It's tournament time!
With all eyes on the conference tournaments starting this week, here's a look at top contenders for the Southern Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
- Key question: The Spartans can be downright inhospitable in the paint. Who in the SoCon can generate enough paint points to eliminate UNCG?
- Key players: The Spartans have four players averaging between 4.5-6.5 rebounds. including James Dickey and RJ White (12.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game). Both average one block per game to provide inside intimidation. Francis Alonso is their leading scorer (14.9).
- Record: 23-8, 14-4 SoCon (No. 1 seed).
- SoCon tournament opener: Saturday vs. Friday's Western Carolina-The Citadel winner.
- NCAA ranks: Francis Alonso No. 3 in 3-point shooting (47.8%).
- SoCon ranks: No. 3 in scoring defense (68.2) and scoring margin (6.7).
- Key question: Will the 1-2 punch of Devin Sibley and Kris Acox deliver Niko Medved and his Paladins to the NCAA Tournament?
- Key players: Sibley is a consistent scorer (17.3) and Acox is a solid defender and rebounder (7.3). They lead a Paladins team with five scorers who shoot 45% or better from the floor.
- Record: 21-10, 14-4 (No. 2 seed).
- SoCon tournament opener: Saturday vs. Friday's Samford-VMI winner.
- NCAA ranks: Kris Acox 13th in field-goal shooting (62.4%).
- SoCon ranks: No. 1 in 3-point defense (31.2%) and scoring defense (66.3); No. 2 in field-goal shooting (48.2%) and scoring margin (8.5).
EAST TENNESSEE STATE
- Key question: This is a team that can score and rebound. Can anyone match their production?
- Key players: T.J. Comer (18.6) can score with the best in the SoCon and Desonta Bradford is a solid second fiddle (10.4 points and 4.0 assists per game).
- Record: 24-7, 14-4 SoCon (No. 3 seed).
- Wins vs. Power 5 & Big East: Beat Mississippi State, 67-65.
- SoCon tournament opener: Saturday vs. No. 6 seed Mercer.
- NCAA ranks: No. 8 in field-goal shooting (49.6%) and No. 11 in steals (8.6).
- SoCon ranks: No. 1 in scoring margin (10.9), 3-point shooting (49.3%); No. 2 in scoring offense (80.1), field-goal defense (41.8%), steals (8.6), rebound margin (4.8) and blocks (4.4).
- Key question: Can the Mocs' disruptive defense rattle opponents enough to win the SoCon championship?
- Key players: Justin Tuoyo can score (13.6, rebound (7.6) and intimidate (3.0 blocks per game). Tre’ McLean can score (13.6) and defend (1.7 steals per game). This is a fun team to watch!
- Record: 19-11, 10-8 SoCon (No. 4 seed).
- Wins vs. Power 5 & Big East: Beat Tennessee, 82-69.
- SoCon tournament opener: Saturday vs. No. 5 seed Wofford.
- NCAA ranks: Justin Tuoyo T4 in blocked shots (3.0).
- SoCon ranks: No. 1 in blocked shots (4.7); No. 2 in turnover margin (1.77).
- Key question: The Terriers are well coached and led by Eric Garcia. Who can win the chess match with head coach Mike Young and outfox the veteran point guard Garcia?
- Key players: Garcia makes it all go as a double-figure scorer (14.1) and great passer (6.7 assists per game, first in the SoCon). Fletcher Magee is a legit scorer (18.3) who can drop 20 points any night. Cameron Jackson and Ryan Sawvell are both solid rebounding threats.
- Record: 15-6, 10-8 SoCon (No. 5 seed).
- SoCon tournament opener: Saturday vs. No. 4 seed Chattanooga.
- NCAA ranks: Eric Garcia No. 3 in assist/turnover ration (4.10), T5 in assists (6.7) and No. 6 in free-throw shooting (91.3%); Garcia and Fletcher McGee T10 in 3-pointers made (3.32); Wofford T6 in free-throw shooting (77.8%) and No. 12 in 3-point shooting (40.3 %).
- SoCon ranks: No. 1 in free-throw shooting (77.8%) and assist/turnover ratio (1.4); No. 2 in 3-point shooting (40.3% and 9.5 made per game) and assists (16.9).
Other national leaders
- Individual: Christen Cunningham, Samford — 10th in assists (6.3).
- Team: The Citadel — No. 2 in scoring offense (91.1) and forced turnovers (17.9), No. 3 in 3-pointers made (12.1), T5 in steals (9.5), No. 8 in offensive rebounds (13.97), T13 in turnover margin (3.5) and T14 in assists (17.1APG); Mercer — T12 in free-throw shooting (77.2%); Samford — T14 in 3-point shooting (40.2%).
- No. 8 Western Carolina vs. No. 9 The Citadel, 5 p.m. ET
- No. 7 Samford vs. No. 10 VMI, 7:30 p.m. ET
- No. 1 UNCG vs. Western Carolina-The Citadel winner, noon ET
- No. 4 Chattanooga vs. No. 5 Wofford, 2:30 p.m. ET
- No. 2 Furman vs. Samford-VMI winner, 6 p.m. ET
- No. 3 ETSU vs. No. 6 Mercer, 8:30 p.m. ET
- Semifinals: 5 and 7:30 p.m. ET
- Championship: 7 p.m. ET
Projected automatic bid
Mark Adams is ASN's lead basketball analyst. Follow him on Twitter at @EnthusiAdams.