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.