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