2018 Southern Conference Basketball Tournament Odds and Expert Predictions
At the mid-major level, the conference tournaments are the one shot that teams have at earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. And for seniors, the conference tournament has the dual pressure of being potentially the end of players' careers. Combine those stakes, and every March you get some of the most emotional situations in college sports.
This year the Southern Conference features some of the most experienced teams in the country. Mercer (No. 11), Samford (No. 17), East Tennessee State (No. 22), and Furman (No. 59) are among the nation's most seasoned squads, and league favorite UNC-Greensboro has three senior starters of their own. That is a lot of guys playing to extend their careers, and it should make the SoCon tournament one of the most emotionally-charged of the season.
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The 2018 Southern Conference Tournament will take place from Friday, March 2, and conclude on Monday, March 5. The winner earns an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament, and the championship will take place in Asheville, N.C. Here is Doc's Sports 2018 Southern Conference preview and predictions, with my own projected odds:
The Favorite: UNC-Greensboro (+110)
Greensboro came up short in the SoCon championship game last year. They have three starters and five of their top seven players back from that squad and will see if they can avenge that disappointment this year. Greensboro is one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing just 63 points per game. The Spartans have superseded their lofty preseason expectations, going 17-7 against the spread while racking up 24 wins, and as long as they don't dry up from 3-point range they should find themselves back in the title game.
The Contender: East Tennessee State (+200)
ETSU has to be considered one of the biggest overachievers of any mid-major team in the country. They lost their top four players from last year's squad and never missed a beat, holding on to first place in the league until a three-game losing streak to close the regular season dropped them to the No. 2 seed. Like Greensboro, the Mocs get it done with defense. And like UNC-G they have been great at the window, going 17-10 ATS. I expect this senior-laden group to snap out of their late-season swoon and make another run here.
The Dark Horse: Furman (+350)
This Paladins doesn't boast the overall athleticism of ETSU or the revenge motivation of UNC-G. But Furman is definitely on par with the top two seeds. Furman is a Top 100 defensive team, similar to their rivals, but they are also a Top 60 offensive squad with four different players averaging at least 11 points per game. They are talented and experienced, and they just went on the road and beat their potential semifinal matchup, ETSU, on the road last Sunday. This team isn't going to go out without throwing some punches.
Early Round Matchup To Watch:
No. 4 Mercer (-5) vs. No. 5 Wofford (2:30 p.m., Saturday, March 3)
Mercer is the hottest team in the league heading into the tournament, winning eight straight games. Their last win? That came over Wofford, 69-68, on Sunday in a back-and-forth game where both teams held the lead in the final 20 seconds. Mercer has been soldiering on without their best player, senior Ria'n Holland, and has four seniors that are desperate for a title. But it is always tough to beat a team three times in one year, and Wofford - a team that upset North Carolina in Chapel Hill in December - will be ready to grind in a game that should come down to the last 30 seconds again.
Southern Conference Tournament Predictions: I want to say that Greensboro and East Tennessee will have a rematch of last year's outstanding final. But I don't think it is going to happen. I am going to call for an upset in the semifinals, and right now I feel like the value is on the No. 3-No. 5 seeds. Furman can defend as well as the top two seeds, but they are more efficient offensively -- that will pay dividends. I also think that either Mercer or Wofford is going to have a lot of momentum coming out of their game, and they should take UNC-G to the limit. This tournament is stacked with accomplished seniors and should be one of the wildest in the country. So I will call for an upset and neither of the top two seeds will earn the automatic bid.
Robert Ferringo is a member of the Basketball Writer's Association of America and a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the best college basketball handicappers in the country and has posted 10 of 11 winning seasons. He is looking for a monster March run and will have an 8-Unit Conference Tournament Game of the Year next week. You can sign up for his college basketball picks and get more information here .
Read more articles by Robert Ferringo
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