By: Taylor Wilson, KCOU Sports
Much of 2015 in the Southern Conference has boiled down to a two-team race. Perennial powers Wofford have rolled through the conference schedule once again, despite a stern challenge from Chattanooga, while newcomer Mercer has impressed many after a third place finish in the regular season standings. They know as well as any that those wins are only good for tournament seeds at this point, as they get set to tip off the 2015 Southern Conference Tournament.
When: March 6-9
Where: U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, N.C.
How To Watch: ESPN3/ESPN2 (championship game)
No. 8 UNC Greensboro (6-12, 10-21) vs. No. 9 Samford (6-12, 13-18)
If season series are any indication of where a matchup might be headed, good luck finding out anything based off the two games these teams played in the regular season. The Spartans and Bulldogs split their two games 1-1, with each home team winning by double digits earlier this year. Greensboro has the upper hand of late, beating Samford 81-67 last week in Greensboro.
The Spartans are led by leading scorer Tevon Saddler (13.6 ppg) but have been an economical offensive team all season, seeing four players average double-digit scoring. The Bulldogs don’t have a scorer above 12 points but have shot an efficient 44% from the field as a team and have 7 scorers averaging above 6 points per game. Good luck to the winner who will have to take down No. 1 Wofford in the next round.
Prediction: Although even across the board, the Spartans have won 2 of 3 to end the regular season, while Samford’s lost 4 of 5. I’m taking the “hot” team: UNC Greensboro.
No. 7 The Citadel (6-12, 11-18) vs. No. 10 Furman (5-13, 8-21)
Let’s be honest here. I, by no means, encourage anyone to watch this game. The teams are ugly. Furman gets the clear-cut razzie for worst 2015 SoCon squad. Their only consecutive wins came in January and the Paladins have lost 8 of their last 9. Their opponent isn’t much better. After a 7-8 start, the Bulldogs found the late conference stretch too much and finished well below .500 for the year. They did however, beat the best team in the league, Wofford at home in January, the cherry on top of a pretty lackluster sundae.
Prediction: The Citadel by default
No. 8 UNC Greensboro vs No. 1 Wofford (16-2, 25-6)
Wofford’s been to three of the past four NCAA tournaments and you wouldn’t bet against the Terriers to get back in 2015. Wofford played a tough non-conference schedule that included wins over Iona and NC State and losses to Stanford, Duke, and West Virginia before rolling through two-loss conference play. They’re led by senior guard Karl Cochran (15.0 ppg) and have at least five players averaging over 7.5 ppg.
Prediction: Expect Wofford to jump out to an early lead and never look back.
No. 4 Western Carolina (9-9, 14-16) vs. No. 5 East Tennessee State (8-10, 16-13)
For Western Carolina, it’s safe to say senior guard James Sinclair has been one of the league’s most exciting players this season. The Savannah, Georgia native is averaging 19.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 3.1 apg and is part of a core of four players averaging double-digit scoring. Put him on the floor with the conference’s leading scorer, East Tennessee State’s Jalen Riley (20.7 ppg) and it’s safe to say this one could be a barn burner.
Prediction: Riley has gone off for 31 pts in his past two games. Expect him to propel East Tennessee State ahead to the semis.
No. 7 The Citadel vs. No. 2 Chattanooga (15-3, 22-9)
If there’s a chance someone not named Wofford represents the Southern Conference in the big dance this year, it’s probably going to be the Chattanooga Mocs. Despite getting to the NCAA Tournament ten times before, the Mocs haven’t danced since 2009 and are eager to get back. Led by former VCU assistant Will Wade, Chattanooga can make some noise if Casey Jones (14.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg) heats up. He scored 21 against Samford last time out.
Prediction: Chattanooga‘s got their eye on the championship game but if they stay focused here, the Mocs will roll to an easy victory.
No. 3 Mercer (12-6, 17-14) vs. No. 6 VMI (7-11, 11-18)
One of the cinderellas in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, when they beat Duke in the opening round, Mercer knows they need to win the league in order to try to replicate some of that magic in 2015. Despite six losses since January 8, the Bears lost by single-digits in five, including a pair of well-fought games against the pride of the league, Wofford. Due largely to a tough non-conference schedule that included George Washington, Maryland, and West Virginia, VMI went 5-10 in their first 15 games. The Keydets are 3rd in the country in scoring (81.2 ppg) and run the offense beautifully through sophomore guard QJ Peterson (19.6 ppg)
Prediction: Hey, an upset! The Keydets can be wildly inefficient with many of their top scorers averaging below 35% from the field. That said, when they’re on, it’s lights out for the opposition. Let’s see if they can have one of those nights in Asheville this weekend. Give me VMI.
No. 1 Wofford vs. No. 5 East Tennessee State
In their two losses to Wofford earlier this year (72-64, 74-64), ETSU’s Jalen Riley scored 25 and 10 points respectively. In order for the Buccaneers to have a shot in this hypothetical matchup, the league’s top scorer has to do better than that latter total and frankly, probably better than the former to knock off the Terriers.
Prediction: Wofford, big
No. 2 Chattanooga vs. No. 6 VMI
It’s a dumb cliché but Chattanooga better approach this thing game to game. If they look past a good offensive team like VMI early, they may dig a hole too big to come out of.
No. 1 Wofford vs. No. 2 Chattanooga
I don’t care that having this matchup in the championship game is boring. Chances are, this is exactly what we’ll get. And who could argue against the conference’s two best teams going at it in a nationally televised championship game? After losing 68-64 on their home floor in January, the Mocs took Wofford down at their place last month 56-46. Casey Jones had one of his best games of the season that night scoring 23, rebounding 8, and shooting a lights-out 10-14 from the field. Another night like that from the Junior and Chattanooga could pull off the upset in Asheville.