UNC Greensboro (2-9, 1-0 SoCon) at Davidson (7-6, 1-0 SoCon)
Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Davidson, N.C., Belk Arena ()
Background on The Rivalry: One of the more underrated rivalries on the Southern Conference is the one between the Davidson Wildcats and the UNC Greensboro Spartans.
It will mark just the 31st meeting between the two programs, but it has been a rivalry that has seen some great contests in its lineage in the years since the UNC Greensboro joined the Southern Conference from the Big South.
Though the Spartans have had little success in the series since the two first met in the series in February of 1998, two of their nine wins in the series still have Davidson fans fans smarting to this day.
Both of the Spartan wins that still stick in the craw of Davidson fans occurred in the Southern Conference Tournament.
In the 2005 Kyocera Mita Southern Conference Tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn., it was the Spartans that brought an end to head coach Bob McKillop and the Wildcats' Southern Conference title hopes with a 73-68 win in the Southern Conference semifinals.
The win propelled the Spartans to one of their two Southern Conference title game appearances, while ending an experienced, veteran Davidson team's hopes of a tournament trophy and subsequent NCAA Tournament possibility. Also lost was a chance to finish Southern Conference play and the tournament unblemished, as it was a Wildcat team that breezed to a 16-0 regular-season mark in league play.
It took a career-high 22 points from Josh Gross to claim the win, and it was the only 20-point effort in his 111-game collegiate career. That UNCG team also had two of the greatest players to ever grace the Fleming Gym (former home court) and Greensboro Coliseum hardwood for the Spartans, in the freshmen tandem of guard Ricky Hickman and Kyle Hines.
Hines' workman-like 10-point, six-rebound effort was certainly noteworthy, while Hickman finished on the cusp of double figures, with eight points.
The Spartans' five-point win was over a starting cast for the Wildcats that included four juniors and one senior, and a Davidson team that featured SoCon Player of the Year Brendan Winters, who led Davidson with 19 points in the losing effort.
It appeared that veteran leadership was ready to propel the Wildcats into the championship game to face Chattanooga on its home floor, however, as Davidson raced out to 48-40 lead after scoring 10 of the first 12 points in the second half to race out to the advantage.
However, a three-pointer by Gross sparked a 6-0 run by the Spartans and cut Davidson's lead to just a basket with a little over 10 minutes remaining.
After the Spartans took a 55-53 lead on a three-point play the old fashioned way by Hines' driving baseline lay-up and subsequent free throw following the foul, the game would change hands seven times over the final eight minutes of the contest.
Davidson's star would come through in the clutch, as his driving reverse lay-up around the league's leading shot-blocker Hines tied the contest, 66-66 with about two minutes left to play. But the senior Gross, the unsung hero of the 2004-05 season for the UNCG basketball team, would provide an emphatic answer to the league's Player of the Year, nailing a triple from the right corner to give the Spartans a 69-66 lead--a lead which UNCG would not relinquish--with 1:31 to play.
It was a bitter defeat for the Wildcats, who looked to be charted on a course to complete the unblemished run through the league and tournament which Davidson's 1996 team ended just a game short of completing during the feat, losing in the title game to Western Carolina.
The Wildcats would end up qualifying for the NIT that season, ending their run in the semifinals. UNCG would go on to lose, (), in the SoCon title game to Chattanooga.
The only other Southern Conference title game appearance came four years earlier at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., and just like the '05 meeting, the Spartans faced mighty Davidson in the Southern Conference semifinals.
But Fran McCaffery's weren't an upstart bunch looking to forge an upset against the Wildcats in the '01 tournament, it was a Spartans team that entered the proceedings in Greenville as one of the pre-tournament favorites.
In fact, the Spartans had claimed one of the four first-round byes in the opening round of the league tournament, finishing second in the SoCon North Division behind division champion Davidson. Led by players like David Schuck and Courtney Eldridge, the Spartans were able to an identical 73-68 win over the Wildcats, moving onto the championship game against Chattanooga.
Though the losses have not come all that often to the Spartans, with Davidson holding the 21-9 advantage heading into Saturday night's contest, when they have come, they have usually been especially bitter.
Saturday night's contest sees a Davidson team favored to win the SoCon South Division, and with players like Jake Cohen (13.PPG, 5.5 RPG), De'Mon Brooks (14.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG) and Chris Czerapowicz (8.2 PPG, team-high 25 triples), the Wildcats have looked like living up to their preseason billing through an especially tough non-conference slate, which saw the Wildcats post wins over the likes of BCS conference foesVanderbilt and West Virginia, while posting a very impressive win over a perennial mid-major power, Richmond, just last week. Davidson's lone Southern Conference win was an 81-59 win over Chattanooga back in early Dec.
UNCG, meanwhile, has struggled to live up to its preseason praise of being the favorites in the SoCon North Division. Much like last year, the Spartans struggled mightily during non-conferece play, posting a 2-9 mark. One of those wins was a Southern Conference victory, however, with a resounding 84-54 win at The Citadel.
But if there's any team that can get things going in conference play, it's UNCG. With an explosive scoring backcourt that features league Player of the Year candidate Trevis Simpson (20.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and Derrell Armstrong (15.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG), who has been the SoCon's top sixth man this season.
In fact, Armstrong is one of two double-figure scorers that comes off the bench for the Spartans, as freshman forward Kayel Locke is having a freshman season reminiscent of predecessor Kyle Hines (2004-08), averaging 11.9 PPG and 4.8 RPG.
The problem for the Spartans has been defensively this season, was UNCG enters the contest, yielding a league-high 81.3 PPG. That doesn't bode well for the Spartans, who face a Davidson team averaging a 70.4 PPG to rank third in the SoCon in scoring offense.
Wes Miller was the talk of the SoCon last year after taking over for Mike Dement under an interim status last season, and with the struggles in the non-league slate and with high expectations, the pressure will be on Miller to help UNCG live up to the hype in the weaker SoCon North.
Davidson has owned this rivalry of late, posting 11 wins in the past 13 meetings between the two, including having won nine-straight over the Spartans at Belk Arena. In the only meeting between the two last season, Davidson won going away, 92-63, at the Greensboro Coliseum.
Look for the trend to continue and Davidson to send the North Division favorites to .500 in conference play and a 10th straight defeat at Belk Arena Saturday night.
Final Score Prediction: Davidson 82, UNCG 70