Half of next-year's SoCon in this postseason

Half of next-year's SoCon in this postseason

March 18th, 2014 by David Uchiyama in Sports - College

UTC's all-conference senior star, Zaccheus Mason, is extending his college career as the Mocs play tonight at former and future Southern Conference rival East Tennessee State.

Photo by Angela Lewis/Times Free Press.

It's not exactly the postseason tournament that the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team dreamed of or hoped for -- Wofford has that spot after winning the Southern Conference tournament -- but the Mocs' season continues tonight anyway.

UTC (18-14) will play at former and future league rival East Tennessee State tonight at 7 in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

"It's a great way to launch ETSU rejoining the SoCon," league commissioner John Iamarino said. "We're very pleased that we'll go into next season that half of our 10 teams are going to have played in the postseason."

Iamarino will be traveling to follow Wofford, which earned the automatic NCAA tournament bid and will face second-seeded Michigan on Thursday.

Mercer, which joins the league next season, earned a No. 14 seed in the "Big Dance" and will face third-seeded Duke with a SoCon official in attendance pulling double duty.

In addition, Virginia Military Institute, another former SoCon member returning this summer, is playing at Canisus in the CIT.

"I think the league will be better next season," UTC coach Will Wade said. "We're adding some pop to the league with Mercer, VMI and ETSU. It's good for teams to play in the postseason, and I think it will make for a stronger league."

Davidson, which earned an automatic berth in the National Invitation Tournament as the SoCon's regular-season champion, will be departing along with Elon, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State. Those three will not be participating in any postseason tournament this year.

The SoCon ended the season ranked No. 30 in conference RPI out of 33 possibilities, including the independents. Wade said that needs to improve to improve seeding for postseason tournaments.

"We had five pretty strong teams down the stretch, all of whom were capable of winning the championship," Iamarino said. "Then the three schools joining are coming off good years.

"We hope that will build moment for next year."

Only one SoCon team has earned a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament in the last 30 years -- UTC as a 9 in 1983. Only two teams have reached the Sweet 16 or beyond in that time frame. The Mocs accomplished the feat in 1997, and Davidson reached the Elite Eight in 2008.

Yet the SoCon also has avoided having its NCAA representative play in Dayton, Ohio, for a first-round game since the NCAA field expanded to 65 and then 68 teams.

That's good and bad for the SoCon.

"You'd like your chances of winning a game and earning that revenue that comes with it," Iamarino said. "But if you go there and lose, it wouldn't feel like you were even in the tournament. It's nice for Wofford to avoid the immediacy of going to Dayton."

It's also nice to have half of the 2014-15 SoCon playing after St. Patrick's Day.

"The players get to see that their work has been rewarded," Wade said. "We'll dust off some things we haven't done in a long time that might help us against ETSU."

The teams will be playing again soon enough -- during the regular season instead of the postseason.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.