Furman (6-17, 3-9 SoCon) at Chattanooga (10-15, 5-7 SoCon)
Feb. 14, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Chattanooga, Tenn., McKenzie Arena (11,215)
Furman and Chattanooga square off in a Valentine's night clash at the Roundhouse on Thursday night, matching up a pair of two teams heading in distinctly different directions at this point in the season.
It's also a matchup between two of the youngest teams in the Southern Conference.
Plenty will remember that it wasn't too long ago that the Mocs and Paladins met in McKenzie Arena in a pressure-packed SoCon quarterfinal matchup in the league tournament back in March of 2011. But on that occasion, the 20-win Paladins would take down the North Division title-winning Mocs to shock the home crowd, moving on to the SoCon Semifinals, eventually losing to College of Charleston.
It's safe to say both programs have struggled to find the same type of success over the past couple of seasons, with both teams struggling over the past couple of seasons. Ironically, both Chattanooga and Furman have compiled 21 wins over the past couple of seasons, with Furman compiling a 21-33 mark to this point since that nice run to the SoCon Semifinals of a couple of years ago, while Chattanooga is 21-36 since that point.
Furman won 22 games alone in the 2010-11 season, and have since only been able to claim 21 victories. The Mocs certainly aren't used to such a lack of success on the hardwood. In fact, only Davidson has more Southern Conference men's basketball titles than UTC's 10 league tournament crowns, while the Mocs have claimed eight Southern Conference divisional titles since the league was split into two divisions back in 1993-94.
Thursday night's meeting between the Paladins and Mocs will mark the 75th all-time meeting between the two programs, UTC holds a commanding 47-27 all-time series edge. Furman, however, has been dominant in the series as of late, winning five of the last six games between the two, including each of the last two meetings.
The Paladins and Mocs met only once last season, with Furman claiming a 65-55 win over the Mocs late last season at Timmons Arena in Greenville. Thursday night's meeting between the Mocs and Paladins will also mark the only meeting between the two programs this season.
In seven of Furman's nine Southern Conference losses this season, the Paladins have lost by less than a 10-point margin, including a 72-66 loss on the SoCon road on Monday night against Appalachian State in a game in which Furman had to battle back from as much as an 18-point deficit in the opening half of play. The Paladins will be looking to put an end to a four-game skid on Thursday night.
Furman has been plagued by injuries all season, and have had as many as five scholarship players that have been sidelined at one point or another for the Paladins this season, forcing several players still wet behind the ears in terms of experience to step into big roles in the lineup, including at the point.
The Mocs come in off an emotional 62-59 overtime win over Samford at McKenzie Arena on Monday night. The Mocs have won two out of their last three games, which included a heartbreaking setback to College of Charleston last week, and are playing some of their best basketball this season.
The matchup between the Mocs and Paladins will feature two of the SoCon's top young point guards, Furman's Stephen Croone (9.7 PPG, 4.2 APG) and Chattanooga's sophomore Ronrico White (9.8 PPG, 3.0 APG), who has really come into his own this season.
Croone has seemingly gotten better as the season has progressed this season, and he is coming off his best-career performance in Monday night's loss at Appalachian State, as he posted a career-high 20 points while dishing out three helpers in the loss. Croone finished the night going an impressive 10-for-13 from the free throw line.
Like Furman's injuries, Chattanooga can certainly relate. Although the Mocs haven't had quite the rash of injuries that the Paladins have had this season, they certainly have had a significant player see his season and career end early when senior starting point guard Dontay Hampton went down with a career-ending injury in a January game at Elon. Hampton already had missed much of the opening portion of the 2012-13 recovering from an injury, and then played only a few games before tearing an ACL once again to effectively end his career.
Ronrico White has really blossomed into a versatile, young point guard for the Mocs this season, with 11 double-figure scoring performances this season, including a season-high 21 points in the Dr. Pepper Classic game against High Point, while nearly matching that total with 19 points in a SoCon win over The Citadel last week. In Monday night's overtime win over Samford, White had a solid performance with eight points and six assists.
Both White and Croone have had solid supporting casts in the backcourt this season, with freshman Larry Wideman (7.9 PPG, 1.8 RPG) and junior Charlie Reddick (9.5 PPG, 5.1 APG) playing the respective wings for the Paladins, while White has teamed with true freshman Gee McGhee (11.7 PPG, 3.6 RPG), who has started every game at shooting guard for the Mocs so far this season.
Reddick was Furman's leading returning scorer from a year ago, but he has battled various injuries all season, and has been at 100-percent playing wise in less than half of the Paladins' games this season.
Still, Reddick is the type of player that can go off at any moment, and he has the ability to score in a variety of different ways, much the way he did with a career-high 26 points in a loss to The Citadel back on Feb. 2.
Wideman has developed into a nice perimeter scoring threat for Jeff Jackson's Paladins this season, and he is tied for the team lead along with Reddick, with 31 three-point field goals this season. Wideman was Furman's second-leading scorer on Monday night in the loss to ASU, posting 11 points on 3-for-5 shooting from three-point range, and 2-of-2 from the line.
McGhee is Chattanooga's second-leading scorer at 11.7 PPG and he is certainly making a solid bid for SoCon Freshman of the Year accolades this season. He has been an integral part of the Chattanooga backcourt this season, and he heads into Thursday night's clash with the Paladins having not played since the College of Charleston game, in which he was one of the Mocs' leading scorers in the contest, contributing 20 points.
Both the Mocs and Paladins also have solid contributors off the bench in their respective backcourts, with Farad Cobb (5.6 PPG, 2.3 RPG) being the top player off the bench in the backcourt for the Mocs, while Bobby Austin (6.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG) is the top guard coming off the pine for the Paladins.
Cobb has had some outstanding performances for the Mocs in the backcourt this season, especially early on in the campaign. His most impressive performance came in a 21-point outburst in an early-season loss to Kansas.
Austin, meanwhile, has also turned in some strong performances for the Paladins in his final season playing for Jeff Jackson. He is noted as one of the Paladins' top perimeter shooters and comes into Thursday night's contest with the Mocs having knocked down one-third of his 90-career triples this season, connecting on a solid 39.0-percent (30-of-77) from three-point range this season.
Over the years, certainly a strength of John Shulman-coached clubs in the Scenic City has been the play the UTC teams have gotten out of their frontcourts over the years. When you think back during the Shulman era, players like Mindaugas Katelynas, Chris Brown, Khalil Hartwell and Nichaeus Doaks are all players put their stamp on the program by helping the Mocs to two championships during Shulman's nine seasons at the helm in the Scenic City.
This season, the Mocs have relied on a couple of the SoCon's better front court performers, in Z. Mason (14.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG) and Drazen Zloravic (9.0 PPG, 5.2 RPG). Both Mason and Zloravic transferred into the Chattanooga program from SEC programs, with Mason matriculating in from Ole Miss and Zloravic joining the Mocs program from Georgia prior to last season.
Mason, who was once a football player with the Rebels, has really come into his own in his second year in the program. This season, Mason currently ranks tied for eighth in the SoCon in scoring, while ranking fifth in the league in rebounding. In a recent three-point loss to College of Charleston, Mason posted a career-high 27 points on 11-of-21 from the field, which included 4-for-9 from three-point range.
Mason reminds me of former big man Alphonso Pugh, who had an outstanding inside-outside game. In the overtime win over Samford the last time out, Mason was held to seven points, but did snag a team-best nine rebounds in the winning effort. He ranks second on the team and 12th in the SoCon in field goal percentage, entering the contest with a 47.8-percent shooting clip from the field this season.
Zloravic has also been a vital component of this Chattanooga front line this season, and he has been a good compliment to Mason's physical, powerful post presence for the Mocs. Zloravic has been playing some of his best basketball as of late, averaging 14.0 PPG over the Mocs' last four outings. His 52.4-percent shooting clip from the field leads the team and ranks him fifth in the SoCon in field goal percentage this season.
Zloravic enters Thursday's contest against the Paladins with four-straight double-figure scoring games, including posting 13 points in the win over Samford. In this current four-game streak, Zloravic scored 18 points in a win over The Citadel, while posting 10 points and 10 boards in a two-point setback to Georgia Southern.
Lance Stokes (3.9 PPG, 2.2 RPG) rounds out the starting trio in the paint for the Mocs. Stokes is a rangy, athletic presence in the paint for the Mocs
Furman has gotten a majority of production from its frontcourt as well this season, as the Paladins have been led by Colin Reddick (12.7 PPG, 6.4 RPG), who enters Thursday night's game as the only Paladin averaging in double figures this season.
Reddick, a 6-9 senior center from Powder Springs, Ga., is easily having his best season in the Purple and White, transitioning himself from role player to one of the better post players in the SoCon. Just a little less than two weeks ago, Reddick established a new career-high with 26 points in a loss to The Citadel.
Reddick comes into the contest as a defensive enforcer as well for the Paladins, as he enters Thursday night's contest against the Mocs continuing to climb the school's career charts in blocked shots. His 95-career rejections currently ranks him sixth on the school's all-time ledger.
Offensively, Reddick has been solid, especially since the start of Southern Conference play. Reddick is averaging 14.8 PPG against league foes, and he enters Thursday's contest having scored in double figures in nine of Furman's last 11 games.
Reddick will be joined in the low post by 6-9 true freshman Kendrec Ferrara (6.8 PPG, 5.0 RPG), who has started 16 games for the Paladins in his first season with the program, including 11 in Southern Conference play. Ferrara is tied with Reddick for the team lead in blocked shots this season, with 10 rejections.
The Paladins and Mocs also have some depth coming off the bench in the low-post to spell the starters underneath. For Chattanooga, Sam Watson (2.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG) and Jared Bryant (2.4 PPG, 2.2 RPG) offer the support underneath and are serviceable players underneath for the Mocs, while Furman counters with senior forward Bryant Irwin (6.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG) and Kevin Chuisseu (1.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG).
Furman has certainly struggled defending as of late, and that has played an important role in their struggles over the past four games, as opponents are averaging 77.0 PPG, 53.1-percent from the field and 49.3-percent from three during the current four-game skid.
The Paladins have also struggled mightily on the road, dating back to the middle of last season, as the Paladins have lost 13 of their last 14 games on the road, and are just 1-10 this season. Chattanooga continues its strong play and downs the Paladins in the Roundhouse on Valentine's Night.
Final Score Prediction: Chattanooga 65, Furman 58