It's just like old times at the Southern Conference Tournament, with plenty of purple remaining in 50% of the bracket, while bitter Volunteer State rivals remain hoping to meet in the title game, where East Tennessee State hopes to exact the ultimate dose of revenge after dropping both regular-season meetings to Chattanooga, however, much basketball must be played before any assumptions can be made.
With this tournament being one of just four that have featured two overtime games already, who knows what's in store for an exciting semifinal Sunday in the SoCon's version of the Final Four. Will it be an all-purple title? Will it be the SoCon's most heated rivalry? We'll know in a few hours and once again, it's shaping up to be a thriller in Asheville for the NCAA Tournament ticket.
SEMIFINAL NO. 1
WHO: NO. 1 CHATTANOOGA (27-5) vs. NO. 3 WESTERN CAROLINA (16-16)
WHAT: Southern Conference Tournament Semifinals
WHEN: Mar. 6, 2017, 5 p.m.
WHERE: US Cellular Arena (6,000)
TALENT: Darren Goldwater (Play-by-Play)/Dean Keener (Color Analyst)
TOURNAMENT SERIES: CHATTANOOGA VS. WESTERN CAROLINA SERIES IN SOCON TOURNAMENT (6-1 Chattanooga leads)
2000--CHATTANOOGA 90, WESTERN CAROLINA 65
1995--CHATTANOOGA 63, WESTERN CAROLINA 61--(Title Game In Asheville)--Chattanooga champions
1991--CHATTANOOGA 84, WESTERN CAROLINA 83 (In Asheville)
1989--CHATTANOOGA 72, WESTERN CAROLINA 63 (In Asheville)
1987--WESTERN CAROLINA 73, CHATTANOOGA 72 (In Asheville)
1983--CHATTANOOGA 77, WESTERN CAROLINA 75--Chattanooga Champions
1981--CHATTANOOGA 79, WESTERN CAROLINA 70--Chattanooga Champions
PREVIEW: No.1 Chattanooga squares off against No. 4 Western Carolina in what figures to be an intriguing Southern Conference semifinal clash on Saturday evening at the US Cellular Arena.
The Catamounts were buoyed by a strong home following yesterday, as there was plenty of Purple and Gold that had made the short trek from Cullowhee to Asheville to support their Catamounts. Western Carolina is back in the semifinals of the Southern Conference Tournament and the team on the other side of the floor is finally not Wofford, as the Catamounts exorcised those demons yesterday with an 88-83 win over Wofford in a double-overtime contest, which must have seemed like poetic justice to Catamount fans, which have lost in two heartbreakers in the title game to Davidson in 2012 and Wofford in 2014.
Now, two years later, order should follow suit and the Catamounts should find themselves in a third title game. But the opponent on the other side is one of the very best in all of mid-major college basketball, as No. 1 Chattanooga has 27 wins during the regular-season and put an end to a five-game losing streak yesterday with a hard-fought win over Samford, 69-54, in their opener yesterday. No team in the Southern Conference has a greater tradition than Chattanooga, who have won 10 Southern Conference Tournaments, but have yet to win it since a 2009 triumph over the College of Charleston at McKenzie Arena.
However, Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year Justin Tuoyo (12.6 PPG, 5.1 RPG), played just five minutes in the Southern Conference quarterfinal win over Samford yesterday and scored just seven points in 11 minutes of total floor action. Tuoyo is the two-time reigning Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year
Chattanooga and Western Carolina split the season series between the two, with the Mocs posting a 77-58 win at the Roundhose, while the Catamounts were able to produce a 67-61 win at the Ramsey Center in mid-February. While Tuoyo was held under wraps yesterday afternoon, it was players like Duke Etheridge (7.5 PPG, 3.9 RPG), who will line up for Russ Huesman's football team following the conclusion of basketball season, had maybe the best game of his career in yesterday's quarterfinal win, as he posted 13 points and 12 boards in the win. Dee Oldham also came off the bench to add 12 points for a Mocs team that ended the contest shooting 41.2% (21-of-51) from the field. All-SoCon guard Tre' McClean (12.3 PPG, 6.4 RPG) led the way
While it's a strong frontcourt for the Mocs that keeps foes on their heels for most of the game, it's an underrated backcourt that has been the driving force of this team, especially with point guard Greg Pryor (9.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG), who is a player that is vastly underrated. If Eric Robertson (8.6 PPG, 1.5 RPG) is able to find his shooting touch from the perimeter he has had for much of his career, that will give the Mocs a new element.
But Chattanooga's bread-and-butter is its frontcourt and its physical play on the defensive end of the floor. In fact, the Mocs come into Sunday's semifinal contest with one of the best defensive teams in the league holding teams to just 66.5 PPG this season, which trails only Furman, is allowing only 66.0 PPG. The Mocs also rank fourth in the SoCon in field goal percentage percentage defense, allowing opponents to connect on just 43.3% from the field so far this season.
Western Carolina counters with its star player Mike Brown, who in the recent game between the two in Cullowhee, remained in foul trouble most of the game and was limited to 10 points in a game that the Catamounts led by as many as 19 in the second half only to see the Mocs make a furious rally. In nine of the last 10 games, Chattanooga has held its foes below 70 points.
Meanwhile, Western Carolina has held foes to 70 or less in regulation each of the past three games, including yesterday, however, with the game game heading to the extra session tied at 60-60. Mike Brown has made me a believer in him as a player, and along with Furman's Croone and ETSU's Ge'Lawn Guyn, it should be a fun Sunday if you are a fan of guard play.
But whereas the aforementioned rely on quickness and that first quick step, Brown is quick, but also has a Jerome Bettis or Marsharn Lynch style to his game in terms to what he brings physically to the game. What he does on the defense, especially on the boards, is as crucial to what the Catamounts do as any one thing. He remains the straw that stirs the drink offensively no doubt, but Chattanooga may worry about what Brown does more after the ball is shot than when it goes up into the air.
The other three players that have keyed this late-season Catamount run are all seniors. Forwards Justin Browning (17.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and Torrion Brummitt (13.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG) have simply been sensational down the stretch this season, with Browning doing on the defensive end of the floor with blocks and steals, however, it was a big three-pointer he made in yesterday's overtime that helped the Catamounts remain in the game before eventually overcoming for the Terriers for the win. All told, Browning scored 11 points, grabbed six rebounds, blocked three shots and picked up a pair of steals.
Brummitt has become a double-double monster of late this season, finishing with 24 points and 15 boards in the win over the Terriers. It was Brummitt's ninth double-double of the season. Sharp-shooting Rhett Harrelson (12.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG), who led the SoCon in three-pointers (80 Triples) made per game during the regular-season, is the fourth senior that has come up big in this stretch run for WCU.
WHO WINS: This is the toughest game of the tournament to call, but given that Western had to play a double-overtime game yesterday, I guess I will pick the Mocs.
Chattanooga 68, Western Carolina 65