Ready or not, Appalachian will begin its conference schedule on Saturday afternoon in Cullowhee against hated rival Western Carolina. The Mountaineers are still looking for their first Division I win of the season and would love nothing more than to get it against Western. The Catamounts (3-6, 1-0) have had an interesting season thus far, knocking off Furman in their conference opener, but dropping games to the likes of UNC-Asheville and Austin Peay. Western also has wins over Mars Hill, which doesn’t count, and Howard. The teams Western has defeated has a combined 3-16 record. Western’s opponents have beaten St. Andrews, Montreat, and American. So, if you think Appalachian has had a tough season, consider, Western Carolina because their season does not look too much better.
This will be Western’s first home game since beating Mars Hill on November 11th, and are coming off a week of significant travel. The trip from Cullowhee to Eastern Kentucky is not an easy drive, and the Catamounts visited Illinois earlier this week. Western gave The Illini a heck of a battle, very similar to the one Appalachian gave to Virginia Tech a couple weeks ago. Both games were tied late before the schools from power conferences went on late runs to pull away. Both teams covered near twenty point spreads.
Western is led by three double digit scorers in Trey Sumler, Tawaski King & Tom Tankelewicz. Sumler leads all scorers at 17.6 points per game and is eight points away from his 1,000th career point. Sumler has a quick dribble and is second on the team with seventeen three pointers. King is an undersized post player who takes up a lot of space. Although he is listed at 6’8″ and 245 lbs, I am willing to bet he is more like 6’7″ 255. King is scoring 14.1 points per game and pulling down 5.5 rebounds per game, but is a great player to target late in games at the free throw line. Tankelwicz is a transfer from Charleston Southern who leads the team in three pointers with twenty-five. This will be Tankelwicz’s first game against the Mountaineers.
As a team, Western remarkably shoots the same percentage from the field as they allow at 45%. Where the Catamounts get in trouble is that they have allowed more made free throws made (153) by their opponents than they have attempted themselves (143). Even worse, Western’s opponents are shooting 8% better at the free throw line, but that could be attributed to the Catamounts eight road games this season.
Appalachian is on a six game slide although the appearance is that this team is coming together a little bit. Last weekend at Missouri was only a sixteen point loss, but the Mountaineers were never in it and I believe it was anomaly compared to how they have played recently. Appalachian should be amped for their rivals, but have lost two straight in Cullowhee. Jay Canty leads the Mountaineers with 18.1 points per game and is fresh off of SoCon Player of the week honor for his efforts against Missouri and Duquesne. Canty adds 6.3 rebounds and 3,2 assists per game. The key for the Mountaineers will be to defend the perimeter while also getting back in transition. Appalachian has allowed right at 50% shooting from their opponents for the season. Western is not a great rebounding team, so Appalachian will need to take advantage on the offensive glass.
As we mentioned several times, we were expecting a spread of somewhere between 7 and 9 points in favor of Western Carolina. This morning, Western was a 8.5 point favorite, and in less than four hours, the line jumped to 10 points for the Catamounts. If we follow our trends from the past, Appalachian has been a really good team on the road as double digit underdogs. I imagine this line will drop back down to 9.5 points before all is said and done. Our picks are 3-1 on the season, and Appalachian has covered four straight road games. Appalachian was 2-1 was last year as a double digit dog, and was never a double digit dog in conference play. Western Carolina has covered three striaght, but never as a double digit favorite. I think this is an easy pick for the Mountaineers.
After jumping out to a ten point lead at haftime, Appalachian crumbled down the stretch with a lack of offense and allowed Western Carolina to escape with a six point conference win. It was the first time in the thirty year history of the Ramsey Center that Western beat Appalachian three consecutive times. The Mountaineers have now lost seven straight games. The Mountaineers shot 33% in the second half, and 38% for the game.
The game was well played from a possession standpoint. The two teams combined for only 17 turnovers, with neither having a real advantage. In college basketball, that is almost unheard of. The teams hit the exact same number of free throws, but Appalachian had four more opportunities. The Mountaineers finished 17-28, good enough for 60%.
Jay Canty was the Mountaineers leading scorer for the fifth time this season and fourth time in his last five games. Canty finished with 22 points and 8 rebounds while playing all forty minutes. Nathan Healy 15 points and 9 rebounds, four on the offensive end. Jamaal Trice continues to struggle, as he scored five points in twenty five minutes on 2/11 shooting, 1/6 behind the arc.
Despite the Mountaineers losing for the seventh straight games, Appalachian continues to boggle the minds of the bookkeepers in Vegas. Appalachian has now covered for its fifth straight game as a team, and our correct pick moves us to 4-1 on the season. We must enjoy the success while we have it, because the makeup of this team will change significantly when Mike Neal returns, and the Mountaineers play some home games. Next up is Missouri-Kansas City, which has an awesome mascot. The Roos will be considered favorties, but without a common opponent, picking this game will be tough. I am expecting an 11-13 point spread, obviously in favor of UMKC.