WHO: No. 8 Samford (13-18, 4-14 SoCon) vs. No. 9 VMI (9-20, 4-14 SoCon)
WHAT: 2016 Southern Conference Tournament/96th Edition
WHEN: Friday Mar. 4, 2016/5 p.m.
WHERE: Asheville, N.C./US Cellular Arena (6,000)
Talent:Darren Goldwater (play-by-play)/Dean Keener (Color Analyst)
PREVIEW: The Southern Conference Tournament opens Friday night when VMI and Samford do battle in the first game of the 96th chapter of the nation's oldest conference tournament. It marks the third-straight season that the Bulldogs will play in the tournament's opening game, while VMI is playing in the opening game of the SoCon Tournament for the first time since the 2002 season,when the Keydets opened the league tournament in an all-military clash against The Citadel. It will mark the first-ever meeting between the Keydets and Bulldogs in Southern Conference Tournament play. The two teams will also be meeting for just the seventh time in series history, with Samford holding the 4-2 all-time edge.
Last year, both Samford and VMI lost in their opening games in the league tournament, with the Keydets opening the tournament in final game of the first two days, with an 89-61 loss to No. 3 seed Mercer, while Samford opened the tournament with a loss to No. 8 UNC Greensboro, with an 81-76 setback in one of the more thrilling games of the first two days of the Southern Conference Tournament. Samford is 3-7 all-time in the SoCon Tournament, while VMI is 20-41 all-time in SoCon Tournament action.
In the regular-season series between the Keydets and Bulldogs, the two split the regular-season series, with VMI claiming an 83-76 win in Lexington for its first Southern Conference win of the 2015-16 season, while Samford posted a 73-67 win in Birmingham late in the season to pick up what was one of its four Southern Conference wins this season.
The Keydets are under the direction of first-year head coach Dan Earl, who was a standout at Penn State, while Samford is led by second-year head coach Scott Padgett, who was an All-American and national champion at the University of Kentucky.
In the first meeting between the Bulldogs and Keydets this season, which took place in Lexington, VA, leading scorers QJ Peterson (19.6 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Julian Eleby (14.1 PPG, 4.7 RPG) posting 43 points in a triple-overtime win at Western Carolina last season.
Peterson and Eleby were the centerpieces of the VMI offense, as the pair posted 63 of the team's 83 points in the win. Peterson led the way with 34 points and Eleby contributed 29 to lead the Keydets in the win at Cameron Hall. The 34 points scored by Peterson were a career-high, and were the most points scored in a Southern Conference game this season. Peterson was a First-Team All-Southern Conference selection, and both come in as a threat to score from both from beyond the arc, as well as being able to get tothe hoop. Forward/guard Tim Marshall (7.6 PPG, 4.3 RPG) is another veteran who can step up and score the basketball at times.
Peterson comes in as one of the premier scorers in mid-major college basketball this season. Peterson comes into the tournament with 11 games in which he has scored 20 or more points this season, and both of his 30-point outings this season have come against Samford, as he also posted 33 points in the Bulldogs' 73-67 win in Birmingham back on Feb. 20.
Peterson also has the league's lone 40-point effort of the season, finishing with 46 points in a recent 91-82 win over Mercer. In the win over the Bears, Peterson connected on 12-of-25 shots from the field, 5-of-11 from beyond the arc and was 17-of-18 from the foul stripe. The 46-point effort by Peterson marked the second-straight season the Keydets have had a player eclipse the 40-point plateau, with Eleby posting 43 points in a triple-overtime win at Western Carolina last season.
In the first matchup between the two this season, Peterson scored all but 10 of his points against the Bulldogs from beyond the arc, going 8-for-13 from downtown. In the second clash in Birmingham, Peterson went 11-for-23 from the field, including 5-of-11 from beyond the arc. In the second clash between the Keydets and Bulldogs in Birmingham, only one other Keydet player finished in double figures, as Phillip Anglade (7.6 PPG, 5.2 RPG) completed the contest with 12 points.
Samford was able to get the win over the Keydets just a couple of weeks ago by connecting on 53.8% (28-of-52) shots from the field for the contest, including placing five in double figures in the win at the Pete Hanna Center. Leading the five in double figures was talented freshman forward Wyatt Walker (10.7 PPG, 6.0 RPG), who posted 14 points and eight rebounds in 23 minutes of floor action off the Bulldogs' bench. The Bulldogs would also see Jamal Shabazz (7.6 PPG, 3.4 RPG) and Darius Jones-Gibson (14.9 PPG, 3.5 APG) post 13 points apiece, while Christen Cunningham (14.1 PPG, 4.0 APG) and Marcus Johnson (7.3 PPG, 2.2 RPG) added 11 and 10 points, respectively, in the win. Iman Johnson (4.9 PPG, 4.6 RPG) narrowly missed a double-double after completing the contest with nine points and 11 boards.
Matchups To Watch: One of the key matchups to watch to keep an eye on in this matchup is the one between VMI's Peterson and Samford's Jones-Gibson. The first two clashes this season has seen Peterson go off offensively, and with those 34 and 33-point performances from the senior guard from the Keydets, it has accounted for two of the top three scoring performances in the SoCon this season. Jones-Gibson scored 18 and 11 points in the two clashes this season for Samford in the two previous meetings this season.
One of the x-factor players for VMI is Phillip Anglade, who is one of the quickest jumpers in the league, as well as being one of the SoCon's best premier overall athletes. The 6-5 Anglade is a tough matchup for most teams around the league, because he plays much bigger than 6-5 and that is true particularly on the defensive end of the floor, where he ranks third in the SoCon in blocks-per-game(1.6 BPG/45 Blocks this season). Certainly Anglade's athleticism shows up in the overall Southern Conference stats, as he enters the 2016 General Shale Southern Conference Tournament playing some
The Bulldogs have some tough matchups for the Keydets to deal with, including Wyatt Walker, who has himself been molded into one of the league's top big men. Walker will cause problems not only because of his bigger than most of the VMI roster, but also because he has a solid mid-range game and can spread out VMI's defense with his ability to hit the mid-range jumper.
Another player to keep an eye on is true freshman Matt Rose (9.0 PPG, 4.2 RPG), who has been among the league's top perimeter threats all season, and for a team that doesn't shoot the ball particularly well from three-point land this season, Rose has been the one exception entering the contest, shooting 41% from downtown this season, while also canning a team-high 59 triples. Rose joined Walker as a member of the SoCon All-Freshman team.
Stat Watch: While VMI comes in ranking last in the SoCon in scoring offense (68.8 PPG) coming into the tournament, when pressed and forced in a faster pace game, the Keydets have proven they can score with any team in the SoCon, as the Keydets posted 111 points in the second-to-last game of the season. The Samford Bulldogs a team that has been noted for the way they press teams coming into the tournament, and also rank fourth in the Southern Conference in scoring offense this season, averaging 74.0 PPG.
In terms of defending teams, the Keydets come in ranking ninth of 10 teams in scoring defense, surrendering 74.9 PPG, while Samford ranks just ahead of VMI in the SoCon in scoring defense, surrendering 74.1 PPG. Samford comes into the SoCon Tournament ranking third in the SoCon in field goal percentage (45.8%), while VMI ranks last in the SoCon in field goal percentage (41.2%).
The Keydets have a better team when it comes to shooting the three this season, ranking sixth in three-point field goal percentage, connecting on 33.7% of their shots from downtown this season, while in terms of defending the three-point line this season, the Keydets rank eighth in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage defense (36%). As a team, the Keydets rank second in the league in three-pointers made-per-game, with 8.8 triples-per-game, and have made 256 treys overall this this season.
Meanwhile, Samford rank eighth of 10 teams in the SoCon in three-point shooting this season, connecting on 32.6% from long range this season, and ninth in three-point field goal percentage defense, with teams shooting 36.8% from long range this season. Samford's 5.5 three-point field goals per game is 10th in the SoCon, as the Bulldogs have knocked down just 170 triples so far this season, which is easily the lowest total from long-range in the league this season.
Who Wins: VMI 72, Samford 68