Elon (13-14, 8-8 SoCon) at Davidson (20-7, 14-2 SoCon)
It might be the most important game on an evening filled with crucial league tilts, with teams jockeying for positioning for the upcoming Southern Conference basketball tournament in Asheville, N.C.
For Elon, Thursday night's game takes on special importance, as the Phoenix are in a fight to get their first-ever bye in the Southern Conference Tournament, as they are currently tied with Samford for second place in the North Division standings. However, as a result of Samford's two victories over the Phoenix this season, the bye would go to the Bulldogs in the event of a tie.
It's also a return to home, so to speak, for Elon head coach Matt Matheny, who spent 16 seasons on the Davidson sidelines as Bob McKillop's top assistant before matriculating to Elon prior to the 2009-10 season.
Matheny's Phoenix have struggled as of late, as Elon comes into the contest losers of four straight, including a 78-76 overtime loss to Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon at Alumni Gym. A win on Thursday night by the Wildcats would give Davidson the SoCon's North Division crown.
Elon and Davidson will be meeting for the 47th time on Thursday night, with the Wildcats holding a commanding 33-13 all-time series edge.
The Phoenix enter the matchup led by Jack Isenbarger (14.0 PPG, 3.5 RPG). Isenbarger has started 12 of 25 games for the Phoenix this season and is one of the top perimeter shooters in the Southern Conference this season. He enters Thursday night's contest having connected on 64 triples this season and is shooting 40 percent (64-of-160) from three-point range this season.
Isenbarger, who will play the shooting guard position for the Phoenix on Thursday, will be joined in the backcourt by both Sebastian Koch (9.1 PPG, 5.2 RPG) and Drew Spradlin (10.8 PPG, 3.2 RPG).
Both Koch and Spradlin are good perimeter shooters, with Koch ranking second on the club with 54 triples made this season. Spradlin is one of Elon's veteran-most players, leading the club with 14 all-time 20-point scoring games, including a pair of 20-point efforts this season.
Set to start underneath the basket for the Phoenix on Thursday night will be Lucas Troutman (12.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG) and Ryley Beaumont (7.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG). Both have proven to be solid performers for the Phoenix on the offensive interior this season, with Troutman posting 16 points in an 83-75 loss to the Wildcats.
Beaumont is coming off of one of his most complete efforts of the season, as he posted 11 points and 12 boards in Elon's last outing against Western Carolina.
Leading Elon off the bench this season has been Brett Ervin (5.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG), who is now part of a thin bench, which doesn't give Matheny all that much in the way of point production.
For Davidson, this is a chance to clinch their first South Division title since the Stephen Curry Era, but the Wildcats are struggling a bit as of late. They have dropped two of their last three games, yielding their two highest point totals of the season in losses to College of Charleston and Wichita State.
Davidson is 12-2 on its home floor this season and a perfect 7-0 against SoCon competition in the friendly surroundings of Belk Arena.
It will be senior night at Belk Arena, where the Wildcats will honor three rarely-used seniors that come off the bench. Bob McKillop's Wildcats have been a junior-dominated team this season, led by center Jake Cohen (13.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG), who leads a trio of starting juniors for the Wildcats in scoring.
Cohen is part of a starting five that features starters who all average in double figures this season, though Cohen scored just five points in Davidson's 83-75 triumph over the Phoenix at Belk Arena last season. He ranks second in the SoCon with 37 blocks this season.
Joining Cohen underneath the basket will be super sophomore forward De'Mon Brooks (15.5 PPG, 6.2 RPG). Brooks struggled with back spasms in Saturday's BracketBusters loss to Wichita State, which forced him to the sidelines for the entire second half of that contest.
Brooks is the best athlete on the Davidson team, as well as the most talented individual player. Brooks enters the contest having scored 20 or more points in a game nine times in his two years in a Davidson uniform, with eight of those 20-point performances coming in the 2011-12 season.
The starting trio in the backcourt is as talented as any backcourt in the SoCon, and maybe of any mid-major school in the country. Junior Nik Cochran (11.3 PPG, 3.6 APG) will hold down the point guard responsibilities on Thursday night, while J.P. Kuhlman (11.2 PPG, 3.7 RPG) and Chris Czerapowicz (10.4 PPG, 4.4 RPG) will play each of the respective wing guard positions for the Wildcats.
It was Cochran and Kuhlman who ran the show when the Wildcats and Phoenix met last February, with the duo combining for 51 of the team's 83 points, including a career-high 29 points from Cochran. Czerapowicz enters Thursday evening's matchup ranked fifth in the SoCon in three-pointers made this season, with 56 treys.
Off the bench, the Wildcats will look to get production from Tom Droney (4.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG) and talented freshman Tyler Kalinoski (4.6 PPG, 2.1 RPG) in the backcourt, while Clint Mann (5.4 PPG, 3.0 RPG) will be the top player off McKillop's bench in the frontcourt.
Droney is one of Davidson's best one-on-one defenders and Kalinoski is a potent outside shooter.
This game is crucial for both clubs. A Davidson win clinches their first South Division crown since the graduation of Stephen Curry, and would lock up the No. 1 overall seed for the upcoming Southern Conference Basketball Tournament, slated to commence next weekend in Asheville.
That top seed would mean the Wildcats could do no worse than a National Invitational Tournament bid this season if they were to lose in the SoCon Tournament.
A win for Elon helps the Phoenix keep their hopes alive for their first North Division title since joining the SoCon in 2003-04. A win by Elon would also give the Phoenix their most wins (14) under the direction of Matt Matheny, now in his third season at the helm of the program.
However, I expect Davidson to win this game, although, it might produce the 32nd conference game of the season to be decided by one possession.
FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: DAVIDSON 80, ELON 77
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