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Games to watch in a loaded Southern Conference

The SoCon is top-heavy again, making for a fun race to the 2021 title.

Syndication: Asheville Angela Wilhelm/, Asheville Citizen Times via Imagn Content Services, LLC

At long last, we have a 2020-21 Southern Conference basketball schedule, complete with built-inflexibility for the COVID-19 Era.

SoCon teams will play an 18-game, round-robin slate beginning on Dec. 30. As of now, the 101st celebration of the nation’s oldest conference tournament will take place from March 5-8 in Asheville, N.C., at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

Mark Your Calendar for these games:

Dec. 30: Furman at Chattanooga: While there aren’t too many enticing matchups on the league’s opening night, the Furman-Chattanooga tilt is one that could catch the eye. The Mocs and Paladins played a couple of hard-fought contests last season, with Furman winning both. In Furman’s 73-66 win last season in the Scenic City, the Paladins trailed by only two at the break, despite seeing the Mocs shoot 72% in the opening half, while Furman shot a modest 45% in the opening frame. The second half turned into the Mike Bothwell show, as he finished with a career-high 27 points.

Jan. 9: East Tennessee State at Wofford: ETSU’s January road gauntlet will include a trip to Wofford to take on the Terriers. The Bucs claimed all three meetings with Jay McAuley’s squad last season, but all three were supreme battles, and the last of which, came in the SoCon title game. The Bucs haven’t exactly had much success winning at Wofford, as the Bucs are just 2-4 in Spartanburg since re-joining the SoCon in the 2014-15 season.

Jan. 16: East Tennessee State at Furman: If there’s been a kryptonite over the past five seasons for ETSU, it’s been Timmons Arena — a place the Paladins have made a veritable fortress over the past five seasons, having posted a 63-11 record. Furman handed ETSU one of its two Southern Conference losses in the facility last season, taking a 65-56 contest over the Bucs. Furman also handed ETSU its worst SoCon loss by margin in five seasons under Steve Forbes in Feb. of 2019, as the Paladins posted a 91-61 win over ETSU. Furman was a perfect 12-0 at Timmons Arena last season.

Jan. 27: Chattanooga at East Tennessee State: This is a battle of the SoCon’s two most successful and tradition-rich programs, however, of late, seemingly no success has come the Mocs way. The Mocs and Bucs have combined to win 19 Southern Conference Tournament crowns and would have combined to make 22 NCAA Tournament appearances had there been one in 2020. The late-January meeting will mark the 91st all-time meeting between the two foes, with the Mocs holding a slight 47-43 edge. ETSU will go on the road to Chattanooga a week later to face the Mocs on Feb. 6 at McKenzie Arena.

Feb. 6: Wofford at Furman: Other than the ETSU-UNCG rivalry, few could match the one between Furman and Wofford. The Paladins and Terriers met three times last season, with Wofford winning twice, including a 75-66 win in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference Tournament. Former Furman top assistant Jay McAuley now leads the Terriers, and though the Paladins took one game between the teams last season, this was a tough matchup for them, particularly against Wofford’s big men. The good news for Bob Richey is that Chevez Goodwin transferred to Southern Cal, however, the bad news might be the addition of 6-9, 250-pound B.J. Mack from South Florida.

Feb. 10: Furman at UNC Greensboro: No matter what happens in the first matchup between the two this season, the game at Greensboro Coliseum could go a long way in deciding the top overall seed for the SoCon Tournament in Asheville, as well as the regular-season champion. Furman played one of its most inspired games of the 2019-20 season at Greensboro, as the Paladins came away with an 81-67 win. In the past 10 meetings between the two, UNCG has won six times, and has gone 4-2 against Furman at home since the start of the 2015-16 season.

Feb. 27: UNC Greensboro at East Tennessee State: If ever there were an opportunity to have a de facto Southern Conference regular season championship game, then this might be it. If ETSU can get through its brutal January slate, it will be in the mix to contend for the conference title late into February. And if a SoCon title is on the line, you can expect that as many fans that are allowed to show up (if any) at Freedom Hall will provide the kind of home court environment we’ve come to expect at ETSU over the past five years.