Sinclair: Out and Back Again
Injuries and the like have been the most recent storyline in the Southern Conference. The most noteworthy such player absence was Western Carolina's James Sinclair. In the last few weeks, word spread that Sinclair was going to be declared academically ineligible. This was a major blow, as Sinclair is listed as #5 in Pomeroy's Player of the Year rankings for the SoCon. He is the Catamounts leading scorer and a senior. The word on the street was that he would be ineligible beginning Monday, January 11.
Then word came down that he was immediately ineligible after a failed appeal to the NCAA and he sat out the game against UNCG on Saturday. Disappointment reigned in Cullowhee and it was popularly believed that the Catamounts chances of winning the SoCon were pretty much over.
However, on Monday, word came down that Western Carolina had calculated his GPA incorrectly and that he was no longer ineligible, but reinstated and now is eligible again. This is huge news in the SoCon. With Sinclair, Western Carolina (who always seem to perform well in Asheville) is a threat to win the Southern Conference Tournament. Without him, they are a good team, but not one that is a legitimate contender. Sinclair makes all the difference.
Other Significant Injury News
There have been several other injuries in recent weeks (not counting ETSU losing their big man, Ron Giplaye, which happened over a month ago). We are going to focus on three here.
The most significant injury is to Tevon Saddler of UNCG. Saddler is ultra-talented, though sometimes is a little out of control. Still, he is the most important offensive weapon for the Spartans. When he went down with a knee injury late in the loss to Furman last Thursday, there were many that feared the worst. In the end, there was significant damage, but he sat out the loss at Western Carolina over the weekend and is expected to miss Wednesday night's game against VMI. He is listed as day-to-day. The Spartans are a much more dangerous team with him in the lineup.
Wofford's starting point guard, Eric Garcia, has also been hampered by an injury. His jaw has been wired shut and he has been playing through it. He did sit out on Saturday at home against Samford. However, he is expected to be back in time for Thursday's game at The Citadel. Garcia was noticeably struggling to get his breath during games. He has been more winded. He only was able to play thirteen minutes against VMI, who really likes to get up and down. Garcia is often the forgotten Terrier. He plays an important role in getting them into their offense.
The other injury of note is Chattanooga's Greg Pryor. The point guard, who may be the most improved player in the SoCon, has really played very well and done a great job getting the Mocs into their offense this year. He injured his hip late in the Wofford game and then missed the game against Western Carolina and ETSU last Thursday and Saturday. He is listed as day-to-day, but all indications are that he will be back Thursday at Samford. The Mocs offense looks much better with Pryor running it. He is a very important cog in the Mocs future.
Wofford's NCAA Chances
The Terriers don't want to think about this, but what if? What if the Terriers somehow lose in the SoCon Tournament (ask Davidson how easy it is to do that when you are the favorite) and wind up needing an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament? Will they get one?
Per RPIForecast, Wofford currently has an RPI of 31. They own a very impressive win at North Carolina State. They also beat Iona. Based on predicted RPI's on RPIForecast, the Terriers are expected to be 2-1 against Top 100 teams, losing only to Duke. Their OOC RPI is expected to be 20 and their OOC SOS is at 17.
That is all the positives. The problem is that if Wofford loses, it will not be viewed as a good loss. Yes, a neutral site loss to Chattanooga, ETSU or Mercer will be OK. A road loss to ETSU or Mercer (the Terriers already won at Chattanooga) would be OK. Any other loss will be viewed as a bad loss more than likely by the committee.
So can they lose twice and get in? Again per RPIForecast, if the Terriers were to lose a regular season game (at, say, ETSU) and again in the SoCon Tournament, Wofford would have an RPI of roughly 37. That would be enough to put them squarely on the bubble. The Terriers do have a chance at an at large, but they need to keep on winning to put their name in the conversation.
The Week Ahead
VMI at UNCG, 7 PM (SoCon Digital Network)
Wofford at The Citadel, 6 PM (SoCon Digital Network)
Furman at Mercer, 7 PM (ESPN3)
ETSU at Western Carolina, 7 PM (SoCon Digital Network)
Chattanooga at Samford, 8 PM (SoCon Digital Network)
Furman at The Citadel, 1 PM (SoCon Digital Network)
ETSU at VMI, 1 PM (SoCon Digital Network)
Samford at Mercer, 4 PM (ESPN3)
Western Carolina at Wofford, 7 PM (SoCon Digital Network)
The most important game of the week is probably ETSU's trip to Western Carolina. After all, the Catamounts have Sinclair back now. The Bucs are 4-2 in SoCon play and are hoping to get back on track after losing at home in a heartbreaker to Chattanooga on Saturday. With Sinclair back, these are pretty clearly two of the top five teams in the SoCon, along with Wofford, Chattanooga and Mercer.
One of the interesting things is the fight for the six seed, because that team gets a bye. The difference between six and ten is pretty narrow. So games like VMI-UNCG and Furman-The Citadel take on extra importance.
Samford is 0-6 in SoCon play, but has lost by a total of five points at home to Wofford and ETSU and was leading Wofford with ten minutes left on the road on Saturday. Their problem? They host Chattanooga and go to Mercer this week. Coming out of an 0-8 hole to get a bye is virtually impossible. In other words, they need to win at least one this week to have any chance at all at the six seed.