Furman's first-year coach Nike Medved has seen enough of the Mocs by watching video.
He's also seen enough of his team in person to know that both programs are on the rise as the calendar flips to 2014 and Southern Conference competition begins today for both schools, which were picked to finish in the bottom half of the league in most preseason polls.
"It's the little things," Medved said. "Will [Wade] would probably say the same thing. His kids are doing better at the things they've been working on all season in practice.
"In the league, the good teams do what they do in practice and do it better than teams they play.
As little as 48 hours can make a big difference.
Medved said the Paladins were swamped and listless in a 30-point loss at Cal last Friday, then found some momentum necessary following a 75-65 win at Big West Conference school U.C. Davis.
"I thought we moved the ball better, and I think we played with more energy and played together more in that win than we did against Cal," Medved said. "We're like a lot of young teams that have been up and down, and we've definitely improved. The league is up in the air, and I think anybody can beat anybody else."
The Mocs are also trending toward playing better after winning the Dr Pepper Classic by beating Grand Canyon 69-64 on Sunday then Maine 86-80 on Monday.
That Dr Pepper marked the return of senior forward Zaccheus Mason from a toe injury and the full-go status of junior Ronrico White from offseason hip surgery. They're two of UTC's four upperclassmen along with junior forwards Martynas Bareika and Lance Stokes.
It's been their job -- with a nudge from coaches -- to prepare the team of nine underclassmen for the difference between nonconference games and playing teams fighting for SoCon Tournament seeding.
"We want to attack these games and get off to a good start in the SoCon," White said. "They [coaches] put the mindset in early that conference road games are like nothing else.
"When you play at home, you have fans, students and momentum. On the road, you don't have any of that. We have to create our own energy."
The Mocs' only win this season away from McKenzie Arena came in an 87-76 win over IUPUI in Las Vegas.
The Mocs went 4-9 on the road last season with their only SoCon road wins coming at Samford, at The Citadel and at Western Carolina, none of which earned a first-round bye to the SoCon tourney last season.
"We're ready to make this run, and that's what we're excited for," Gee McGhee said. "We're feeling good now. We have to continue to play with enthusiasm, and we need to get stops."
That's always part of the game-plan for UTC no matter the time of year. But the SoCon starts today for UTC and Furman, as does the march up the mountain to Asheville for the Southern Conference tournament.
These games mean something important.
"You break the season into segments and no matter what you did in the non-conference you wipe the slate clean and start 0-0," Medved said. "It's important to do the things you practice every day and win or lose, you have to keep an even-keel approach to the season."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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 ...
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