Southern Conference basketball fans can only hope that the 2013 postseason tournament offers the kind of excitement last year brought. It was truly a tournament that captivated basketball fans with the culmination being the title game between favorite Davidson and Western Carolina.
The game would go through two overtimes before Davidson eventually held on to garner the SoCon's automatic bid with the 93-91 title-game victory over the Catamounts. It's that kind of excitement that league administrators were hoping, and it wasn't just the title game that proved to be a good matchup. There were other matchups within that 2012 tournament weekend that had fans on the edge of their respective seats.
Five of the 11 games in last year's tournament were decided by 10 points or less, and this year's tournament could be just as exciting if regular-season play is any indication as to how tournament play will go.
Below is a note from the Southern Conference notes package for the tournament that gives an indication of just how exciting the 2013 event could be.
"The Southern Conference has played 96 league games through Feb. 24. Twenty-eight games (29 percent) have either been decided by one possession or gone into overtime. Last season 32 of 108 conference games (30 percent) were either decided by one possession or went into overtime (Southern Conference Release, Feb. 26, 2013)."
New Tournament Format
Unlike previous seasons, the Southern Conference basketball tournament field will be seeded 1-12 rather than according to how each team finishes in their division, which was how the league tournament had been conducted in the past.
The tournament field will now be based on SoCon order of finish 1-12, rather than the old format which seeded teams according to divisional finish. The top four seeds will receive byes, and that is determined by conference winning percentage.
The Big Three
The top three seeds at the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament have 20 or more wins, and are the only three teams heading to "The Land of the Sky" with winning records. Elon, Davidson and College of Charleston have combined to go 65-26 on the campaign.
Last Dance With C of C, One More Time To...
The College of Charleston has enjoyed a pretty nice run as a member of the conference, but some will feel that running as a league perennial title contender is a bit short, as the Cougars will be moving on to the Colonial Athletic Association following the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament, bringing a 15-year stint as a league member to an end.
For as much success as Charleston has enjoyed in the league, the Cougars have only hung one Southern Conference title and subsequent NCAA Participant banner during their league membership, despite posting one of the most successful 15-year stints among the league's all-time conference membership in the rich history of the conference.
If anything, the Cougars will be remembered as one of the best regular-season Southern Conference clubs, as the Cougars have won 20 or more games, five out of the last six seasons entering the 2013 tournament. During their time as a league member, the Cougars have posted a (182-72) regular-season record against league foes, while posting 11, 20-win seasons.
After winning its first 22 games against Southern Conference competition (including tournament play), it would be Davidson that would hand College of Charleston its first home loss, 71-58, on Jan. 15, 2000. The Cougars went 34-4 against SoCon foes, which included tournament play, in their first two seasons as a league member.
During that remarkable first season as a member, the Cougars put together one of the best runs through the league in conference history, going wire-to-wire unscathed in SoCon play. The Cougars did something no other team in the previous 78 years of SoCon basketball had done—go unbeaten in league and tournament play. Only one team since has completed that gauntlet, as the Elite Eight Davidson club did in 2007-08.
When the college joined the Southern Conference, it seemed to be a marriage made in heaven. However, what looked good on the surface has now apparently become unraveled, as one of the three non-football members of the league is set to join the Colonial Athletic Association effective 2013-14.
Why are the Cougars jumping ship from a conference they have not dominated in basketball over the previous 14 years, but were highly successful?
Let's take a look back at some of the moments the Cougars over the past 14 years.
The Cougars have been a beneficial member of the conference in their short membership, and when they joined the league from the Trans-America Athletic Conference (Now the A-Sun), the college was certainly riding a crest of momentum under former legendary head coach John Kresse.
The team put forth a sensational run in the 1997 NCAA Tournament, which saw them defeat ACC power and No. 15 Maryland (75-66) in one of the upsets of the tournament, before eventually being eliminated by national champion, No. 22 Arizona (73-69) in the round of 32, as the Cougars had the Wildcats on the ropes for much of the game until getting into foul trouble late.
The Cougars would play one more season in the TAAC before joining the SoCon in 1998-99.
That 1998-99 College of Charleston squad, which featured veterans (F) Seddric Webber, (G) Shane McCravy, (G) Jermel President, (F) Carlos Thomas and newcomer (C) Jody Lumpkin, was able to go a combined 19-0 in the regular-season and in the postseason tournament en route to easily taking its first Southern Conference title in the Cougars' first season as a full member after moving into the league.
The team completed their successful 19-game run through league play by posting a 77-67 win over Appalachian State in the Southern Conference championship game at the Greensboro Coliseum.
It appeared the Cougars would be a dominant force in the SoCon and in the league's postseason tournament for years to come. That did not happen, as the Cougars would make it to the SoCon Tournament title game four more times, with three appearances coming under the direction of Bobby Cremins (2006-12), as C of C has gone 0-4 in league title games since winning the tournament in its first season as a member.
In the second season as a member, the Cougars lost their first of four SoCon title matchups, dropping a 68-56 decision to Appalachian State in 1999-00 at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville.
Despite the loss in the title game, College of Charleston had a bevy of talented players once again in the league, with the likes of SoCon All-Freshman Team picks Jeff Bolton and Leighton Bowie, while sophomore sensation Jody Lumpkin again wowed crowds as a one the league's premier shot-blockers and offensive post players, garnering First-Team All-SoCon honors.
Despite losing in the tournament championship to the Mountaineers, C of C was an astounding 34-4 in its first two seasons as a league member.
Bolton, who would go on to have one of the best careers of any Cougar guard during College of Charleston's tenure as a league member, would see his life tragically cut short by pneumonia on March 24, 2004, as he was just 24. At the time of his graduation, Bolton was the fifth-leading scorer in school history.
Coach Kresse would step down as the head coach of the Cougars basketball program following a 44-43 semifinal upset loss to upstart Furman at the North Charleston Coliseum in the 2002 tournament.
In recent seasons, the Cougars made it to the championship game in 2007, '09 and '11 under the direction of Bobby Cremins, losing to Davidson (72-65) in '07, Chattanooga in '09 (80-69) and Wofford (77-67) in '11.
The Cougars have been involved in a pair of epic semifinal contests that will not soon be forgotten by SoCon basketball fans. They won a 91-89 overtime game against a 25-win Appalachian State club in 2007, which was highlighted by a 38-point performance former All-SoCon guard Dontaye Draper, while it was Goudelock pacing the Cougars to an epic 59-52 win over Stephen Curry and Davidson in the SoCon semifinals in Chattanooga.
If the Cougars are going to come full circle in Asheville this weekend, first-year head coach Doug Wojcik will need the club that beat Baylor and Boston College in the pre-league slate and not the one that was blown out on its home floor by nationally-ranked Louisville (80-38) and Division II-power Anderson (65-49).
The Cougars will need to continue getting big-time minutes from their talented backcourt, which includes Andrew Lawrence (13.0 PPG, 3.9 APG), who starred for Great Britain in the Olympics this past summer, as well as Anthony Stitt (10.9 PPG, 3.3 APG). Lawrence's 55 triples this season leads the club. After a wrist injury Stitt last season, standout point guard Demontez Stitt has really come into his own this season.
One of the biggest strengths of this basketball team is its front court—in particular, rebounding the basketball. Sophomore post Adjehi Baru (9.5 PPG, 8.4 RPG) has really come into his own this season on the interior for the Cougars after being somewhat of a project player in his first season.
Baru's 8.4 RPG leads the SoCon, and that has helped the team post a league-leading +6.2 rebounding margin this season to lead the conference. The athletic Anthony Thomas (8.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG) and dependable Willis Hall (7.6 PPG, 6.5 RPG) will round out a talented starting trio in the paint for the Cougars in Asheville.
A Glance At The Seeds
No. 1 Davidson (23-7, 17-1 SoCon/South Division Champions)
With the top overall seed, the Wildcats have already garnered an automatic bid to the NIT should they not defend their title from a year ago.
The Wildcats will face the winner of the No. 8 Wofford vs. No. 9 Georgia Southern matchup in the quarterfinals at 11:30 a.m. on March 9.
No. 2 Elon (20-10, 13-5 SoCon/North Division Champions)
Elon enters the tournament off its best season as a division member, and the Phoenix have posted the program's most wins since the 1987-88 season. The team is headed by coach Matt Matheny, who is in his fourth season at the helm at Elon.
The Phoenix will play the 6 p.m. quarterfinal on March 9 against the winner of the opening round matchup between No. 7 Chattanooga vs. No. 10 UNC Greensboro.
No. 3 College of Charleston (22-9, 14-4 SoCon/2nd South Division)
It's the last year as a member of the Southern Conference, and the team leads the nation in road victories this season. First-year head coach Doug Wojick is hoping that trend carries over to the "Land of the Sky," where the Cougars lost in the opening round to Appalachian State last year.
The Cougars will face the winner of the first-round matchup between No. 6 Western Carolina and No. 11 The Citadel in a quarterfinal contest at 8:30 p.m. on March 9.
No. 4 Appalachian State (14-15, 10-8 SoCon/2nd North Division)
Appalachian State closed out the season with wins over Samford (70-67, 2OT) and Chattanooga (86-60) to get its first, first-round bye since the 2009-10 tournament. That season, players Kellen Brand, Isaac Butts and Donald Sims helped the Mountaineers make it all the way to the championship game before eventually losing to Wofford.
The Mountaineers will face the winner of the No. 5 Samford vs. No. 12 Furman matchup in a quarterfinal contest slated for 2:30 p.m. on March 9.
No. 5 Samford (11-20, 9-9 SoCon/3rd North Division)
The first of the "non-bye seeds" is Samford, which under first-year head coach Bennie Seltzer did something no other Samford team was able to do since joining the league in the 2008-09 season—win nine SoCon games. The Bulldogs' first-round opponent will be 12th-seeded Furman, who defeated Samford in last season's opening round. The Bulldogs and Paladins will play on March 8 at 2:30 p.m.
The winner plays No. 4 Appalachian State in the quarterfinals.
No. 6 Western Carolina (13-18, 9-9 SoCon/4th North Division)
Last year, Western Carolina was the SoCon's Cinderella Story, as the Catamounts nearly did the unthinkable by taking the top-seeded Davidson Wildcats to the brink, eventually dropping a 93-91, double-overtime decision in maybe the most riveting game of championship week. Larry Hunter's Catamounts will have a similar route this season, once again opening the tournament against No. 11 The Citadel on March 8 in a contest slated for 8:30 p.m.
The winner will face College of Charleston in the quarterfinals March 9.
No. 7 Chattanooga (13-18, 8-10 SoCon/5th North Division)
The Chattanooga Mocs enter the SoCon Tournament as the seventh seed, and they will face the No. 10 seed UNC Greensboro Spartans in an opening round contest slated for March 8 at 6 p.m. Chattanooga has claimed 10 Southern Conference crowns, which ranks second among the 12 league members. The Mocs will be playing in the opening round for the second year in a row, after dropping a 76-70 decision to Georgia Southern last season.
The winner will play against the No. 2 Elon Phoenix in the quarterfinals.
No. 8 Wofford (13-18, 7-11 SoCon/3rd South Division)
The Terriers have entered the tournament as an unseeded club since the 2009 tournament in Chattanooga. They will face off against a familiar foe in the opening round, as Wofford will take on the No.9 Georgia Southern Eagles in the first game of the tournament at 11:30 a.m. on Mar. 8. The Terriers took both regular-season matchups between the two schools.
The winner of this matchup will take on Davidson in the quarterfinals.
No. 9 Georgia Southern (13-18, 7-11 SoCon/4th South Division)
Georgia Southern has never been past the semifinal round of the Southern Conference Tournament, and the Eagles head into the 2013 tournament as the No. 9 seed. They face No. 8 Wofford, in the opening game of the tournament, slated for 11:30 a.m. on Friday, March 8.
The winner of that matchup will move on to the quarterfinal round to face Davidson.
No. 10 UNC Greensboro (8-21, 6-12 SoCon/6th North Division)
UNC Greensboro was the preseason pick to win the Southern Conference's North Division, and it was the Spartans that garnered an opening-round bye before getting a quarterfinal win over Appalachian State (65-55) last season, eventually losing to Western Carolina in the SoCon semifinals. This season, the Spartans will face No. 7 Chattanooga in an opening round matchup slated for a 6 p.m. on March 8.
The winner will take on Elon in the quarterfinals March 9.
No. 11 The Citadel (8-21, 5-13 SoCon/5th South Division)
The Citadel last claimed an opening-round win in the Southern Conference postseason tournament back in 2009 with a 65-53 win over Samford. This season, the Bulldogs will open the tournament the same way they did in 2012, against No. 6 Western Carolina, in a matchup slated for 8:30 p.m. on March 8.
The winner of this battle will advance to a quarterfinal matchup with No. 2 seed College of Charleston.
No. 12 Furman (6-23, 3-15 SoCon/6th South Division)
Furman heads into the Southern Conference Tournament having lost its final 10 regular-season games, and the Paladins have lost a litany of players to injury throughout the season. Furman will face No. 5 Samford in a 2:30 p.m. opening-round tilt on March 8. The Furman-Samford contest is a rematch of last season's opening-round victory for the Paladins.
The winner of this season's contest moves on to a quarterfinal matchup with No. 4 seed Appalachian State.
The Game: No. 8 Wofford (13-18, 7-11 SoCon) vs. No. 9 Georgia Southern (13-18, 7-11 SoCon)
The Round: First Round/2013 Southern Conference Basketball Tournament
The Place: Asheville, N.C., U.S. Cellular Arena (7,826)
The Date and Time: Friday, March 8, 2013, 11:30 a.m.
No. 8 seed Wofford opens the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament against No. 9 Georgia Southern, both rivals entering with identical records.
Georgia Southern and Wofford offer two of the SoCon's bigger non-conference wins of the season, with the Eagles knocking off Virginia Tech, 78-73, while Wofford won over Xavier (56-55) just prior to Christmas.
The regular-season saw the Terriers win both games between the two teams, and the meeting in Asheville will mark just the second time the two have met in the Southern Conference Tournament since both joined the league.
The only other meeting between the South Division rivals in the postseason tournament came back in the 2004 quarterfinals, when the Eagles claimed an 82-69 win in the quarterfinal round at the North Charleston Coliseum.
That season, the Eagles completed a season sweep of the Terriers, winning all three meetings between the two, and they will be looking to do that same in the opening game of the 2013 tournament.
In the first meeting between the two, the Terriers broke open a close game by using a 15-1 run midway through the second half en route to the 18-point win. Guard Karl Cochran led the way by posting a 25-point, eight-rebound effort for the Terriers in the win, and forward Lee Skinner posted a double-double with 17 points and 12 boards, while guard Spencer Collins rounded out the double-figure scoring for the Terriers with 10 points.
In the losing effort, the Eagles got 12 points from guard Tre Bussey, who was the only Georgia Southern player in double figures in scoring for the game. The team's leading scorer, Eric Ferguson, was held to just six points in the first meeting between the two this season, and as a team, the Eagles struggled to find their range from the perimeter in the contest. Wofford held Georgia Southern to just 2-of-12 from three-point land.
In the second meeting, it was a late 11-5 run over the final three minutes, which helped propel the Terriers to a huge SoCon South Division road win. The game was actually tied (42-42) with four minutes to play in a game that was a defensive struggle from the outset.
The Terriers were able to get backcourt production, as Cochran led the way with 16 points, while Collins registered his first-career double-double, posting 14 points and 11 boards in the win. Skinner once again rounded out a trio of double-figure scorers for the Terriers with 11 points in the contest.
Meanwhile, Georgia Southern was led by leading scorer Ferguson, who was the lone Eagle in double figures in a game against Wofford, as he posted 11 points, which was still about three points under his average coming into the contest. Both teams struggled shooting the basketball throughout the game, with Wofford connecting on just 39.3 percent (22-of-56) of its shots, while Georgia Southern posted just a 34.7 percent (17-of-49) clip from the field in the losing effort.
This game will once again be a slow, plodding, defensive contest, as both clubs favor a half-court pace as opposed to an up-tempo, frenetic pace. Coming into the opening-round clash, the Terriers rank last out of 12 teams in the SoCon in scoring offense (58.5 PPG), while Georgia Southern ranks just ninth i n scoring offense (62.3 PPG).
The game offers a chance for SoCon basketball fans to see two of the league's best players in the Terriers' Cochran, who comes in ranking third in the conference in scoring, posting 16.0 PPG, while Georgia Southern's Ferguson, who has struggled in two games to score against the Terriers, enters the game averaging 13.8 PPG and 6.3 RPG.
Friday's early-afternoon matchup marks the 44th meeting between the two teams, with the series all tied, 22-22. Wofford has won five of the last six meetings between the two teams, including four straight.
Coaches have mentioned the Eagles as being one of the better defensive teams in the league, and the Eagles remain the only team to have taken down mighty Davidson this season. I look for Charlton Young's Eagles to put it all together in game one and win a close one over Mike Young's Terriers in the opening game of the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament.
Final Score Prediction: Georgia Southern 62, Wofford 58
The Game: No. 5 Samford (11-20, 9-9 SoCon) vs. No. 12 Furman (6-23, 3-15 SoCon)
The Round: First Round/2013 Southern Conference Basketball Tournament
The Place: Asheville, N.C., U.S. Cellular Arena (7,826)
The Date and Time: Friday, Mar. 8, 2013, 2 p.m.
It's been a tough season for Furman and head coach Jeff Jackson, but it's been just the opposite for first-year head coach Bennie Seltzer in Birmingham, who had the Bulldogs competing for a bye seed all the way until the final day of regular-season play. It will mark the 14th all-time meeting between the Bulldogs and Paladins, with Furman holding a 9-4 series edge.
The Bulldogs and Paladins will be meeting in the Southern Conference Tournament for the third-straight season, and it will mark the fourth all-time meeting between the teams in the postseason. The Paladins hold a 2-1 all-time advantage in tournament meetings between the two schools, with Furman having won the last two meetings in the SoCon postseason, including a 75-66 win over the Jimmy Tillette-led Bulldogs last season.
The two met only once during the regular-season, with the Bulldogs taking a 64-53 decision at Timmons Arena in Greenville on Feb. 16. In that particular contest, the Bulldogs claimed their first victory as a member of the Southern Conference, as they were previously a combined 0-5 against Furman in their home city, using a pair of freshmen to power past the Paladins.
Standouts Clide Geffrard, Jr. and Tim Williams combined to post 32 points and 18 rebounds in helping the Bulldogs to an 11-point road win. Geffrard led the Bulldogs with 19 points, while Williams posted 13 points and 13 boards to round out the talented forward tandem's dominating performance against the Paladins. The Bulldogs' third performer in double figures was sophomore guard Raijon Kelly completed the contest with 17 points.
Samford used a 15-4 run midway through the opening half in Greenville to take control of the game and took a 24-15 lead. Furman had three players score in double figures in the losing effort, led by senior forward Colin Reddick, who posted 14 points, while his low-post mate and freshman Bryant Irwin added 13 points. Rounding out the Paladins in double figures in the loss was freshman forward Kendrec Ferrara with 10 points.
The Paladins played just seven players in the first meeting with the Bulldogs, but will have some good news with the return of Stephen Croone, who returned from a foot injury in the 74-50 loss to College of Charleston in the regular-season finale. Croone enters the contest as one of the league's freshman players, and he enters averaging 9.5 PPG and 3.9 APG, and ranks third in the SoCon in assists this season.
Furman comes into the tournament having already lost starters Charlie Reddick and Jordan Loyd for the season to injuries. In last season's 75-66 win over the Bulldogs in the SoCon semifinals, the duo posted a combined 22 points against the Bulldogs in last year's tournament, with Reddick posting 15 points and Loyd adding seven points and four assists.
Colin Reddick comes into the tournament leading the Paladins in scoring, averaging 12.8 PPG and 6.2 RPG, while Samford is led by Kelly, who ranks 10th in the Southern Conference in scoring at 14.5 PPG, while dishing out 4.7 helpers per game. Reddick has also been solid on the defensive end for the Paladins this season, posting 26 blocks to rank 10th in the SoCon. Kelly's 60 three-pointers are seventh , while Reddick sports the league's sixth-best field goal percentage at 50.4 percent on the season.
Williams has been the most impressive freshman this season, and he comes into the opening-round contest, ranking 12th in the SoCon in scoring (14.2 PPG), sixth in rebounding (7.2 RPG), third in field goal percentage (54.1 percent) and fifth in blocked shots (35). Rounding out the double-figure scorers for the Bulldogs is Geffrard, who is averaging 11.1 PPG.
Furman will also rely on a couple of streaky shooters in senior Bobby Austin (6.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG), who scored 15 points in the opening-round win over the Bulldogs last season, while also looking to Loris, S.C.-product Larry Wideman (8.3 PPG, 2.0 RPG), who has shown the ability to be a solid threat from the outside at times this season, leading the Paladins with 41 triples to lead the team.
Don't expect a terribly high-scoring affair between these two, as the Paladins rank 11th in the SoCon in scoring offense (60.5 PPG), while the Bulldogs rank 10th in the league in scoring offense (61.5 PPG). The Bulldogs shoot the ball extremely well from three-point range, ranking second in the league this season, posting a 36.4-percent clip from long range.
The Paladins simply don't have enough depth to make a serious run in the SoCon Tournament . Look for the Bulldogs to wear down the Paladins in the second half en route to their first opening-round win since the 2009 Tournament, which interestingly enough, came against Furman, when they downed the Paladins, 57-52, in Chattanooga.
Final Score Prediction: Samford 68, Furman 52
The Game: No. 7 Chattanooga (13-18, 8-10 SoCon) vs. No. 10 UNCG (8-21, 6-12)
The Round: First Round/2013 Southern Conference Basketball Tournament
The Location: Asheville, N.C., U.S. Cellular Arena (7,826)
The Date and Time: Friday, Mar. 8, 2013, 6:00 p.m.
An intriguing opening round matchup pits the Chattanooga Mocs and UNC Greensboro Spartans against each other in the first game of the night session on the opening day of the 2013 Southern Conference Tournament.
It's a matchup between foes that aren't all that unfamiliar with each other, having met a total of twice in Southern Conference championships since the UNCG Spartans joined as an official member back in 1997.
Chattanooga and UNCG will be meeting for the 33rd time in series history, with UTC claiming a narrow 18-14 all-time series edge.
The Mocs and Spartans have met a total of four previous occasions in the SoCon postseason, with each team winning two of those four previous meetings. The largest margin of victory in any of those four postseason meetings was 10 points, as UNCG claimed a 67-57 win over the Mocs in the 2002 Southern Conference Tournament at the North Charleston Coliseum.
There have been two one-point games between the two in Southern Conference Tournament action, with David Schuck's buzzer-beating effort helping the Spartans claim a 67-66 win at the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C., helping the Spartans claim their only Southern Conference Tournament crown.
Chattanooga claimed a 56-55 win over UNCG in the 1998 SoCon Tournament in Greensboro, N.C., and Chattanooga claimed its first of two Southern Conference titles under the direction of John Shulman the last time the two played in the SoCon Tournament, with a 66-62 win over the Spartans on Mar. 5, 2005.
The two regular-season meetings between the two SoCon North Division rivals this season saw UNCG claim wins in both meetings, claiming a 77-69 win at the Greensboro Coliseum on Jan. 27 at the Greensboro Coliseum, while the Spartans handed the Mocs a 94-68 setback at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga on Feb. 21.
In the first meeting between the two this season, the Spartans got another breakout performance from Trevis Simpson, who posted 41 points in the eight-point win by the Spartans. The performance by Simpson isn't the first 40-point performance by a player in recent seasons in this SoCon North Division rivalry, as former Chattanooga guard Ricky Taylor matched that 41-point effort from Simpson in the 111-110 double-overtime win for the Mocs back on Jan. 27, 2011.
Simpson was simply sensational against the Mocs in the first meeting at the Greensboro Coliseum, a connecting on 14-of-25 shots from the field, including going 7-of-13 from three-point range in the contest. Simpson's 41 points at that time were tied for the third-most points scored by a player in NCAA Division I college basketball this season.
The 41-point performance eclipsed Simpson's previous career-high of 36 points, tallied against Miami last season. The only other Spartan in double figures in the game was Nicholas Paulos, who posted 11 points in the win.
Chattanooga had three players post double-figure scoring efforts in the first loss to the Mocs at the Greensboro Coliseum, as Z. Mason led the Mocs with a double-double, as he posted 18 points and 11 boards. Mason was joined in double figures by guards Ronrico White and Gee McGhee, who added 15 and 12 points, respectively.
The Mocs were never in the contest against the Spartans in the second meeting between the two at McKenzie Arena, and whereas Simpson's 41-point effort in the first meeting was the story for the Spartans, it was Paulos' 10-for-12 effort from three-point range that highlighted the record-setting night for the Spartans, which saw the team set new program standards for made three-point field goals (20) and assists (27).
The Mocs enter Thursday's contest led by one of the league's most exciting young guards in Gee McGhee (12.3 PPG, 3.7 RPG), while Z. Mason (14.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and Drazen Zloravic (8.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG) gives UTC a solid front court. McGhee's athleticism combined with Mason's power underneath could prove to be an explosive combination heading into Friday's first quarterfinal game of the night session.
Ronrico White (9.9 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 3.0 APG) has really played well as a starter for John Shulman's Mocs this season, and he has stepped into fill a huge void for the Mocs, who lost senior point guard Dontay Hampton to a career-ending injury early in the campaign.
UNCG will counter with SoCon's most productive scoring backcourt, led by the league's leading scorer, Simpson, who comes in averaging 18.8 PPG, while Armstrong comes in posting 14.6 PPG, and the duo averages nearly half of the Spartans' 71.5 PPG this season. Armstrong also averages 4.6 rebounds per game and
Korey Van Dussen (8.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG) is back after missing six weeks with a broken hand, and the Spartans played like a much more poised ball club with Van Dussen in the lineup in the backcourt. His presence alone might be enough to help settle the Spartans down and for Van Dussen, it's his last chance to make good on those high preseason expectations UNCG entered the season with.
The front court has not been a strength, but it hasn't necessarily been a weakness either. Kayel Locke (10.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG) has been solid all season pacing the Spartans in the front court during this his freshman season, and he might be UNCG's best young frontcourt player since the days of Kyle Hines, or at least since Ben Stywall. Locke will team in the paint with veteran David Williams (5.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG), who is more of a scrapper than a scorer.
These are two of the more dangerous teams in the league, and I think it comes down to who is playing better basketball to this point during the season, and despite their 26-point loss at Appalachian State to end the season, this is a Chattanooga team that is improving with each game. I look for the Mocs to end UNCG's season and move past the first game of the tournament for the first time since the 2010 tournament in Charlotte.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Chattanooga 82, UNCG 77
The Game: No.6 Western Carolina (13-18, 9-9 SoCon) vs. No.11 The Citadel (8-21, 5-13 SoCon)
The Round: First Round/2013 Southern Conference Basketball Tournament
The Location: Asheville, N.C., U.S. Cellular Arena (7,826)
The Date and Time: Friday, Mar. 8, 2013, 8:30 p.m.
The final game of the opening round play marks the second rematch of an opening round tournament game from the 2012 tournament, as Western Carolina will face The Citadel in the nightcap of the tournament's opening day, marking just the fourth all-time meeting between the two schools have faced each other in the Southern Conference.
Over the past three seasons, Western Carolina has seen its way through to the latter rounds in each of those campaigns, advancing to the SoCon semifinals in both the 2010 and '11 tournaments and forging through all the way to the title game last season before eventually bowing out with a narrow, double-overtime loss to Davidson in the championship game last season.
In total, the Catamounts and Bulldogs will be meeting on the hardwood as Southern Conference foes for the 64th time in the rivalry, with The Citadel holding a narrow 34-29 series edge. The Citadel has claimed six of the last 10 meetings between the two teams in the series.
It marks the 35th appearance for the Catamounts all-time in the Southern Conferene basketball tournament, while The Citadel will be making its 63rd appearance in the nation's oldest postseason basketball tournament. The Catamounts hold a 7-12 mark all-time in the Southern Conference's current venue in Asheville, N.C. The Bulldogs have struggled in the tournament in the all-time history of the competition, going just 8-30 for their history.
In last year's tournament, the Catamounts were able to get a 68-56 win over the Bulldogs in the opening round last season, while Western Carolina also claimed the regular-season meeting between the two programs, winning a 72-55 decision at McAlister Field House in Charleston earlier in the campaign.
Western Carolina holds a 2-1 all-time tournament record against the Bulldogs in SoCon Tournament play, and the two schools also met in the postseason in 2001 in Greenville, as well as 1982 in Cullowhee. The Catamounts claimed a 67-57 win over the Bulldogs in the 2001 tournament, while The Citadel notched its lone win over them in the postseason back during1982, getting a 66-62 victory.
During the regular-season meeting this season at McAlister Field House, the Catamounts were at a point in the season in which they were playing some of the better basketball of the season. Way back in that meeting that occurred over two months ago between the two schools, the Catamounts placed four players in the double figures scoring column en route to the 17-point win.
In that win, the Catamounts were led in scoring by Trey Sumler's 17 points in the contest, while junior forward Preston Ross contributed his first-career double-double for Larry Hunter's Catamounts, posting 11 points and 10 boards. Sharp-shooting Tom Tankelewicz posted 14 points, with 12 of his points come as a result of four treys, and junior forward/guard Brandon Boggs rounded out the double-figure scorers for Western with 10 points.
Meanwhile, The Citadel would be led in the losing effort by talented guard Marshall Harris III and forward P.J. Horgan, who finished as the only Bulldog players in double figures in the contest, as the duo posted 10 points apiece in the loss. The Catamounts did an excellent job defensively against the Bulldogs' All-SoCon forward Mike Groselle, holding him under double figures, as he posted just eight points and two boards.
That only regular-season clash between the two saw the Catamounts finish at a +11 on the backboards, out-rebounding the Bulldogs 35-24 in the contest, while Western finished the game connecting on 47.4 percent of their shots from the field, while the Bulldogs finished that contest making good on 43.8 percent (21-of-48) of their shots from the field.
Coming into the tournament, the Catamounts don't have the same mix of a team that made that Cinderella-like run to the championship game last season. However, they do bring talent into the tournament, especially with the four-guard system that includes Sumler, Boggs, Tankelewicz and Sinclair. As of late, the team has been starting a trio at guard and a couple of players underneath, in Ross and Tawaski King.
While Western does not have either Harouna Mutombo or Keaton Cole to look to—two veterans that helped shoulder much of the scoring load in the tournament for the Purple and Gold last season as senior veterans—the Catamounts have capable veterans, such as a strong junior class that includes the First-Team All-SoCon guard Sumler, who comes in as the SoCon's second-leading scorer, at 17.9 PPG.
However, the players that might determine whether the Catamounts are to make a long run in this tournament in 2013 might be both King and Tankelewicz. King will be asked to stay out of foul trouble and patrol the paint, as he comes in averaging 11.2 PPG and 6.2 RPG, while connecting on an impressive 58.7 percent of his shots from the field on the campaign.
Tankelewicz, who connected on 4-of-9 from three-point range the first time these two teams met, becomes Western's Keaton Cole this season. Like Cole, Tankelewicz enters the SoCon Tournament leading in three-pointers made on the campaign, having connected on 86 triples so far this season. And like Cole, he will likely be asked to step up and make clutch threes in this tournament for the Catamounts.
For The Citadel to have a chance in this ballgame, they need to slow the pace and establish Horgan and Groselle in the paint early in the contest and dictate the pace of this game, and settled in and try and defend the Catamounts in the half-court.
Groselle is a First-Team All-SoCon selection and comes in leading the team in scoring (15.7 PPG) and rebouding (7.7 RPG). Horgan has stepped up and established himself as a reliable scorer in the post after stepping into a role after the injury to C.J. Bray, and he comes in averaging 11.0 PPG and 6.2 RPG.
The Bulldogs also have some emerging talent at the two guard positions coming in, with Matt Van Scycoc having captured All-Freshman honors this season, and he gives the Bulldogs a nice combo guard that can step outside and shoot it, as well as go in the paint and score.
Van Scycoc comes into Friday night's contest averaging 11.1 PPG, and is the team's leading shooter from three-point range this season, having connected on 55 treys so far on the campaign. Harris is a good game manager and comes into Friday night's contest leading the league in assists (5.1 APG), as well as coming into the contest ranking second in the league in assist/turnover ratio (2:1).
This one should be a close game, and The Citadel has played well at times this season, but it's been consistency the Bulldogs have lacked this season. Western, however, remains a dangerous team and I believe one spurt in this game, if they get the crowd behind them, will be enough to move on to face College of Charleston, and I think that's exactly what happens in the second half to break open a close game and see the Catamounts through to the quarterfinals.
Final Score Prediction: Western Carolina 70, The Citadel 62