The Southern Conference basketball tournament starts in less than two weeks.
The teams that win titles in Asheville will be heading to the NCAA tournaments. But those 13 days may as well be months away in the eyes of University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's coach Will Wade and UNC Greensboro coach Wes Miller.
"We're not trying to think about Asheville yet," Miller said. "We want to start feeling a little better about what we're doing now."
Miller's squad will face the Mocs (16-12, 10-3) today at 2 p.m. in the Greensboro Coliseum in a SoCon game that was pushed back one day due to a high school wrestling tournament in the coliseum.
The Spartans (12-16, 5-8) are the third SoCon squad to get a second crack at the Mocs. UTC beat both Furman and Wofford the second time around but lost at Samford in the second matchup of that series.
UTC opponents have adjusted to Wade's dribble-drive offensive style, the Mocs' strengths over the last month and especially in the second go-round with teams.
"People are trying to take away Z [Mason] and they're taking him away off our guys who don't shoot it well, which clogs up the lane a little bit," Wade said as the UTC charter bus made its way through Asheville. "That's made for tougher sledding."
He added, "We still have to be able to execute our stuff when things like that happen. It is a smart way to play us."
After all, UTC has shot 33.3 percent from the 3-point line, which ranked 10th out of 11 SoCon teams heading into Saturday's games -- and 233rd in the country.
"Teams know that we like to get in there and finish around the basket," said sophomore guard Casey Jones, who is 0-for-2 on 3-point attempts this year but ranks fourth in the SoCon by hitting 54.7 percent of his shots.
"Teams packing it in helps stop penetration," he said. "It's nothing Coach Wade won't get us prepared for. We're more prepared for it today than we were yesterday."
Jones, a candidate to make the All-SoCon squad, said the Mocs have an antidote to around-the-rim defenses.
"You can't pack the lane if we're in transition," he said. "If we get after it on defense, then that will be open."
UNCG's Miller has noticed the trend as well and may employ a similar philosophy. The Mocs are 2-4 in their last six games after returning from Christmas break on a 10-game winning streak.
"The way that they're getting to the basket, people have decided to do everything they can do to clog the lane," Miller said. "But guys like [Martynas] Bareika and [Ronrico] White can make you pay.
"I don't know if we're going to do anything in particular other than play our own principles."
Doing so on Jan. 25 led to a 77-67 win by the Mocs over the Spartans. In that game -- with a season-high 6,648 in attendance at McKenzie Arena -- Jones led UTC with 22 point and four others had at least 11, even though they combined to shoot 5-of-21 from the 3-point line.
"Playing a team for a second time is about what sort of counters you can put in," Wade said. "You look at what your percentages were against their defense and how you can change those up.
"We anticipate others' moves and make our own moves."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him 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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