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Southern Conference Notebook- January 20

Wofford's loss and QJ Peterson leaving VMI have changed some of the dynamics in the conference race moving forward.

Michael Shroyer-USA TODAY Sports

Wofford Falls at The Citadel, Causes Shake Up in Conference Race

On a pedestrian Thursday evening in Charleston, South Carolina, the Southern Conference race was shaken up.

The Citadel, who came in to the game at 2-3 in SoCon play, fell behind Wofford by double digits, but nibbled away at the lead until they finally came up with the 69-66 upset win over the Terriers, who had been unbeaten in conference play.

And just like that, the Terriers went from first in the SoCon to third. The loss put them a half game behind Chattanooga and Mercer in the conference standings.

Since that time, Chattanooga had the day off and Wofford won, moving the Terriers into a tie with the Mocs for second in the conference and a half game behind Mercer. Certainly all is not lost for the Terriers.

But for Wofford, a team that was thinking about an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament just a week ago, this counts as a major surprise. This conference race, that just week ago was presumed to be won by Wofford, is suddenly at least moderately in doubt.

Keep in mind Wofford has already won in Chattanooga, albeit in a comeback win on a unforgettable performance by Karl Cochran. The Terriers have not played Mercer yet. The Bears will travel to Spartanburg on Saturday, January 31.

Wofford is still the favorite to win the conference. But this race looks much closer than it did last week at this time.

Another Out- QJ Peterson Gone From VMI

Last week, I highlighted James Sinclair's journey at Western Carolina from suspended to not suspended, not to mention other key player's injury bugs.

Another week, another player out. QJ Peterson is out at VMI on a medical furlough and will miss the rest of the season. Peterson was averaging the second most points per game in conference games (21.7), behind just ETSU's Jalen Riley.

There has been speculation about what caused him to leave around the internet. I will not go into all the rumors here. I will try to stick to what this means from a basketball perspective.

From a basketball standpoint, this seems to be a major blow to the Keydets. He was their leader in points and assists (leading the SoCon in conference games in that category at 4.6 per contest). He was the one that got them into their offense.

Now, without him, the Keydets will have to find other leaders. For a team expected to contend for one of the six byes in this conference, this is a major blow.

That being said, the Keydets showed up on Saturday in their first game without Peterson and promptly beat up on ETSU at home. Is that a sign of things to come? VMI goes to Chattanooga on Thursday night- something that will tell us much more about how good the Keydets sans Peterson really are.

Samford Still Winless

Samford is 0-8 in conference play, but in January at home, they have lost three games to ETSU, Wofford and Chattanooga by an average of 3.7 points.  Samford lost on the road to Wofford and The Citadel by ten points each before being blown out by Mercer on Saturday by 24.

The Bulldogs have Christen Cunningham at point guard. The freshman has proven that he can be a force in this league for years to come. Derius Jones-Gibson is another solid contributor. Tyler Hood and Michael Bradley are pretty good players as well.

Right now, Samford is not playing with a lot of confidence. The Bulldogs simply have not been able to come up with the performance that breaks them through with a conference win. Late in games, they start to look around at each other and wonder who is going to step up and make a play.

However, just for a history lesson. Last year, The Citadel began the year 0-14 in SoCon play, despite losing a lot of close games. Then, the Bulldogs broke through and won two home games and won a Southern Conference Tournament game. Sometimes all it takes is one to get things going in the right direction. Samford could certainly be that kind of team this year.

Power Rankings

  1. Wofford (5-1)- The Terriers are still the team to beat in my book. While they have not played as well as expected for much of conference play, they played much better against Western Carolina on Saturday. Maybe the loss was just what they needed for Mike Young to get their attention.

  2. Chattanooga (5-1)- The Mocs did win by 19 at The Citadel, which looks much better now that Wofford lost there. Justin Tuoyo still creates match-up problems. But the Mocs have to be a step behind the Terriers because of their loss on January 5 to them.

  3. Mercer (6-1)- The current leader in the conference race has just one game this week- at Western Carolina. Per Pomeroy, the Bears have played the easiest conference schedule to date. Things really toughen up this week (at Western) and next week (Chattanooga at home, at Wofford). They could easily be number one in a week or so.

  4. ETSU (5-3)- This team may be the most complicated in the bunch. Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley clearly make this team a tough out that should be competing with the top three for a conference title. But an inexplicable home loss to UNCG and a road loss to VMI leaves everyone scratching their heads. The Bucs beat Mercer at home and lost to Chattanooga in overtime at home. ETSU goes to Wofford this Saturday.

  5. Western Carolina (3-4)- Bash Western Carolina if you must, but things are pretty clear cut with them. When they play one of the teams ranked ahead of them, they are 0-4 in SoCon play. When they play one of the five teams ranked behind them, they are 3-0. That describes this team perfectly. Can James Sinclair lead the team to an upset of Mercer at home on Thursday night? They need it.

  6. Furman (3-4)- The Paladins did something Wofford could not do- win at The Citadel last week. Their double digit road win shows that this team is better than a lot of their own fans want to give them credit for. Stephen Croone is taking fewer shots and doing more little things to help Furman win games. Their reward for winning at The Citadel? A road date with Wofford Thursday night.

  7. The Citadel (3-4)- What to do with The Citadel? The Bulldogs lost to VMI on a neutral court, lost at Western Carolina and at Furman, but has what is almost certainly the best win of any of those teams when they beat Wofford. How do they belong in seventh? Because somebody has to be. This week, the Bulldogs go to ETSU and to VMI. They go to Chattanooga the following week. This is a very difficult stretch for the Bulldogs. They may lost contact with the bye race if they are not careful.

  8. UNCG (2-4)- The Spartans are awful- just ask their fans. But this team finds themselves just one game out of the fifth spot in the conference standings after showing up and beating VMI last Wednesday. Kayel Locke and RJ White were dominant. Tevon Saddler continues to sit. The Spartans go to Samford and Chattanooga this week. This could be a telling week for this club.

  9. VMI (3-5)- This team may be ninth in the power rankings and eighth in the actual standings, but they are just a half game out of fifth. Without QJ Peterson, it will be interesting to see where this team goes. Why are they ninth? They beat ETSU last week after all. But, so UNCG did that....and did it on the road. Plus, the Spartans beat the Keydets last week. VMI goes to Chattanooga and hosts The Citadel this week. We'll know more about the post-Peterson Keydets after this week.

  10. Samford (0-8)- The best 0-8 conference team in the country, I'd say. This team has lost by a total of eleven points at home against Chattanooga, ETSU and Wofford. They have not been out of many conference games, but just haven't gotten over the hump yet. Their next three games? UNCG, Western Carolina and Furman at home. If they win one, look out, because several more could follow pretty quickly.

Schedule

Thursday

Mercer at Western Carolina (7 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

VMI at Chattanooga (7 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

The Citadel at ETSU (7 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

Furman at Wofford (7 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

UNCG at Samford (8 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

Saturday

The Citadel at VMI (1 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

Allen at Furman (1 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

UNCG at Chattanooga (6 PM, ESPN3)

ETSU at Wofford (7 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

Western Carolina at Samford (7 PM, SoCon Digital Network)

The biggest game Thursday night is Mercer at Western Carolina, but the other three starting at 7 PM are all kind of the same game. Teams hoping to make a statement go on the road to take on three of the top teams in the SoCon. The odds are that at least one of those is much closer than people are expecting. Which one? I'm betting on VMI at Chattanooga. The Keydets are such a tough match-up for everyone- and it seems like ETSU and Wofford are hungry to have statement wins. We'll see.

On Saturday, the biggest game is ETSU at Wofford as two of the top four teams square off. This is the last team that ETSU has to play among the top three, having split at home with Mercer and Chattanooga. The Western Carolina at Samford game is also interesting, as Samford has been good at home and the Catamounts will be coming off a big home game against Mercer on Thursday night.

Should be an interesting week where we learn a lot more about several SoCon teams. With Mercer's games against Chattanooga and Wofford next week, there are some real big ones on the horizon. If all three win all their games this weekend, those three will be tied for the conference lead heading into next week with Mercer scheduled to face both, one at home and one on the road.