Wofford (13-8, 6-3 in Southern Conference) at College of Charleston (12-8, 4-5 in Southern Conference), 3 p.m.
In what was supposed to be a blockbuster matchup and a rematch of the 2011 Southern Conference Tournament title game, the game now takes a different twist with the medical leave of absence taken by legendary College of Charleston head coach Bobby Cremins, which was announced Friday.
Cremins, who took over the College of Charleston program in 2006-07, has compiled a 125-68 record in six seasons, leading the Cougars to league title games in 2007, '09 and '11. The Cougars lost the 2007 title game to Davidson (72-65), while dropping the '09 title game to Chattanooga (80-69) and the '11 game to Wofford (77-67).
With Cremins stepping aside for an indefinite amount of time, Mark Byington will take over. He inherits a team that is licking its woundst, having lost three straight and eight of its last 10 games. The latest loss was particularly disheartening, as C of C lost to a Furman team it beat by 22 points just a few weeks ago. It was C of C's first loss to the Paladins on its home floor since 1953.
The Cougars will face a particularly tall task on Saturday afternoon when they host Wofford at TD Arena. Most remember the Terriers-Cougars matchup from last season's season Southern Conference Tournament title game, which saw the Terriers take a 77-67 win to end the NCAA dreams of Cremins and star guard Andrew Goudelock.
The Cougars did take both regular-season meetings between the two last season, including a 79-54 regular-season rout at the TD Arena. That win allowed the Cougars and Cremins to win the South Division. And with the league's best record of the two division winners, C of C garnered an automatic invitation to the National Invitational Tournament.
Saturday afternoon's meeting between the Cougars and Terriers will mark the129th renewal of the Palmetto State rivalry, with Wofford holding a 75-53 all-time series edge. C of C has won six of the last 10 meetings between the two South Division foes.
The Cougars meet a Wofford team that was supposed to be rebuilding this season, but has been on fire as of late. The Terriers have won six of their last eight games, including four straight.
Wofford routed the Cougars 75-58 on Jan. 5. It was the play of Wofford freshman guard Karl Cochran (11.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG) that had most people talking. He posted a career-high 21 points, including an emphatic slam dunk that showcased his overall athleticism.
Cochran will be paired with with veteran point guard Brad Loesing (14.2 PPG, 5.1 APG) in the backcourt. Loesing, has been one of the league's top point guards, if not the best, save maybe Chattanooga's Keegan Bell.
Loesing has stepped up his scoring by eight points per game this season, and he ranks third in the league in assists per game, averaging 5.1 per contest. Loesing also ranks third on the team in three-pointers made, with 36 treys this season.
Another of the key pieces returning for Wofford is its leading scorer, Kevin Giltner (16.0 PPG, 4.1 RPG). Now a full-time starter instead of being one of the league's top sixth men, Giltner ranks third in the league in three-pointers made (57/2.5-per game), while ranking fourth overall in scoring. He is coming off a 15-point performance in Wofford's last game, a 62-55 win over The Citadel, and posted a season-high four steals the last time these two teams met.
The Terriers' starting five will be completed by sophomore forward Aerris Smith (4.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG) and senior forward Drew Crowell (9.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG), who has been huge since stepping in to fill the role left by two-time SoCon Player of the Year Noah Dahlman.
All Crowell has done this season is lead the SoCon in field goal percentage, shooting the ball at a 61.1 percent rate (80-of-131). Crowell, who's from Charleston, scored 2 points in his hometown in the first game of the two-game road set at The Citadel on Thursday night. Lee Skinner (5.0 PPG, 5.9 RPG) leads the club on the boards, and Jarrell Byrd (2.5 PPG, 2.3 RPG) has been a key performer off the bench.
Meanwhile, Byington takes over a Cougars team that has resembled an episode of "MASH" of late, with point guard Anthony Stitt (9.7 PPG,1.6 RPG) out for six weeks with a broken hand, while forward Adejhi Baru (8.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG) has been battling a sprained ankle the past few games. Matt Sundberg (6.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG) has also been battling a slight injury of late and has been less than 100 percent.
Byington, who is one of the top assistants in the SoCon, will be given the reins of a team that still has the potential to win the SoCon this season. One of the reasons for that potential is leftover players from the past few successful seasons.
They are Antwaine Wiggins (16.4 PPG, 6.8 RPG), Trent Wiedeman (10.6 PPG, 8.0 RPG) and Andrew Lawrence (12.8 PPG, 2.9 RPG). Wiggins is still considered one of the best defensive players in the league and has stepped up as a scorer this season.
Wiggins and Lawrence are the team's top two perimeter three-point shooters, having knocked down 39 and 38 triples this season. However, the duo has struggled the past couple of games, connecting on just four of their last 24 shots from the perimeter.
Wiedeman has built off his strong freshman season, which saw him garner All-Freshman honors in the league. However, Wiedeman has had trouble keeping himself out of foul trouble. Since taking over at the point guard position, Nori Johnson (5.9 PPG, 1.7 RPG) has shown flashes of brilliance and is one of the team's best athletes.
A loss Saturday would give Charleston a fourth straight loss to a SoCon foe, which hasn't happened since the 2007-08 season, when the Cougars dropped consecutive games to Furman (74-66), UNC Greensboro (88-71), Davidson (70-58) and Wofford (67-66).
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: WOFFORD 68, COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON 65
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