To say that the Chattanooga Mocs have been on a wild ride this season is like saying that A-Rod made a bit of news this week.
The Mocs have gone from preseason pick to win the Southern Conference's North Division to abysmal starts of 1-7 overall and 0-3 in the SoCon that had most observers writing them off as a disappointment.
But as the SoCon seasons hits the homestretch, look who leads the muddled North Division — Chattanooga, with an 8-6 league mark and slender leads over Western Carolina and Appalachian State.
"We've had a lot of heartbreaking losses," Mocs coach John Shulman said. "But our guys have just kept responding, and that's great to see."
With six seniors back from last year's 18-13 team, it's easy to see why Shulman's club was the pick to win the North for a second year in a row (it tied with App State last year). But all of that experience may have worked against the Mocs during a brutal early stretch that included losses to Tennessee, Missouri, Memphis, Southern Cal and Alabama.
"We had a lot of seniors who thought they knew it all," Shulman said. "They took some shortcuts and thought they knew it all."
But as the Mocs won five straight in January and then three of their last four, Shulman has seen growth in those seniors, including sharpshooting guard Stephen McDowell (19 points per game) and 6-7 forward Nicchaeus Doaks (13.9 ppg, 9.1 rebounds).
"They have taken this on their shoulders and have a very determined look in their face," the coach said. "When we start playing well — and I think it's coming — I'm telling you, I think we can be pretty good down the stretch."
The Mocs went 2-1 during a recent stretch of three road games in five days — the only such stretch for any SoCon team this season. Chattanooga hosts College of Charleston next week and finishes the regular season with road games at North Division rivals App State and Western Carolina, so a top-two finish and first-round bye in the SoCon Tournament is not yet in the bag.
But with the tournament in Chattanooga on the Mocs' home floor at McKenzie Arena, Shulman thinks this team can do much better than last year's first-round loss to Elon.
"Last year, we were kind of hanging on down the stretch," he said. "But I don't feel that way about this team. I think we're about to start playing some pretty good basketball."
Around the rim
--Speaking of wild rides, how about this six-game span for Elon — losses on the road at Wofford and The Citadel, wins on the road at College of Charleston and at Georgia Southern, and losses at home to App State and Furman? Ah, the joys of a young backcourt.
--The SoCon North is just 18-34 in games against the SoCon South this season. Western Carolina (5-4) was the only North team with a winning record against the South, despite losing to the College of Charleston on Wednesday.
--VMI got some love from Sports Illustrated last week, with a feature article on the Keydets, who are 20-4 overall and tied atop the Big South with Radford at 11-1. SI also had a nice picture of Chavis and Travis Holmes, who in their gray cadet uniforms looked just like Citadel cadets. VMI vs. The Citadel used to be called "Military Elimination Day" when both were in the SoCon. Too bad they won't play this year.
--When he was named SoCon player of the week this week, The Citadel's Demetrius Nelson became just the fifth player not named Stephen Curry to win the award this season. The others: Andrew Goudelock (College of Charleston), Brett James (Elon), Stephen McDowell (Chattanooga) and Harouna Mutombo (Western Carolina).
--Yes, that was referee Scott Smith, son of legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith, working College of Charleston's win at Davidson last Saturday. But we have no idea about that yellow logo ESPN was using for the Cougars. Word on the street is that it belonged to the University of Charleston Golden Eagles.
--Davidson took quite an RPI hit for its loss to College of Charleston, plunging from No. 30 to No. 50 at realtimerpi.com (the Wildcats have since moved to No. 49). The Cougars, meanwhile, jumped from No. 144 to 120. Davidson's loss puts a lot more pressure on the Wildcats' BracketBuster game with Butler on Feb. 21 at Belk Arena. A loss there, the thinking goes, and Davidson's at-large hopes are slim. Me, I think CBS wants Steph Curry in the NCAA Tournament whether the Wildcats win the SoCon Tournament or not.
Ranking the top five big men in the SoCon and Big South:
1. Demetrius Nelson, The Citadel ... 6-8 senior has come into his own this season, and has a great touch at the foul line.
2. Jermaine Johnson, College of Charleston ... 6-7 senior has been the Cougars' steadiest player during up and down season.
3. Andrew Lovedale, Davidson ... 6-8 senior will play vital role for the Wildcats if they hope to return to March Madness.
4. Artsiom Parakhouski, Radford ... 6-11, 260-pound junior from Belarus is averaging a double-double with 14.7 points and 10.9 rebounds.
5. Niccaheus Doaks, Chattanooga ... 6-7 senior is tied for SoCon lead with eight double-doubles this season.
1. Stephen Curry, Davidson 28.7
2. Stephen McDowell, Chatt 19.0
3. Noah Dahlman, Wofford 16.6
4. Andrew Goudelock, C of C 16.6
5. Junior Salters, Wofford 16.4
Field Goal Percentage
1. Isaac Butts, App State 61.5
2. Demetrius Nelson, Citadel 59.6
3. Ola Atoyebi, Elon 59.0
4. Khalil Hartwell, Chatt 58.6
5. Jermaine Johnson, C of C 58.1
Big South Scoring
1. Chavis Holmes, VMI 22.2
2. Seth Curry, Liberty 20.3
3. Travis Holmes, VMI 19.5
4. Jamarco Warren, Chas. So. 18.3
5. Anthony Smith, Liberty 17.7
Field Goal Percentage
1. Joseph Harris, C. Carolina 56.7
2. J. Lynch-Flohr, Radford 54.2
3. Chavis Holmes, VMI 52.6
4. Anthony Smith, Liberty 52.5
5. A. Parakhouski, Radford 51.6