Taking a Look at Southern Conference Basketball To This Point:
With the FCS playoffs and with stories such as Appalachian State's longtime football coach Jerry Moore stepping aside, it's been tough to get a good gauge on what has happened on the SoCon hardwood to this point in the 2012-13 season.
However, I have been able to catch some of the early action on TV and have had the opportunity to see Davidson play on multiple occasions this season, while also watching most of the Furman-Mercer and Appalachian State-Virginia Tech encounters over the past couple of weeks.
From what I have seen so far, it's going to take something special to beat Bob McKillop's Wildcats, who are the league's defending champs and might have the best group of players since Davidson's 2007-08 team went all the way to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Some of the early league games have seen Davidson down Chattanooga, 81-55, in the Scenic City, while Western Carolina claimed a 69-55 win at Furman last week. UNC Greensboro handed The Citadel an 84-54 defeat.
Over the next few weeks as the lead-up to league play begins in earnest, we will be taking a team-by-team look at the Southern Conference. The plan is to update you on all 12 league members heading into January and February as we get ready for another exciting Southern Conference race in 2012-13.
After first discussing the current division leaders in Davidson and Western Carolina, we will start the team discussion in the North Division with the Chattanooga Mocs.
Both teams that ended up in last season's Southern Conference Championship—Western Carolina and Davidson—moved to 2-0 on the Southern Conference hardwood Saturday with a pair of close league wins.
Western Carolina, which opened up Southern Conference play with an impressive 79-65 win at Furman about a week and a half ago, moved to 2-0 in league play with a 70-64 win over mountain rival Appalachian State in the 178th meeting between the two programs on Saturday afternoon at the Liston B. Ramsey Center.
The Catamounts saw four players place in double figures, and erased a 13-point second-half deficit to get their third-straight win over ASU.
Leading the scoring charge for the Catamounts was Tom Tankelwicz, who posted a career-high 19 points. Fifteen of those points came on five treys.
After a jumper by ASU's Jamaal Trice at the 16:57 mark gave ASU a 13-point lead, the Catamounts would climb back into the contest as a result of a 10-2 run over the next four minutes to get within five (45-40) before the Mountaineers again stretched their lead to nine points.
However, the Catamounts would not go away. They continued to chip away at the Black and Gold advantage, and eventually forced the game to within a point (50-49) on a Tawaski King jumper with a little over six minutes remaining in the contest.
The Mountaineers took the lead on a three-pointer from Trice on the right wing, but Tankelwicz gave the Catamounts the lead, 61-60, with a three-pointer of his own to answer Trice's three at the 2:51 mark.
A Jay Canty dunk gave brought the Mountaineers within two moments later, at 66-64, but Tankelwicz delivered the dagger on an assist from Trey Sumler as he connected on a three from the right corner with just 28 seconds to play.
In a matchup between the last three Southern Conference champions, it was Davidson that fought off a pesky Wofford team to get a 63-56 win at Belk Arena.
Davidson got a first-career double-double from Nik Cochran (15 points, 10 rebounds) to move to 2-0 in SoCon play.
The Wildcats were on fire in the early moments of the game, connecting on six straight threes to run out to an 18-4 lead. Davidson would lead by as many as 21 points in the first half.
However, Wofford would mount a furious 20-8 run midway through the second half, cutting the Wildcats' lead to just three (53-50) with a little under five minutes to play. Consecutive baskets by Jake Cohen would stretch Davidson's lead back to double digits to help the Wildcats overcome the hard-charging Terriers.
The only other Wildcat player in double figures was Tyler Kalinoski, who posted 11 points, while Jake Cohen would add eight points, five blocks and seven boards. Chris Czerapowicz, Tom Droney and De’Mon Brooks also had eight points apiece in what was a complete team scoring effort for the Wildcats in the win.
Wofford was led by a couple of reserves in Taylor Wagener and Indiana Faithfull, who posted 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Chattanooga (2-6, 0-1 SoCon)
It's not been an easy road for the young Chattanooga basketball team thus far in the 2012-13 season.
The Mocs are off to just a 2-6 start on the campaign. This includes a drop of their only Southern Conference game of the season in an 81-55 home loss to Davidson back on Dec. 3rd.
The Mocs have picked up wins against Tennessee Temple (88-53) and Kennesaw State (65-51), while losses have come against Davidson (81-55), No. 7 Kansas (69-55), Southeast Missouri (77-65), Louisiana Tech (71-63), Eastern Kentucky (63-52) and Troy (68-61).
Despite the early struggles, the Mocs have been impressive at times this season. In the 14-point loss to No. 7 Kansas, the Mocs did particularly well to hang within the 10-12 point deficit range throughout the game.
The Mocs are coming off a 2011-12 season which was among the hardest ever for both fans and the coaching staff. Considering that Chattanooga has won 10 past Southern Conference titles, the Mocs' record of just 11-21 along with its last place finish in the SoCon's North Division was a bitter disappointment.
Impressive Young Backcourt:
One of the most-highly touted freshman talents in the SoCon coming into the season was considered to be Casey Jones (4.4 PPG, 3.8 RPG) of Chattanooga. The Mocs' guard was expected to spell Dontay Hampton off the bench in a reserve role at the point. However, injuries have put Jones in the Mocs' starting five, and the true freshman talent has had to learn much on the run this season for the Mocs.
Athletic and quick, Jones has a bright future in the Mocs Blue and Gold as the 6'5" point guard gives the Mocs a size advantage against most teams at the point guard position. This season, Jones enjoyed his best offensive performance against Louisiana Tech, posting eight points to go with five rebounds and three assists. His 11 assists on the team rank third on the team through the first eight games.
Freshman wing guard Gee McGhee (9.9, 2.0 RPG) is the other true freshman player from The Pelican State. Thus far, McGhee has acquitted himself as one of the league's top freshman this season as he's averaging right on the cusp of double figures through the first eight games.
Like Jones, McGhee provides an athletic scoring punch on the perimeter and is a player who creates scoring opportunities off the dribble. McGhee's play has particularly been strong as of late, as he's averaged 13.8 PPG and 2.0 RPG over the last four games.
McGhee is second on the team in three-pointers made this season, having posted 10 treys this season. In four of eight games through his collegiate career thus far, McGhee has scored in double figures, including three out of his last four games. His top performance of the season was a 19-point effort in the setback to Louisiana Tech.
Farad Cobb (5.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG), a 6'0", true freshman guard from West Palm Beach, Florida, has been a solid performer off the Chattanooga bench this season. He's also the team's top perimeter threat, having canned 12 treys on the season.
Cobb, a streak shooter, singlehandedly kept the Mocs within striking distance of the Kansas Jayhawks in that early-season clash with seven triples in the contest, including six in the opening half. His 21-point performance against Kansas is easily the top performance of his young career.
Post Players With An SEC Flavor:
Last season, Mocs fans were introduced to Z. Mason (11.0 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Drazen Zlovaric (9.9 PPG, 6.6 RPG), who transferred into the Chattanooga basketball program from Ole Miss and Georgia, respectively. Both have helped the Mocs to continue their tradition of great placement in the low post, established over the years by talents such as Johnny Taylor, Derrick Kirce and Mindaugas Katelynas (just to name a few).
Mason, a transfer from Ole Miss (where he played on the football team as a backup tight end), has been a force in the paint early on this season. He's the only Mocs player averaging in double figures through the first eight games of the season, while his 7.1 boards per game also leads the club.
Mason has five double-figure scoring games this season, including three straight double-figure efforts to open the season. His 16 points in the season-opening win over Tennessee Temple remain his season high.
Zlovaric transferred into Chattanooga from SEC East member Georgia last season. The native of Novi Sad, Serbia came into the season as the Mocs' leading returning scorer (10.2 PPG) and rebounder (6.4 RPG), and in fact was the lone returning starter from last season's 11-win club.
Zlovaric is one of two seniors on John Shulman's 2012-13 roster, and enjoyed his most outstanding performance of the season in a loss to Troy with 11 points and 10 boards. His 51.7% clip from the field ranks seventh in the league after eight games.
LSU and Mercer:
The young Mocs travel to LSU on Tuesday night for a clash with undefeated SEC West foe LSU (5-0), then will return to the McKenzie Arena on Saturday to host Atlantic Sun foe Mercer (5-5).
When the Mocs face LSU on Tuesday night, it will mark the first-ever meeting between the Mocs and Tigers. Another point of interest is that LSU is the lone SEC opponent on UTC's slate this season. The Mocs are 24-109 all-time against current SEC members.
The Tigers haven't hit the hardwood yet in the month of December, as they last hit the floor on Nov. 29 in getting a 72-67 win over Seton Hall.
Despite their 5-0 start, the Tigers have had some turmoil as of late. Head coach Johnny Jones suspended sophomore guard Anthony Hickey indefinitely due to a violation of athletic department and university policies. Hickey was one of three players averaging in double figures for the Tigers.
Leading the Tigers offensively this season have been 6'6" wing forward Shavon Coleman (17.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and 6'9" power forward Johnny O'Bryant (12.5 PPG, 8.8 RPG). The Tigers were 18-15 last season and were 7-9 in SEC play.
On Saturday, Mercer will be in the Scenic City to take on the Mocs in a 3 p.m. contest. The Mocs lost, 67-56, to Mercer last year in Macon. The Bears have already notched one win against a Southern Conference team this season with a 73-46 win over Furman back on Nov. 25.
The Bears were CIT champions last year and won a school record 27 games. They return four starters from last season's club. Leading the way so far in 2012-13 for head coach Bob Hoffman's Bears is point guard Travis Smith, who is the only Mercer player averaging in double figures so far this season, at 10.5 PPG. Mercer was the preseason consensus favorite to win the 2012-13 Atlantic Sun Title.
Saturday's meeting between the Mocs and Bears will mark the 61st meeting between the teams, with Mercer holding a 32-28 lead in the all-time series. The Mocs avenged one of their two losses to A-Sun foes last season by getting a 65-51 win over Kennesaw State earlier this season.