The Southern Conference logo has replaced the big ‘C’ at mid-court in McKenzie Arena.
Staff Photo by Angela Lewis/Chattanooga Times Free Press The floor is prepared for the Southern Conference Tournaments that will be held at McKenzie Arena beginning today.
Blue drapery has been installed. There’s blue carpet hiding concrete, and the typical corporate signs have been changed or removed in preparation for the SoCon tournament which begins today with first-round games of the women’s tournament.
“It’s a neutral floor,” University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach John Shulman said with a tone of not believing his own words. “It doesn’t have our ‘C’ on there anymore.
“No ... There’s some positives, but there are also some negatives of playing here.”
The for the 40, 80 or 120 minutes that the Mocs and Lady Mocs will play in McKenzie Arena, they will have a clear advantage over their opponent because it is their home court with the same sight-lines, rims and peripherals as any other home game.
There could be 19 games in which it is a neutral court if both UTC teams are upset in their first games.
“One difference is that past two times we’ve had it here in Chattanooga, we’ve been the regular season champ and the favorite to win it,” Lady Mocs coach Wes Moore said. “This year, we come in as the underdog and expectations aren’t as high and maybe we can use it as an advantage.
“I like to look back to the [first round] NCAA tournament game when we beat Rutgers when we definitely benefited from playing at home.”
There’s a difference between playing on a home court and playing in a home city.
UTC’s men’s team is 6-0 during the SoCon tournament played on in its home gym.
Neither the College of Charleston nor The Citadel won the men’s tournament in the six years the tournament was played in the North Charleston Coliseum.
Davidson did not win in Charlotte last year. Furman did not win either year it was played in Greenville at the Bi-Lo Center. And UNC Greensboro went 0-for-4 in championships held at the Greensboro Coliseum.
“I think it’s significant,” said Wofford coach Mike Young referring the difference in home city and home court. “Those [UTC] guys are in that facility every day. But that’s how it worked out and that’s where we’re going. It’s a great town and I know the people of Chattanooga will do a great job.
“It will be a great experience for our players and that’s all I care about. We’ll go up there and see what happens.”
Wofford wouldn’t have to meet the Mocs until Monday in the championship game. Either Furman or Samford will face UTC first on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the first non-neutral court men’s game of the tournament.
“I’d much rather have a home city than a home court,” Furman coach Jeff Jackson said. “I know Charlotte was an advantage for Davidson [last year].
“It’s not the same advantages Chattanooga will have this year.”
None of the teams will have a major advantage over the next three years — except for fan support — because SoCon and SoCon school administrators chose to move the tournament to Asheville, N.C. where it had a successful 11-year run ending in 1995.
“Where we have hop-scotched around over the last few years, it might seem to me — and the membership agreed — that we might better served to try and put down roots in one location,” SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said. “We could be working ourselves to the ACC model where they put a bulk of the tournaments in Greensboro, but every few years they move it to the edges of the conference footprint.”
And that’s where the tournament is this year — at least five hours away from seven SoCon schools. But it’s also in McKenzie Arena where the Mocs haven’t lost a tournament game in six contests.
“That’s the way it is,” Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter said. “Chattanooga garnered the bid, they’re terrific hosts. It will be a really good tournament.
“But if you were taking a vote of the coaches, they’d want it to be on a neutral site.”
Coaches will have to wait until next year for that.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...