The Sports Network
By Greg Wiley, Associate College Basketball Editor
FACTS & STATS: Site: U.S. Cellular Center (7,654) -- Asheville, North Carolina: Friday, March 7th through Monday, March 10th. Television: ESPN3.com (First Round), ESPN3.com (Second Round), ESPN3.com/CSS (Semifinals), ESPN2 (Championship Game). Annual: 94th. Defending Champion: Davidson.
OUTLOOK: The Davidson Wildcats seek a third straight postseason tournament title when the Southern Conference Tournament tips off on Friday, March 7 at the U.S. Cellular Center.
Davidson comes into the tournament as the top seed and two-time defending champion. The Wildcats, who went 15-1 in the SoCon this season, have won the title 11 times, which is most by any current SoCon team, and is the heavy favorite this time around as well after a strong regular season.
The Wildcats won 14 straight games to end the season after suffering their only SoCon setback, an 87-85 OT home loss on Jan. 16 to Elon. Despite that lone blemish, Davidson has dominated SoCon play. The Wildcats have outscored opponents 1615-1028, winning conference games by an average of 16.3 ppg with only two wins being decided by less than 10 points.
De'Mon Brooks is the focus of the Wildcats offense, scoring 18.4 ppg and grabbing a team-high 7.0 rpg. The forward shot an impressive 58.3 percent from the field for Davidson, which had four players average in double figures. Brian Sullivan is next with 13.5 ppg and his perimeter game is a nice compliment to Brooks. Sullivan hit 39.3 percent of his three-pointers. Tom Drooney (10.6) and Tyler Kalinoski (10.9) round out the double-figure scorers for the Wildcats, who averaged nearly 80 ppg on 47.6 percent shooting.
Chattanooga (12-4), a 10-time SoCon tourney winner, follows Davidson as the second seed, while Wofford (11-5), Elon (11-5) and Western Carolina (10-6) round out the top five, all of which received first-round byes. UNC-Greensboro (7-9), Georgia Southern (6-10), Samford (6-10), Appalachian State (5-11), Furman (3-13) and The Citadel (2-14) round out seeds six through 11 and will play first-round games to start the tournament on Friday.
The opening game of the first round on Friday will see the eight seed Samford Bulldogs taking on the nine seed Appalachian State Mountaineers. Appalachian State, which enters the tournament having lost four of five games, captured both games of the regular season this year, winning 74-68 on Feb. 13 and 63-57 on Feb. 27. Tommy Spagnolo was the leading force in both games for the Mountaineers, recording a pair of double-doubles. In the first game, he had 20 points and 11 boards and in the second contest he again scored 20 and grabbed 10 rebounds. Both numbers are well above his season averages of 8.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg, as Appalachian State is led by Tab Hamilton's 12.8 ppg. The Bulldogs, who ended a four-game slide with a win against Western Carolina in the regular-season finale, are led by Tim Williams' 17.9 ppg.
The winner will get Davidson in Saturday's second round.
Friday's second contest will feature the conference's two leading scorers when seven seed Georgia Southern Eagles taking on the 10 seed Furman Paladins. These two teams just battled in the season finale, with the Eagles posting their second win of the season against the Paladins, 82-73. In that game, the SoCon's leading scorer Jelani Hewitt scored 22 points and Tre Bussey added 17 points for Georgia Southern, which enters the postseason having won four of five games.
The SoCon's second-leading scorer Stephen Croone finished with a game-high 26 points and seven assists for Furman, which has dropped three of its last four. In the first game of the season back on Jan. 16, Bussey dropped 26 points in an 88-81 overtime win. Hewitt, who averages 20 ppg, added 21 points. Croone, who averaged 19.3 ppg this season, led the way with 26 points.
Chattanooga will get the winner of that game in the second round. The Mocs, who last won the SoCon tourney tile in 2009, secured the second seed with a 63-44 win over Appalachian State on Saturday. Chattanooga ended the season with consecutive wins after losing four of five. The Mocs are led by Z. Mason's 18.2 ppg, which is fourth-best in the SoCon, and his conference leading 9.5 rpg. The Mocs, who averaged 76.4 ppg this season, lost their only meeting against the Eagles this season and swept the two games against the Paladins.
Friday's final first-round game will pit the 6 seed UNC-Greensboro Spartans taking on 11 seed Citadel Bulldogs. After losing 17 straight, which included a loss in the lone meeting against the Spartans, the Bulldogs gained some momentum heading into the tournament with a pair of wins to end the season. It marked only the second time this season the Citadel was able to string consecutive wins together, but it couldn't have come at a better time. After averaging just over 66 ppg this season, the Bulldogs have put together two games with 80 or more points. Matt Van Scyoc leads the Bulldogs this season with 14.4 ppg and his 16-point, 11-rebound effort against the Spartans back on Jan. 16 helped The Citadel force overtime in a 69-65 setback.
The Spartans, who average just over 70 ppg this season, are lead by Kyle Cain's 15.3 ppg and 9.0 rpg. UNC-Greensboro defeated the Wofford Terriers on Saturday to secure the six seed, but it still enters the postseason on a bit of a slide, having lost three of five and eight of 12.
The Terriers, the last team other than Davidson to win the SoCon Tournament title, will get a chance to redeem that setback if the Spartans win on Friday, as Wofford will take on the winner in the second round on Saturday. The Terriers kind of backed into the third seed, having dropped two of three to end the season. Karl Cochran leads the Terriers with 15.2 ppg and 3.1 apg. Lee Skinner adds a team-leading 8.6 rpg for Wofford, which swept the two-game season series from the Citadel and lost its only matchup with UNC-Greensboro.
The only other matchup that has been determined is Saturday's second-round meeting between the four seed Elon Phoenix and the five seed Western Carolina Catamounts. Both teams come into the postseason having dropped consecutive contests. Elon lost its season finale against Davidson, 86-69, while Western Carolina fell to Samford, 93-86. The schools split the two regular-season games against each other with each coming away with double-digit wins on their home floors. The Catamounts are led by Trey Sumler's 17.9 ppg, while the Phoenix are led by Lucas Troutman's 16.1 ppg. This will be Elon's last chance at its first SoCon title. The Phoenix are leaving the conference after this school year for the Colonial Athletic Association.
The winner will take on the Davidson/Samford-Apalachian State winner in the semifinal round.
Even though Davidson was just 4-10 in non-conference games this season, its schedule prepared it for this part of the season. The Wildcats played teams like Wichita State, Duke and North Carolina -- losing all of those games, but gaining invaluable experience. So, despite its 1-4 neutral court record, Davidson shouldn't be too worried this weekend, as this is the Wildcats' tournament to lose.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Davidson
03/04 11:33:05 ET