Southern Conference basketball is now well into the month of January and play is heating up inside one of the most competitive mid-major leagues in NCAA Division I college basketball. The top basketball rivalry in the league will be renewed tonight, when College of Charleston travels to Davidson for a key South Division tilt.
A win tonight for the Wildcats will create some separation between themselves and the Cougars in the SoCon South, while a win by the Cougars could make for a real interesting next month-and-a-half. Few fans will forget where they were when Davidson completed an epic 2006-07 SoCon title run with a 73-63 win over the Cougars in the SoCon title game in what was Bobby Cremins' first season in the Port City. Cremins and the Cougars would return the favor a couple of years later in the SoCon semifinals in Chattanooga, as the Cougars ousted Stephen Curry and Davidson in the SoCon semifinals, 59-52, ending Davidson's NCAA hopes in 2008-09.
Davidson and Charleston is all part of a a five-game slate of league games tonight, which also includes: Appalachian State at Wofford; Georgia Southern at Furman; Samford at Elon and Chattanooga at UNCG. All tip-offs are scheduled for 7 p.m.
Appalachian State (7-9, 3-3 SoCon) at Wofford (10-8, 3-3 SoCon)
Coming off a tough 83-79 loss to Davidson on Saturday afternoon at the Holmes Center, the road gets no easier for the Appalachian State Mountaineers on Thursday night, as the Apps take on a team that has knocked them out of the past two SoCon Tournaments. Last season, the Apps fell, 69-56, in the SoCon Tournament quarterfinals, which ended Appalachian's 2010-11 season. In the 2010 Southern Conference Tournament, Wofford claimed its first of back-to-back titles with a 56-51 win over ASU. Including last season's 74-65 regular-season win, Wofford has claimed the last three meetings against ASU.
Thursday night's meeting between the Apps and Terriers will mark the 36th all-time meeting between the two teams, with Appalachian State holding a commanding 22-13 all-time series edge.
Wofford is coming off an 88-63 win over Georgia Southern on Saturday night. The Terriers were simply unstoppable on Saturday night, as they had four players score in double figures, led by a career-high 18 points from Drew Crowell. The Terriers had 20 assists to only eight turnovers in the contest.
Wofford will look to build on that momentum on Thursday night at a place where the Terriers have been tough to beat this season, posting a 6-1 mark in the friendly confines of Benjamin-Johnson Arena this season. The only loss the Terriers have suffered on the home floor this season was a 72-69 setback to the Davidson Wildcats in early December.
The Terriers enter Thursday night's contest led by their two veterans from those back-to-back Southern Conference title-winning clubs, in point guard Brad Loesing (14.3 PPG, ) and forward/guard Kevin Giltner (15.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG).
Giltner is of course one of the league's top perimeter shooting threats, and he is one of the top three-point threats. So far this season, Giltner has shot the ball pretty well from the perimeter, as he connected on a team-best 44 treys for the Apps. For the season, Giltner is connecting on 40.1% (44-for-135) from downtown. Giltner enjoyed his top performance of the 2011-12 season against Bradley, posting 29 points in the narrow 70-66 victory.
Loesing has stepped up and been more of a scorer for the Terriers this season, and he enters Thursday night's contest averaging 5.2 assists-per-game, which ranks him second to only Chattanooga's Keegan Bell in that particular statistical category. Loesing has had to become more of an offensive threat this season for the Terriers, and he has excelled in that role, especially as a perimeter shooter. Loesing's 32 threes ranks him third on the team and 11th in the SoCon. Loesing enjoyed his best season in the win over Tulane, as he posted a career-high 24 points.
Joining Loesing in the Wofford backcourt on Thursday night will be one of the best freshman guards in the SoCon, in Karl Cochran (10.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG). Cochran could be well on his way to becoming the first SoCon guard to garner SoCon Freshman of the Year honors since Loesing claimed the honor in his freshman season.
Cochran gives the Terriers an athletic presence in the backcourt, as well as being a prolific perimeter threat, ranking second on the club and 10th in the SoCon in three-pointers made. His 35 triples this season ranks him tops among all league freshmen in three-pointers made. Cochran's best game of his young career came against College of Charleston, posting a career-high 21 points in the 75-58 win over the Cougars.
The biggest surprise is the play that the Terriers have gotten in the post this season, given the fact Wofford graduated the league's top post performer the past four years, in Noah Dahlman, as well as veteran forward Tim Johnson. One of those big surprises in the paint this season for the Terriers has been Drew Crowell (8.2 PPG, 5.1 RPG), who enters Thursday evening's encounter with Appalachian State coming off a career-high 18-point performance in the rout of Georgia Southern on Saturday night. Crowell is shooting an impressive 59.4% (63-of-106) from the field this season.
Rounding out the starters in the paint for the Terriers heading into Thursday night's contest will be forward Aerris Smith (4.2 PPG, 3.0 RPG). Smith will be making his ninth-straight start on Thursday night against ASU, and though he is not known as an offensive presence in the paint for Mike Young's Terriers, he has proven to be solid defensively this season. Smith enjoyed his best game of the season against Virginia-Wise, posting 14 points in the win.
The Terriers also have some good players coming off the bench, led by a pair of talented front court players, in center Domas Rinksalis (2.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG) and forward Lee Skinner (4.9 PPG, 5.8 RPG). Rinksalis, a 6-9 native of Siauliai, Lithuania, has provided good size and physicality underneath for the Terriers this season, although he is not much of an offensive presence. He has also logged starts this season for Mike Young's Terriers.
The 6-6 Skinner has been solid off the bench this season for the Terriers, and he his played primarily the three, serving as Giltner's understudy off the bench. Skinner's 5.8 RPG leads the Terriers off the bench. Rounding out the players that see time off the bench for the Terriers this season is Jarrell Byrd (2.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG). Like Skinner, Byrd is another 6-6 sophomore forward/guard off the bench that gives the Terriers another athletic, solid post presence, especially on the defensive end, where Byrd excels.
Appalachian State enters Thursday night's contest looking to rebound from the heartbreaking 83-79 home loss to South Division-leading Davidson on Saturday night. The Mountaineers are being led this season by forward/guard Omar Carter (13.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG). Carter was the league's preseason SoCon Player of the Year selection and is coming off a strong performance the last time out against Davidson, as he contributed a team-high 17 points.
Carter finished the contest by connecting on 6-for-13 shots from the field, including posting one of his better efforts from the perimeter this season, connecting on 2-of-3 shots from long range. Carter's 24 points in a win at UNCG back in December represents his top offensive performance of the 2011-12 season. In two meetings against the Terriers last season, Carter scored 15 and 12 points in a pair of losses to Wofford.
Just behind Carter in double figures scoring average entering Thursday night's action is guard Jamaal Trice (10.7 PPG, 2.9 RPG). Trice is quickly becoming one of the top perimeter threats in the SoCon, and he comes in having connected on 45.3% (34-of-75) from three-point range this season. His 34 triples this season ranks Trice fourth in the SoCon in three-pointers made, while leading the Black and Gold in that category. Trice scored a season-high 27 points against East Carolina in a 67-47 loss, and he is coming off a 15-point performance in the 83-79 loss to Davidson Saturday. Four of Trice's five field goals in the contest were three-pointers.
Joining Trice in the ASU backcourt will be point guard Mike Neal (6.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG) and fellow wing guard Tab Hamilton (8.1 PPG, 1.6 RPG). Neal has developed into his role as the team's point guard nicely, and his quickness and ability to create off the dribble has given the ASU offense a boost since becoming the team's starting point guard seven games ago. Neal has a team-leading 45 assists this season, and his 3.0 helpers-per-game rank him 11th in the SoCon in that statistical category.
Hamilton, a 6-3 guard from Winston-Salem, N.C., is a player that has the ability to explode as a scorer, especially if he gets hot from the perimeter. Hamilton's 21 triples rank him third on the team in perimeter shots made this season, and he is shooting 38.9% (21-of-54) from long-range this season. Hamilton posted seven points in the loss to Davidson on Saturday, and he posted his best performance of the season against Chattanooga, scoring 22 points in the setback.
Rounding out the starting five and joining Omar Carter in the paint will be Andre Williamson (9.8 PPG, 6.6 RPG). Williamson has been a huge presence on the defensive end of the floor for the Mountaineers this season, and he enters Thursday evening's contest against the Terriers leading the league in blocks, having posted 26 rejections on the campaign (1.6 BPG). Williamson was Appalachian's most productive player this past week, averaging 12.0 PPG and 5.5 RPG in ASU's games against Furman and Davidson.
The Mountaineers have a strong bench, and Isaac Butts (7.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG) continues to work his way back into good graces coming off of a suspension. He led the Mountaineers with nine boards off the bench the last time out against the Wildcats. Also contributing in the front court off the bench will be Nathan Healy (3.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG), who has scored in double figures in a pair of recent games for the Black and Gold, scoring a career-high 14 points a couple of weeks ago in a win at Samford.
The top backcourt players off the bench for the Mountaineers are Gonzaga transfer G.J. Vilarino (3.6, 1.6 RPG) and Mitch Woods (1.1 PPG, 2.0 RPG), as both give the Apps minutes at the point behind Neal.
As a team, Appalachian enters Thursday night's game in Spartanburg averaging 67.3 PPG (6th in SoCon) and allows 69.9 PPG (7th in SoCon). The Apps are shooting the ball at a 43.8% clip (6th in SoCon), and are converting on 36.7% of their three-pointers (2nd in SoCon) this season. Opponents are connecting at a 44.2% clip (6th in SoCon) from the field this season, while connecting on 31.1% of their threes (4th in SoCon) this season.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: WOFFORD 61, APPALACHIAN STATE 60
College of Charleston (12-5, 4-2 SoCon) at Davidson (12-4, 6-0 SoCon), 7 p.m.
The SoCon's biggest rivalry is set for its 63rd renewal (DC leads 49-13) on Thursday night at Davidson's John Belk Arena. Davidson comes into the contest off an impressive 83-79 win at Appalachian State on Saturday afternoon, while College of Charleston easily disposed North Division leader Elon, 63-44, on Saturday evening. The Wildcats are 7-1 on their home floor this season, with the only setback being an 87-83 loss to SEC East power Vanderbilt. Not only is Davidson tough to beat at home this season, but over the past seven seasons, the Wildcats own a 102-16 mark inside the friendly confines.
The preseason SoCon South Division coaches poll had Davidson favored to win the South, according the league's media, while College of Charleston was picked second. Davidson has won 14 of its last 15 SoCon regular-season games, including nine straight, dating back to last season. Davidson has a chance to create some separation between itself and CofC with a win on Thursday night.
Davidson holds the commanding 49-13 series edge, however, CofC has controlled the series as of late, having won four of the past six meetings between the two. The Cougars have struggled inside Belk Arena, having won only three times in 29 trips to the facility. The Cougars' last win at Belk Arena and only one during the Cremins era, came back in the 2009-10 season, when CofC claimed a 77-75 win against the Stephen Curry-led Davidson club. Davidson and College of Charleston will be meeting for the 25th time since the Cougars joined the SoCon in 1998-99, with Davidson holding a 17-7 series edge. Four of the Cougars' seven wins as SoCon members have come on Cremins' watch, and Cremins is 4-8 all-time against Davidson.
Davidson enters the matchup ranked 12th in the latest Mid-Major Top 25 college basketball poll, while College of Charleston checks in at No. 22. CofC and Davidson represent one of the top mid-major college basketball rivalries in the nation. Both clubs are no strangers to marquee wins over BCS conference schools, with Davidson scoring the top win of the season for SoCon, posting an 80-74 win over a Kansas club that is currently ranked seventh in the nation and is coming off a win over previously undefeated and third-ranked Baylor. College of Charleston has produced two big wins this season, knocking off ACC foe Clemson (72-69) on the road, while defeating Tennessee (71-65) on its home floor.
Davidson has been playing "lights-out" basketball as of late and are the team most thought the Wildcats would be entering the 2011-12 season. The Wildcats come in led by one of the top front courts in the Southern Conference, and it features the Wildcats' two top scorers, in D'emon Brooks (15.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Jake Cohen (13.8 PPG, 6.1 RPG). Brooks is a tremendous athletic presence on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor. He is coming off a gutty performance, which saw him struggle early on, but finished the contest with 19 points after finding his game in the second half. Brooks had three 24-point games this season, which accounts for a season-high in points, posting those performances against Charlotte, Vanderbilt and Georgia Southern.
Cohen is coming off another strong week, which saw him garner Southern Conference Player of the Week honors for his efforts. In wins over Appalachian State and Western Carolina last week, Cohen averaged 23.5 PPG and 6.5 RPG for the week.
Cohen was also a player that was strapped with foul trouble early on in Saturday's win at Appalachian State, but a crucial three-point play after Appalachian State had taken its first lead of the game, at 70-69, helped spark a late Davidson run and ultimately helped the Wildcats escape with a 83-79 win. He finished the game with a game-high 21 points to go along with seven rebounds. Cohen had a huge game against the Cougars last season in the meeting in Charleston, posting his first-career double-double, with 23 points and 10 boards. Cohen has also gotten it done on the defensive end of the floor this season, ranking third in the SoCon in blocks (22 blocks, 1.4 BPG).
While the front court is talented, the Davidson backcourt trio is also among the league's elite, led by two players averaging in double figures, in Nik Cochran (11.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 3.1 APG) and J.P. Kuhlman (11.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG). Cochran is enjoying his best season at the point for the Wildcats and has proven to be a reliable player in the clutch for the Wildcats, and one doesn't have to look any further than the Wildcats' win over No. 12 Kansas, as his late three-pointer proved to be a dagger to the Jayhawks.
Cochran is tied for ninth in the SoCon, with his 3.1 APG. Cochran shoots the ball better than any Wildcat from the perimeter entering tonight's contest, connecting on 41.8% (23-for-55) of his triples this season. Cochran's 22 points in the win over UNCG a couple of weeks ago represented a season high for him.
Kuhlman is having another solid season for the Wildcats and he has been one of the most versatile Davidson players during his first couple of seasons in the Red and Black. Kuhlman is a great on-the-ball defender for the Wildcats and might be Davidson's most consistent offensive performer. Kuhlman scored in double digits in nine out of Davidson's first 10 games this season, and his 21 points in a win over UNC Wilmington represent a season high.
Rounding out the starting five for the Wildcats will be Tom Droney (4.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG), who will start alongside Kuhlman as a wing guard for the Wildcats. Like Kuhlman, Droney is an excellent defensive performer and is likely one of the best defensive players in the SoCon, and isn't scared to mix it up physically for the Wildcats. Droney's assignment might be checking College of Charleston's top scorer Antwaine Wiggins.
The Wildcats will likely be without the services of Clint Mann (5.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) this evening, who sustained a concussion in the win at Appalachian State. The top player coming off the bench this season for Davidson has been sharp-shooting Chris Czerapowicz (10.1 PPG, 4.1 RPG) who leads the team with 31 triples this season. Freshman guard Tyler Kalinoski (5.0 PPG, 2.1 RPG) and Will Reigel (0.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG) will also see time off the Davidson bench this evening.
Davidson continues to lead the league in scoring offense (79.6 PPG), while entering the contest ranking ninth in scoring defense (70.8 PPG). The Wildcats are shooting the basketball at a 45.0% clip (2nd in SoCon) from the field this season, and connecting on 33.7% (7th in SoCon) from three-point range. Opponents have connected on 44.7% (9th in SoCon) from the field this season, and 34.2% (8th in SoCon) from three in 2011-12.
College of Charleston comes in off a strong win over Elon on Saturday afternoon, and needs this win on the road tonight to keep within striking distance of Davidson for the top spot in the South Division. The Cougars are just 3-8 in the hostile confines of Belk Arena, and are just 3-26 all-time on the road against the Wildcats.
The Cougars' depth might become a factor this afternoon, with Anthony Stitt (9.7 PPG, 1.6 RPG) sidelined for the next six weeks with a hand injury. It didn't affect the Cougars in Saturday's win over Elon, but will likely be a factor this evening against the deep, talented Wildcats. The good news for Bobby Cremins and CofC is the fact they just played Elon. Elon of course is a clone of Davidson, with longtime Wildcats assistant Matt Matheny now in his third season at the helm at Elon and a lot of the things the Phoenix do are similar to Davidson.
While the Cougars have no Andrew Goudelock or Jeremy Simmons this season, the fact is they do have talent and veteran leadership, and it all starts with 6-foot-7 senior forward Antwaine Wiggins (16.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG). Wiggins has seen his scoring taper off a little bit for the Cougars, but he still ranks second in the SoCon in scoring.
Wiggins is not only now a sound offensive threat, he's also arguably the league's top defensive presence, and Davidson fans know that all to well, as Wiggins was known as the "Steph Stopper" during the 2008-09 season. Wiggins most dangerous attribute as an offensive player is his athleticism and his ability to step out and hit the perimeter jumper. Wiggins' 34 triples this season ranks him tied for first on the club.
Wiggins will be joined on the front line by Trent Wiedeman (11.0 PPG, 8.1 RPG) and Adjehi Baru (8.9 PPG, 6.1 RPG). Wiedeman has grown into one of the league's top all-around post players in just his sophomore season, but he has a tendency to be strapped with foul trouble. His 8.1 RPG coming into this evening's contest ranks him second in the SoCon in rebounding. Baru is an extremely intelligent player, but is still extremely raw and a "work-in-progress" according to Cremins in a recent Southern Conference teleconference. It still remains that Baru is one of the most naturally gifted players that has ever set foot on a College of Charleston basketball court and is already showing the potential of many why he has a future beyond college basketball.
Without Stitt, the Cougars will be a bit undermanned depth-wise in the backcourt this evening. Still, CofC has Andrew Lawrence (12.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 5.1 APG) to lean on, and young sophomore guard Nori Johnson (1.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG) is slated to make his first ever start for the Cougars this evening. Lawrence, who has proven once again to be a prolific perimeter shooter and is tied for the team lead with 34 triples this season, has also done an excellent job in his first season as the full-time starting point guard for the Cougars. His 5.1 assists-per-game ranks Lawrence fourth in the league in assists.
The top players coming off the bench for the Cougars this evening will be sharp-shooter Matt Sundberg (6.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG) and Jordan Scott (4.7 PPG, 1.2 RPG) in the backcourt, while James Carlton (0.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG) provides depth in the paint. Scott might be the most athletic player on the Cougars' roster and has started 14 games this season for the Cougars, while Sundberg is a prolific outside threat, as 23 of his 33 field goals have come from the perimeter this season.
As a team, CofC comes into tonight's game averaging 71.6 PPG (2nd in SoCon), while allowing opponents to score 66.8 PPG (4th in SoCon). The Cougars are shooting at a 44.8% clip (3rd in SoCon) from the field this season, while connecting on 35.0% from three-point range (5th in SoCon). Opponents have shot the ball at a 40.8% clip (3rd in SoCon) from the field, while connecting on 32.5% (6th in SoCon) from three-point range this season.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: DAVIDSON 82, COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON 77
A Look At The Rest Of Thursday's Games:
Chattanooga (9-10, 3-3 SoCon) at UNCG (4-12, 2-4)
Chattanooga and UNC Greensboro square off in a key North Division clash on Thursday night at the Greensboro Coliseum. Both the Mocs and Spartans enter the matchup playing good basketball, with UNCG riding its first winning streak of the season, having won back-to-back games, while Chattanooga enters the contest having won three of its last four games.
The Mocs are led by one of the league's most-explosive scorers, in Omar Wattad (12.6 PPG, 3.9 RPG), while the Spartans have one of the league's most-explosive leapers, in Trevis Simpson (16.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG). Simpson, who sports a 42-inch vertical leap, put that leaping ability on display for all to see last Saturday afternoon in Charleston against The Citadel.
The Spartans found themselves trailing by a point (66-65) with .05 seconds remaining. The Spartans were awarded good fortune as a result of a mistake by The Citadel. With .09 seconds left, a full-court pass by Nicholas Paulos was batted away and out-of-bounds by Citadel center Mike Grosselle, affording the opportunity for interim head coach Wes Miller to take a timeout and set up a play.
Inbounding the ball just in front of his own bench, Drew Parker floated a perfect alley-oop pass for Simpson, who dunked it home before the buzzer sounded to give the Spartans the 67-66 win in dramatic fashion.Thursday night's game will be the opening of a five-game homestand for the Spartans.
Chattanooga's Wattad continues to be one of the league's top perimeter shooters, and he enters the contest having knocked down a league best 53 triples (3.1 PG) this season. Senior guard Ricky Taylor (13.2 PPG, 3.9 RPG) leads the Mocs in overall scoring this season, and teams with Wattad and the league's assists leader Keegan Bell (8.3 PPG, 7.1 APG) to form one of the best backcourts in the SoCon.
Thursday night's meeting will mark the 29th all-time meeting between the two North Division rivals, with the Mocs holding an 18-10 all-time series edge. The Mocs won both meetings last season, including a 111-110 double-overtime thriller in Chattanooga last season.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: UNCG 68, CHATTANOOGA 64
Georgia Southern (6-10, 4-2 SoCon) at Furman (8-9, 2-4 SoCon)
Furman and Georgia Southern square off in an important SoCon South Division showdown on Thursday night at Timmons Arena. Furman enters the contest coming off a 58-55 win at Georgia Southern on Saturday night, while Georgia Southern dropped an 88-63 decision at Wofford last weekend.
Furman comes into the matchup having won four out of its past five games in the series against the Eagles on the hardwood, including both meetings last season. The two schools will be engaging in the 45th renewal of the hardwood rivalry, with the series all tied, 22-22. Furman's sweep of the Eagles last season marked the first sweep of the Eagles on the hardwood since 1997.
The Paladins are being led by Charlie Reddick (9.4 PPG, 4.5 RPG) and Brandon Sebirumbi (9.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG). Sebirumbi is coming off a 19-point, nine-rebound effort in the road win at Western Carolina last Saturday, while it was Reddick's three-pointer with 1.8 seconds remaining to play that lifted Furman to a 58-55 win over the Catamounts. Reddick's three came on the heels of an 0-for-11 performance prior to his game-clinching triple. He comes into the contest ranking sixth in the SoCon in three-pointers made this season, having knocked down 35 triples (2.1 PG) on the campaign.
Georgia Southern comes into the contest with three players averaging in double figures, led by sophomore sensation Eric Ferguson (16.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG). Ferguson struggled at Furman last season, as he was held to just five points in the meeting between the two in Greenville last February. Joining Ferguson in double-figure scoring average coming into Thursday's South Division battle are veteran guards Ben Drayton III (11.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG) and Willie Powers (11.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG).
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: FURMAN 65, GEORGIA SOUTHERN 59