Game of the Day- Chattanooga at Western Carolina (4:30)
What's The Story: After Western Carolina's shocking collapse on Thursday night at home against Samford, the Catamounts look to rebound at home against Chattanooga. They are 6-6 in conference play and are up by two games for the final bye and still in good shape. If they lose to Chattanooga too, there could be trouble though. They go to Mercer and host Wofford next week, so this is a very challenging time in their schedule. Western Carolina needs to get a win or two during this stretch. If they somehow manage to win all three, they can get into the race for the second and third seed even, possibly. For Chattanooga, the Mocs need a win to try to maintain position for the two seed in the SoCon Tournament. They are also still in the race for the regular season title. This game is a near must-win for Chattanooga in both of those regards. They go to league leader Wofford on Thursday night. Cullowhee is a tough place to play. Chattanooga beat the Catamounts by six back in January in Chattanooga. This game is important to both sides.
Match-up: The most intriguing match-up is watching the Mocs Justin Tuoyo go up against Torrion Brummitt. Those two are solid players in the paint. It should be a very interesting match-up to watch. The first time Brummitt scored 12 and Tuoyo scored 15. The Catamounts rely heavily on James Sinclair, Mike Brown and Rhett Harrelson to be shooting the ball well. The key, though, may be if the Catamounts can protect the ball. The Mocs used a little bit more pressure against Furman. The Mocs have not utilized full court pressure too often, despite their reputation. But with the Catamounts struggling to protect the ball, particularly in their collapse against Samford on Thursday night, the Mocs may use some extra pressure.
Prediction: The Catamounts may be devastated after their collapse on Thursday. The key to this game may be the first ten minutes. If the Mocs come out and get up by double digits early, they will win this game in a route. The Mocs have not been starting off hot recently, though. This bodes well for Western Carolina. If Western Carolina can jump out to a big early lead, it will show that they have recovered from the devastation of that loss. This will be hard fought all the way, but in Cullowhee, got to give the very slight edge to the Catamounts. Catamounts 70, Mocs 68.
Wofford at VMI (1:00)
What's The Story: The Terriers are up by one game on Chattanooga and two on Mercer in the SoCon race. They host Chattanooga next Thursday night, and can be set up to be in a nice position with a win in this one. The Terriers quietly still have an excellent RPI and actually were listed just behind the Last Four In in Lunardi's bracket on Friday. That means that if Wofford can keep on winning, maybe, just maybe, they can work their way into the at large discussion again. No slip ups to a team like VMI allowed at this point. The Keydets got hammered at home against UNCG on Tuesday night. The 29 point beatdown showed just how far this team has to go. But they can change the whole trajectory of their season with an upset of Wofford on Saturday. Still sitting just a half game back of Furman for the final bye, the Keydets can make some real noise with a win here. They host Furman on Thursday night, meaning that there is a huge game on the horizon for them.
Match-up: VMI shot over 40% against Wofford the first time around. That would be a huge step up from the 20% they shot against UNCG on Tuesday night. Phillip Anglade made 11 of 13 the first time around. The problem for the Keydets is that they don't have a go to guy now that QJ Peterson is off the team. If Anglade plays like he did the first time around (he also had eight rebound and seven blocks), the Keydets will have a chance. CJ Neumann had a great game on Thursday, and also played great against the Keydets the first time. The Keydets defense is not good against disciplined offenses. They will have a tough time controlling the Terriers, who rely on Karl Cochran, Lee Skinner and Spencer Collins, all who play very controlled offense. Eric Garcia is the key to the offense for the Terriers. He has to be controlled and not make turnovers.
Prediction: I'll say what I say in every game involving VMI. If the Keydets shoot the ball well, they will win. If they keep on struggling to shoot the ball, they probably won't. Their defense is not equipped to slow down Wofford consistently. But if they shoot the ball well, they could pull off the upset despite that. Are they due to make shots or are they going to keep on missing them? Hard to imagine they start making shots now against the Terriers. Terriers 77, Keydets 66.
UNCG at The Citadel (1:00)
What's The Story: The loser will be in last place in the SoCon. The two are tied for ninth right now. However, both teams sit just one game out of the final bye in the SoCon race, meaning that almost anything can happen from here. If either team gets on a roll, they can find their way straight into the bye race. Ironically, a win here might be enough to constitute a roll. The Spartans are fresh off a 29 point thumping of VMI and will be searching to put together back-to-back wins over D1 teams for just the second time this year. They host ETSU next Thursday, who they stunned in Johnson City. A win here and maybe the Spartans can get on a nice roll. The Citadel has lost five straight since upsetting Wofford. However, there are five teams fighting for the final bye and the Bulldogs are playing the other four in their next four games. The Citadel will make or break their bye chances with how they play in the next four.
Match-up: The intriguing thing about the blowout win for UNCG on Tuesday is that it may have helped us understand the Spartans. They can play well against offenses that move quickly and are undisciplined (that's why they beat VMI twice and ETSU once in conference play) but not so much against teams that play disciplined offense (thus blowout losses to Wofford and Mercer and a disappointing home loss to The Citadel). How will the Spartans defense hold up against the Bulldogs offense? Ashton Moore went off against the Spartans the first time. PJ Horgan and CJ Bray will have their hands full with RJ White and Kayel Locke in the paint. Marvin Smith has been playing better lately as well. He only played one minute against the Bulldogs the first time around.
Prediction: The Citadel's offense will cut right through the Spartans defense and score consistently. There is a chance that the Spartans will be effective enough offensively to still win the game, though. The Bulldogs are not a great defensive team and the Spartans with Locke, White and even Tevon Saddler. Can the Spartans outscore the Bulldogs? My bet is on the Bulldogs, but neither team will shine defensively. Bulldogs 68, Spartans 63.
Samford at ETSU (4:00)
What's The Story: And suddenly Samford is on a very big roll. The Bulldogs have now won four in a row after coming back from 21 down against Western Carolina on Thursday night. At 4-8 in conference play, they are now just one half game back of Furman for the final bye. Can they go 3-3 in their last six games? Possibly. That's what they need to do now to get to 7-11 and have a real chance at the bye. A win here would certainly be a warning shot to the rest of the SoCon that the Bulldogs can compete in Asheville. ETSU is going the other direction. The Bucs have lost three straight SoCon games and 4 out of 5 since starting conference play at 5-2. Now at 6-6, they are fighting for the bye lives. Up by two games on the final bye spot, a loss here would suddenly throw even that into doubt. This is a virtual must win for ETSU just to get the positive momentum going back in the right direction.
Match-up: Something strange has happened since that evening in January when ETSU won at Samford by two points. ETSU has gone just 3-5 in SoCon games since that win, while Samford has gone 4-4. Samford shot better from the floor, had more rebounds than the Bucs and even made more free throws than ETSU that night. However, they committed sixteen turnovers to the Bucs eleven and lost by two. Times have changed. The Bulldogs defense has gotten better at forcing turnovers and they have gotten even better at getting to the free throw line and knocking them down since that night. Tyler Hood and Darius Jones-Gibson are the scoring leaders. Hood's huge three very late in Cullowhee led to the stirring win for the Bulldogs there, but the continued development of Christen Cunningham really propels this team. For the Bucs, they are simply a smaller team and seem to be getting worn down by playing small night after night. Still, it seems to be only a matter of time before Jalen Riley, Lester Wilson and Rashawn Rembert get it going again. In these three consecutive SoCon losses, Riley has scored 15 points per game. In the six SoCon losses, he is averaging 17.3 points per game. In the six SoCon wins, he's averaging 26.7 points. Rembert is a similar story. In the six SoCon losses, he's averaging 11.8 points per game. In the six SoCon wins, he's scoring 18.0 points. This year, Rembert scored in single digits in the opener at Valparaiso, but then did not score in single digits again until the loss at Wofford, when he scored just two. He then scored single digits in their next two games. Rembert and Riley have to get things turned around.
Prediction: This feels for all the world like a game Samford should win. They have all the momentum. ETSU has none. They are playing better overall than the Bucs right now, as evidenced by their SoCon records since the last time they played. Still, how does a young team bounce back from such an emotional road win on Thursday night? That will present a major challenge to this squad. ETSU is at home and seems like this is when you get what you least expect- a really good performance. Vegas won't call it an upset, but maybe they should. The Bucs squeak one out at home. Bucs 79, Bulldogs 76.
Mercer at Furman (4:00)
What's The Story: The Bears remain in third in the SoCon, but are keeping their hopes alive for the number one seed in the SoCon Tournament. They have to keep winning though. The Bears were very impressive at The Citadel on Thursday night, winning by 23. They have two winnable home games next week. As the Bears try to chase down Chattanooga for the two seed, this game is very important. The Paladins are part of the logjam for the final bye in the SoCon race. Currently sitting in sixth, the Paladins lost in overtime to Chattanooga last time out and lost by just three at Mercer in January. With three of their next four after this one on the road and their final game being a home game against Wofford, the Paladins need to get some home wins along the way. Protecting their home court is a pretty important thing down the stretch for Furman.
Match-up: It's not going to be easy for Mercer, despite what the records indicate. The Paladins biggest weakness is their lack of a true second scorer for Furman. Stephen Croone is pretty consistent, but Devin Sibley, Geoff Beans, Kris Acox, Kendrec Ferrara and even Larry Wideman have taken turns doing it. Sibley was the one who did the best against the Terriers in their first go round. The Paladins also shot 50% from the floor. However, they were completely dominated on the glass. Plus, Mercer shot even better, a scorching 58.5% from the floor. Will the Paladins be able to slow them down? TJ Hallice is a handful, but Ferrara was excellent against the Mocs on Thursday night, with seven blocks. Will Croone be carrying the load again? Will he have another brilliant game? He will need to. Phillip Leonard will be guarding him a lot. Leonard is one of the SoCon's more underrated players. He really is an excellent point guard.
Prediction: This is definitely not going to be easy for Mercer, no matter what the records say. Furman is much improved and playing well at home, nearly beating Chattanooga on Thursday night. This team, along with Samford, is young and hungry and look to be much more dangerous next year. But it is still this year. Can they pull off the home upset they need? Look for Darious Moten and Ike Nwamu to do just enough and for the Bears brilliantly efficient offense to lead the way over the Paladins in Greenville in another nailbiter. Bears 69, Paladins 67.