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Southern Conference Tournament Primer: Wofford, Chattanooga The Favorites

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As we head to Asheville, Wofford and Chattanooga are the two favorites, but there are plenty of teams that are more than capable of springing an upset along the way.

Cramming for the Southern Conference Tournament is tough, even when you coach the No. 1 seed.
Cramming for the Southern Conference Tournament is tough, even when you coach the No. 1 seed.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Southern Conference rarely lacked for drama this season. According to Ken Pomeroy, the conference played the eighth most conference games in the country decided by one possession or in overtime.

Yes, there is in fact life after Davidson. The conference proved that this year.

Now as the teams head to Asheville, the tournament seems as unpredictable as ever. With so many close games this year, anything could happen. But here's what we also know: Only three teams finished with winning conference records.

Wofford wound up going 16-2, Chattanooga, 15-3 and Mercer, 12-6. Western Carolina finished fourth, going 9-9, while the tenth place team finished 5-13.

In other words, those four through ten seeds are really compact, and we have three clear favorites. In fact, if you were asking me for betting odds, I would put the chances of Wofford winning at about 45%, Chattanooga at 35%, Mercer at 15% and everyone else combined at 5%. Those teams just have not shown enough consistency to think they can win three or four games in a row.

Let's break down the bracket a bit, by looking at team's records vs. the top three (the three with winning records), vs. the top six (teams not playing on Friday), and vs. their half of the bracket, along with a brief discussion on each team.

Wofford (16-2 in the SoCon)

Vs. Top Three: 3-1

Vs. Top Six: 9-1

Vs. Rest: 7-1

Vs. their half of the bracket: 8-0

Breakdown: The Terriers are the reigning champs and the favorites. If the Terriers were 17-1 in SoCon play right now, they would have had a real chance at an at large bid. But, to get an at large from the Southern Conference, you cannot lose at The Citadel. It's just unacceptable. As it is, this team is in line for a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. They have had a tendency to play down to their competition at times. Karl Cochran and Lee Skinner are the starting seniors looking to lead this team to their fourth NCAA Tournament in six years.

Chattanooga (15-3)

Vs. Top Three: 2-2

Vs. Top Six: 7-3

Vs. Rest: 8-0

Vs. their half of the bracket: 7-1

Breakdown: The Mocs have won their share of close road games this year, going to overtime four times on the road in conference play and have two others decided by less than three points. They won four of those six games, but it is not like they are a dominating force. This team needs Casey Jones to be excellent, and for Justin Tuoyo, their defensive stopper, to avoid getting into foul trouble. The Mocs won their last six conference games, beginning with a road upset of Wofford, 56-46.

Mercer (12-6)

Vs. Top Three: 1-3

Vs. Top Six: 4-6

Vs. Rest: 8-0

Vs. their half of the bracket: 7-1

Breakdown: The Bears were the darling of the NCAA Tournament a year ago, upsetting Duke. That whole team has been replaced. There is still the myth that this is some really special defensive team floating around, but what they really are is an incredibly efficient offensive team. Ike Nwamu will make a spectacular play at some point in this tournament that will make the national highlights, but it is really Phillip Leonard, TJ Hallice and Darious Moten that really make this team go. The Bears lost two close games to Wofford and beat Chattanooga at home in overtime.

Western Carolina (9-9)

Vs. Top Three: 3-3

Vs. Top Six: 4-6

Vs. Rest: 5-3

Vs. their half of the bracket: 2-6

Breakdown: The Catamounts tend to play well in Asheville, as evidenced by their upset of top seeded Davidson a year ago. Do they have another run in them? This team has to knock down shots in order to win. They upset Mercer in Macon, but then proceeded to lose their next three games, before righting the ship in the finale against The Citadel. This club has a couple of shooters in Mike Brown and James Sinclair. If they get going, this could be a good weekend for the Purple.

ETSU (8-10)

Vs. Top Three: 1-5

Vs. Top Six: 4-6

Vs. Rest: 4-4

Vs. their half of the bracket: 4-4

Breakdown: The Bucs are back in the Southern Conference after a short absence, and played well early in the year. However, they do not have a lot of size and they are one of the shortest teams in the country. That means they rely a ton on their shooters to be shooting. Rashawn Rembert is not as good as he was a year ago, but he is still dangerous. Jalen Riley has been one of the better players in the SoCon. The Bucs have the power to pull an upset this weekend. They just need to be hot shooting, but it is hard to be that hot three days  in a row.

VMI (7-11)

Vs. Top Three: 0-6

Vs. Top Six: 2-8

Vs. Rest: 5-3

Vs. their half of the bracket: 4-4

Breakdown: No team plays at a faster pace than VMI in the whole country. This team was a woefully bad shooting team for most of the season, and that is why they struggled so much over the course of the season. Then, in one magical second half comeback that fell just short against Wofford, everything turned around. They made 24 of 45 from three against Furman in their next game, and they won three in a row. Julian Eleby scored 40 against Western Carolina in a double overtime win. This Keydets team, if they are shooting well and forcing turnovers, can play with anyone in the league. They are a threat to everyone in the league, but playing that style seems like it could be tough to win three games in three days.

The Citadel (6-12)

Vs. Top Three: 1-5

Vs. Top Six: 2-10

Vs. Rest: 4-2

Vs. their half of the bracket: 1-7

Breakdown: If you don't like VMI's fast style, you'll love The Citadel's slow it down style. They play the fifth slowest pace in the country. They also have the worst defense in the country. This team plays terrible defense and still manages to keep the scores in the 60s. Ashton Moore has knocked down two buzzer beaters in the last three weeks, so if it comes down to a final shot, you know who will get the ball. The Bulldogs could produce an upset in this tournament, but everything would have to break right for them.

UNCG (6-12)

Vs. Top Three: 0-6

Vs. Top Six: 3-9

Vs. Rest: 3-3

Vs. their half of the bracket: 2-6

Breakdown: The Spartans have a great collection of talent. RJ White, Tevon Saddler, Diante Baldwin, Kayel Locke and Nicholas Paulos are as good of five players as this conference has. There are not many other players available on the roster. Only one other scholarship player gets minutes- Marvin Smith. If Jordy Kuiper comes back from injury, this team gets much deeper. Still, this group has been playing much better lately, including losing on a buzzer beater to Chattanooga and battling hard with Wofford and Mercer on the road. The Spartans are a team no one wants to see if they put it all together. For this team to make a long run, they need Kuiper to come back and give them some minutes, because there just isn't enough overall depth.

Samford (6-12)

Vs. Top Three: 0-6

Vs. Top Six: 4-8

Vs. Rest: 2-4

Vs. their half of the bracket: 4-4

Breakdown: The Bulldogs play a full court pressure defense by new coach Scott Padgett. This team has the makings of being a great group in future years. They played Wofford close twice early in conference play. Christen Cunningham is probably the league's best freshman. He will be fun to watch for years to come. This club could battle Wofford in the quarterfinals (if they get by UNCG) and the Terriers should be nervous about possibly playing them. It's hard to imagine a long run for a team that has been as up and down as this club.

Furman (5-13)

Vs. Top Three: 0-6

Vs. Top Six: 2-10

Vs. Rest: 3-3

Vs. their half of the bracket: 1-7

Breakdown: When you watch individual performances from this team, you can be fooled. There have been games where Geoff Beans has looked unstoppable, John Davis III, Devin Sibley, Daniel Fowler, even Kris Acox and Kendrec Ferrara. All of them have had moments where you think they will become the complement to Stephen Croone, one of the best talents in the conference. This team lost to Chattanooga, Mercer and Wofford all by less than three points at home and beat Western Carolina and ETSU there. They also lost by 34 to VMI and 35 to UNCG. So this club is a true mystery. Going against The Citadel in the opener will be an interesting barometer of the season as a whole.