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Southern Conference First Round Preview

March 3, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Southern Conference First Round Preview

Preview by Paul Oren

The 2003-2004 Southern Conference Tournament gets underway Wednesday in North Charleston, South Carolina. It is the 83rd edition of this post-season tournament, and it represents the longest running conference tournament in the nation.

Entering the tournament, there has been a lot of talk from the league coaches whether or not utilizing a conference tournament to decide it’s NCAA Tournament representative is the right thing to do. In the wake of their loss to Charleston, regular season conference champion ETSU has exhausted any chance they would have had to get an NCAA At-Large bid if they do not win the SoCon tournament. A 26-6 team not making the NCAA Tournament is a real possibility.

“As a league you want to have your best representative win,” said UTC head coach Jeff Lebo. “I’ve always been a proponent that the regular season has to mean something, more than just seeding.”

Seeding is one of the main issues in this tournament, but perhaps a bigger issue is having a first-round bye. Something that not only league champion ETSU has, but Chattanooga, Georgia Southern, and Davidson do as well. While ETSU defeated all three of those teams (UTC twice), all four get the same reward for finishing high in the standings and the only difference is who they are scheduled to play in the second round, which may not be a reward for any of the teams with a bye.

“There are no bottom teams in this conference,” remarks UNC Greensboro head coach Fran McCaffery. “I think that’s what will make this tournament interesting, is that there are no bad teams, and anybody can beat anybody and that’s what’s going to happen over these next four days and that’s what makes it exciting.

Lebo adds “I’m almost a propend that if there is a regular season winner and a different winner in the conference tournament, then they play each other to decide who goes to the NCAA.”

While getting to the Big Dance is the ultimate goal for all 12 SoCon head coaches, it’s time to sit back, grab your brackets, and start filling out the dance cards, because March Madness is underway.

No. 4S Furman vs. No. 5N Western Carolina
The first game of the 2003-2004 SoCon Tournament features some of the best young talent in the conference. Furman placed three players on the All-Freshman team including Freshman of the Year Quan Prowell. Prowell came off the bench to score 12 points and grab 6 rebounds in a 72-63 victory at Western on February 16th. Part of the key to the Paladins success was the ability to shut down playmaker and big-time scorer Kevin Martin. Martin finished with just 12 points and the Catamounts only shot 26.5&No. 37; in the first half. All-Conference player Maleye Ndoye led Furman with 19 points, including four from beyond the arc. The winner gets the unenviable task of taking on regular season champs, East Tennessee State.

No. 3N Elon vs. No. 6S The Citadel
What looked like a walk in the park a week ago for Elon has now turned into a sort of creepy nightmare. The Citadel have won two games in a row and are playing their best basketball of the season, keeping tight composure in the second half, instead of collapsing down the stretch. The Phoenix also have the question of health as Montell Watson, who scored a career-high 23 points in the triple OT victory over UNC Greensboro, has a sprained ankle that is keeping his status up in the air. Matt Nowlin, runner-up for Conference Freshman of the Year led all scorers with 20 points in the meeting between the two schools earlier this season. The Phoenix defense kept every starter for the Bulldogs in single digits. Only Dante Terry scored 10 points for the Citadel. Davidson meets the winner of the Phoenix and the Bulldogs.

No. 4N UNC Greensboro vs. No. 5S Wofford
Wofford has been playing like a demoralized team, having lost 10 of their last 12, including a game to The Citadel. Across the line, the Spartans from UNC Greensboro had won 5 of their last 7 before dropping a triple overtime contest to Elon. Jay Joseph looks to close out his record-setting career in style in the 2003-2004 SoCon tournament. He is complimented by Ronnie Burrell who scored 24 points against the Terriers in an 85-80 victory in early February. Howard Wilkerson led all players with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Wilkerson is the key to the Terriers attack, and a strong Spartans defense would provide fits for the Wofford offense. Georgia Southern awaits the victor of this contest.

No. 3S College of Charleston vs. No. 6N Appalachian State
The Cougars had a much-needed victory over ETSU last Saturday, but they also needed a Davidson loss to get a first round bye, an amenity that Charleston had grown quite used to in the conference tournament. Unfortunately for Tom Herrion’s bunch, the Wildcats were victorious and now they get the bye. What they find waiting for them is a hungry Appalachian State team that nearly defeated Charleston at John Kresse Arena earlier this season. Had it no been for a 13-6 Cougar run over the last four and a half minutes, the Mountaineers would’ve had the game. Charleston only shot 28&No. 37; in the first half, a number they nearly doubled in the second half en route to their comeback. If Charleston can get by the pesky Mountaineers, then they get a shot at Tennessee-Chattanooga.

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