SoCon Basketball 2012-13: Dec. 16 Previews

John HooperCorrespondent IIDecember 16, 2012

SoCon Basketball 2012-13: Dec. 16 Previews

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    Greenville, South Carolina—Sunday has a couple of intriguing Southern Conference basketball non-conference matchups, as Appalachian State (1-7) will be in Kansas City, looking to end a seven-game losing streak—as well as its first win against a Division I win of the season—when the Mountaineers face University of Missouri-Kansas City out of the Summit League on Sunday afternoon.

    Chattanooga, who is out to just a 2-7 start on the young season, will look to bounce back from an 80-67 loss to LSU at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Tuesday night against LSU, as they face a Mercer team that has handed the Mocs a pair of losses the last two times the teams have met, including a 67-56 setback last season in Macon. 

    Mercer, the reigning CIT champs, have now knocked off ACC members each of the past two seasons, including in its most recent win over Florida State (61-56).

    The Bears defeated Georgia Tech (65-59) in Atlanta last season, and boast a perfect 4-0 mark against the Southern Conference competition since the start of the 2011-12 season, including a 73-46 win over Furman three weeks ago. 

Mountaineers Look for Second Win of the Season Against UMKC

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    Appalachian State (1-7, 0-1 SoCon) at University of Missouri-Kansas City (4-5, 1-1 Summit)



    Appalachian State will look to put an end to its seven-game losing streak when the Mountaineers take to the floor against the University of Missouri-Kansas City on Sunday afternoon at the Sweeney Recreation Center.

    The Mountaineers opened the season with an 86-54 win over Montreat, but since then, Jason Capel's club has dropped games to High Point (86-64), Campbell (101-82), East Carolina (82-72), Virginia Tech (87-76), Duquesne (73-72), No. 15 Missouri (72-56) and Western Carolina (70-64). 

    The Mountaineers have had a week off since losing their Southern Conference opener on the road in Cullowhee against Western Carolina. 

    Meanwhile, the UMKC Kangaroos enter Sunday afternoon's matchup having dropped a 99-47 decision to No.5 Louisville the last time out. Sunday afternoon's meeting will mark the first-ever between the Mountaineers and Kangaroos in both programs' respective histories. 

    The Mountaineers come into Sunday's clash having been led by one of the SoCon's most dynamic newcomers this season, in Xavier transfer Jay Canty (18.6 PPG, ). The 6'6" sophomore guard/forward is coming off a solid effort in the six-point loss at Western Carolina last weekend, pouring in a game-high 22 points in the SoCon opener.

    Canty's 18.6 PPG currently ranks second in the SoCon in points per game average, while ranking 10th in the league in rebounding. Canty is also a good ball-handler, and he can create his own shots off the dribble. He is also ASU's best pure athlete. 

    Just behind Canty in scoring this season for the Black and Gold is Nathan Healy (13.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG ), who is one of three double-figure scorers in the starting lineup, while having posted six double-figure scoring performances in eight games this season for ASU. He is ASU's top player in the low post and will team with Michael Obacha (4.4 PPG, 4,0 RPG) in the paint. Brian Okam (2.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG) has also contributed good minutes off the bench this season. 

    Rounding out the Mountaineers in the starting five averaging in double figures heading into Sunday's matchup is sophomore guard Tab Hamilton (11.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG), who's off to a strong start to his second season in the High Country.

    Hamilton has recorded a pair of 18-point performances this season, which marks a season-high points total for him in 2012-13. Hamilton's 17 triples leads the club this season, and coming into Sunday night's contest, he is shooting at a 39.5 percent (17-of-36) clip from long range so far this season. 

    The Mountaineers have been without starting point guard Mike Neal all season, who has been out with an injury, and Hamilton and true freshman Chris Burgess (4.1 PPG, 1.5 RPG) have had to tag-team the point guard position this season in Neal's absence.

    Another key veteran back in the backcourt is 6'6" sophomore Jamaal Trice (7.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG), who was the leading returning scorer for the Apps and comes into Sunday's game with three double-figure scoring performances this season. 

    The Mountaineers enter Sunday's contest averaging 71.5 PPG to rank fourth in the SoCon in scoring offense, while the Apps have struggled defensively this season, ranking 11th out of 12 SoCon teams in scoring defense (78.1 PPG) and rank last in the league in field-goal percentage defense, allowing teams to shoot at nearly a 50 percent clip (48.9 percent) this season.

    UMKC comes in off a lopsided loss to Louisville, and in addition to the Kangaroos' loss to the Cardinals a week ago, the Kangaroos have also dropped games to No. 3 Ohio State (91-45), Seton Hall (76-35), Western Illinois (68-63) and Albany (62-59). Wins for the Kangaroos this season have come against North Dakota (73-70), IUPUI (79-65) and Norfolk State (63-57).

    The Kangaroos came into the season predicted to seventh in the nine-team Summit League preseason projections, and though the Kangaroos have never met Appalachian State on the hardwood, UMKC actually holds a 3-1 all-time series edge in games against SoCon foes, having defeated Wofford last season and hold a 2-0 record against Samford, while the lone loss the Kangaroos have to a SoCon foe came at the hands of the Chattanooga Mocs. 

    The Kangaroos come in led in scoring by sophomore guard Estan Tyler (9.1 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 30 assists), while senior forward Thomas Staton (8.8 PPG, 1.7 RPG) is the top performer in the low post for the Kangaroos. Fred Chatmon (7.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG) will be a force to be reckoned with inside, and his 6.8 RPG leads the club.

    It will be a contrast in styles when the Mountaineers and Kangaroos go at it on Sunday, as ASU wants to get the ball down the floor in transition, while the Kangaroos favor a half-court type game, as evidenced by their 62.1 PPG scoring average.

    Appalachian State hasn't won a game on the road since a 79-69 win at Furman back on Feb. 9 of last year, and the Apps are 0-5 away from Boone this season. However, I look for ASU to pick up their first road win of the 2012-13 season and first win over a Division I opponent.

    Final Score Prediction: Appalachian State 72, UMKC 67

Chattanooga Hosts Mercer Sunday at McKenzie Arena

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    Mercer (5-5, 0-0 A-Sun) at Chattanooga (2-7, 0-1 SoCon)



    Chattanooga returns to the McKenzie Arena looking to avenge a 67-56 loss to Mercer last season in Macon, as Sunday's matinee matchup between the two schools will mark the 61st all-time meeting between the two teams, with Mercer holding the narrow 32-28 all-time series edge.

    For the Bears, it will be their first trip to the Scenic City of Chattanooga since 1990. Chattanooga comes into Sunday's matchup having dropped an 80-67 decision to LSU in Baton Rouge last Tuesday night, while Mercer was last in action eight days ago, getting a 65-56 win over Alabama A&M.

    The Bears, of course, were the CIT champions last season, claiming the school's and the Atlantic Sun's first-ever postseason non-conference tournament trophy. In many ways, Chattanooga has a program and tradition that Bob Hoffman is looking to build in the Atlantic Sun in Macon. 

    The Bears already have one impressive victory to their credit this season, having posted a 61-56 win over defending ACC champion Florida State back two weeks ago. It marked the second-straight season the Bears have knocked off an ACC foe, as Mercer took down Georgia Tech in Atlanta during the 2011-12 campaign. 

    Both Chattanooga and Mercer are 1-0 against the each school's respective conference affiliation this season, with the Mocs having posted a 65-51 win over Kennesaw State, while Mercer posted a convincing 73-46 win over Furman in late November. The Mocs have posted a 92-93 all-time mark against current members of the Atlantic Sun. 

    Mercer is the consensus A-Sun favorite this season, being voted the league's favorite by the league's head coaches, as well as the media that cover the league. 

    The young Mocs, who start two true freshmen in the backcourt, in Casey Jones (4.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG) and Gee McGhee (9.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG), looked good at times in the 13-point road loss to undefeated LSU on Tuesday night at the Pete Maravich Center. 

    The Mocs struggled shooting the basketball in Tuesday night's road loss, connecting on just 37.3 percent (25-of-67) from the field in the contest, and leading the scoring charge for the Mocs were Ronrico White and Gee McGhee, as the duo were the only two UTC players in double figures in the contest, adding 17 and 10 points, respectively. 

    Joining McGhee and Jones as a part of the starting five for the Mocs on Sunday afternoon will be sophomore guard Ronrico White (8.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG), while junior Z. Mason (12.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG) and senior Drazen Zlovaric (9.0 PPG, 6.2 RPG) round out the starting five in the front court. 

    Mason is the Mocs' leading scorer and rebounder to this point on the 2012-13 season, while also connecting on 47.1 percent (41-for-87) of his shots from the field so far this season.

    Chattanooga, who connected on nine triples on a season-high 24 three-point attempts in Tuesday night's loss to the Tigers, come into Sunday's matchup with the Bears at McKenzie Arena led by a couple of newcomers in shooting from the perimeter this season, as McGhee and classmate Farad Cobb (5.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG) have combined for 25 of the team's 43 triples on the season. McGhee leads the team with 13 made treys, while Cobb is right on his heels with 12 trifectas this season. 

    As a team this season, Chattanooga's strength has been rebounding the basketball and that has been a staple of John Shulman-coached teams in his ninth season at the helm in the Scenic City. The Mocs come into Sunday's matchup leading the Southern Conference in rebounding margin (+7.1).

    Mercer returns four regulars off the team that claimed a school-record 27 wins and the program's only non-conference postseason trophy last season. Mercer junior guard Travis Smith (10.5 PPG, 3.1 RPG) is the only player averaging in double figures coming into Sunday's matchup.

    The Bears have gotten it done on the defensive end of the floor the past couple of seasons, and this season, the Bears are holding opponents to just 54.2 PPG and just 39.6 percent shooting from the field per contest, including a frigid 28.1 percent from behind the three-point line.

    Preseason All-Atlantic Sun selection guard Langston Hall (7.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) suffered a minor ankle injury at the beginning of the season, but has slowly managed to work back into the flow of the offense, and he led the Bears with 15 points in last season's clash between the two schools. Hall is the Bears' most versatile offensive threat and a preseason candidate for A-Sun Player of the Year.

    The paint will once again be occupied by the services of 2012 A-Sun Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, Daniel Coursey (6.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, team-leading 12 blocks), who set a program single-season standard with 88 swatted shots a year ago and is on pace to potentially challenge the all-time NCAA Division I career high-water mark in just his junior season. Coursey is also an effective offensive weapon, with a solid mid-range jump shot.

    The heart-and-soul of the Mercer basketball team last season was Stevens Point and Jakob Gollon (7.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG). Gollon, a 6'8" forward who can step out and hit the perimeter shot, has a game that would make him a natural fit in Bo Ryan's hard-nosed defensive style for the Wisconsin Badgers and has proven to be the perfect ingredient for Hoffman's defensive mindset, with an outstanding work-ethic along with a willingness to be a physical enforcer on the defensive of the floor.

    Former Colorado "Mr. Basketball" Bud Thomas (5.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG) leads the team from the perimeter, having connected on a team-high tying 10 triples this season. Thomas is tied with teammates Smith and Jibri Bryan (4.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG), who did not play against the Mocs last season as a result of an early season-ending knee injury, as both have also contributed 10 made three-pointers this season. 

    Offensively, neither team is scorching the nets scoring-wise this season, and both teams prefer more of a half-court, slower pace to the game, with the Mocs coming in averaging 63.4 PPG while the Bears are posting just 58.8 PPG. 

    Final Score Prediction: Mercer 65, Chattanooga 57