Another week is gone, and Chattanooga has taken the lead. ETSU and Mercer are tied in the loss column by the Mocs. By January 30, we will be halfway through the conference schedule.
As we approach another week, this week takes on particular importance for Mercer, who has two massive road tests against ETSU and Western Carolina. Win both, and the Bears will really be in good shape. Come up with a split and the Bears will still be in a good position. Lose both, and there will be renewed questions about them.
Let's take a look at the whole SoCon. John Hooper (JH) and I (JR) have each filled out Power Rankings and answered a SoCon question this week. After all that, I will break down the schedule for the week.
Chattanooga- The Mocs are undoubtedly the best team in the league at this point. They sometimes do not play interested for a full game, but when they are playing their best, no one in the league can beat them.
Mercer- It's the Bears by a nose. They don't wow you with athletes and they don't dominate on the offensive end, but they play efficient offense and stingy defense. It's not always the prettiest. But it works.
ETSU- The Bucs and the Mocs put on a show last weekend. There will not be a better collection of athletes this year in SoCon play than when these two teams get together. The Bucs are as good of a group of athletes as there is in the SoCon. Huge game with Mercer on Thursday.
Wofford- The Terriers have played well, and the losses to Chattanooga and Mercer last week are hardly anything to cry about. This is a solid team that can contend in Asheville. The question is, what kind of seed will they have? They'll likely be a top five seed, but it probably would benefit them to get to the top three if possible.
Furman- Yikes. Two losses last week, including one to The Citadel, exposed this team's flaws. They are not ready to contend for a regular season title yet. I guess they could get hot again in Asheville and get there, but first things first. They need to spend more time worrying about getting a bye.
Samford- The Bulldogs hammered Western Carolina and nearly beat ETSU last weekend at home. This club can win games and is right in the thick of the bye race. They are good, but they need to go to UNCG and VMI this week. Winning road games this weekend will go a long way to proving themselves.
Western Carolina- I am far from sold on the Catamounts. In fact, I'd really prefer to put them 8th on this list, but they beat UNCG last weekend, albeit at home in overtime. I can't justify putting them any lower. They host The Citadel and Mercer this weekend. Can't afford two losses there.
UNCG- The Spartans are more than good enough to get into the bye. They are playing pretty well right now. The problem is that they lost to Western Carolina. In a lot of ways, I would prefer to have them 6th in these rankings. I think they are playing better than Samford or Western Carolina, but the Catamounts won last week in overtime in Cullowhee...and that has to have an impact. Francisco Alonso is probably the best freshman in the league.
The Citadel- This team scores a ton of points. They tried to give away their game against Furman on Saturday. But they survived. They aren't going to win a ton of games, but they will win some games the rest of the way.
VMI- The Keydets are winless in SoCon games. They may not win more than a game or two in conference play. They are really struggling, but they do play hard. When they get some chances at home, they may spring an upset or two
Chattanooga- The Mocs are still the creme of the crop in the league this season even without Casey Jones. But despite having the most talent in the league, the Mocs have had to work to get most every win in the league this season.
Mercer- The Bears aren't as talented as the team of two years ago, and while no one dominates the floor like Ike Nwamu did last year, the Bears are a better team and their defense will keep them in every game in the league this season.
Wofford- It's a new season and the Terriers aren't what they were, but Spencer Collins and Eric Garcia are good enough to keep the Terriers near the top of the league for the remainder of the season, and as we have seen in the tournament, anything can happen. The Terriers will likely be a top three seed by the time the tourney rolls around in Asheville, and they are good enough to make some noise in March again.
ETSU- With ETSU, it's unclear which team will show up on a nightly basis. The one that beat Georgia Tech, or the one that lost big on its home floor to UNC Wilmington. Even without A.J. Merriweather, the Bucs have maybe the best collection of talent in the league outside Chattanooga, however, that doesn't always equate to wins.
Furman- Inconsistency has been the theme for Furman throughout the season, but the Paladins have been in every game in league play, with three losses in conference play by a combined eight points. The Paladins must win games on the road, which is something they have failed to do with enough consistency the past few seasons. Furman faces Wofford and has three of its next four at Timmons Arena in a stretch that could well define if Furman is a Top six seed or not come March.
Samford- The Bulldogs are back on the winning track after claiming a big win over Western Carolina this past weekend, but Scott Padgett's club has looked like a deer-in-headlights at times during league play.
Western Carolina- The Catamounts have had good guard play this season, especially from Mike Brown and Elijah Pughsley, but Torrion Brummitt needs to get more effective offensive help in the paint if the Catamounts hope to make a run for the remainder of January and into the final month of the regular-season.
UNCG- The UNCG Spartans have been maybe the biggest disappointment in the SoCon so far. Bad luck has seemed to follow Wes Miller's team the past few seasons, and without Tevon Saddler and with talented freshman guard Demetrius Troy now on the shelf with mono, the backcourt is thin in depth.
The Citadel- Duggar Baucom finally broke through and got a conference win over Furman this past weekend after coming close on two occasions. Now the Bulldogs are in Cullowhee Thursday night for a huge league tilt.
VMI- Dan Earl has found it rough in his first season in the Southern Conference. QJ Peterson is among the league's leading scorers, but takes too many shots out of the flow of the offense, which must give Earl headaches at times.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK
The Southern Conference home teams have gone 20-7 so far in conference games, good for 74.1% winning percentage. That is good for the third highest winning percentage for home teams of any league in the country. Why are SoCon home teams so good?
It is always tough to win on the road but seems especially difficult in the Southern Conference. It certainly is not the unbelievably large crowds that make it this way. There are not many big crowds at many SoCon games, but still there seems to be a big advantage.
I think one thing that it takes a while to learn in college is how to win on the road in conference play. According to Pomeroy, three of the four teams with the least experience in the conference have really struggled on the road. Those three are Samford, UNCG and Furman. Furman is the least experienced team in the SoCon, and Samford and UNCG rank 7th and 8th, respectively.
VMI is the next most inexperienced team and has not played well on the road. They also have a brand new head coach.
Mercer does rank 9th, but Mercer is also a more mature program than any of those. They have developed a winning tradition and have a coach who has proven successful for a long time in Bob Hoffman. That's something those other four programs does not have. They have younger coaches that have not necessarily developed consistency in their programs yet. With the team inexperience, and the coaching inexperience, it becomes at least partially clear what is happening to teams on the road in the SoCon.
I think it is this combination that has led to the SoCon having such solid performances at home compared to on the road this year in conference play.
If you look at the SoCon, it has always been a conference that has had some of the toughest venues in the country over the past couple of decades. In the late '90s, Sports Illustrated named Chattanooga as one of the toughest places to play in the nation.
Adding Mercer to the league, which has a 67-9 record at home since the start of the 2011-12 season, only adds to the difficulty of playing on the SoCon road. Last season, Chattanooga was able to break a long winning streak Wofford had on its home floor.
All six of UNCG's wins this season have come inside the friendly confines of the Greensboro Coliseum, while Furman has won seven of its nine games at home this season.
The reason the road is so tough in the SoCon is simply the atmospheres of places like Mercer, Chattanooga, ETSU and Wofford are hostile when students show up in great number even at a place like Furman, it makes a difference. A road win in the Southern Conference is worth savoring because it is certainly one of the toughest leagues in the country to go on the road and come back with a ‘W'.
The games are rated 1-10, with ten being the most exciting and a one being the least exciting.
Chattanooga at UNCG (5)- The Mocs are better, but UNCG has been very good at home.
Mercer at ETSU (9)- This is a dream match-up. Not going to be many better in the SoCon.
Samford at VMI (4)- It's Samford who has been awful on the road against winless VMI. Something has to give.
The Citadel at Western Carolina (2)- Catamounts need to win at home after disappointing week.
Chattanooga at VMI (4)- Can the Keydets spring the upset of the season on their home floor?
The Citadel at ETSU (3)- First to 100 wins?
Wofford at Furman (7)- Rematch of last season's title game and a huge rivalry game.
Mercer at Western Carolina (6)- Cullowhee is always a tough place to play for everyone.
Samford at UNCG (6)- These two teams both need a win to get in position for a bye.