Southern Conference Divisional Races Heat Up This Weekend
GREENVILLE, S.C.—Saturday and Sunday both promise to be monumental days for both divisional races in the Southern Conference, with this weekend's previews focusing on the SoCon's North Division, which sees Western Carolina, Samford. Appalachian State and Chattanooga still alive to garner a potential bye for the Southern Conference basketball tournament set to take place in a few weeks in Asheville, N.C.
If the tournament is anything like league place has been this season, it promises to be an exciting four days in the Land of the Sky. Elon, meanwhile, could go a long way in helping itself to the school's first North Division title in the SoCon since the 2005-06 team, led by players like Montel Watson and Chris Chalko, were able to hang the SoCon North Division banner inside Alumni Gym.
On Sunday, check back for a preview of another monumental SoCon matchup, as Appalachian State takes on UNC Greensboro at the Greensboro Coliseum. In the SoCon South, there's plenty of separation, with Davidson and College of Charleston having separated themselves from the rest of the pack on the SoCon hardwood. Other matchups this weekend include: Georgia Southern at College of Charleston; Davidson at The Citadel; and Wofford at Chattanooga.
Wounded Furman Hosts Samford Saturday
Samford (9-17, 7-6 SoCon) at Furman (6-18, 3-10 SoCon)
Feb. 16, 2013, 4:30 p.m.
Greenville, S.C., Timmons Arena (3,500)
Game Preview: Their loss in the 83-49 setback at Chattanooga on Saturday night was more than just a basketball game, as the Paladins lost yet another player for the season to injury. Freshman point guard Stephen Croone went down with a broken foot, prematurely ending his season and marking the second point guard the Paladins have lost to a season-ending injury, as Furman also lost Jordan Loyd to a knee injury against Clemson.
Croone and Loyd aren't the only key figures that are members of that Paladin "Mash" Unit this season, with Charlie Reddick (9.5 PPG, 5.1 RPG) out for the remainder of the season. Those are three key pieces to this basketball team now sees the Paladins have to face the remaining five games, including Saturday afternoon's contest against the Bulldogs, with a seven-man rotation.
Already out coming into the season was Dominic Early, who has missed the entire season with a knee injury. Also out of the lineup as a result of injuries are backup point guard David Brown (2.4 PPG, 1.1 APG) and forward Keith Belfield (3.8 PPG, 2.6 RPG), who had been providing good minutes off the bench early in the season. Brown's injury seems less likely to keep him out for an extended period of time, while Belfield has missed the last eight games with a back injury.
The Paladins will rely on the services of veterans Colin Reddick (12.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG), Bryant Irwin (6.4 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and Bobby Austin (6.4, 2.7 RPG), who likely now steps into the starting role at point guard with the Paladins already down two at the position this season. True freshman Kendric Ferrara (6.7 PPG, 5.0 RPG)
The injury to Croone will now also force players like wing guard Larry Wideman (7.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG) to play a different role, as he will likely tag-team duties at the point guard position with Austin, and walk-on Aaron O'Neill, who could also see significant action at point guard the remainder of the season.
It's going to be a tough road for a Paladin team that has struggled from the outset of the 2012-13 season, and has never had the allotment of players that head coach Jeff Jackson expected to have coming into his seventh season at the helm of the Paladin basketball program. The Paladins shot the ball at just a 37.3 percent clip for the game on Thursday night and turned the ball over 20 times in the 83-49 loss to the Mocs.
Samford is a club that comes to Greenville under the direction of first-year head coach Bennie Seltzer, and he has been able to put the Bulldogs in position to garner a top-four seed for the upcoming Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, which is something few could have foreseen coming into the 2012-13 season.
Seltzer's style is in stark contrast to his predecessor Jimmy Tillette, who utilized the Princeton offense with some effectiveness during his tenure as the head coach of the Bulldogs. However, Seltzer's Bulldogs looked much like one of Tillette's teams the last time out against Wofford, as the Bulldogs were able to forge a 40-33 win over the Terriers in one of the lowest scoring league games in the Shot-Clock era.
Samford's 7-6 mark ranks just a half-game back of Western Carolina's 8-6 mark for second place in the SoCon's North Division. The Bulldogs have two of the league's premier newcomers, in forward Tim Williams (14.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG) front court mate Clide Geffrard, Jr. (10.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG).
The third player averaging in double figures for the Bulldogs entering Saturday's contest at Furman is sophomore sensation Raijon Kelly (14.2 PPG, 4.6 APG), who was one of the league's top freshmen a year ago, also leads the team with 120 assists this season. Kelly will team with Connor Miller (6.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG) in the lineup on Saturday.
Williams has been the SoCon's most-impressive freshman, ranking 33rd nationally in field goal percentage, connecting at a 53.6-percent clip on the season.
Furman knocked Samford out of the Southern Conference Tournament last season, posting a 75-66 win over the Bulldogs. That win helped the Paladins avenge a 55-49 setback just a couple of weeks earlier at Samford's Pete Hanna Center.
Saturday's meeting marks the 13th between the two SoCon private institutions, with the Paladins holding a 9-3 all-time series advantage, including a 5-0 mark at Timmons Arena. Look for that Furman success on the home hardwood against Samford to change tomorrow, as the Bulldogs get their first win as a SoCon member on the Paladins' home floor.
Final Score Prediction: Samford 72, Furman 65
Elon Hosts Western Carolina in Crucial North Division Battle Saturday
Western Carolina (11-15, 8-6 SoCon) at Elon (17-8, 10-3 SoCon)
Feb. 16, 2013, 7:00 p.m.
Elon, North Carolina, Alumni Gym (1,500)
Game Preview: Another crucial matchup in Southern Conference action on Saturday night will take place between the Western Carolina Catamounts and the Elon Phoenix. A win by Elon could all but clinch the SoCon North Division crown, while a Western Carolina win keeps the Catamounts alive for a Southern Conference Tournament Top Four seed the opening-round bye that goes with it.
Saturday night's meeting between the Catamounts and Phoenix will mark the 93rd all-time meeting between the two programs on the college basketball hardwood, with Elon holding a commanding 53-39 all-time series edge. The two have already met once this season, with Elon coming away from the Ramsey Center with an 80-67 win back on Jan. 14.
Both teams come in off of victories, with Elon posting a come-from-behind, 61-58, win over Appalachian State, while Western Carolina was able to post a 70-68 win just up the road at UNC Greensboro, posting a 70-68 win over the Spartans at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Catamounts won both weeknight games this past week by a combined three points, as the Purple and Gold also posted a 57-56 win over Wofford on Monday night at the Ramsey Center.
Western enters Saturday night's contest winners of three-straight, while Elon enters having won nine of its last 10 games. Elon's 13-point win over the Catamounts back on Jan. 14 marked Western's first Southern Conference loss of the 2012-13 season, and marked the start of a seven-game winning streak for the Phoenix.
The Catamounts, who made it to the Southern Conference title game last season, got hot about this time last season, winning seven-straight before losing in the title game to the Davidson Wildcats. That late-season streak by the Catamounts in 2012-13 included a dramatic overtime win at Elon's Alumni Gym on Feb. 19 of last season.
The Catamounts enter Saturday night's contest with the SoCon's second-best scorer, in Trey Sumler (18.1 PPG, 4.6 APG, 2.8 APG). It was Sumler who poured in 32 points the last time the Catamounts and Phoenix did battle on the SoCon hardwood back on Jan. 14. Sumler's 3.8 assists per game also ranks him tied for fifth in that particular category.
Sumler will be joined by three other guards in head coach Larry Hunter's starting rotation on Saturday night, as the Catamounts favor the "small-ball" approach, which was of course once made famous by the Phoenix Suns in the NBA under the direction of Paul Westphal. Joining Sumler in the Catamount backcourt on Saturday night will be Brandon Boggs (10.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG), Tom Tankelewicz (9.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG) and James Sinclair (7.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG).
Tankelewicz has been a pleasant surprise for the Catamounts scoring-wise this season, and he comes in as one of the SoCon's top outside shooters, ranking second on the league with 64 triples on the campaign. Boggs has been playing some of his best basketball of late, and he enters having reached double figures in seven of the last nine games, including 11 on Thursday night against the Spartans.
Rounding out the starting five for the Catamounts will be Tawaski King (11.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG), who is quietly once again having a nice season for Larry Hunter's Catamounts. King enters the matchup with the Phoenix ranking third in the Southern Conference in field goal percentage, connecting at a 53.8-percent clip froma the field.
Elon continues to be led by the inside-outside punch of guard Jack Isenbarger (14.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and forward Lucas Troutman (15.7 PPG, 5.1 RPG) in now Matt Matheny's fourth season at the helm of the Elon basketball program. Troutman, who leads the team in scoring, but sat out the game against Appalachian State with a sprained ankle.
The 6'10" forward, who started every game prior to the Appalachian State contest, has been named Southern Conference Player of the Week twice this season, while leading the Southern Conference in blocked shots (50 blocks/2.1 BPG) and ranking second overall in the SoCon in field goal percentage (54.1%). Meanwhile, Isenbarger leads the SoCon in three-pointers, made having knocked down 68 treys so far on the campaign.
The Phoenix didn't seem to miss Troutman all that much on Thursday night against the Mountaineers, buoyed by a career night by Ryley Beaumont (11.0 PPG,6.6 RPG), who posted 22 points and 13 points to power Elon past Appalachian State.
Beaumont is easily having his best season for the Maroon and Gold, in this his junior campaign, and if Troutman can't start on Saturday night, look for Egheosa Edomwonyi (1.2 PPG, 1.3 RPG) to round out the starters in the low-post, while Kevin Blake (1.9 PPG, 1.1 RPG) and Sebastian Koch (9.2 PPG, 4.8 RPG) round out the Elon starters in the backcourt.
Look for the Catamounts and Phoenix to engage in one of the best Southern Conference battles of the afternoon, but I expect the Phoenix to move to 18-8 and move ever closer to a first SoCon North Division crown under Matt Matheny.
Final Score Prediction: Elon 88, Western Carolina 85