Southern Conference Basketball 2012-13: Update No. 2 (Dec. 17-23)

John HooperCorrespondent IIDecember 18, 2012

Southern Conference Basketball 2012-13: Update No. 2 (Dec. 17-23)

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    Georgia Southern's First Win Over ACC Foe Highlights SoCon Week of Basketball

    Eagles Never Trailed in five-point win over Virginia Tech

    Without question, the biggest development on the Southern Conference basketball hardwood yesterday occurred in Blacksburg, Va. where Georgia Southern was able to claim its first-ever win against an ACC member, posting a 78-73 win at Virginia Tech against a Hokies team that had already posted wins over fellow league members Appalachian State and  UNC Greensboro. 

    It also marked the first win for the Eagles against a so-called power conference member since picking up a win over South Carolina in 1992. The Hokies were certainly no power conference pushover either, as the Hokies, who are in their first season under the direction of James Johnson, have been the toast of the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, getting out to an 8-1 start on the campaign.

    The Eagles led by as many as 16 points in the final minutes before seeing the Hokies make a late charge in the contest, but the Eagles led from wire-to-wire in getting the five-point win. 

    Central Florida transfer and former 2010-11 HBCU Player of the Year C.J. Reed enjoyed his best game of his young career in Statesboro, posting 22 points, including going 5-of-9 from beyond the three-point arc in the win. 

    Another player coming through in a big way for the Eagles on Saturday afternoon at Cassell Coliseum came from freshman phenom Cleon Roberts, who posted a career-high 20 points, including 12 points via the three-point shot on 4-for-8 shooting from downtown.

    In the paint, the Eagles would get double-figure scoring efforts from Eric Ferguson and Cameron Baskerville. Ferguson, a candidate for SoCon Player of the Year, posted his 10th-career double-double by scoring 14 points and ripping down 10 boards in the win, while Baskerville added 12 points, including coming up big down the stretch from the charity stripe, where he connected on 6-for-6 foul shots. 

    The Eagles hit a season-best 11 triples, connecting on 11-for-26 from downtown for a 42.3 percent shooting clip for the game, while connecting on 43.9 percent (25-of-57) of all shots in the win. Meanwhile, the Eagles' stingy defensive efforts held the Hokies below 40 percent (39.7 percent) shooting for the game, including just 22.2 percent from long range, holding the Hokies to just 6-of-27 from long-range.

    The Eagles also claimed a 41-38 edge on the boards, which included an impressive 16 boards on the offensive end of the floor. 

    Virginia Tech, who entered the contest with the nation's leading scorer, in point guard Erick Green, got another big performance on Saturday, as Green posted 28 points in the losing effort, while Jarell Eddie added 21 points. 

    The Eagles went to the locker room with an eight-point lead (35-27), with 21 of their 35 first-half points coming on seven three-point field goals, connecting on 50 percent (7-for-14) from long range in the opening frame. 

    The Eagles led by 16 points with 7:55 to play, but Virginia Tech would launch one last furious rally in the game, going on a 12-3 run to cut the Eagles' lead to seven with just under three minutes to play. The Hokies would cut the GSU lead to a trey twice inside the final minute, with the final being on an Eddie triple with 14 seconds remaining, but could get no closer as GSU held on for the historic win. 

    The win now gives the SoCon a second win over the ACC this season, as College of Charleston knocked off Boston College in the Charleston Classic earlier in the campaign. Georgia Southern's win on Saturday now means the SoCon has beaten teams from the ACC, Big 12 and SEC this season. 

Western Carolina Is No Cinderella in 2012-13

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    Western Carolina (4-7, 2-0 SoCon)

    This week's inside look takes a look at the 2011-12 league runner-up, Western Carolina. The Catamounts captivated its fans, and college basketball fans in general, last season with its run in the Southern Conference Basketball Tournament, advancing all the way from the play-in round of the Southern Conference Tournament all the way to the championship game before falling 93-91 in double overtime to Davidson.

    The Catamounts were red-hot to end the 2011-12 season, and no doubt the Catamounts' seven-straight wins before the championship setback to the Davidson Wildcats exemplified their strong play over the final month of the season.

    The Catamounts have also become one of the league's top teams over the past couple of seasons by making the Liston B. Ramsey Center one of the toughest places for league opponents to come away with a win. The Catamounts have won 48 of their last 57 home games, including 32 of their last 39 games against league competition. 

    However, the Catamounts don't want to be known as the "Cinderella" team or the "dark horse" this season, as Western feels it belongs towards the upper echelon in the league, and rightfully so. The Catamounts have claimed North Division titles in two out of the past three seasons before being ousted in the league tournament in the semifinals in back-to-back seasons.

    Despite many tagging the Catamounts as the dark horse in the North Division, predicted to finish third out of six teams in the SoCon's North Division by the league's coaches and media, the Catamounts have tested themselves against some competition early on this season and have shown extremely well against major conference foes. 

    In fact, the Catamounts have lost to the eventual Southern Conference Tournament champions in each of the past three seasons, doing no worse than the semifinals in any of those three campaigns. 

    But if the Catamounts want to continue to try and build a tradition under Larry Hunter, now in his ninth season in Cullowhee, they need to continue their trend upward.

    The Catamounts have just one Southern Conference basketball title since joining the league in 1972, and that title came back in 1996, when the Catamounts forged one of the biggest title game upsets in league history by knocking off a Davidson team that had claimed 18-straight wins against league foes. Hunter's top assistant coach Anquell McCollum was the key cog on that title team and some of that championship swagger seems to have started to rub off on the 2012-13 edition of the Western Carolina basketball team.

    Despite the 4-7 start, the Catamounts are off to a fast start in league play, claiming a road win at Furman (79-65) and a home win over Appalachian State (70-64) a little over a week ago.

    When taking a look at the 2012-13 Catamounts, it is vastly different from the one that made such an impressive tourney run last season. The heart and soul of that 2011-12 season was senior guard Harouna Mutombo, whose experience and savvy was one of the main reasons the Catamounts made such impressive March showing.

    Keaton Cole, a senior point guard and three-point specialist, could score points in a hurry and with his 2012 SoCon Tournament coming at a time when he was shooting the basketball extremely well, it helped the Catamounts nearly make SoCon history last season by becoming the first team to ever win the league tournament having to play four games.

    Mutombo and Cole were two of the four double figures scores for the Catamounts last season, with Mutombo's 13.8 PPG leading the club, while Cole added 12.8 PPG and led the SoCon with 116 made three-point field goals last season. 

    While Mutombo and Cole are long gone, the Catamounts have seen some rather unlikely performers step up and provide some of the scoring punch through the first 11 games this season. 

    The one reliable scorer returning to Larry Hunter's lineup coming into the season was junior guard Trey Sumler, who ranked second on the team in scoring last season and currently leads the club in scoring this, averaging 15.7 PPG and 4.5 RPG. The former preferred walk-on ranks second on the team in three-point field goals made (21), as well as three-point field goal percentage (44.6 percent). Sumler, a native of Rocky Mount, N.C., was a preseason All-SoCon selection. 

    While Sumler has been the go-to-scorer this season for the Purple and Gold, both Tom Tankelewicz (11.9 PPG, 3.0 RPG) and Tawaski King (12.9 PPG, 5.6 RPG) have stepped up and surrounded Sumler with two scoring options, with both averaging in double figures this season. 

    King really started his strong play down the stretch last season, and has been the key cog in the paint for the Catamounts this season. Tankelewicz has connected on 36 triples so far this season, and he has been the player that has kept the Catamounts in games against nationally-ranked Illinois and Georgetown this season, and he once again makes Western an extremely dangerous perimeter-shooting team.

    In the past couple of outings, Tankelewicz has recorded two of his more prolific performances, posting 19 and 24 points in games against Appalachian State and Georgetown, respectively, leading the Mountaineers in individual scoring in both games. 

    The X-factors of this Western Carolina team this season might be junior forward Brandon Boggs (9.5 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and sophomore guard James Sinclair (7.7 PPG, 3.7 RPG).

    Boggs is on the brink of averaging around double figures, and he is one of the most athletically-gifted players on the Catamounts basketball team, as well as being the team's best on-the-ball defender. Boggs' 14 steals ranks second on the squad this season. 

    Sinclair came up big for the Catamounts down the stretch last season, especially with his perimeter shooting. He will be looked to when the Western needs instant offense off of the bench this season, and he especially came in handy when the Catamounts were deep in the Southern Conference tournament last season, providing fresh legs and a scoring presence off the bench. Like Boggs, Sinclair is also a solid defender and is extremely athletic. 

    Rounding out the seven-eight man rotation that will be key for Hunter's Catamounts this season is Preston Ross (8.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG). Ross is a player that is a good athlete and one that can score the basketball in a variety of different ways, including in the paint, as well as being able to step out and hit the perimeter shot.

    Though Ross is only 6'4", he can play either the three or four position for the Catamounts with his strength in the post. He has started all 11 games in the Catamounts this season. 

    Western Carolina has the type of team that will end up battling for a North Division title this season, and a bye in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament. With the tournament in Asheville, N.C. once again this season, which is only about 45 minutes from Cullowhee, the Catamounts might have enough to challenge Davidson once again in the later rounds of the nation's oldest conference tournament. 

    Western Carolina will be back in action on Friday when it makes the trip up I-40 to Knoxville to take on the Tennessee Volunteers, with tip time slate for 7 p.m.

Furman Set for Matchup with Wake Forest Tuesday Night

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    Furman (3-6) at Wake Forest (4-5)

    Dec. 18, 2012

    Lawerence-Joel Coliseum

    Preview: 

    Furman continues its non-conference slate on Tuesday night, facing second ACC opponent of the non-conference slate, taking on Wake Forest at Lawrence-Joel Coliseum. 

    It will mark the first meeting between the two programs since Tim Duncan was suiting up for the Top 15-ranked Demon Deacons, as it was Duncan's 27 points that helped No. 12 Wake Forest to an 81-49 win over Furman Jan. 2, 1996.

    In that 1996 meeting, the Demon Deacons held just a five-point advantage (27-22) at the break, but connected on 10-of-14 shots from beyond the arc in the second half—a half which also included the 1,000th-career point for Duncan—en route to the lopsided win. 

    Overall, it will mark the 24th all-time meeting between the two programs, with Wake Forest holding the 16-7 all-time series edge. Wake Forest is 165-40 all-time against the SoCon. 

    Wake Forest comes into the contest with a 4-5 record on the season, and the Demon Deacons share at least one common opponent with Furman, having faced Mercer this season in the Paradise Jam Tournament; the Demon Deacons got a 74-71 win over the Bears. Furman dropped a 73-47 decision to the Bears in Macon a little over three weeks ago.

    The Demon Deacons lost in their most recent outing, dropping a 71-67 decision to Seton Hall out of the Big East and have had 10 days off for exams. Furman was a 64-50 loser at Auburn on Saturday night.

    In that loss to the Tigers, the Paladins suffered early shooting woes and it proved to be costly, as the Paladins never recovered from a 15-point halftime deficit in the loss. The Paladins shot a frigid 20.7 percent (6-of-29) in the opening half of play against the Tigers, and scored just 20 first-half points in the loss to Auburn.

    The Paladins come into Tuesday night's contest struggling to find offense in general this season, as the Paladins are averaging just 62.2 PPG as a team this season. The 62.2 PPG team scoring average ranks the Paladins ninth out of 12 teams in the Southern in scoring.

    Coming into Tuesday's contest, the Paladins are being led by Colin Reddick (11.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG) in the middle. Reddick is having his best season in the paint for the Paladins and he comes into Tuesday night's matchup as the only Paladin player averaging in double figures.

    The Powder Springs, Ga. product is coming off a solid performance the last time out against Auburn, as he posted 14 points, five boards, three assists and blocked two shots.

    Reddick will team with Kendrec Ferrara (7.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG) in the paint, and the freshman has been one of Furman's go-to-players of late, having scored in double figures in the past four games. Ferrara scored a career-high 13 points in the loss at Loyola, while posting 10 points and a career-high seven boards the last time out against Auburn.

    The Paladins have two veteran starters in the backcourt, with junior Charlie Reddick (9.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and senior Bobby Austin (5.9 PPG, 2.0 RPG). The lone new starter in the backcourt this season is Stephen Croone (8.1 PPG, 4.3 APG) at point guard. Croone is filling in for an injured Jordan Lloyd, who is out indefinitely with a back injury.   

    The Paladins' biggest struggles have come in finding a consistent scorer this season, but continue to mature as the season progresses, and four of the five starters are veteran performers. Furman has struggled shooting the ball from the perimeter this season, ranking ninth in the SoCon in both three-point field goal percentage (32.5 percent) and three-point field goals made (54 made/6.0 PG).

    The Paladins are being led from the perimeter this season by Charlie Reddick and freshman shooting guard Larry Wideman (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG), who have both hit 12 triples this season.  

    Forward Bryant Irwin (8.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG), who has started all seven games he has played in this season, has not played a minute for the Paladins over the past two games for the Paladins. 

    Wake Forest comes into Tuesday night's contest having been led by a couple of players averaging in double figures scoring-wise this season, with both guard C.J. Harris (13.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG) and forward Travis McKie (13.3 PPG, 8.6 RPG) comprising the double-figure scoring duo this season. 

    Harris comes into Tuesday night's contest leading the club in scoring and enjoyed his best outing of the 2012-13 season against Seton Hall the last time out, posting a season-high 28 points in the four-point loss. That 28-point performance against Seton Hall marks the best individual effort by a Demon Deacon player in any game this season. 

    He is athletic and quick, and comes into Tuesday night's contest ranking second on the club in made three-point field goals this season, having canned 13 long-range shots on the campaign. Seven of those 13 triples this season came the last time out against Seton Hall. 

    Harris will team with Chase Fischer (5.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG, team-leading 14 triples) and Codi Miller-McIntyre (8.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG) as the starters in the backcourt for the Demon Deacons on Tuesday night against the Paladins.

    Miller-McIntyre and Fischer are more of role guys for the Demon Deacons, but both have proven they can provide offensive numbers for the Demon Deacons this season. Miller-McIntyre had a season-high 21 points in the early-season loss to UConn, while Fischer has scored in double figures three times this season, including a season-high 15 points on a couple of occasions in 2012-13.

    In the low-post, the Demon Deacons have gotten great production from McKie and Devin Thomas (5.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG). McKie, who is Wake Forest's second-leading scorer, comes into Tuesday night's contest with six double-figure scoring efforts on the campaign, including five-straight to open the season.

    McKie, the 6'7", 220-pound junior forward, had his top game of the season in the narrow win over Mercer, with 23 points and 15 boards. His 8.6 rebounds-per-game lead the team this season. 

    Thomas, a 6'9", 240-pound center has a couple of double-figure performances this season, posting a season-high 11 points in the narrow loss to Richmond. 

    The leading performer off the bench for the Demon Deacons this season has been freshman forward Travis Cavanaugh (6.9 PPG), who has logged five starts in nine games this season and is one of the brighter young talents in the ACC this season. He comes into Tuesday night's contest with a couple of double-figure scoring efforts this season, notching a season-high 11 points in a win over High Point. 

    Tuesday night's contest is one between a pair of teams that have struggled in their past two games, but Wake Forest is the more talented basketball team, and a team that doesn't seem to be encountering quite the struggles the Paladins are at this point in the season—and that's why Wake gets the double-digits win before the home folks on Tuesday night.

     

    Final Score Prediction: 84-67 Demon Deacons