Samford and Appalachian were projected to finish tied for fourth in the SoCon by the media prior to the season. On Saturday afternoon, they will be playing for a share of first place. Samford has been especially hot of late, winning three in a row. Samford took care of Western Carolina on Thursday, after sweeping the Low-Country portion of the schedule on the road with wins over The Citadel and Charleston. Samford seems to be a team that plays up and down to its competition. Their win over The Citadel was a four point win, over a team that has now lost twelve straight games. Their victory over Charleston was a major upset as far as Southern Conference basketball is concerned. Samford lost their only SoCon game at home to Chattanooga, a team Appalachian dominated, but could not finish off down the stretch.
For the season, Samford has been outscored, outshot, outrebounded and overall, just plain outhustled by their opponents all season long. Similar to Wofford, they are led by a duo of underclassmen who have provided the bulk of their scoring. Raijon Kelly has scored in double figures in every game this season. The sophomore was named to the 2012 SoCon all-freshman team last season. Kelly has played thirty minutes or more in every game this season, but has been in a shooting slump of late. Kelly is shooting 42.4% from the floor this season, but has only made 12/40 (30%) his last three games. Kelly has been off after exploding for 27 points and six made three pointers, both season highs, against Chattanooga. Tim Williams is a freshman forward who comes in a 6’8″ and 210 pounds. Williams averages 14.4 points per game and 7.3 rebounds. Williams averages 5.5 field goals made per game. Samford features a rather short bench, as only six players have played in every game this season.
This a big game for Appalachian from a mental standpoint. Can the Mountaineers erase the nightmare that was the Chattanooga game? Even though Appalachian thoroughly dominated the Mocs for most of the game, those memories are all but forgotten. Appalachian has fared well in Alabama since Samford has joined the conference. In four games on the road, Appalachian is 3-1 at Samford, with three straight wins. Jason Capel is 3-1 all time against Samford, with the only loss coming last year in Boone in a one point game.
Five Mountaineers continue to average in double figures. The play of Tevin Baskin of late has been a big boost on both ends of the court. Mike Neal has been great since his return to the team, although Neal had a rough outing on Thursday against Chattanooga. If Tab Hamilton can continue to shoot well, this Appalachian team will be on the rise, and they can hopefully forget about “The Chatty Collapse”
The Mountaineers opened as 1.5 point favorite against Samford on Saturday morning, and since, the line has ballooned to 3; Appalachian still considered a favorite. This has been an interesting trend this season. Appalachian has done well against the spread this season, and it has drawn the interest from gamblers. We have never seen a line move as much as it has this season. In the past, maybe one or two games, sees a line move during the course of an entire season. Now, it is almost a guarantee that the line will move. We liked the Mountaineers this morning at 1.5, which means you are basically picking a winner. Three points makes things a little more interesting. We are going to give Appalachian a small benefit of the doubt. They had a rough half hour on Thursday, but everything had been rosy for most of the month. We’ll stick behind Appalachian and the points today, but will gladly take a ATS loss and straight up win.
Samford used its best game of the season to edge by Appalachian 72-68 on Saturday evening. The Bulldogs ripped the nets all night long, en route to shooting 54.5% for the game. Every time Appalachian made a push, Samford would put up another clutch shot. Appalachian was fortunate to only be down five points at halftime after Samford shot 63% in the first half. Appalachian remained in the game with eight made free throws in the first half and five three pointers.
Appalachian had several chances in the second half to take the lead or tie the game. In all, there were eighteen opportunities the Mountaineers had in the second half, where they were down by one possession, three points or fewer, and either turned the ball over, missed free throws, dunks or layups. Six such times in the second half, the Mountaineers were in the same situation only down one point. The Mountaineers were 3/8 from the free throw line in the second half. Would have been nice to have one or two of those back, to at least make the game a little more in reach down the stretch. However, this game did not boil down to what Appalachian did not do, but more of what Samford did. They hit every shot they needed to, and took care of the basketball by only committing nine turnovers. In college basketball, if you turn the ball over less than ten times and shoot over 50% from the field, you are going to win a lot of basketball games. We can manage a loss like this. The other team played lights out, but the sting of Thursday and “The Chatty Collapse” are still fresh in the minds of Mountaineer fans.
The Mountaineers have now fallen short of the spread in two straight games, moving them to 10-2 on the year, and our picks are now 9-3. It appears the conference schedule has now evened out to an extent. Appalachian has now played all of its Northern division opponents once. Wins over Elon and Greensboro and losses to Chattanooga, Samford and Western Carolina. Their record stands at 2-3 in the North, and quite simply, 2-0 at home and 0-3 on the road. The Mountaineers really should be 4-2 in conference play, but they will have to steal another game down the stretch to contend in the North.
When you consider the SoCon changed the seeding rules for the conference tournament, finishing second in the division is not good enough anymore. The Mountaineers are now two games behind first place Samford. The race for the third and fourth seeds in the tournament will be interesting down the stretch. I wonder if the conference had the smarts to create an inter-division tiebreaker formula with an unbalanced schedule for those coveted third and fourth seeds.
Currently if the tourney started today, this is how the seeds would be distributed. Interesting that the reason the SoCon implemented the new seeding porcess was so teams in the South, namely Wofford, would not finish with a 12-6 league record and be relegated to playing in the first round of the tournament. And now, the plan has backfired and three North teams hold down the top four spots.
W. Carolina 5-2