University of Tennessee at Chattanooga vs. Samford at Hanna Center in Birmingham, Alabama
Time: 5 p.m. EST
Video/radio: ESPN+/96.1 FM
Likely lineups (with heights and scoring averages in parentheses)
UTC (11-15, 6-7 Southern Conference)
Projected starters: F Kevin Easley (6-6, 14.7); G David Jean-Baptiste (6-1, 8.8); G Jerry Johnson Jr. (6-1, 10.0); F Jonathan Scott (6-4, 6.5); C Ramon Vila (6-8, 10.6).
Key reserves: C Thomas Smallwood (7-0, 6.6); G Donovann Toatley (5-9, 11.9).
SAMFORD (15-11, 5-8)
Projected starters: F Robert Allen (6-8, 10.0); G Brandon Austin (6-5, 13.4); G Myron Gordon (6-3, 11.8); C Ruben Guerrero (7-0, 13.7); G Josh Sharkey (5-10, 16.1).
Key reserves: G Kevion Nolan (6-2, 7.5); G Deandre Thomas (6-4, 2.3).
UTC has lost five of its past six SoCon games, though it is still in line to receive a first-round bye at the conference tournament next month. The Mocs have a chance to secure the No. 5 seed over the next week with today's game at sixth-place Samford and Thursday's game at seventh-place Mercer. The Mocs, despite the losses, have held second-half leads against top-tier league teams Wofford, UNC Greensboro and East Tennessee State. Easley continues to pace the Mocs in scoring and rebounding (6.4 per game) and scored 20 points to lead the way in this season's first meeting between his team and Samford, an 80-75 UTC win on Jan. 12 at McKenzie Arena. Vila, who has made 62.3 percent of his attempts from the field this season, had perhaps his best game of the year that day with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Smallwood has been a spark off the bench and has 25 points and six rebounds in 33 minutes in UTC's past two games.
Samford has one of the league's most talented starting fives. Sharkey leads the SoCon in assists per game (7.7) and is tied for first in steals per game (2.8), while Guerrero, who has six double-double performances this season, leads in blocked shots per game (2.3) and is one of the league's top rebounders (8.2). The Bulldogs, though, have gotten little from their bench. In last month's loss at UTC they did not have a bench point, though Nolan was out with injury. Coach Scott Padgett's team needed overtime to win last Saturday at Virginia Military Institute, which is 1-12 in the league, but the Bulldogs own a win at red-hot Furman and lost by a point in an epic overtime game at Wofford.
Vila more than held his own against Guerrero the first time around and will need to keep up his physical play to keep him off the boards today. Of course, not letting Sharkey control the pace of the game on both ends is a must.