Game of the Day: Mercer vs. VMI
Time: 8:30 PM
Previously: Mercer won both games against VMI this year, but the two teams have not met since January 5. On December 6 in Macon, the Bears won 90-81. The Keydets had the game tied at 78, before the Bears went on a 12-0 run to put the game away. VMI shot just 37.8% from the floor and were outrebounded 47-29. Mercer made 50.9% from the floor. On January 5, in Lexington, Mercer won 85-75. Phillip Leonard and Darious Moten each scored 21 points. VMI shot just 37.5% from the floor and the Bears shot 55.1%. QJ Peterson played in both games for the Keydets.
Match-up: The Keydets pressure defense did cause some problems for the Bears in their two match-ups. The Bears turned the ball over sixteen times both games. Mercer is the most efficient offense in the conference and they will look to slow the pace down and be efficient. The Bears are very good at that. This is the sort of team that Darious Moten and Phillip Leonard should do well against, as well as Ike Nwamu. Still, VMI has been one of the worst shooting teams in the conference all year, but they just recently started shooting the ball better. Tim Marshall, Brian Brown and Julian Eleby have taken turns shooting lights out. Phillip Anglade has also been a key part of the rebounding and defensive game plan, as well as contributing on the offensive end.
Prediction: This is not what the Bears wanted in a match-up. How hard is it to win three games in three days when your first game is against a team that presses like VMI? It would appear that it would be much more difficult. Still, Mercer is expected to win this game, and Nwamu and Moten will make their share of athletic plays. However, the Keydets have been shooting the ball much better in recent games and seem primed to pull one major upset at least in this tournament. They have the skill set to do it. The Keydets squeak out a very close win. Keydets 76, Bears 75.
Wofford vs. UNCG
Time: 12:00 PM
Previously: Wofford swept the season series. On January 29, Wofford won 58-42 in Greensboro. Wofford shot 60% from the floor and the Spartans shot 31.7%. Spencer Collins scored 14 points. The Spartans did collect 17 offensive rebounds and the Terriers got just three. In the second meeting in Spartanburg, the Spartans jumped out to a ten point halftime lead before falling 77-62. Both teams shot 46% from the floor. The Terriers made 23 of 29 from the free throw line. Karl Cochran scored 18 points. After that loss, the Spartans rattled off three wins in four games, with the lone loss the controversial loss to Chattanooga at the buzzer.
Match-up: The Spartans height presents a challenge to the Terriers. Lee Skinner and Justin Gordon are solid inside performers. CJ Neumann is another good player. But Kayel Locke, Marvin Smith and RJ White are at least as good, if not better. The Spartans will have to get the ball consistently to White and Locke. They need to have dominant performances. Diante Baldwin played so well against the Bulldogs on Friday night. Can Baldwin lift the Spartans? Nicholas Paulos also made 4 of 6 from three point range. Paulos will have to make long range shots to keep the Spartans in it. Then there is Tevon Saddler. He can take the ball to the rim, but needs to play under control. The Terriers are a very good defensive team. Karl Cochran will be an important part of the offense. He will need to be knocking down shots to help the Terriers. Spencer Collins is the second half of the scoring guard tandem. Eric Garcia makes the team go at point guard. His return from injury has been huge.
Prediction: The Spartans will give the Terriers a battle to the end. This team is talented enough to beat the Terriers. Sometimes a team playing their first game in the tournament struggles early. That has happened to the Terriers twice against the Spartans already. The Spartans are playing with such confidence right now, they can jump out to a big lead on the Terriers. Would the Terriers be able to come back from that kind of deficit? Maybe- maybe not. This game is worthy of a semifinal match-up, not a quarterfinal match-up. The Terriers survive, but it will be a survive and advance kind of game. Terriers 68, Spartans 64.
Western Carolina vs. ETSU
Time: 2:30 PM
Previously: ETSU swept Western Carolina during the regular season, though the two teams last met on January 15. On December 3, the Bucs won 96-89. The Bucs shot 30 threes out of 59 total shots, making 15 long range shots. Jalen Riley and Rashawn Rembert combined to score 53 points. Rhett Harrelson scored 30 for the Catamounts. They simply turned the ball over too much, committing 17 turnovers. On January 15 in Cullowhee, the Bucs won 83-76. ETSU again was hot from distance, shooting 57.9% from three point range. Riley and Rembert combined for 52 points. James Sinclair scored 25 points, and the Catamounts again committed too many turnovers, 19 this time.
Match-up: The Bucs have a height disadvantage, which is typical. Torrion Brummitt and Justin Browning need to be good inside presences for the Catamounts. They will have the advantage in the paint. However, the Bucs guard play is excellent. Lester Wilson, Rembert and Riley are an excellent trio of guards and scorers. Riley will need to have a big game for the Bucs to have a chance. This is Riley's chance for a memorable March moment. James Sinclair and Mike Brown can match up, guard for guard with the Bucs. The question is if Harrelson will produce anything. Since the calendar turned to February, he has scored in double figures just twice, including just a combined six points in the last two games. The Catamounts have a tendency to turn the ball over a lot, and that is something they need to cut down on for them to have a chance to make a run in this tournament.
Prediction: There's just something about Asheville. These Catamounts have made runs to championship games multiple times in Asheville in recent years, and always seem to have solid performances there. This Western Carolina team has not been playing particularly well, but neither have the Bucs. Each come in struggling. It is also very hard to beat a team three times in a season. Combine the beating teams three times and the fact that this is in Asheville and that this is basically a toss up game, and that is why the Catamounts get the nod. Catamounts 78, Bucs 76.
Chattanooga vs. Furman
Time: 6:00 PM
Previously: Chattanooga beat Furman twice during the season, beating the Paladins 72-60 on January 3 in Chattanooga. Casey Jones scored 20 points with eleven rebounds for the Mocs. They shot 49% from the floor. The Mocs shot 49% from the floor. In Greenville, the Mocs won in overtime, 74-71. Jones scored 14 with eleven rebounds, and Justin Tuoyo scored 20. The Paladins dominated the boards, 41-32 and shot 47.2% from the floor. The Paladins did turn the ball over 13 times to the Mocs eight.
Match-up: Kris Acox is the SoCon's leading rebounder. Justin Tuoyo will be a tough match-up though. Can Acox hold his own? Stephen Croone is the Paladins best player, though, and he can be a dominant scorer. He scored 31 against the Mocs in Greenville. He is such a tough match-up for any team to handle if he is playing at 100%. He sure looked like it on Friday night. Casey Jones has had two pretty solid performances for the Mocs against the Paladins as well. Jones and Croone are two of the SoCon's top players and hopefully they put on the kind of memorable show worth watching. Tuoyo's defensive prowess will be critical in this game as well. He will be trying to cut off Croone's path once he gets into the paint. Also, Tre McLean will be important for the Mocs. He has become their defensive stopper. The Paladins freshman, Daniel Fowler, John Davis III, Devin Sibley and Geoff Beans are all going to be solid contributors. They need to grow up in this tournament for the Paladins to go far. No time like the present to start growing up.
Prediction: The Mocs are the superior team to the Paladins. The way the Paladins make a run in this one is to get Tuoyo in foul trouble, have Croone have a huge night, and have at least a couple of the freshman step up. Is it possible? Sure it is. The Paladins are capable of a run. However, they have not won back-to-back games against D1 teams all year long. They have won two out of their last three, with only a close home loss to Wofford keeping them from having three straight wins. The Mocs seem likely to come out and win this one with relative ease, but they need to be careful. Mocs 71, Paladins 62.