Monday, February 2, 2015

SoCon Previews- February 3 and February 5

Game of the Day: Wofford at ETSU (Thursday, 7:00 PM)

What's The Story: The Terriers victory over Mercer on Saturday puts them in excellent position to win the regular season championship, but there are still challenges left for Wofford. This is one of them. They beat ETSU three games ago, and there was considerable tension between the two coaches at the end. The Terriers should expect an emotional environment on the road. With three of their next four on the road, and the lone home game against second place Chattanooga, this may be the Terriers toughest stretch of schedule the whole year. For the Bucs, the loss to Furman was devastating, but the win over North Carolina Central breathed new life into the team. It was an out of conference win, but an important one. The Bucs have been in a bit of a freefall in the conference race, and could certainly use a win here to stabilize themselves. They get three of their next four  at home, with the lone road game at last place UNCG, before playing their final three on the road. This is a chance for the Bucs to get on a bit of a roll before the tough finishing kick.

Match-up: ETSU fell behind big against Wofford in Spartanburg but fought back. Still, these teams have some bad blood after the way the last game ended. The Bucs are 4-2 at home in SoCon play with a one point loss to UNCG and a three point overtime loss to Chattanooga. The Bucs are small and that means that Lee Skinner should come up with a big game for the Terriers. Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins are the focal points from the guard spot, but it is Eric Garcia's healthy return that may be the key to this team's run through February and March. Garcia is the underrated engine to this team. His injuries in January coincided with the team playing worse than they had earlier in the year. There is no coincidence there. The Bucs will counter with three scoring guards- Jalen Riley, Rashawn Rembert and Lester Wilson. Those three may each need to score twenty. Wofford plays at the slowest tempo in the SoCon, while ETSU plays the second fastest. The battle of style may be the deciding factor in this game.

Prediction: This is a big moment for ETSU. After the win over North Carolina Central on Saturday, the Bucs have some new found momentum. But ETSU has gone 2-4 in their last six SoCon games. They could really use a nice win over the best in the SoCon. The Bucs did beat Mercer in Johnson City this year and lost in overtime to Chattanooga, so they are more than capable of springing the upset. Still, ETSU will have a difficult time stopping a disciplined team like Wofford, especially now that Garcia is back to playing more like himself. The Terriers win a very tough one. Terriers 68, Bucs 65.

UNCG at VMI (Tuesday, 8:00 PM)

What's The Story: The Keydets lost at Greensboro earlier this season and can ill afford another loss here. After all, VMI is just one half game behind the final bye spot. They need to come up with wins in the games they are expected to win if they are to get that bye. A home game against UNCG certainly qualifies as one they should win. This is the third of five straight home games for VMI. This was a critical stretch for them. With Wofford coming up on Saturday, they can not overlook this game. The Spartans are now in last place in the conference and have four road games in their next five. Things are really looking bleak for a team that has enough talent to finish in the top half of the league. The games this week against VMI and The Citadel comes before a three game stretch against ETSU, Mercer and Wofford. In other words, to start building confidence for next week, the Spartans need to play well this week. The Spartans need to get a win and get things going back in a positive direction.

Match-up: When these two hooked up in Greensboro, the Spartans took advantage of their size and VMI was ice cold from the floor. In what became QJ Peterson's last game for the Keydets, they held him to just eight points. Kayel Locke, Jordy Kuiper and RJ White combined for 35 points and 29 rebounds. That's the sort of production that the Spartans need out of their big guys. Phillip Anglade has 11 points and ten rebounds that night for the Keydets, and has been a pretty solid inside force. But he does not match up well with Locke, White and Kuiper. Tevon Saddler did not play the first time around for the Spartans. The Keydets will need to get out and run. But this is a team still trying to find itself without Peterson. They had just one scorer in double figures against The Citadel and none against Western Carolina in their last two games. This is a team really looking to figure out who they are now.

Prediction: The Spartans have lost four straight since beating VMI and are just 1-11 against D1 teams since the high point of beating ETSU in Johnson City. The Keydets are not a great defensive team, but they actually rank third in efficiency in conference play. They are fifth in eFG% defense and are the best in the conference at forcing turnovers. The Spartans tend to turn the ball over way too much. That will likely be the difference in this one. UNCG won't be able to do enough to protect the ball and will have another disappointing performance. VMI will get the win they need to keep on track in the race for the final bye. Keydets 76, Spartans 71.

Mercer at The Citadel (Thursday, 6:00 PM)

What's The Story: Mercer's disappointing loss to Wofford was not devastating. They are still in third place and can easily find their way into second and possibly even first with a few breaks as long as they keep on winning. However, the Bears are just 2-3 on the road in SoCon play. With two winnable road games this week against The Citadel and Furman, it is an important time to come up with a win. For The Citadel, the Bulldogs have lost four straight games since beating Wofford. Still, they are just one game out of the final bye spot. The Bulldogs have UNCG at home on Saturday, so they will have a chance to get back into the bye race this week. If they can somehow upset the Bears and beat UNCG, they may find themselves in a completely different position next week.

Match-up: The Bulldogs stunning win over Wofford was great. This is a huge follow up opportunity. Ashton Moore has averaged 25.7 points per game in three SoCon wins. In the Bulldogs seven SoCon losses, he's averaged just 14.6. He has not scored less than 20 in the three wins. He has not scored more than 20 in any of their losses. That's the way it goes for the Bulldogs. They have CJ Bray and PJ Horgan in the paint and those two need to have big games against TJ Hallice of Mercer. The Bears will have Ike Nwamu as the athletic scorer. Phillip Leonard is one of the top point guards in the conference, and the leader in assists. Darious Moten has also been playing well. It is the Bears performance from more and more players that has helped guide them to where they stand now in the conference race. The Bears offense has been the best in the conference so far, but they really struggled against Wofford on Saturday night. These two teams will slow things down and try to out-maneuver the opposition to good shots.

Prediction: The Citadel has the memory of beating Wofford at home. Still, this does not feel like the type of game where Moore will go off for big points. Mercer's defense is too good to allow that. If Moore isn't scoring big points, the Bulldogs don't win. It's really that easy. The Bulldogs losing streak will continue as Mercer comes at them in waves and comes up with a solid win. Bears 67, Bulldogs 58.

Chattanooga at Furman (Thursday, 7:00 PM)

What's The Story: The Paladins are in a very tough position. They are in the sixth spot, but just up by one half game on VMI for that spot. It is tightly bunched. Will they be able to hold onto the spot? They have opportunity week ahead of them, as the Paladins host both Chattanooga and Mercer, who are in second and third in the conference race. This is a chance to establish themselves as the clear favorite to win the bye. The win over ETSU last Thursday was gigantic for them, and it makes this week's games even bigger. For Chattanooga, the loss to Mercer was painful, but the win over The Citadel got them right back into second place. With a trip to Western Carolina on Saturday and a trip to Wofford next week, this well may be the toughest stretch of their conference schedule. The Mocs really need to get a win here to maintain their current position in the conference race.

Match-up: Who does Furman rely on? Stephen Croone, of course. Croone is one of the best players in the SoCon. But the Paladins, despite a lot of talent, don't have anyone that has consistently performed beside him. Some games, it is Kris Acox. Sometimes, it is Kendrec Ferrara. Sometimes it's Geoff Beans or Devin Sibley. Sometimes (most terrifyingly to Paladins) it's no one. The Mocs don't exactly have one superstar either, as Casey Jones is the closest thing. Justin Tuoyo had been tremendous, but last week against The Citadel and Mercer, he really struggled. Greg Pryor has made a huge difference in this team at point guard, and Rico White and Eric Robertson are the shooters. The difference between the two teams? The Mocs attack is "balanced." The Paladins attack is "not." The Paladins rank second in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage, but are dead last in offensive rebounding percentage. The Mocs will need to prevent Furman from getting second chances to win the game.

Prediction: The Paladins sprung the upset last week at home against ETSU. Will they be able to do it again? Possibly. They will need Croone to play great, Ferrara or Acox to step up and one other shooter to step up. The Mocs defense has been struggling the last two games. If that is going to become an every game occurrence, the Paladins are going to have a real chance to win this one. The Mocs need to win to maintain contact with Wofford, though. If the Terriers lose to ETSU and the Mocs win, they could be right back in a tie for first. This game is important to the Mocs. They will come out and play hard and come up with the win. Mocs 69, Paladins 64.

Samford at Western Carolina (Thursday, 7:00 PM)

What's The Story: With Western Carolina's two wins last week, the Catamounts find themselves tied for fourth in the SoCon, which means they are in excellent position to earn one of the byes in the SoCon Tournament with just seven games to go. The Catamounts are hoping for even more, and need to keep on winning to  really clinch their spot. They host Chattanooga on Saturday and could have a shot to move into the top three with a really good week this week. Still, Samford upset Western Carolina just over a week ago, part of the Bulldogs three game winning streak. If the Bulldogs can win here, they can make a serious run at the final bye. As it is, they are in a tough place, still 3-8 and with five of their last seven on the road, where they have not played as well. Samford has to go to ETSU on Saturday and really needs to win at least one of these two. Is this one that the Bulldogs can steal?

Match-up: Darius Jones-Gibson is starting to get some attention as a possible All SoCon performer. He deserves that kind of recognition. He will be trying to shoot his team into the game. Christen Cunningham has been a very solid point guard as a freshman and has been a big producer. Tyler Hood and Michael Bradley are the players that everyone remembers from last year's team that are still performing well. How will Jones-Gibson match-up against James Sinclair? The Catamounts top scorer can shoot his team into almost every game. With the way Mike Brown has been coming on for Western Carolina, the Catamounts have found another reliable scorer. Rhett Harrelson has been a top scorer for most of the year. Torrion Brummitt is also coming on in the paint. His battles with Michael Bradley will be critical in this one.

Prediction: Winning in Cullowhee is always tough, but Samford has won three straight games and gotten back into the SoCon bye race. Still, Western Carolina is hungrily looking to put more distance between themselves and the final bye. They also may be able to pass ETSU for the four seed with a win and a Bucs loss to Wofford. The Catamounts can start making a move on the three seed even. Things could get real interesting for the Catamounts if they win a couple of games this week. They will get the win here, despite a hard charge by the Bulldogs. Catamounts 79, Bulldogs 75.

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