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