Tuesday , Feb , 28 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 Southern Conference Tournament Preview

The Sports Network

By Pat Taggart, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: North Charleston Coliseum — Charleston, South Carolina.
Dates: March 2nd through March 5th. Television: ESPN2 (Championship Game).
Annual: 85th. Defending Champion: Chattanooga.

OUTLOOK: On Thursday, March 2nd, play begins in the 85th-annual Southern
Conference Tournament. All 11 teams in the league will compete for the
ultimate prize, a bid to the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Last season,
Chattanooga won its league-leading ninth SoCon title, and the club enters this
event with a 45-19 SoCon Tournament record. Still, the Mocs are the fifth seed
in this year’s event and aren’t expected to repeat. Georgia Southern, on the
strength of its explosive offensive attack, is the top seed in this year’s
tournament, and the program has never won the event. Four of the 11 teams have
never captured the title, and only four have more than one championship to
their credit.

One of three first round games on Thursday features a matchup between ninth-
seeded Wofford and eighth-seeded Appalachian State. Wofford has never won this
event and owns a 4-7 record in Sun Belt Tournament games. The Terriers lost
their final two regular season games, including an overtime setback in the
finale to The Citadel, the league’s worst team. Wofford is last in the league
in scoring and first in scoring defense, so it would like nothing more than
to control the tempo in this first round contest. As for Appalachian State, it
closed out the regular season with wins in three of its last four games, and
it is looking for its first SoCon title since 2000 and third overall. D.J.
Thompson is the leader of the squad, as he is the only player in the
conference ranking among the top five in scoring and assists. Wofford recorded
a 60-59 victory over Appalachian State during the regular season, so tonight’s
game should be close.

The second of three first round matchups features the 10th-seeded UNC-
Greensboro Spartans and the seventh-seeded Western Carolina Catamounts. UNC-
Greensboro owns a solid 8-7 record in SoCon Tournament games, and it captured
its only title back in 2001. The Spartans carry a six-game losing skid into
this event, so their confidence could obviously be shaken. It certainly
doesn’t help matters that they lost a pair of double-digit decisions to
Western Carolina already this season. For UNC-Greensboro to have any chance on
Thursday, the league’s second-leading scorer, Ricky Hickman, has to put forth
a tremendous effort. The Catamounts don’t have a player in the top 10 in the
league in scoring, but they are one of the better defensive squads in the
SoCon. Their only SoCon title came back in 1996, and they have lost twice as
many games in this tournament as they have won (13-26).

Sixth-seeded Furman will attempt to avoid an upset at the hands of the 11th-
seeded Citadel on Thursday. The good news for Furman is that it has won this
tournament six times, but unfortunately, the squad’s last title came way back
in 1980. The Paladins are coming off a 25-point loss to Georgia Southern in
the regular season finale, not exactly a good sign as this event begins. They
have rotated wins and losses in their last seven outings, but they remain the
top shooting team in the league in regard to field goal percentage. As for The
Citadel, a perennial basement dweller, it is the worst team in the conference
in scoring defense and second worst in scoring offense. The club is shooting
below 40 percent from the floor this season, but the fact that it won its
final two regular season games sparks optimism among the players and fans.
Keep in mind however, that The Citadel is 9-52 all-time in SoCon Tournament
play and has never won the title.

The Wofford/Appalachian State winner will move on to face top-seeded Georgia
Southern in the first of four quarterfinal games. Georgia Southern is racking
up 78.7 ppg and won six of seven games during the month of February. While
there are a number of talented players in the lineup for the Eagles, most eyes
will be on the SoCon’s leading scorer, Elton Nesbitt, who is netting 22.4 ppg.
Georgia Southern has never won the championship of this tournament, but there
is plenty of reason for optimism that this will be the year.

Like Georgia Southern, the fourth-seeded College of Charleston Cougars and
fifth-seeded Chattanooga Mocs have earned a bye to the quarterfinal, and those
two teams are set to collide. The Cougars rely heavily on the league’s third-
leading scorer, Dontaye Draper, who is posting 19.0 ppg. They had won three
straight games before losing to Davidson by two points on the road in the
regular season finale. College of Charleston won its only SoCon title back in
1999. As for Chattanooga, it recorded wins in four of its last five games down
the stretch and will likely carry a wealth of confidence into this event. The
Mocs do not have a single player in the top 20 in the league in scoring, so
strong defense will be the key to the team capturing its 10th SoCon title. It
owns a 45-19 record all-time at this event. College of Charleston rolled to a
67-53 victory over Chattanooga in the only regular season matchup between the
teams.

The winner of the UNC-Greensboro/Western Carolina contest will battle second-
seeded Elon. The Phoenix finished well below .500 against non-league teams
during the regular season, but they played extremely well against conference
foes. It should be pointed out however, that the club struggled a bit down
the stretch after rolling through the first half of its SoCon schedule. The
hope is that a well-balanced lineup will overshadow the fact that the team
lacks a star-caliber player. Elon has never won this tournament and has played
just four games in this event.

The last quarterfinal matchup pits the Citadel/Furman winner against third-
seeded Davidson. The Wildcats depend of the outstanding duo of Brendan Winters
and Ian Johnson, the sixth and seventh-leading scorers in the league,
respectively. Davidson is second in the conference in scoring with 78.4 ppg
and won three of its last four regular season games. The club beat The Citadel
twice this year but split a pair of games against Furman. The Wildcats have
won seven SoCon titles, second behind only Chattanooga, and their last
championship came in 2002.

There are a few teams with legitimate chances to win this event, but Davidson
may have the inside track. The team’s one-two punch of Johnson and Winters is
scary for opponents, who can’t afford to double either player in most cases.
It would be fun to see the Wildcats battle Georgia Southern in the
championship game, as both teams love to push the tempo.

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Davidson