Davidson (11-7, 6-1 SoCon) at Western Carolina (8-11, 5-2 SoCon)
Jan. 24, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Cullowhee, N.C., Liston B. Ramsey Activities Center (7,515)
After last season's meeting in the championship game in the Southern Conference Tournament, the Davidson-Western Carolina series has a chance to become one of the more exciting Southern Conference hardwood rivalries.
Thursday night's meeting will mark the 59th meeting between the Wildcats and Catamounts in a series that dates back to 1977, which was Western's first in its time as a Southern Conference member, and Davidson holds a 38-20 all-time series edge.
Western is just 3-8 in the last 11 meetings between the two programs, with Davidson having won two-straight, including a 93-91 double-overtime win in the Southern Conference Tournament Championship game last year in Asheville, N.C., in what will go down as one of the greatest Southern Conference Tournament title meetings in league history.
Western, of course, forged one of the greatest upsets in SoCon title game history back in the 1996 championship game. It was a memorable one in a 69-60 win over a Davidson team that had not lost to a SoCon team all season, going a perfect 18-0 against the league in the regular-season and tournament.
Davidson and Western Carolina square off in a rematch of the Southern Conference Title game on Thursday night at the Ramsey Center.
It will be "White Out" night at the Ramsey Center, and the atmosphere should be electric at one of the tougher venues for an opponent to come into in Southern Conference basketball.
Coming into Thursday night's clash between the Catamounts and Wildcats, Western has protected its home court as well as any team in the SoCon over the past couple of seasons, having posted 50 wins in their last 60 home games over the past three seasons. Including having won 33 of their last 41 against Southern Conference foes in the friendly confines.
The Catamounts come in off a mini two-game road trip to Chattanooga and Samford last week, splitting both of those North Division battles. The Catamounts were able to post a 90-81 win over Chattanooga last Saturday night, while dropping a 64-60 decision at North Division leading Samford last Thursday.
Davidson, meanwhile, has gone on a little streak since suffering its first Southern Conference loss of the season, which was a 70-57 setback at Georgia Southern 10 days ago. The defending Southern Conference champions were able to reel off wins against The Citadel (70-38) last Thursday night and College of Charleston (77-68) on Saturday night to solidify the Wildcats' standing atop the South Division standings, at 5-1 in the league.
However, the Davidson loss at Georgia Southern last week proved that despite the Wildcats' experience and talent, they are not immune to defeat in what is a balanced league in 2012-13, and that is especially true when the Wildcats travel into some of the tougher home cauldrons in SoCon basketball. Obviously, the Thursday night clash at Western Carolina is one of those "cauldrons." The last time Davidson traveled to Cullowhee in February of 2011, the Wildcats were upended 81-73 by the eventual North Division champions.
Larry Hunter's Wildcats are once again positioning themselves to make a run at that North Division crown, and the Catamounts' four-guard offense and high-octane attack, with some elements of the Princeton offense infused into their offensive scheme, makes Western's offensive game plan one of the most diverse and toughest to defend in the SoCon.
Leading the charge in the backcourt for the Catamounts this season has been junior guard Trey Sumler (17.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG), who is making a strong bid for Southern Conference Player of the Year accolades, and he has recently taken over the scoring lead in the Southern Conference. Sumler played in the shadows somewhat of Harouna Mutombo in his first two seasons in the Catamount basketball program, but now he is running the show and has stepped into a leadership role this season.
Sumler isn't so much different from former Catamount scoring threats Anquell McCollum, Frankie King and Kevin Martin, in that he can score in a variety of different ways. Sumler comes into Thursday night's contest having posted the SoCon's top scoring game of the season, having posted 32 points in the 80-67 setback to Elon back on Jan. 14.
Sumler has scored in double figures in 65 of his 87 career games as a Catamount, including having done so in 17 of 19 games this season for WCU. He posted 18 points in last year's championship game against Davidson, which included a clutch three-pointer in the waning moments to help send the game to overtime.
He will team with Tom Tanklewicz (10.3 PPG, 2.8 RPG), Brandon Boggs (9.6 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and James Sinclair (6.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG, 44 assists) in the starting guard rotation for WCU Thursday night. Tankelewicz ranks second in the SoCon in three-pointers made, with 52 triples on the season, and probably reminds WCU fans of former Catamount three-point assassin Joe Stafford, who was a member of that 1996 championship team.
Brandon Boggs is probably the best athlete in the starting rotation for the Catamounts and is one of the team's best defenders. Boggs has played well the past couple of times he has taken the floor, posting 13 and 19 points, respectively, in those road contests at Samford and Chattanooga last week.
Rounding out the starting five for the Catamounts heading into Thursday night's battle against league favorite Davidson is Tawaski King (11.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG). King is one of the more unheralded post players in the SoCon, but has been a vital part of the WCU offense this season, and has had to shoulder a lot of responsibility to score in the post in this four-guard attack. King's 54.5 field goal percentage ranks second in the league heading into the contest with Davidson.
Coming off the bench, Western will look to get production from Preston Ross (7.1 PPG, 3.9 RPG) in the frontcourt, with Mike Brown (3.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG). Brown can play either the point or wing positions in the backcourt, while Ross will offer support in the front court support off the bench.
As a team, the Catamounts enter Thursday night's SoCon inter-divisional clash, ranking fourth in the league in scoring offense (70.2 PPG), third in free throw percentage (72.1%), while leading the league in team steals (8.1 SPG) and second in three-point field goal percentage defense (30.4%).
Davidson comes into Thursday night's clash with the league's top frontcourt, led by the 2012 co-Southern Conference Players of the Year, in De'Mon Brooks (13.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and Jake Cohen (13.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG).
At times, getting consistency from the league's top low-post duo has been a bit of an issue, but both have come up with some simply near-flawless performances this season, showing why the tandem is so highly regarded in the SoCon and nationally at the mid-major level.
Cohen comes in ranking second in the league in blocked shots, averaging 1.6 BPG. Cohen is the active career-leader in the SoCon in points (1,523), rebounds (662), blocked shots (169) and games started (107). Cohen posted 17 points in the SoCon title win over WCU last season.
Brooks is a player that is a tremendous athlete, and is one of the few players in the league that could draw more than a glance from the National Basketball Association. The junior posted 19 points in the epic win over Western Carolina in the title game last season, tying for team high honors in the win.
Brooks led four Wildcats in double figures with 17 points in the win over College of Charleston the last time out. Brooks has the athleticism and smooth shooting touch coupled with the ability to score off the dribble, much akin to former Wildcat standout Brandon "Ozone" Williams from the mid 1990s.
The Wildcats also have the league's most veteran backcourt, comprised of seniors Nik Cochran (9.1 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.4 APG) and J.P. Kuhlman (8.1 PPG, 2.3 RPG), and junior three-point threat Chris Czerapowicz (8.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG).
Kuhlman has been the model of consistency throughout his career for the Wildcats, and is probably the most versatile player in the backcourt and is one of the best on-the-ball defenders in the SoCon.
Cochran does a number of things well, but is most known for his heady decision-making as the Wildcats' point guard, and he has a knack for getting to the charity stripe. Cochran currently ranks second nationally in foul shooting, converting 62-of-65 attempts from the line this season for a 95.4-percent shooting clip. Cochran ranks ninth in the league in three-point field goal percentage this season, connecting on 40.7-percent (22-of-54) from long range this season.
Perhaps the greatest asset for this 2012-13 Davidson team, however, might be its bench, which includes a couple of players that could start for just about any other SoCon school. Tyler Kalinoski (7.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG) and Tom Droney (3.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG) give the Wildcats tremendous depth in the backcourt, with Kalinoski being one of the team's several three-point threats, having knocked down 30 treys this season, while Droney is a physical, fundamentally sound defensive presence off the bench, who has locked down some of the league's better scorers in his career wearing the Red and Black.
Clint Mann (7.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG), who hasn't been known as an offensive threat in his career, but has shown potential as an offensive threat at times in his career.
The Wildcats come into Thursday's contest leading the nation in team free throw percentage (79.1%), while being tied for the team lead in the SoCon in three-pointers made, with 138 on the campaign. Davidson's 71.4 PPG offensively ranks the Wildcats third in the SoCon.
This has the potential to be a great game in an atmosphere that should be electric on Thursday night. Davidson usually responds well in those type of situations, and the Wildcats will squeak out a road win in a barn-burner at the Ramsey Center.
Final Score Prediction: Davidson 73, Western Carolina 72