Western Carolina and Wofford Face Each Other in Pivotal SoCon Matchup Monday

John HooperCorrespondent IIFebruary 10, 2013

Wofford's Lee Skinner looks to score against Western's Tawaski King in last season's Southern Conference tournament in Asheville, N.C.
Wofford's Lee Skinner looks to score against Western's Tawaski King in last season's Southern Conference tournament in Asheville, N.C.

Wofford (10-15, 4-8 SoCon) at Western Carolina (9-15, 6-6 SoCon)

Feb. 11, 2013, 7:00 p.m.

Cullowhee, N.C., Liston B. Ramsey Center (7,548)

Game Preview

For Western Carolina, Monday night's game at Wofford is an absolutely huge game for the Catamounts, who hope to remain in contention for a bye for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament, as the Catamounts have struggled after getting out to a 4-0 start in league play.

Western Carolina fought Davidson tooth-and-nail in that memorable Southern Conference championship a year ago before dropping that 93-91 overtime decision to the Wildcats in the Southern Conference title game.

The Catamounts snapped a four-game losing skid on Saturday night by going on the road and avenging an earlier loss to Georgia Southern in Cullowhee, getting a 71-62 win at Hanner Fieldhouse in Statesboro. The win snapped a four-game losing skid for Western, and the tailspin also saw the Catamounts lose six of seven contests. Four of the six losses in the losing streak came by 10 points or less. 

Western Carolina is currently tied for second place in the Southern Conference North Division with Appalachian State, as both teams have a 6-6 league mark.

If the Southern Conference tournament started today, Davidson would be the No. 1 seed, while College of Charleston would be No. 2, Elon would be No. 3 Elon and the fourth seed would go to Appalachian State as a result of the Mountaineers' win over Elon.

Both teams still have to play the division-leading Phoenix down the stretch, with both having to pay a visit to Alumni Gym.

While Western Carolina has struggled as of late, Wofford comes in having played some of its best basketball of late, including posting back-to-back wins against UNCG (59-50) and Elon (60-50) last week. 

The Terriers and Catamounts have two of the best backcourt scorers in the Southern Conference entering Monday night's contest, with Karl Cochran (15.3 PPG,4.4 RPG) leading the way for Wofford, while Trey Sumler (17.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 92 assists) is the backcourt leader for Western.

The two guards come into Monday night's contest ranking No. 2 and No. 3 in the SoCon in scoring this season, with Sumler ranking No. 2 and Cochran No. 3.  

Both players are among the league's leading on-ball defenders as well, with Sumler leading the SoCon in steals this season, with 52 steals (2.2 SPG) in 24 this season, while Cochran ranks third in the league in steals, with 52 takeaways (2.1 SPG) in 25 contests for the Terriers this season.

Cochran's 62 triples this season rank him third in that particular category as well, averaging 2.5 made three-point field goals per game. 

Sumler recorded the second-best scoring game of the season by a player in the Southern Conference, as he comes into Saturday's game having posted a 32-point performance from in an 80-67 loss at home to Elon earlier this month.

At the time, that performance by Sumler equaled the best scoring performance in the SoCon until Trevis Simpson poured in 41 points three nights later (Jan. 17) against Chattanooga. Sumler also had one of the more complete performances of his career against Chattanooga in a road win over the Catamounts on Jan. 19, with 25 points and 12 assists.

Sumler is the Catamounts' leader with 92 assists, and his 3.8 helpers per contest rank him third in the SoCon. He is shooting 36.9 percent from three-point range this season, having connected on 38-of-103 shots from long range this season.

Cochran comes into Monday evening's contest having charted his best game of the season at Jacksonville in a 42-point rout of the Dolphins, as he posted a career-high 29 points. He comes into Monday night's contest off a 16-point effort against UNCG the last time out.

While Cochran and Sumler are the two leaders in terms of scoring this season on their respective teams, both are surrounded by a strong supporting cast, especially in the backcourt.

The Catamounts have gone with a four-guard offense most of the season, and joining Sumler in the backcourt this season for the Catamounts have been sharp-shooter Tom Tankelewicz (10.0 PPG, 2.9 RPG), along with Brandon Boggs (10.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and James Sinclair (7.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG).

Tankelewicz comes in ranking second in the SoCon in three-point field goals made this season, having knocked down 62 treys in 23 games this season, averaging 2.7 made triples per game. Boggs is WCU's best athlete and one of the team's top perimeter defenders and comes in ranking 15th in the league in steals per game, averaging 1.2 thefts per game heading into the contest against Wofford. 

Boggs has also seen his offensive game come to life as of late, with six double-figure scoring efforts in the last seven games for WCU. He is coming off a team-high 18 points in the win over Georgia Southern the last time out. 

Rounding out the starting five for the Catamounts will be Tawaski King (11.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG), who has been one of the more consistent big men in the SoCon this season, and was one of a trio of Catamounts in double figures in the win in Statesboro Saturday night.

He posted 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. King leads the Catamounts with 14 blocked shots this season. King's 54.1 percent field-goal clip ranks third in the SoCon this season.  

The Catamounts don't have a deep bench, but when Larry Hunter decides to go to the pine, he looks to Preston Ross (6.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG) in the front court, while Mike Brown (3.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG) provides good depth at point guard behind Sumler. 

Wofford's Cochran is a part of one of the youngest backcourts, and for that matter, one of the youngest starting quintets in the Southern Conference this season, and he will be joined in the starting lineup by a pair of talented freshmen, in Spencer Collins (12.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG) and Indiana Faithful (4.0 PPG, 3.6 APG).

It's a Terrier backcourt that has certainly grown up as the season has progressed, with both Collins and Faithful making strong cases for inclusion to the SoCon All-Freshman team, with Colins having a chance at garnering the SoCon's Freshman of the Year award for the second year in a row, joining his backcourt teammate Cochran in that acclaim.

Collins led the Terriers with 20 points the last time out in the 59-50 win over UNCG. His 34 triples this season ranks him second on the team in that category. Faithful's 3.6 assists per game ranks him seventh among the league's leaders in helpers-per-game average this season. 

In the front court, the Terriers will start sophomore Lee Skinner (10.3 PPG, 7.2 RPG) and junior Aerris Smith (3.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG). Skinner's 7.2 RPG ranks him fifth in the SoCon this season. 

Like Hunter, Wofford head coach Mike Young doesn't have a deep bench, but has one that has been effective this season. Jarrell Byrd (4.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG) and C.J. Neumann (2.6 PPG, 2.0 RPG) being two of the top performers off the bench, adding depth to the Terrier frontcourt this season. 

It's a crucial game for both clubs, as both remain in the hunt for a bye for the Southern Conference tournament. While WCU has dominant in recent seasons on its home floor, it has struggled this season, however, the Catamounts should get a close win over the Terriers at the Ramsey Center.

Western Carolina 79, Wofford 72