Wofford, Furman battle for final bye

Noah Dahlman (center) and the Wofford Terriers must beat Furman on Saturday to clinch a first-round bye in the upcoming SoCon basketball tournament.

The Southern Conference hands out four first-round byes for its basketball tournament, which go to the top two teams in each division.

How important are those byes?

Just ask College of Charleston coach Bobby Cremins.

"A couple of years ago, we lost that bye because of The Citadel," said Cremins, referring to the 2008-09 season. "We had to go to Chattanooga and play the first day. We won three games in a row, but by the second half of that fourth day, we really got tired. We could have used that bye."

Indeed, no SoCon team ever has won four games in four days to win the tournament.

In 2008-09, the Cougars beat UNC Greensboro, Western Carolina and the Stephen Curry-led Davidson Wildcats before running out of gas in the title game, losing, 80-69, to the Chattanooga Moccasins on their home floor.

For College of Charleston, that bye might have been the difference between the national stage of the NCAA tournament and the yawn-inducing College Basketball Invitational.

This season, three of the four byes already are locked up. Chattanooga (11-6 SoCon) and Western Carolina (11-5) have grabbed the North Division byes, and College of Charleston (14-2) owns the South Division title and the bye that comes with it.

The second South Division bye will go to the winner of Saturday's Wofford at Furman showdown, a game that has been sold out for weeks.

Even after Wednesday's 97-58 victory over Chattanooga, defending SoCon champion Wofford (13-4) must beat Furman (12-5) to earn the bye. The Paladins own the tiebreaker edge over the Terriers due to a superior RPI ranking (117 to 145 at realtimerpi.com).

"The only goal I have for this team right now is securing that first-round bye," Wofford senior forward Noah Dahlman told the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. "That's our team's focus. That's the goal."

Without that bye, Wofford's goal of repeating as the SoCon champion will become much more difficult to achieve.

Thumbs up

Jamarco Warren: The hairstyles of Charleston Southern's senior guard have evolved over the years, but his game remains consistent. Warren averaged 25.5 points in two wins last week to win his second Big South player of the week award, and the streaking Bucs have won three in a row to stay in the hunt for a first-round home game in the Big South tourney.

Thumbs down

Chants' chances: Coastal Carolina has lost two of its last three after UNC Asheville's buzzer-beater on Tuesday night, and is struggling without top scorer Desmond Holloway (suspended) and point guard Kierre Greenwood (injured). The Chants (25-4, 15-2) once seemed a lock to win the Big South's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. No longer. It's still not clear if Holloway will be reinstated by the NCAA in time for the league tournament.

Stat of the week

68.3: That's the points per game allowed by College of Charleston, good for fourth in the SoCon this season. The Cougars also rank fifth in field-goal percentage defense (43.8). Those numbers are much improved over last year (73.8 ppg for 11th in the league, 44.8 FG percentage for ninth) and a big reason the Cougars are where they are.

3-Pointers

--Since a four-game skid that coincided with a flu outbreak, Chattanooga has revived itself with a respectable performance at Georgia Tech and a 75-59 spanking of Furman. With the SoCon tournament on the Mocs' home floor, I would install Chattanooga as the second favorite, behind College of Charleston, to win it all.

--The ESPN BracketBusters games provided a small boost for the SoCon's profile. The league, led by College of Charleston's trouncing of Vermont, went 5-0 in the BracketBusters, pushing the SoCon's conference RPI up to No. 19. It was the first time the SoCon has gone unbeaten in BracketBusters games.

--In the Big South, Coastal Carolina and Liberty have clinched the top two seeds, and thus first-round home games, for the tournament. Five teams -- UNC Asheville (9-7), Charleston Southern (9-8), Winthrop (8-8), VMI (8-8) and High Point (7-9) -- are still in the running for the third and fourth seeds and first-round home games.

Leaders

SoCon Scoring

SoCon Assists

Big South Scoring

Big South Assists