host Western Carolina and Wofford, so it is getting more and more difficult to imagine how they are going to win another game. They need something positive to happen just to start going well heading to Asheville. Things are looking desperate. This team will be better next year with a year's experience, but things are not getting better as this year goes on. The Spartans are just two games out of the final bye now. If they win both of their final games against Samford and Chattanooga and VMI loses both of their final two games, they will earn the final bye. This is a real chance for UNCG to do something special at the end of the year. They could not miss shots today and once one fell, confidence roared for this club. This is the second time in six games that they have won by 29 points or more. That is truly impressive. This club is incredibly dangerous in Asheville. No one will want to play them.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

SoCon Previews- February 21 & 22

Game of the Day: Mercer at Samford  (Saturday, 7:00 PM)

What's The Story: Mercer is out to catch Chattanooga (which would take a lot of work at this point) while also trying to avoid being caught from behind by ETSU or Western Carolina. A loss here would eliminate the Bears from the chase for second and will desperately be holding on as the Catamounts and Bucs try to chase them down. On the other side, Samford has lost two in a row after winning five in a row and they are hungry to get back to their winning ways and come up with a way to finish in sixth. With games at UNCG and VMI to wrap things up, the Bulldogs have a real chance to get that six seed if they can find a way to steal this one.

Match-up: Mercer hammered Samford the first time these teams met  in Macon. Since that game, Mercer has gone just 4-4. Samford has gone 5-2. The Bears offensive efficiency was put on hold Thursday against the Mocs as they struggled to get good looks. Still, Mercer is the best offensive team in the league. Going against Samford's full court pressure defense will be an interesting battle for this club. This is the final home game for Samford, and seniors Michael Bradley and Tyler Hood are playing their final home game. It's going to be an emotional night for the two seniors playing in their final home game. Darius Jones-Gibson and Christen Cunningham are the two new guys who have been huge contributors this year. Mercer does not have a lot of depth, so the starters need to play big minutes. Phillip Leonard is one the better point guards in the league and will be challenged by the pressure. Ike Nwamu is explosive, but has not been quite as good in conference play. TJ Hallice is a solid inside presence. This is an intriguing match-up between the slow down style of Mercer and the speed up style of Samford.

Prediction: The Bulldogs and the Bears play different styles, but the Bears only turned the ball over ten times the first time around. Nwamu scored 22 points. Cunningham scored 10 points and Marcus Johnson scored 11 as the only Samford players in double figures. The Bulldogs have won at Western Carolina and ETSU and beat the Catamounts at home. Still, this game feels like it should be the Bulldogs best performance of the year. It's Senior Night closing out a groundwork laying year at home. This is the game they should put together a great game. The Bulldogs slip past the Bears in an upset. Bulldogs 73, Bears 72.

VMI at Western Carolina (Saturday, 4:30 PM)

What's The Story: VMI is currently clinging to the number six seed and the final bye in the SoCon Tournament. To get there, the Keydets simply need to beat Samford to close the year or win one more game- this one or at home against Chattanooga. Whew. Things are not easy for this crew as they search for the final bye. But this is an opportunity to move one step closer to that, after all the ups and downs of a tumultuous season. Western Carolina, on the other hand, needs just one win to wrap up a bye, and they try to hunt down Mercer for the three seed. They swept the Bears and could get there, though they need Mercer to lose twice and win out. It is not an impossible task, though, as Western Carolina is likely to be favored in their final three games and Mercer has a  very difficult final three games.

Match-up: VMI is a team of streaky shooters. The problem is that their team has so often been cold shooting this year. Western Carolina is also a team with some streaky shooters. If both teams are hot, this could turn into a real barn burner. James Sinclair scored 28 points with nine rebounds in their first meeting, and Mike Brown poured in 21. For VMI, Brian Brown and Tim Marshall were red hot last week, scoring points in bushels. Did they stay hot over the six days off? Or did the time off cool them off. VMI can force turnovers, obviously, but the Catamounts are hoping to protect the ball and get the game played in a manner they want it to be. Turnovers have been a problem at times for the Catamounts this year, and they committed 22 against the Keydets the first time. They will need to do a better job than that if they want to win, because Brown and Marshall are hot enough to keep the Keydets in it if the Catamounts turn it over that often this time around.

Prediction: Yes, the Catamounts have not been as good in Cullowhee recently as they sometimes are, but this is still a home game for Western Carolina, and they still have Sinclair and Brown, who should carve up this VMI defense. The Catamounts are the better team and should realize that they have something to play for as they move forward. Brown and Marshall each score 20 points, but it's not enough. Catamounts 81, Keydets 74.

The Citadel at Wofford (Saturday, 7:00 PM)

What's The Story:
Revenge is on the menu! At least, Wofford hopes it is. While the Bulldogs have put themselves in a position to contend for the final bye, they are still just 5-10 in SoCon play. One of those wins was a home, double digit come from behind victory over the Terriers in Charleston. Can the Bulldogs possibly duplicate the feat in Spartanburg? The Citadel has to win at least two if not all three of their final games to really get the final bye, which is an incredible task with ETSU and Western Carolina still ahead. The Bulldogs are playing their final road game, and they are 3-4 in conference road games this year. Wofford is not only looking for revenge, but more importantly looking to nail down the top seed in the SoCon Tournament and the automatic invitation to at least the NIT. They need to win two of their final three games to guarantee they get there with no help from Chattanooga losing. With a trip to Mercer still ahead, this one is very important to win ahead of that game.

Match-up: Ashton Moore is a scorer. He scored 29 against the Terriers in Charleston and will need to have that kind of game again for the Bulldogs to have a chance. He is certainly capable of it. Of course, the most apparent mismatch in this game happens on the other end of the floor. The Citadel is the worst defensive team in the conference and has not seemed able to slow down teams with patient offenses like Wofford's. The Terriers will need to break the Bulldogs out of their zone with some shots by Spencer Collins and Karl Cochran. Then they will have the chance to pound the ball inside to Lee Skinner. The Bulldogs will be counting on keeping it close with their surprisingly efficient offense. Brian White only scored one in their first match-up and Jake Wright only got nine. Those two will need to combine for double that for the Bulldogs to stay in this one.

Prediction:  If ever we are going to see a full forty minutes start to finish  from Wofford, this may be it. They have revenge on their mind, the emotion of Senior Night for a special class that includes Karl Cochran and Lee Skinner, and a superior team to their opponent. This one will not be pretty. Look for the Terriers to dismantle the Bulldogs early and often and take the fight out of them quickly. Terriers 65, Bulldogs 46.

ETSU at Chattanooga (Saturday, 8:00 PM)

What's The Story: These two teams have an old rivalry, but one that still means something to both fan bases. Chattanooga won in overtime in Johnson City earlier this year, and play another critical game on Saturday night. The Mocs lock up the number two seed with a win over the Bucs and keep some pressure on Wofford for the top seed. The Bucs still have a chance to catch Mercer for the number three seed if they win out and Mercer falls to either Samford or Wofford. That number three seed does matter, because the number six seed is likely to be about three games behind the number five seed in the standings. The Bucs are hoping to avenge their earlier loss and find a way to upset the Mocs in Chattanooga and keep those slim hopes alive.

Match-up: The Bucs are relying heavily on guard play to carry them. Rashawn Rembert, Jalen Riley and Lester Wilson each need to score big point totals to keep them in games. Their shooting is good and can keep them in games, but their lack of size can create problems. They did outrebound the Mocs the first time they met, but that was before the Mocs were getting quality minutes from Duke Ethridge, who provides another big man that can cause trouble for teams like the Bucs. Justin Tuoyo is another tremendously difficult player for a smaller team to guard. Casey Jones will be looking to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season. Still, the Mocs defense is the second best in the conference, but it will be severely tested by the shooting of particularly Riley. He is very good and is going to be difficult to control for the Mocs.

Prediction: The emotions of Senior Night could cause the Mocs to start slow against ETSU, but the Mocs are playing much better than ETSU is right now. Will the rivalry ignite better play in the Bucs? Possibly. This game is a chance for the Mocs to close out the home season on a high note and they are not going to let that opportunity pass them by. The Mocs defense does enough to help them escape with the win. Mocs 73, Bucs 68.

Furman at UNCG (Sunday, 1:00 PM)

What's The Story: These two teams are currently the worst two teams in the SoCon, and Furman's schedule is such that it is tough to imagine them making a real run at the number six seed, where VMI already owns the tiebreaker over the Paladins. With Western Carolina and Wofford after this one, Furman is in trouble in that regard. The Spartans, on the other hand, are not in as much trouble and present an interesting case. With Samford still to come at home, and VMI and The Citadel's difficult closing stretches, it is possible that with a win here, the Spartans could head into their final home game against Chattanooga in control of their own six seed destiny. If the Mocs have nothing to play for that day, the Spartans could actually get the six seed still, and it is not unrealistic at all. Of course, the Spartans have not beaten three consecutive D1 teams yet this year, so maybe it is unrealistic. Still, it has to start somewhere, and with a win in this one, the Spartans get right back into the thick of the bye race.

Match-up: Will Stephen Croone play? If he does not, then it obviously completely changes the way this game is played. Who steps up for the Paladins if Croone does not play? It's hard to know. Geoff Beans sat out the last game with concussion symptoms? Will he play? If there is no Beans and no Croone, then guys like Devin Sibley will have to step up. Not that Sibley hasn't done it before, but it would be a difficult task. The Paladins big men are interesting in Kris Acox and Kendrec Ferrara, but neither have developed as much as they were expected to this year. They will be going against the Spartans big men of RJ White, Kayel Locke and Marvin Smith. That is a mismatch in favor of the Spartans. Clay Byrd and Nicholas Paulos will need to knock down some threes to get the positive momentum going for the Spartans in this one.

Prediction: The Paladins with Croone may keep this one close. Without Croone, they are in big trouble. Huge trouble. The Paladins are not playing well right now, and the Spartans are playing better, despite the losses. The Spartans will find a way to get this thing done. Let's split the difference on whether or not Croone plays. Spartans 75, Paladins 65.

Friday, February 20, 2015

SoCon Reviews: February 19

Chattanooga 74, Mercer 61

Player of the Game: Greg Pryor poured in sixteen points with seven rebounds and seven assists. That's solid all-around play from one of the SoCon's most underrated players. He made 3 of 6 from the floor and 2 of 4 from three point range and made 8 of 8 from the free throw line.

Stat of the Game: Chattanooga had 31 points off the bench while Mercer had just seven. Mercer's bench played 53 minutes to the Mocs 71, so that certainly contributed to the difference, but was not the sole difference. The Mocs bench is becoming one of the best weapons late in the season.

What It All Means: The Bears found themselves up double digits early, but could not hold on. Now, they will be hard pressed to finish second, needing to win out and have the Mocs lose out. Of course, coming up on the Bears from behind is Western Carolina, who swept them and owns the tiebreaker. They are up two games on the Catamounts, but need to survive. They go to Samford on Saturday, then host Wofford and ETSU. This is not an easy closing stretch, like we've been saying all along. They scored just seven points off their bench. They did not shoot the ball well and were beaten badly on the boards by Chattanooga for the second time this year. The Mocs played a great second half, particularly the second half of the second half. Duke Ethridge continues  to show vast improvement, and came up with five blocks, while Tuoyo came up with three. This team is a good defensive team that gets even better because of all their blocked shots. They have a lot of offensive weapons and when Casey Jones only scores six (like he did on Thursday, mainly because of foul trouble), Rico White, Tuoyo, Eric Robertson, Pryor and even Ethridge have turned into pretty solid scorers. The Mocs host ETSU on Saturday and go to VMI and UNCG next week. If they beat ETSU, they clinch no worse than the two seed.

The Citadel 62, Furman 56 (OT)

Player of the Game: Ashton Moore scored 20 points, had seven rebounds and six assists on 7 of 13 shooting from the floor, including 2 of 4 from three point range. He also had three steals. Moore continues to be the Bulldogs best scoring threat.

Stat of the Game: The Citadel shot an astounding 56.8% from the floor, while the Paladins shot just 37.7% from the floor. The Bulldogs have the league's worst defense, so being able to hold the Paladins to that poor of shooting was absolutely the key to the game.

What It All Means: Oh, those Paladins! This is the loss that is devastating, in more ways than one. Stephen Croone was injured in the closing moments. If Croone is out, this team is really going to struggle. On top of that, the Paladins loss throws them into  real danger of finishing in last place. They go to UNCG and then host Western Carolina and Wofford. In other words, they won't be favored in any of their remaining games. Things are kind of coming undone for this club that looked like it was going to contend for the final bye just a few weeks ago. Now, that dream is pretty much over. The Citadel is now 5-10 and right in the thick of the final bye race, down by one game to VMI and the tiebreaker. Still, the Bulldogs have a chance. But the chances are not good- they go to Wofford, host ETSU and Western Carolina down the stretch. They have to get a minimum of two wins and hope VMI loses three times to get the final bye. That is tough given their schedule. Of course, a three way tie with Samford would be to their advantage because of the win over Wofford that keeps on giving. The Bulldogs defense was significantly better in this one, which is the main reason that they came up with the overtime upset. If the defense keeps on playing like that, they will have a shot to win some games down the stretch.

Wofford 77, UNCG 62

Player of the Game: Karl Cochran scored 18 points and had five rebounds. He made 7 of 14 from the floor 4 of 6 from three point range. It was another very solid all around performance by the Terriers best player.

Stat of the Game:  The Terriers knocked down 23 of 29 free throws. All those free throws and all that foul trouble from the Spartans helped give the Terriers the ability to come back from ten points down to win in the second half.

What It All Means: The Spartans played a near flawless first half, but followed that up with a flawed second half. Still, UNCG was up ten points at halftime on the top team in the conference on the road. There is no doubt this team has improved drastically from just a few weeks ago. This team may be in last now, but actually has a real shot at the bye- they swept VMI, have split with The Citadel and a chance to split with Samford, the three teams actually ahead of them in the standings. The schedule is not bad- Furman, Samford and Chattanooga all at home. Don't be surprised if next Saturday we are talking about this team earning a bye. The Terriers are in first place, but nearly saw their whole lead evaporate with a loss here. Still, the Terriers need to win two out of three to win the conference down the stretch, and with a home date with The Citadel, and road dates at Mercer and Furman, they should get there. But who knows with this team? They have proven consistently that you never know which team is going to show up for any length of time. This game was a microcosm of that, as they fell behind by 10 only to win the  second half by 25 (though a lot of that was aided by free throws at the end). The Terriers did a nice job in this one, but there is still plenty of room for improvement.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

SoCon Previews- February 19

Game of the Day- Mercer at Chattanooga (7:00 PM)

What's The Story: Does Mercer want to get back into the championship race, or at least have a shot at the two seed? Then this game is a must win for the Bears. They have a brutal four game finishing stretch, but a win in this one would mean they had swept the Mocs, which would give them the tiebreaker over the Mocs and likely Wofford as well. The Bears would be tied with Chattanooga and two games behind Wofford with a game against the Terriers still remaining. The Mocs have a shot to  wrap up the number two seed with wins over Mercer and ETSU this weekend. Chattanooga came up just short when they went to Macon, losing in overtime to Mercer. They would like to avenge that loss, and try to finish up conference play at home with just one conference loss and two home losses overall on the season. Win both games this weekend, and the Mocs can do just that. It also keeps a bit of pressure on Wofford as they try to track down the Terriers in the conference race.

Match-up: Casey Jones has won the Player of the Week two of the last three weeks, and he has truly developed into one of the top players in the SoCon. Justin Tuoyo has been solid in the paint on both ends of the floor for much of the season, and had a great game on Saturday against Samford. The key for the Mocs may be the continued development of Duke Ethridge, who has been playing much better lately. Also, Eric Robertson is the most important shooter as he knocks down long shots more consistently than anyone else on the team. Mercer is an interesting team, because they play such team basketball- more so than any other team. There is no telling who will step up in any one game. Phillip Leonard has turned into one of the better point guards in the league. He leads the league with 4.7 assists per game. TJ Hallice has been excellent in the paint, so watching Hallice go against Tuoyo should be entertaining. Darious Moten and Ike Nwamu are the leading scorers. Mercer is well known for their defensive prowess, but it is actually their offensive prowess that they should be known for. They are the most efficient offense in the conference, but only fourth in defensive efficiency. They are the best rebounding team in the league. This is a good team that will be a tough out for anyone.

Prediction: The Mocs are at home and playing in a game that they are fired up about since they lost in overtime at Mercer. Remember when the Mocs hosted Elon last year in a game where they were looking to prove themselves at home? It turned into a blowout. Remember last week when the Mocs went to Wofford last week trying to prove that they could compete with the Terriers? It turned into a ten point road win. The Bears are a good team and will not go down without a fight, but this is the game the Mocs have been pointing to, even more than the ETSU rivalry game on Saturday. Look for the Mocs best home performance of the season. It will still be closer than they would like, but a comfortable win none the less. Mocs 72, Bears 64.

The Citadel at Furman (7:00 PM)

What's The Story: These two teams are tied for eighth, or last, depending on the way you look at it. Both teams are 4-10 in SoCon play. They are behind VMI by a game and a half. Both teams lose the tiebreaker to the Keydets, so things are certainly looking bleak for them. However, the Paladins have the tiebreaker currently over the Bulldogs and really need to win this game to stop some of the bleeding. The five game losing streak has not featured all bad basketball, but it has featured enough. The Bulldogs are coming off a disappointing home loss to VMI that followed a stirring upset of Samford. Their finishing kick is brutally tough, though. The loser of this game almost completely falls out of the bye picture, while the winner keeps their hopes alive.

Match-up: Ashton Moore and Stephen Croone are possibly the two most important players in the league to their respective teams. Which ones produces big in this one? It is important that they both produce big games. It is also important to see who gets the supporting cast. Neither team has gotten consistent production from the supporting cast. Devin Sibley, Daniel Fowler and Geoff Beans need to put together decent games for the Paladins. PJ Horgan and Jake Wright are the biggest contributors for The Citadel. The Bulldogs are one of the worst defensive teams in the country, which they cover up with their efficient, slow paced offense. The Paladins are a good two point shooting team, so they may be able to put some points on the board from there.

Prediction: Furman did not look great on the road last week, but they have been solid at home this year. They are 3-3 in SoCon play at home this year, with close losses to Mercer and Chattanooga. The Paladins offense should put some good numbers up. This is a game that The Citadel should like because the Paladins will not try to speed up the game dramatically. But the Paladins are a decent team at home and they come up with the important win. Paladins 69, Bulldogs 62.

UNCG at Wofford (7:00 PM)

What's The Story: The Spartans are also right in the thick of the bye race, down one and a half games, but owning the tiebreaker over VMI. With three home games, two of them against other bye contenders, following this one, the Spartans have a chance for a good finishing kick. They did not play that badly at home against Wofford earlier this year and now are playing with much more confidence than they were then. They could really use another confidence boosting performance in this one. The Terriers are looking to lock down the number one seed. They can not afford a slip up in a home game. They have two road games to wrap up the season, but host UNCG and The Citadel this weekend. Each win puts them that much closer to wrapping up the regular season title.

Match-up: The Terriers inside game is mostly Lee Skinner, and the Spartans certainly have an answer to that. Kayel Locke, RJ White and Marvin Smith are good enough in the paint that they can actually present a problem to the Terriers. They need to take advantage of that and do the most they can with it. But the Terriers have one of the league's most patient offenses- something that the Spartans have struggled with. That is, until recently, when they beat The Citadel and challenged Mercer. There is no doubt that the Spartans have improved since their first meeting with the Terriers, but can they slow down Karl Cochran, Spencer Collins and Eric Garcia? The Terriers looked a team rejuvenated by losing to Chattanooga when they went into Cullowhee and won by twenty points on Saturday. Does that carry over to this one?

Prediction: The Spartans are going to make this more interesting than the first time around. This team is showing much more grit and guts than they were playing with then. However, expecting them to come up with a win is just too much. In Spartanburg, the Terriers have lost just once this year and they are not about to let it happen again. Cochran has a big night and propels the Terriers to a ho-hum win. Terriers 68, Spartans 55.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Scanning the SoCon- Week Six


This is the fourth season of Scanning the SoCon, and hopefully we are getting bigger and better every year. People from around the conference answer questions regarding their team and other issues around the SoCon. Hopefully, it is our best year yet

SCHEDULE

Monday
Tennessee Tech at ETSU (7:00 PM Eastern)
Tuesday
Cleveland State at Western Carolina (7:00 PM)

Thursday
Mercer at Chattanooga (7:00 PM)
UNCG at Wofford (7:00 PM)
The Citadel at Furman (7:00 PM)

Saturday
VMI at Western Carolina (4:30 PM)
Mercer at Samford (7:00 PM)
ETSU at Chattanooga (7:00 PM)
The Citadel at Wofford (7:00 PM)

Sunday
Furman at UNCG (2:00 PM)

POWER RANKINGS

1)      Wofford 67 (4)
2)      Chattanooga 64 (2)
3)      Mercer 58 (1)
4)      ETSU 45
5)      Western Carolina 44
6)      Samford 35
7)      VMI 27
8)      UNCG 19
9)      Furman 15
10)  The Citadel 11

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Casey Jones, Chattanooga- 3 votes

Others Receiving Votes- Tim Marshall, VMI (2.5 votes), Karl Cochran, Wofford (1), Brian Brown, VMI (.5)

GAME OF THE WEEK
Mercer at Chattanooga- 7 votes

QUESTIONS

Sum up your team.

Samford-  A bit frustrating.  We were riding a 6 game winning streak headed into a very winnable home game against Citadel.  We won 6 straight games with a blueprint of pressure, good 2-3 halfcourt defense, and aggressively driving the ball to the rim (20+ FTA in all 6 wins).  Well, we came out thinking we could play a good bit of man-to-man half court defense and allowed Citadel to 65% from the field in the first half, including 6-7 from 3.  We also allowed Citadel to turn us into a jumpshooting team (not our strength) with over half our attempts in the 1st half coming from 3.  We made corrections at halftime, but that point we had given Citadel the confidence they needed and they won on a buzzer-beater.  Saturday we went to UTC, got back to our blueprint for the most part, but credit to UTC their length really bothered us, especially on the boards.  Teams have discovered one must against us is preventing or at least harassing our best dribble driver, Darius Jones Gibson, from getting to the right side of the rum Casey Jones is a real talent almost going for a triple double against us (21-10-6).  Our chance at getting the last bye essentially come down to road games against VMI and UNC-G.

Western Carolina- The Cats are 2-2 in their last 4 games, beating two of the top 3 teams in the league (Chattanooga & Mercer) and losing to Samford and first place Wofford.  Currently the Cats are tied for fourth place with ETSU, but since the Bucs own the tie breaker with the Cats, they are looking at the fifth seed at this point.  Western has only three conference games remaining, and while they should be projected to win those games, the lack of consistent field goal shooting, and turn over rate could result in a loss in any or all three of those games.

Wofford-It's almost like you knew it was going to happen sooner or later. For seven straight contests, the Terriers braved comebacks, grinded it out, and maintained some breathing room atop the league. However, Wofford was sent back down to earth last Thursday as Will Wade's UTC Mocs—which have complete possession of second place—snapped a winning streak that dated back to Jan. 15, when The Citadel knocked off the Terriers on the road. Shooting just 30 percent from the field and even more woefully from long distance, Wofford fell by ten points to Chattanooga.The Terriers, mainly led by Karl Cochran -- the senior from Marietta, Ga., dropped twenty-six points -- shot 50 percent from the floor and routed Western Carolina, 75-55. The road win, which helped get the Terriers back on track, was the first of Mike Young's career in the Ramsey Center.

Which coach do you believe is on the hottest seat?

Samford- Chuck Drissell - pretty sure when a school doesn't extend your contract heading into its final season, it's a pretty clear signal.  Current results don't indicate differently.

Western Carolina- I would think that Wes Miller of Greensboro is in the hottest seat of all the current SoCon coaches. The Spartans are approaching 20 losses on the season, and haven't recreated the level of success the Spartans had when Miller assumed the interim head coaching position back in 2011.

Wofford- There's several that come to mind, like Chuck Driesell of The Citadel and Wes Miller of UNCG. Their teams have under-performed for a couple years now. Furman's in a slump, but I don't think Medved is going anywhere. If I had to name one, I think I'd have to go with Miller, but it's awfully close.

Home teams are winning just 56.3% of their games in conference play, ranking 22nd in home winning percentage. What makes winning on the road easier in the SoCon than in other conferences?

Samford- Lack of home court environments.  Can only think of two conference road games that SU has played this year where I thought I saw a definitive home court advantage produced by a good crowd.  Wofford and Mercer.

Western Carolina- Of the 10 teams in the conference there is 5 teams with 5 or less conference wins.  I'd say having at least half the conference under-performing, a win is probably better than a 50-50 proposition when playing those 5 teams.

Wofford- First off, I believe that there is a great deal of parity in this league. Obviously, no one is exactly safe when it comes to a conference game. Wofford, though, has only lost one home game (last Thursday vs. Chattanooga). I'm not sure you can pin it on one specific reason; it largely has to do with the teams' skill and momentum at a given point in the season. Sometimes you get a good crowd, and that helps. However, I don't think there's a clear-cut reason for that anomaly in comparison to other conferences.

What team has overachieved the most in the SoCon so far this year?

Samford- Samford.  If you look at the preseason coaches poll, we were picked 10th, currently we are 7th.  That's the biggest improvement variance in the conference between that poll and the current standings.  Not to mention we are doing it with 6 of our top 10 guys in minutes played having never played a minute of division 1 basketball heading into the season.
Western Carolina- Actually, I don't see any overachievers in the conference. The top 4 teams, Wofford, Chattanooga, Mercer and ETSU are pretty much where they were projected to be,  If anything, I'd say the conference has about 6 underachievers in its ranks.

Wofford- I have to go with my team here, as I feel they've lived up to the sensible expectations. Yes, there was a few stumbles, there's no doubt about that. Perhaps they needed a "wake-up call" in the form of a sudden defeat. All I know is, they've outperformed any other team from the school's Division I era and still sit atop the league, despite the growing adversity. This is a special group, and they have the potential to go far.