On Saturday, we will be one month away from the SoCon Tournament semifinals. We are starting to get close to Asheville, the most important four days in the conference season. Every game as we get closer to the tournament takes on added importance as each team tried to best position themselves for a long run.
The top six teams in the conference have created some separation for the six byes. UNCG is up by two games on Western Carolina and The Citadel for the sixth spot with just eight games to play. Wofford is up a game on UNCG, and ETSU, Mercer and Furman each have one loss less than Wofford. Chattanooga has two losses less than that trio of teams. The races are interesting, but takes on less importance with the byes in such good shape.
Let's look at some storylines for Saturday.
Mercer Without Jibri Bryan- Bryan was shot this past week. The tragedy has sent shockwaves throughout the conference. The Bears will be playing their first game since then. It is a home game against The Citadel. The arena will probably be full of emotion from the team and fans alike in the pregame, and it will be one of the scenes of the weekend. The game starts at 4:30 on ESPN3. It's worth checking out. Turning things back to the court, how will Mercer perform on the floor? Will they be distracted and unable to play with the proper intensity? Will they be united and determined? That will go a long way to deciding what happens on the floor not just on Saturday, but for the remainder of the season.
Number One vs. Number Two- Chattanooga has gone 15-2 since February 12 of last year. Their only two losses? Both losses were to Furman. Last year in Asheville when the two teams met, the Paladins were a last place team having just won in the opening round of the SoCon Tournament and looking to make a name for themselves. Two hours later, the Paladins had shocked the conference, setting the path for them to make their run in the conference race this year. Furman is currently the second place team in the conference and it all began on that night in Asheville against Chattanooga last March. The Mocs came into their game in Greenville on January 9 having won eight straight games and looking to avenge their loss. The Paladins dominated that game, though. The Mocs have won seven more in a row since that contest. Now, the two clubs hook up in Chattanooga. These are the two top defenses in the league, with Furman being the best one according to Pomeroy's efficiency ratings. According to those same offensive efficiency ratings, the Mocs are the top team in the league. These are the top two teams in the SoCon standings at this moment. A Paladins win would trim the Mocs lead to one half game and give Furman the tiebreaker. A Mocs win would give them a lead by three losses over the Paladins and no longer guarantee the tiebreaker to Furman. Should be a really exciting game.
Spartans Set Their Sights Higher. UNCG is 5-5 in SoCon play and in a very good position for clinching a bye. However, they can make a run at an even higher seed than the sixth spot. That all begins with a home game against ETSU. These two teams both like to run when given the opportunity. In Johnson City earlier this year, the Bucs barely squeaked out a win. A UNCG win would pull them within one game of the Bucs for an even better seed in the tournament. This could be the sort of signature win they are looking for. ETSU has not been playing particularly well and really needs to come up with a solid performance in this one. Should be an interesting contest.
Bottom Two Teams At Home. The bottom two teams in the league (Samford and VMI) both play at home. Western Carolina goes to VMI. If the Keydets pull off the win, that could really cause a lot of trouble for the Catamounts and give VMI a shot at getting out of the cellar. Wofford heads to Samford. The Bulldogs have played very well at home this year, but haven't pulled off many wins. The Terriers are coming off a tough loss in Chattanooga and needs to get a win on the road. It's a big day for the bottom two teams in the league to make a statement at getting out of the bottom.