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. This week, our tournament preview.
What do you think are the most important qualities for a team to possess to win a tournament championship (regardless of league or size of tournament) at this time of year?
Chattanooga- I think the ability to defend and rebound with a mix of senior leadership are the most important things at this time of year, especially for smaller conference teams. Bigger conference teams can get away with senior leadership if they have enough talent, but the smaller conference teams need guys who are older and leaders stepping up. Defending and rebounding is how you win tight games like these tournament games so often turn into.
Furman- Defense and depth are the two most important factors to winning a Southern Conference Tournament, Ultimately, by the semifinals and finals, you will inevitably need both.
UNCG- If a team is going to win 3 or 4 games in as many days, they have to possess the ability to play great defense. There is going to be a night when points are hard to come by. On that night, if you are going to gut out a win, your team will have to get down and really guard the other team. Defense wins championships.
VMI- Every team needs several factors to work in their favor to win a tournament championship. Things like bench depth, stamina, venue location (neutral/home/road), and a sprinkle of luck certainly play a part. But most of all, you need defense, especially at the college level. Offense is important as well, but a suffocating defense takes pressure off your shooters and also minimizes the ability of opposing teams to go on large runs, thereby halting their momentum (another critical yet unquantifiable factor come tournament time). Take Wofford, for example. Last year, the Terriers won three games to claim the SoCon crown, giving up an average of 53.7 points per game. They also allowed opponents to shoot a mere 36.8% from the floor and a remarkable 12 of 47 (25.5%) from behind the arc. They didn't score a ton, but it didn't matter. A good defense beats a good offense in the postseason every time.
Western Carolina- Team cohesion and consistent scoring. Players on the team with experience winning a conference tournament is also huge.
Wofford- To be a contender in this league, it’s imperative for your outfit to execute smoothly on defense and stay in the game for a full forty minutes. Expanding on that, you have to bend without breaking – especially against the SoCon’s fierce and motivated adversity. No mental lapses, no gaps in coverage; however, if something unsatisfactory occurs, you absolutely have to push it far from your mind and stay focused. Another way to ensure success is selflessness, both with and without the basketball. If your players understand that they’re playing for a team, and not for the sake of personal statistics, you’ve got a solid program.
Which of the top three seeds do you think is most likely to be upset in the quarterfinals?
Chattanooga- I guess I could say Mercer, but VMI over Mercer seems to be the obvious choice. I would be really nervous if I was Wofford. The way UNCG and Samford are playing, the winner of that game against Wofford is more deserving of being a semifinal game than a quarterfinal game. If Wofford doesn’t come out ready to play, they could be stunned right off the bat.
Furman- I think probably Mercer. The Bears are one of the most inexperienced teams in it, and VMI has been playing well as of late, and played Mercer well during the regular-season, an upset here would not shock me at all.
UNCG- I would say Wofford due to how they tend to fall behind early. They will be playing someone who already has a game under their belt. If they don't come out ready, they mat find themselves in too big of a hole. Having said that, I think if they win 1 they'll win all 3.
VMI- I'd like to think Mercer, not so much because they aren't great but because the two teams ahead of them have few if any weaknesses. Both Wofford and Chattanooga will play their quarterfinal games against teams on short rest. There's zero chance that Wofford loses to Samford or UNC Greensboro, and Chattanooga is white-hot to the point that I see them winning the whole thing, much less a quarterfinal game against Furman or The Citadel. Mercer, on the other hand, has gone 6-5 in league play since getting out to a 6-1 start, including a 3-3 mark down the stretch. Albeit they lost to Wofford twice in very close games, and suffered a road setback against the streaking Mocs, but the Bears are definitely the weakest of the top three squads. And of course, they are playing VMI, who can upset anyone at any time because of their style of play. But that could also help Mercer if they defend the perimeter well. We'll see how it all plays out.
Western Carolina- Mercer. The Bears have the toughest opening game of any of the top three seeds. If VMI is hitting their threes, Mercer will be in for a long night.
Wofford- It’s tough, but I’m going with Mercer because VMI will be a good opponent and likely more rested, compared to Wofford and Chattanooga’s opposition (UNCG/Samford, The Citadel/Furman), which have an extra game to play.
Which of the bottom four seeds do you think has the best chance to make a run to the finals?
Chattanooga- I’m going to go with the UNCG-Samford winner, obviously (based on what I said above). I’ll take UNCG for now. They have enough talent to be in the finals of this tournament, they just haven’t played like it most of the year. Now things have started to turn around for them and I think they are a very dangerous team. Not much bench, which could prove a problem in the second and third game of this tournament.
Furman- Maybe Samford with the way they play, and their Talladega press can give foes some headaches. Furman has shown the ability to play close to pretty much anyone and have to be one of the more scary bottom seeds in the history of the tournament.
UNCG- I honestly don't think any of the bottom 4 can go that far. They all have serious issues that will be exposed at some point in their first few games.
VMI- I like UNC Greensboro largely because of RJ White, who is averaging 12 points on 57% shooting overall and 7 rebounds per game. White is the definition of a rim protector and is certainly a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. On top of that, you have guys like Kayel Locke (12.5 PPG, 5.5 RPG), Tevon Saddler (13.6 PPG, 4.1 APG), and sharpshooter Nicholas Paulos (10.7 PPG), who can hit from outside as well as attack the basket. The Spartans are the dark horse in this tournament
Western Carolina- Both Samford and UNCG have greatly picked up their play late in the conference season, so it's unfortunate they play each other in the opening game. It's also unfortunate the winner plays the next day against the #1 seed, Wofford. Look for either team that meets the Terriers, to take them to the last minutes of the game.
Wofford- Probably The Citadel. They seem solid enough to give Chattanooga a good shot, considering they defeat Furman. However, this is a touchy subject – they all look tough, and were neck-and-neck against each other. For that matter, we might just have to look out for Samford on the other side of the bracket.
Which potential semifinal match-ups do you think would be most interesting?
Chattanooga- As a fan of good basketball, I would love to see Chattanooga and Mercer play again. They have played two great games so far, and it would be very entertaining to see them hook up a third time. On the other side of the bracket, Wofford against either ETSU or Western Carolina is interesting, but I’ll take Western Carolina. After all, the Catamounts always seem to play well in Asheville, and sprung the upset on Davidson a year ago in the semifinals. Who is to say they can’t do it again? It would also be a rematch of last year’s final.
Furman- If seeds hold, I like the Chattanooga-Mercer clash,,,Two pretty matchups during the regular season and it's a matchup between two of the most athletic clubs in the league. Ike Nwamu provided one of the dunks of the year in the first matchup between the two, which the Bears survived in overtime, 75-72.
UNCG- UTC and Mercer played a couple of good regular season games. A Sunday night game in Asheville between those 2 teams would be fun to watch.
VMI- Of course I'd like to see my Keydets get to the semifinals where they would more than likely play Chattanooga. The Mocs blew out VMI earlier in the year at the Roundhouse, but last Thursday the two teams fought a barn burner in Cameron Hall, with the Mocs coming out on top in double-overtime, 86-82. For VMI, it would be a great opportunity to avenge that heartbreaking loss against a stingy Chattanooga defense. If they can hit three-pointers, who knows how far they can go? Similarly, if Justin Tuoyo continues to play like he has as of late on defense, and if Casey Jones keeps up his torrid shooting, there is no stopping the Mocs. For the second matchup, I think it'd be interesting to see Wofford play East Tennessee State. The Terriers beat the Bucs in two fairly close contests this year, and certainly ETSU will be out for revenge. Jalen Riley, a potential SoCon Player of the Year, will be looking to go out with a bang in his senior season, as will Reshawn Rembert. The Bucs average about 74 points per game (second in the league only to VMI), so I'd like to see how their efficient offense pans out against Wofford's relentless D.
Western Carolina- VMI vs. Chattanooga will be a very interesting game, look for the #6 seed to pick up the first major upset of the tournament.
Wofford- I have to go with Mercer/Chattanooga here. I know the Bears would love another shot at 1) taking the season series with the Mocs and 2) possibly getting a rematch with Wofford. The third thing, getting back to the dance, is implied.
Who do you think lifts the trophy on Monday night?
Chattanooga- I’ll take (nervously) Chattanooga. I think the Mocs are playing as well as anyone right now and that they are rebounding and defending at as high of a level as anyone. They don’t have much positive tournament experience on their roster, and that is the biggest drawback.
Furman- Chattanooga--I believe the Mocs' depth is impressive and they are one of the few teams in the league that can play either tempo. They can adapt to the opponent and then beat them at their game, as evidenced by the Mocs' 56-46 win at Wofford.
UNCG- I'm picking the Chattanooga Mocs to win the whole thing. Their combination of length and shooters makes them a tough out.
VMI- I'll go with Chattanooga in an upset over Wofford. Tuoyo has been a beast around the boards lately, and the Mocs are hotter than anyone in the league, riding a 6-game win streak which was spurred by a surprising victory over Wofford on the road. Clearly, we know the Mocs are capable of beating the Terriers, but it certainly won't be easy. The Terriers are still 26th in the nation in allowing just under 60 points per game. They are also 60th in the country in defensive efficiency according to KenPom.com, while the Mocs languish at 161st. Lee Skinner, arguably Wofford's most vocal leader, scored 17 in the regular season finale at Furman and has scored in double-figures in each of his last four games. Look for him to be a huge factor. But Wofford still slipped up against The Citadel earlier in the season and has won several very close games that they should have won much more handily. The Terriers are very good, but not infallible. This is mid-major basketball, folks; anything can happen.
Western Carolina- Barring a major upset on their first night of play, I see Wofford going back to Spartanburg with the championship trophy. If Wofford wins their first game of the tournament, they breeze on through to the championship game, based on their experience, and having been there and knowing what it takes to win the championship.
Wofford- Call me what you will, but I believe there’s really nothing – apart from their own play and response to the tournament opposition – to stop the Terriers from hoisting the trophy for a second consecutive season. It’s not the “Cinderella story” anymore, but there’s three seniors looking to go out on a high note and an entire program and fan base behind them, ready to aid in the effort to get there.