There's more than a winter chill in the air blowing through the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus.
A measured level of excitement and anticipation has been growing since Will Wade became the head basketball coach over the summer.
He navigated the Mocs through a tough non-conference schedule while implementing his system, learning about his players -- and vice versa -- before making one strategic change and welcoming back an injured difference-maker in Ronrico White.
The result has UTC (12-8, 6-0) on an eight-game winning streak, sitting in first place of the Southern Conference, and the excitement and anticipation throughout the week is leading up to the Mocs' game tonight at 7 in McKenzie Arena against the team that coaches and basketball experts expect to win the league.
"All I know is that they were projected to be in first," said sophomore guard Gee McGhee who has been encouraging fellow students to attend the game. "I don't check their scores, their past games or any of that.
"Last year, we were iffy about games. We know we can play with anybody. We have that swagger about us this year."
UTC went 13-19 last year and 8-10 in the SoCon. No home game had the hype, anticipation or excitement -- or the promotion to attend -- like tonight.
Wade has challenged the Chattanooga community, including students, to fill the lower bowl of McKenzie Arena and over-flow the bowl with more than 5,000 fans. Wade, members of his coaching staff and the players, have been recruiting students to attend the game.
They've scarfed lunch at University Center with students. Wade said a DJ will be playing music in the UC during lunch today, and McGhee is likely going to judge a dance contest. Plus, Wade said, he has designed a contest for dormitory residential assistants to get their students living in their halls to the game.
"It's going to be a big game for us in the conference season and in the scheme of things because we play them just once," Wade said. "The SoCon doesn't give out trophies after six games. We have to win so we can reap the benefits as a team."
Wade, the 31-year-old from the Nashville area who has his first head-coaching job, has navigated the Mocs to the top of the standings by going against his early-season plan, playing zone defense, and winning UTC's first six SoCon games.
It's led to the Mocs' winning eight straight games which is the longest streak since SoCon player of the year front-runner Zaccheus Mason was in elementary school.
UTC is the surprise of the SoCon.
"It's very difficult to jump out 6-0," Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter said. "I'm impressed with what Chattanooga is doing."
But, UTC sprinted out to first place by toppling teams that are a combined 6-21 in SoCon competition. And UTC has not played any of the three teams expected to lead the league -- Elon, Davidson and Western Carolina.
"We don't talk a whole lot about crowds and atmosphere," Elon coach Matt Matheny said. "We know that we're playing a team that's playing really well. We want to be as good as we can be.
"And Chattanooga is as hot as anybody in the country."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter 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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