University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach John Shulman sent a text to his team about 9:30 Thursday night.
"Congratulations," it read, "you're one of four teams capable of going to the NCAA tournament."
Western Carolina's 80-75 win over Appalachian State on Thursday night provided the Mocs (14-14, 10-5) with a first-round bye to the Southern Conference tournament. Even if it loses its three remaining regular-season games, UTC is guaranteed to finish no worse than second in the North Division.
"It's exciting to be one of the four [SoCon] teams capable of going to the NCAA tournament, based on what history has told us," Shulman said Friday, referring to the fact that no team has won four straight games in the tournament. "That was a great thing last night."
The Catamounts' victory also pulled them even with the Mocs in the North Division. If the Cats (14-13, 10-5) and Mocs finish with the same SoCon record, WCU would earn the top seed based on its sweep of ASU (12-14, 8-8).
"Goal No. 1 was to get the bye," Shulman said. "No. 2 is to win the North. If we win out, we at least share it with Western."
Winning out will be difficult.
The Mocs will host Furman (19-7, 11-4) on Monday, when UTC is calling for a "Black-Out" and giving away 3,000 T-shirts, free food and Coca-Cola drinks -- and then play Wofford (15-12, 12-4) on Wednesday, also in McKenzie Arena.
Those two opponents combined to stomp UTC by 58 points in upstate South Carolina, and they're both fighting for SoCon tournament byes from the South Division. Then the Mocs hit the road for a day trip to Samford, which is like going from defending the spread to facing the wishbone in football.
"Those two teams humiliated us," junior Ricky Taylor said. "Monday, our volcano will erupt. There's been a lot of heat built up in us. We have to take it out on them.
"We'll have something special planned for them Monday and Wednesday."
The Mocs will head into the Furman game healthy and coming off four practices in four days, including two planned for today. They did not practice as a team before their road trip to the Appalachian mountains, which helped contribute to loses at WCU by one points and at ASU by 10, tightening the North race.
"When you have the time to practice, it gives you a comfort level because we can go over more of their stuff and be more prepared," point guard Keegan Bell said. "We'll be able to get more in depth in how we want to guard them."
The Mocs have accomplished their first goal. They continue going for No. 2 on Monday at 7 in McKenzie Arena.
"The championship is on the line," Taylor said. "Furman and Wofford are two of the best teams in the league. We have to redeem ourselves."
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