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Every game counts in college basketball - not like college football - but for RPI purposes and votes in the polls as well, which impact seeding for the NCAA tournament.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's next two games will count toward March.

The Mocs will open their Southern Conference schedule Thursday at 7 p.m. against Appalachian State in McKenzie Arena, and upper-level general admission tickets are being sold for $1.

It's the first of two consecutive games that will help determine the ultimate success or failure of this season.

"These are pretty important," Mocs coach John Shulman said. "These games stick with you."

UTC's last game of the year could be in the SoCon tournament or the NCAA tournament, and Thursday's contest will have an impact on the ending.

"SoCon games are more of a challenge because everybody is playing for the same goal," said junior Ricky Taylor, who has a SoCon championship ring from 2009.

"Conference games are more intense and more exciting," he said. "The scouting reports are better because we know players from the last year. And we're battling with them again."

If the Mocs finish first or second in the North Division, then they have a chance to win the SoCon tournament, which will be played on their home floor March 4-7. If not, history says they're doomed to end the season in McKenzie Arena.

The top two teams in each division will earn first-round byes, cutting their number of tournament games needed to win it all from four to three. No team has ever won four.

A 2-0 start would help toward good things in March. A 1-1 start against ASU on Thursday and Western Carolina on Saturday wouldn't be bad. Even 0-2 wouldn't be the end of the season.

Wofford started 0-2 last year, won the SoCon title and had Wisconsin saying prayers in the last minutes of a first-round NCAA tournament game.

"It would be real good to go 2-0," Taylor said. "It would make us walk into the classroom with our heads high instead of trying to hide under your hoodie all the time."

The Mocs (2-5) have played three games that are similar to SoCon contests - games that are within five points with five minutes to go. UTC is 2-1 in those games, winning at Kennesaw State and Marshall but losing at home to Austin Peay.

"These games stick with you, but I'm not calling them do-or-die," said Shulman, who gave his team Tuesday off to rest. "Our kids know how important they are. But it's also important to have our legs right and mind right.

"We've already gone through a roller coaster."

A new ride begins Thursday against App State.

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