As a one-bid league, the Southern Conference is an afterthought in the grand scheme of March Madness.
Both the men’s and women’s tournaments feature a single Southern Conference team, the conference tournament champions.
For the men, the 15th-seeded Wofford College Terriers used a late-season surge and run through the SoCon tournament to claim the NCAA bid. The women’s team from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga reeled off a combined 21-0 record in the Southern Conference regular season and tournament. Even a perfect conference season could only merit the Mocs an 11 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Does either team have a shot at pulling a first-round upset? Read on.
(15) Wofford College vs. (2) University of Michigan, Thursday, 7:10 p.m., CBS
First off, Wofford isn’t supposed to be here. Throughout the offseason and early season, prognosticators and so-called experts had Elon University winning the Southern Conference. Once conference play began, Davidson College appeared in a league of its own. The Wildcats went 15-1 in conference play, with their lone loss coming in overtime against Elon. Then, Western Carolina University knocked out Elon and Davidson from the SoCon tournament in consecutive days. All of a sudden, Wofford only had to knock off WCU and the Terriers were going dancing. And that they did.
Wofford thrives on two facets of the game — defense and hot 3-point shooting. Wofford leads the Southern Conference by only allowing 62.4 points per game. Since Jan. 20, the Terriers have only allowed more than 65 points once — a 73-71 loss to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro March 1. Michigan is a Big Ten Conference team that likes to score and play up-tempo, a rarity in that league. It should be noted that in all four of the Wolverines’ Big Ten losses this season, they did not eclipse 70 points. Fourteen of 17 Wolverine conference wins saw Michigan get over the 70-point mark. See what I’m getting at here? When Michigan is held in check by an opponent, the Wolverines fall. Therefore, the biggest key for Wofford to shock the world is to play its natural game — control the tempo and force Michigan into a low-scoring game.
The second aspect that needs to go right for Wofford is that the 3-point shots need to fall. Opponents only shoot 25.8 percent from behind the arc against Michigan, so that is a tall task for Wofford. Freshman guard Eric Garcia is a 47.3 percent 3-point shooter and has hit three or more 3s in a game six times this season.
Wofford faces a difficult challenge, but stout defense and consistent 3-point shooting will at least help the Terriers give Michigan a run for its money.
Upset chance: 10 percent
(11) University of Tennessee at Chattanooga vs. (6) Syracuse University, Saturday, 1:30 p.m., ESPN2
It has been well documented how the Mocs rolled through the SoCon, but how does Chattanooga stack up on the big stage? Chattanooga will face Syracuse, a team that only reached the quarterfinals of the deep Atlantic Coast Conference yet still pulled out a No. 6 seed.
Syracuse likes to do one thing that Chattanooga has not seen much of this season: score early and score often. The Orange averages 73.5 points per game, more than three points higher than the Mocs, who led the Southern Conference. Syracuse will certainly not have the mental roadblock of facing Chattanooga that SoCon teams have to deal with. For once, the Mocs are an underdog, a position they have not played in very often this season.
Chattanooga likes to play physically, and has a presence in the paint thanks to senior forwards Taylor Hall and Ashlen Dewart. The Mocs do have a weakness in perimeter defending, and Syracuse likes to shoot the three, average 7.5 treys per game.
The biggest key for Chattanooga is to get physical and get the ball into the lane. If the Mocs have a high shooting percentage by hitting chip shots all day, they can hang with the Orange.
Upset chance: 30 percent