By next week, we will be knee-deep in “March Madness”. The NCAA Tournament field will not be set up yet, but a few conferences will crown a champion this weekend, and they include the Southern Conference. In 2013, the SoCon Tournament returns to Asheville, North Carolina; the site of a lot of the Chattanooga Mocs past post-season success. The Davidson Wildcats are the solid favorite for this year’s event, but don’t engrave the tournament trophy just yet.
Davidson ( 23-7), is one of three league teams with 20 or more wins this season. Elon, (20-10) and The College of Charleston (22-9) are the other two. Those three teams however, are the only league schools with winning overall records. Only one other school, North Division runner-up Appalachian State, has a winning league record (10-8). Davidson is far and away, the most talented team in the league, but if the Wildcats slip up just once, one of those other three teams will be ready to pounce.
If the Wildcats fail to win the SoCon Tournament, The College of Charleston gets my nod as the choice to take the title, and if I had to choose one real surprise team right now, I would take Appalachian State. As for the Mocs, they are certainly a better team than last year’s group, but Coach John Shulman has simply too much youth to challenge for the title this year.
Davidson is going through a stretch of success that is only equaled by UTC and perhaps East Tennessee State in the 1980s through the 1990s. Wildcats’ Coach Bob McKillop is the most successful coach in Southern Conference history, and he no longer has to rebuild his program; he simply reloads. To win the 2013 tournament title, however, Davidson must play well. The College of Charleston, playing in its final season as a SoCon member, would like nothing more than to win one last tourney crown.
There have been some great games in this tournament, played in Asheville. In my humble opinion, the two greatest games both involved UTC and Marshall. In 1984, the Mocs faced the Thundering Herd in the Championship game. UTC was a three-time defending tournament champ, and Marshall had won the regular season crown under new head coach Rick Huckaby. Marshall claimed a triple-overtime win, sending Coach Murray Arnold’s Mocs to the NIT. In 1988, UTC got revenge as the Mocs upset the top-seeded Thundering Herd in the semi-finals. Lance Fulse sank some clutch free-throws at the end, sealing a big upset win, and sending Mocs’ Coach Mack McCarthy to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
Asheville has always been a fun place to go for a post-season basketball tournament. Not as much fun as say, Charleston, South Carolina but the people in Asheville always seemed to embrace the nation’s oldest college basketball tournament more than any other city.
As for the women’s bracket, Coach Wes Moore’s Lady Mocs are the clear cut favorite to win the tournament title to go along with their regular season crown. UTC is an outstanding 26-3 overall, and that includes a season opening win over SEC Champ Tennessee. The Lady Mocs are also 17-1 in league play and are big favorites to make a return to the “Big Dance.” If they fail to win the tournament, they have a much better chance to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament than Davidson, should the Wildcats falter in the men’s bracket.
March Madness is always a fun time of year and it runs for almost an entire month. A ton of thrills, last second shots, upsets and much more are awaiting us….and it all begins Friday.
Randy Smith has been covering sports in Tennessee for the last 43 years. After leaving WRCB-TV in 2009, he has continued his broadcasting career as a free-lance play-by-play announcer. He is also an author and is a media concepts teacher at Brainerd High School in Chattanooga. He is also the Head Softball Coach at Brainerd. Randy Smith's career has included a 17-year stint as scoreboard host and pre-game talk show host on the widely regarded "Vol Network". He has also done play by play of more than 500 college football, basketball, baseball and softball games on ESPN, ESPN2, Fox Sports, CSS and Tennessee Pay Per View telecasts. He was selected as "Tennessee's Best Sports Talk Show Host" in 1998 by the Associated Press. He has won other major awards including, "Best Sports Story" in Tennessee and his "Friday Night Football" shows on WRCB-TV twice won "Best Sports Talk Show In Tennessee" awards. He has also been the host of "Inside Lee University Basketball" on CSS for the past 11 years. He was the first television broadcaster to ever be elected to the "Greater Chattanooga Area Sports Hall of Fame", in 2003. Randy and his wife, Shelia, reside in Hixson. They have two married children (Christi and Chris Perry; Davey and Alison Smith). They also have three grandchildren (Coleman, Boone, and DellaMae).