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.

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