The hottest team in the Southern Conference will face the “western” road trip this weekend when they play Chattanooga on Thursday and Samford on Saturday. First up is the Chattanooga Mocs (7-10, 2-2), who are returning from a four game road trip. The Mocs were 2-2 on the road trip, falling to Georgia Tech and Charleston while defeating Samford and The Citadel. If the Mocs have any true quality wins on the season, you can count the High Point team that Appalachian could not beat on their own home floor and most recently, a surprising Samford team that is 3-1 in SoCon play. The Mocs are a streaky team,with most of their wins coming with single digit margins, while their defeats are by double figures.
This is a big game for both Chattanooga and Appalachian. Not only does the game feature North Division opponents, which we knew mean so much as far as tiebreakers are concerned for the SoCon Tournament, but Appalachian currently holds a one game lead in the standings over Chattanooga. Appalachian (7-8, 3-1) is a half game out of first place behind Western Carolina who has one more win. Although Chattanooga is only a game out of second place in the North, they are only a half game out of the cellar in front of Greensboro, who defeated Wofford on Wednesday.
Chattanooga is led by a man named Z Mason, who leads the team in scoring (13.2)s and rebounding (7.1). Backing up Mason is Gee McGhee (9.6) and Ronrico White (9.4). Without a doubt, Chattanooga gets the award for having the all name team in the SoCon. I doubt there is another trio in the conference with such unique and repetitive names. As a team, Chattanooga shoots poorly from every area on the floor. Their three point shooting is last in the conference at 29.6%, while their field goal shooting stands at 41%, barely good enough for 10th in the twelve team SoCon. The Mocs are 11th in the conference shooting free throws at 65.6%.
In a matter of a few days, Appalachian has five players averaging double figures on the season: Jay Canty 15.3, Nathan Healy 14.3, Mike Neal 10.6, Tevin Baskin 10.3, and Tab Hamilton 10.2. The return of Mike Neal has been a huge lift. His absence at the beginning of the season was extremely undervalued. Neal has been a decent distributor, while adding the ability to get to the rim when needed. Tevin Baskin has also played better, becoming a valuable sixth man that can come off the bench and play thirty minutes if needed. Nathan Healy has been especially solid, creating mismatches on the perimeter for just about every one who defends him. Appalachian has started slow the last couple games, but has finished the first half of those games very strongly and carried it over into the second half to close out wins.
We are having a hard time not gushing over the Mountaineers and their unbelievable covers streak that have going this season. Appalachian is the only team that is perfect against the spread in the NCAA with a minimum of ten lines games at 10-0. On Tuesday, we hypothesized the spread for Thursday, and noted that a pick’em was possible. The first line we have seen is Appalachian being favored by one point. That is just about as good as a guess you can ask for. I would not be surprised if the line snuck up toward to -2 for Appalachian tomorrow. At this point, our hands are tied, and we are going to stick with Appalachian until it burns us. We are 9-1 this season, with our only miss coming in the opening game against East Carolina.
7:05 AM UPDATE: Line opened as a pick’em on our regular book. App stills looks solid here.
12:43 PM UPDATE: Line is now spotting the Mountaineers two points. Appalachian actually plays well at Chattanooga. I do not understand the movement. Everyone must be expecting Appalachian to lose eventually.
For thirty-four minutes, Appalachian looked like the team Mountaineers fans had seen for close to a month. Whatever happened in the final six minutes would be the most embarrassing moments to date this season if it were not for an infamous free throw attempt, which has only garnered 17.9 million YouTube hits. The Mountaineers managed to lose a nineteen point lead in the final 6:36 of the game. Chattanooga scored fifteen points in the first thirteen minutes and change of the second half, which is just over a point a minute. In the final third of the second half, the Mocs scored 33 points. They doubled their point total in the second half, in only half the time. This was an utter collapse of epic proportions.
Once Appalachian gained the nineteen point lead, at the 6:36 mark of the second half, the Mountaineers only grabbed one rebound for the rest of regulation. That was a rebound by Nathan Healy with 5:56 to play. Over the same period of time, the final 6:36 of regulation, Chattanooga grabbed 11 rebounds, six offensive and five defensive. Those six offensive rebounds led to ten second chance points for the Mocs. Ten of their twelve second half points came in the final 6:36. That is inexcusable.
Four Mountaineers scored in double figures. Most importantly, Tab Hamilton scored 21 points and may have broken out of his slump. Although the Roundhouse has been a horror house for Appalachian as a team over the years, it has been a place where Mountaineer shooting guards have had some of their best games. Nathan Cranford hit ten three pointers in a game there in 2007, and Noah Brown hit nine threes in a game in Chattanooga in 2004. Hamilton hit five threes on the night. Nathan Healy added 22 points and 10 rebounds. Jay Canty scored 19 points and Tevin Baskin scored 11 with 7 rebounds.
For the first time all season, Appalachian lost against the spread. The line closed at +2, and of course the the Mountaineers (10-1 ATS) lost by three in overtime. We are not quite sure if this collapse was an anomaly, or a sign of things to come. This was a game that Appalachian had in hand, and literally gave it away. Our record falls to 9-2 on the year. This one stung, which is also why we needed a day to “cool off” before writing about it. Appalachian should still be favored over Samford on Saturday evening, but it will not be by many points. Every home team in the SoCon won on Thursday night, including Davidson and Western Carolina losing on the road in very winnable games.