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SoCon Preview: With a Heavy Heart....

The show goes on, but not without quite a bit of sorrow at the loss of Jibri Bryan.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

A great sadness has overtaken the Southern Conference. The tragic shooting death of Jibri Bryan has shaken the conference. The games almost seem secondary in light of his death on Tuesday afternoon. Our thoughts, prayers and condolences are certainly with his family and with the Mercer basketball family.

It seems slightly inappropriate to be discussing the games in light of this event. However, the games are going on, and while we are all deeply saddened, it is important to look forward to the games coming up this Thursday night. It is another important night for SoCon teams. Let's look forward to them.

Furman and Wofford Hit the Road. The toughest road trip in the conference this year is going to Spartanburg and Greenville to play Wofford and Furman. However, the second toughest may well be Chattanooga and Samford. The Bulldogs are relatively difficult to beat at home, and the Mocs are the conference leader. This weekend, Furman and Wofford go on that road journey. Furman battles Samford on Thursday and Wofford visits Chattanooga. The highlight of the evening is likely the match-up between the Terriers and the Mocs. The Mocs have five games in the next eleven days, and four of them are against the four teams in the conference with three conference losses. That is the other four teams in the top five of the conference race. The league leading Mocs have a huge stretch coming and it all starts here. Furman's trip to Samford smells of a trap game for the Paladins. It is a big moment for the Paladins to prove where they fit. They are just 1-3 on the road in conference play. They need to prove they can win road games they are supposed to in order to firmly establish their place atop the conference.

Fight For the Bye. The two most likely teams to contend for the final bye appear to be UNCG and Western Carolina. The Catamounts won in overtime in Cullowhee earlier this year. Now, these two teams hook up in Greensboro and it is a near must win contest for the Spartans. They cannot afford to not have the tiebreaker over the Catamounts in a tight race. A loss for the Catamounts, on the other hand, would put them two games behind the Spartans with just eight games left. That is not impossible to overcome, but it is far from easy. This is a moment that the Spartans could actually put their stamp on the final bye spot.

ETSU's Road Struggles. The Bucs are 1-3 in SoCon play away from home, and lost a couple last week at Wofford and Furman. They did not look good in either contest, until the closing minutes as they tried to rally furiously against the Paladins. Now, they hit the road yet again, this time going to VMI. The Keydets are last in the conference, and the Bucs are the heavy favorite, but their road struggles are real. This team really needs a road win over anyone, even the Keydets, who have been the worst team in the conference so far in more than just record. ETSU would love a little momentum moving forward. This is a chance to get it before they head to Greensboro to battle UNCG.