Davidson (21-7, 15-1 SoCon) at Elon (19-9, 12-4 SoCon)
Feb. 27, 2013, 7:00 p.m. ET
Elon, N.C., Alumni Gym (1,500)
We have had to wait nearly the entire season for the much-anticipated matchup between the Davidson Wildcats and Elon Phoenix. Elon and Davidson are a combined 26-5 against Southern Conference competition this season, and it's no surprise that there's a Davidson influence on both respective sidelines.
Davidson, of course, is the SoCon's most successful program historically, with 12 league crowns, while Elon, which recently claimed its first Southern Conference Divisional title since the 2006 season, is led by Matt Matheny. He is now in his fourth season at the helm of the Elon basketball program and was once Davidson's top assistant under McKillop before moving on to take the reins of the Elon basketball program following the 2009 season.
Now, Matheny has taken what he has learned under the legendary McKillop and applied those same success-proven elements at Elon, and has the Phoenix in line to be a major factor when the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament commences in a couple of weeks in Asheville, N.C.
The Phoenix and Wildcats have two of the SoCon's most experienced clubs in the SoCon, with Davidson starting three seniors and two juniors, while Elon starts four juniors and a freshman.
Wednesday night's meeting between the two programs will mark the lone meeting of the regular-season between the Wildcats and Phoenix, and the 39th overall meeting between the two programs, with Davidson holding the commanding 35-13 all-time series advantage.
Elon and Davidson have played each other six times since Matheny took the helm of the Phoenix program prior to the 2009-10 season, with two teams tied 3-3 in the series since Matheny left the Davidson sidelines for his first head coaching job at Elon.
The last meeting between the two programs came in the semifinals of the 2012 Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, as the Wildcats were able to pick up an 83-67 win over the Phoenix to move on to the championship game against Western Carolina.
In that meeting between the Wildcats and Phoenix last March, it turned into the Jake Cohen and De'Mon Brooks show, as the duo amassed a combined 44 points and 11 boards in helping the Wildcats dust off Matheny's pesky Phoenix club.
But it was Davidson's tenacious, physical defense that proved to be too much of an overpowering force in last year's semifinal clash between the two top programs, as the Wildcats held the Phoenix without a field goal for an 11:03 period in the second half, proving to be vital in eventually helping the Wildcats garner the win.
Davidson enters the mid-week clash of SoCon divisional champs winners of their last three of the Phoenix, and in those three wins over Elon, two of them haven't been close, with the Wildcats winning the last two clashes by 10 or more points, also claiming a 66-45 victory in the regular-season meeting between the Wildcats and Phoenix last season.
Both clubs enter the Wednesday matchup having been extremely hot on the basketball hardwood as of late, with Davidson having won 12-straight games against, while Elon comes in winners of 11 of its last 13 games this season.
Elon and Davidson have been mirror images of each other the past four seasons, and this season is no different, as the philosophies of the two clubs have been similar each of the past four seasons, with both clubs two of the most physical clubs in the SoCon, as well as being two of the most proficient three-point shooting clubs.
Elon and Davidson rank as the top two clubs in the SoCon in three-point field goals made and assist/turnover ratio this season, while ranking No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the SoCon statistical data for free-throw shooting this season.
Elon leads the league in three-pointers made, having canned 224 triples this season, while Davidson is just behind the Phoenix with 212 treys on the campaign. In assist/turnover ratio, the Wildcats lead the league, with the Phoenix just behind in No. 2 in the 12-team league. Both have ratios of 1:2, but Davidson has 11 less turnovers on the season, giving the Wildcats the top spot in the league.
As you would expect, both Davidson and Elon rank No. 1 and No. 2 in the SoCon in turnover margin, with Elon leading the SoCon, at +2.64 and Davidson ranking No. 2, at +1.18. Davidson leads the nation in free throw shooting, boasting an impressive 81.8-percent clip as a team, while Elon ranks No. 3 in the SoCon in free throw shooting, posting a 71.2-percent clip as a team.
Finally, the two clubs are among the best defensive clubs in the SoCon this season, with Davidson entering the matchup at No.2 in the league in field goal percentage defense (41.0-percent), while Davidson is just behind at No. 3 in that same category, holding opponents to a mere 41.7 percent shooting clip from the field this season.
When you begin discussing these two clubs, it starts in the frontcourt, where Wednesday night's mouth-watering SoCon matchup offers the league's two best low-post players, in Davidson's Jake Cohen (15.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG) and Elon's Lucas Troutman (14.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG).
Troutman has been used in a limited capacity over the last three games for the Phoenix, as he suffered a severely sprained ankle in a win at Furman a couple of weeks ago. With Elon having already claimed the Southern Conference North Division crown, expect Matheny to be very cautious in using his junior leader and SoCon Player of the Year candidate over the final two games against Davidson and UNCG.
In the SoCon semifinal clash between the Phoenix and Wildcats last season, Troutman posted 18 points and four boards. He connected on 8-of-14 shots from the field for the game. Troutman has been a key piece of the Elon offense all season and it will be important for him to get healthy before the commencement of the Southern Conference Tournament. Troutman comes in having recorded three double-doubles on the season for the Phoenix.
Defensively is probably where Elon has missed Troutman the most as of late, and he has led the SoCon in blocked shots all season, and he comes into Wednesday's contest continuing to lead the SoCon in blocked shots, averaging 2.1 BPG and has 55 rejections on the campaign. Troutman's 54.8 field goal percentage coming into Wednesday's game marks the second-best mark in the league.
Cohen was simply sensational during the first half of the Montana game, posting 25 of his game-high 28 points in the opening half of play. It was Cohen's fifth game in which he has scored 20 or more points this season. Cohen's 1,707 career points are the career-active mark leader heading into Wednesday night's game at Elon.
The 6'10'' senior comes into Wednesday's contest ranking second in the SoCon in blocked shots (1.8 BPG/49 blocks this season), while his 49.6 percent shooting clip from the field ranks him eighth in the SoCon in field goal percentage this season. Cohen has also proven to be one of the top perimeter shooters of the low-post in the SoCon, having connected on 31-of-80 from three-point range this season, which converts to a 38.8 percent shooting clip from three-point range this season.
While Elon has had to deal with the injury to Troutman as of late, it has had to get production in the low-post from other players, and those players have been Ryley Beaumont (11.7 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and Egheosa Edomwonyi (1.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG), while Ryan Winters (3.2 PPG, 2.4 RPG) has also played a role in the frontcourt off the bench for the Phoenix this season.
Beaumont in particular has been one of the players that has been simply sensational as of late in the limited play of Troutman. In fact, Beaumont has scored in double figures in each of the last five games for the Phoenix, leading the Maroon and Gold in scoring in four of those contests. He is coming off a 20 point, seven rebound performance for the Phoenix in the 73-68 setback to Chattanooga last Saturday night.
Rounding out the Davidson frontcourt on Wednesday night will be the second head of that two-headed monster underneath the basket, in De'Mon Brooks (13.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG ), who shared the SoCon Player of the Year acknowledgements last season. Brooks is one of the top athletes in the Southern Conference, and though his numbers are a bit down this season for the Wildcats, he has still been solid offensively throughout the season.
Brooks posted 20 points and six boards the last time the Wildcats and Phoenix met on the Southern Conference hard court at last year's Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville. Brooks connected on 8-of-12 shots, including going 2-for-4 from three-point range, in Davidson's 83-67 win.
The backcourt for the Phoenix will feature one of the league's most clutch perimeter threats, in junior shooting guard Jack Isenbarger (13.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.0 APG). Isenbarger ranks second in the SoCon in made three-point field goals made, having connected on 73 triples so far on the 2012-13 season. Though not the team's point guard, Isenbarger has become the type player that former Mountain State product Chris Long once was for the Phoenix, in terms of possessing the ability to take over a basketball game.
Isenbarger has scored in double figures on 20 occasions this season for the Phoenix, including posting a season-high 25 points in a loss at VMI back in November. He also made seven treys in a win over Chattanooga back in January at Alumni Gym. He posted a team-high 22 points the last time the Phoenix and Wildcats met in the SoCon Tournament last season.
Teaming with Isenbarger in the Elon backcourt on Wednesday night will be Tanner Samson (6.8 PPG, 3.0 RPG) and Sebastian Koch (9.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG). Koch is another part of that experienced junior class for Matheny's Phoenix, and he is a tough matchup on the perimeter, standing at 6'8''. Koch ranks fifth in the SoCon with 61 made triples this season.
Samson is the lone freshman player in the starting lineup for the Phoenix, and he has done a nice job of stepping into the starting lineup since the early-season knee injury to Austin Hamilton.
Davidson counters with one of the most experienced backcourts in the Southern Conference, featuring a tandem of guards, in J.P. Kuhlman (8.0 PPG, 3.7 APG) and Nik Cochran (10.4 PPG, 2.1 RPG), who have started a combined 173 starts between the two of them of them coming into Wednesday's contest. Sharpshooting wing guard Chris Czerapowicz (8.9 PPG, 5.0 RPG) rounds out the talented Wildcats in the backcourt, and he leads Davidson with 50 made triples this season.
Off the bench for the Phoenix, look for Kevin Blake (1.7 PPG, 1.0 RPG) and Josh Bonney (2.7 PPG, 1.2 APG) to be the top performers off the bench in the backcourt for Elon, while Tony Sabato (1.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG) along with the aforementioned Ryan Winters will be the top players called upon to be the first called upon off the bench in the frontcourt.
Davidson will be without the services of Clint Mann off the bench, as he is injured. While the Wildcats might be a bit undermanned depth-wise in the frontcourt, the Wildcats have a talented trio coming off the bench in the backcourt, in Jordan Barham (2.4 PPG, 1.3 RPG), Tyler Kalinoski (7.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and defensive stalwart Tom Droney (4.1 PPG, 3.1 RPG).
Without Troutman at 100 percent, I think Davidson wins a close one on the road at Alumni Gym on Wednesday night, moving the Wildcats to 16-1 in SoCon play heading into a senior night clash with Georgia Southern this weekend.
Davidson 82, Elon 78