The Citadel (6-23) vs. Western Carolina (14-17)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, March 2, 2:00 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: U.S. Cellular Center (7,654) -- Asheville, North Carolina. Television: SoCon Sports Network. Home Record: The Citadel 4-10, WCU 9-4. Away Record: The Citadel 1-12, WCU 4-12. Neutral Record: The Citadel 1-1, WCU 1-1. Conference Record: The Citadel 3-15, WCU 8-10. Series Record: The Citadel leads, 34-25.
GAME NOTES: The 2012 Southern Conference Tournament is set to begin today at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina, and the second of four first-round games pits the third-seeded Western Carolina Catamounts against the sixth-seeded Citadel Bulldogs.
Western Carolina claimed a 70-53 victory over The Citadel on Feb. 16, the only regular-season meeting between these two teams. That outcome also snapped the Catamounts' five-game skid in the head-to-head series, which The Citadel still leads, 34-25. The winner will advance to face Wofford, the No. 2 seed from the South Division, on Saturday afternoon.
The Citadel spent most of the season as the league's doormat, posting only six wins overall and three in league play. But two of those SoCon victories came in back-to-back games last week, snapping an 11-game slide and bringing some badly needed good vibes into the locker room. The euphoria was short-lived, however, as the Bulldogs lost their regular-season finale to the College of Charleston last Saturday, 55-47. The Citadel has only advanced to the championship round of this tourney once, in 1959, and owns an 11-58 all-time record in the event.
For Western Carolina, that recent triumph over The Citadel kicked off the team's current four-game win streak, which happens to be the longest of any SoCon team entering the tournament. Prior to their current stretch, the Catamounts had posted only one win in their previous eight contests. But if the same WCU team from the last two weeks shows up in Asheville, it could spell trouble for the rest of the field.
In the Bulldogs' regular season-ending loss to Charleston, Mike Groselle recorded his 22nd career double-double with a game-high 14 points and 16 rebounds, tying Regan Truesdale's school record. But as has been the case for the team throughout the season, Groselle's strong play in the paint was not enough to earn a victory. The big man is shooting a rock-solid 59.2 percent from the floor while leading the conference in rebounding (9.7 rpg) and ranking second in scoring (16.6 ppg). However, he is also the only Bulldog averaging double figures and can expect to draw plenty of defensive attention when he gets the ball in the low post. Still, the team has shown flashes of late. In last Saturday's win at Chattanooga, the Bulldogs knocked down 10- of-21 three-pointers (.476) while holding the Mocs to 32 percent shooting from the floor. They have maintained that defensive intensity in the two subsequent games, holding Appalachian State to 19 first-half points and only 51 for the game in last Wednesday's victory. Then, against Charleston last weekend, they limited the Cougars to 55 points and a 3-of-19 showing from beyond the arc, while Groselle keyed a 37-26 rebounding advantage with his work in the paint. If the Bulldogs hope to avoid another first-round exit, they'll need to keep up that defensive pressure.
The Catamounts are by no means an offensive powerhouse, as they are shooting just 41.7 percent as a team. Defensively, they have allowed foes to connect on 45.2 percent of their total shots while averaging 70.1 ppg. Four players are netting double figures, led by Harouna Mutombo with 13.3 ppg to go along with 5.9 rpg. Also averaging double figures are Trey Sumler (12.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg), Keaton Cole (12.3 ppg) and Brandon Boggs (10.4 ppg, 4.0 rpg). Cole is among the nation's top sharpshooters, having knocked down a conference-best 102 three-pointers on the year (3.3 per game) at a 42 percent clip. He has accounted for nearly half of the team's treys this season. Cole is far and away the team's most efficient shooter and figures to command plenty of attention along the perimeter. But defending WCU won't be quite as easy as simply shadowing Cole wherever he goes, not with the team increasing its scoring total in each of the last five games (58, 66, 70, 78, 79, 83). The Catamounts, who have just one SoCon Tournament title to their credit (1996), will no doubt be looking to make up for how last year's campaign ended. The 2010-11 squad tied with Chattanooga for the top spot in the North, only to fall to Wofford in the semifinals.
The Citadel has shown some signs of life after a very trying season. But with only one player pulling most of the weight, the Bulldogs face an uphill battle to advance in this tournament.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Carolina 72, The Citadel 62
03/02 10:34:14 ET