SoCon Tournament: Bet UNC Greensboro, Western Carolina to Play Spoiler to Samford?

SoCon Tournament: Bet UNC Greensboro, Western Carolina to Play Spoiler to Samford? article feature image
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Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Justin Gray (Western Carolina)

Bucky Ball is a force of nature. Save for a pair of road slip-ups, Bucky McMillan's Samford team has laid waste to nearly every SoCon team in its path for the last two months.

Per TeamRankings, only one other team in America has dominated its conference as much as Samford: Auburn. Specifically, Auburn and Samford are the only teams in the country boasting a conference margin of victory of 12 points or more and an average cover margin of four points or more.

Not only are the Bulldogs beating teams by margin, but they're also crushing oddsmakers’ expectations.

That said, here comes the cold water. Despite being the deserved favorites entering the SoCon Tournament, the Bulldogs are far from invincible.

For starters, health is a minor area of concern, with multiple key cogs being less than 100% coming down the stretch — AJ Staton-McCray (MCL) and Achor Achor (foot) are the two notables in this regard.

However, Samford’s strength in numbers makes it immune from any one, or even two, injuries cratering its chances at a SoCon Tournament Championship.

The chief worry is matchups, as is the case in any conference tournament battlefield.

Enter Mercer. The forgettable Bears of Macon, Georgia, once famous for derailing Duke in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, don’t appear to be anyone’s kryptonite. Yet, Greg Gary and company have been a thorn in Samford’s side the past few seasons.

The Bears are 5-4 against Samford since McMillan's first season in 2021. This year, the Bears split with Samford and hung with the Bulldogs on the road — a feat only matched by Furman, the reigning SoCon champions.

Gary recently tipped his hand in a postgame press conference. The secret, he implied, was not being timid against Samford’s defense. Attacking early and pouncing on openings in the Bulldogs’ extended pressure is paramount, as so many foes swerve in the wrong direction.

Furman replicated this approach in both meetings this season, though the Paladins are armed with superior skill and experience.

UNC Greensboro & Western Carolina Betting Breakdowns

Stylistically, Mercer and Furman are the most proven threats to Samford, but don’t sleep on the state of North Carolina’s top two dogs in Western Carolina and UNC Greensboro. So, should you back either of these squads on North Carolina betting apps in March?

Well, the Catamounts are loaded with power-conference talent, while UNCG’s Mikeal Brown-Jones could pose issues for Samford’s leaner frontline.

Both are a short drive to Asheville, especially Western (about an hour by bus), which has seen an uptick in home attendance this year under insurgent head coach Justin Gray.

While Western lost to Samford by 26 on the road, it competed at home, losing by only four. It also only shot 8-of-25 from 3 in the home loss, proving that it's capable of knocking off the Bulldogs.

Meanwhile, UNCG lost to Samford twice, but it kept the margin within single digits.

SoCon Tournament Wrap-Up

That leaves East Tennessee State and Wofford as the potential spoilers to Samford’s magical run — that is, barring a slip-up against either of SoCon’s military academies in VMI and The Citadel.

ETSU and Wofford each deploy a deliberate offensive pace, which could be a tricky counterpunch to Samford’s open-court pace. However, neither poses a serious threat on the offensive glass, which is where opposing SoCon threats — Mercer being a prime example — have had success against Samford’s shorter forwards.

The top six seeds will have a notable edge in the SoCon’s 10-team tournament format, which forces the bottom four seeds to win the dreaded four games in four days.

However, being in the basement is by no means a death sentence — three of the last five 7-seeds (Wofford in 2020, Mercer in 2021, Chattanooga in 2023) have reached the tournament final.

Harrah's Cherokee Center will once again set the stage for the SoCon Tournament, where there’s been no shortage of drama in recent years.

Furman finally vanquished its SoCon demons last season, parlaying that momentum into a memorable win over Virginia in the big dance.

Samford feels like the destined 2024 darling, but there’s too much firepower in this league to Sharpie anything in for certain.

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