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Southern Conference Finals Preview

March 11, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments

Southern Conference Finals Preview

Preview by Paul Oren

No. 1N East Tennessee State vs. No. 2 N Chattanooga
It’s fitting that the oldest NCAA conference tournament is going to be the first conference tournament to hold their championship game and thus have the first team to get their dance card punched, and it’s fitting that the two teams, ETSU and UTC, will be meeting in the finals for the 5th time in the last 24 years, and the second time in as many seasons.

This championship game has a different feel from last season’s, and it’s mainly for matters off the court. Chattanooga accepted a move into the North Division this season to help the transition of Elon coming into the league and VMI exiting. ETSU is sort of a “lame-duck” champion, as they do not even belong in the SoCon. After dropping their football program, they were given an extension to find a new conference, and will join the Atlantic Sun in the 2005-2006 season.

On the court, this game has all the makings of a classic. The teams met twice this season, with the Buccaneers winning both contests, en route to a 15-1 regular season. The first game was an 82-80 thriller at UTC that was won when SoCon Player of the Year Zakee Wadood blocked the game-winning shot and came up with a steal to secure the victory. That victory gave ETSU the North Division championship. Two weeks later, Tim Smith’s 27 points led the Bucs to an 84-72 victory in the final home game for seniors Wadood and Jerald Fields.

The Mocs have had a tougher road in the tournament so far. Their quarterfinals match-up was against perennial league favorite, College of Charleston. They overcame a 14-point deficit to advance to the Semi’s, where they did themselves one step better and overcame a 19-point deficit to defeat Georgia Southern. Ashley Champion had led the way for his squad, averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds a game in the tournament.

ETSU was able to survive a scare from Furman in the quarterfinals and then overcome foul trouble and an injury to defeat Davidson in the semi’s. The foul trouble from Friday’s game may come as a blessing in disguise.

In a tournament where you are playing three games in three days, by the third day, the legs start to go. Minutes become something that the coaches need to take a look at, and with Wadood being saddled with foul trouble in the semi-final victory, he only played 24 minutes. On the other side of that, Champion played all 40 minutes in their quarterfinal victory, and then played 32 minutes in Friday night’s overtime victory. With the game going into overtime, that leaves UTC will approximately 14 hours of turn around time from one game to the next. 14 hours to prepare for the biggest game of their careers. They call it March Madness for a reason.

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