The holiday break has ended and the second half of the DII basketball season is in full swing. The South Atlantic Conference men's basketball teams have divided themselves neatly into three distinct tiers.
Lincoln Memorial, Queens, and Carson Newman make up the first tier, and have a combined record of 42-3 (.933). All three teams have dominated their opponents both inside and outside of conference play. Northwest Missouri State's loss to Missouri Southern last week has propelled Queens into the #1 spot in the NABC Coaches poll, while Lincoln Memorial ranks fifth, and Carson-Newman sits just on the cusp of the Top 25.
The second tier is made up of Wingate, Coker, Lenoir-Rhyne, and Newberry; four teams with a combined record of exactly 29-29 (.500). Out of those four, Wingate has likely done the most to separate themselves, with quality wins over UNC Pembroke and Mount Olive.
The third tier is comprised of Tusculum, Anderson, Catawba, and Mars Hill. Those four teams have a combined record of 13-43 (.232). Catawba is the most surprising of the group. The Indians were picked to finish fourth by SAC coaches at the beginning of the season, but have struggled to a 3-9 record and 0-7 in conference play.
Here's a look at how each team fared in the past week, and a preview of their upcoming schedule.
Lincoln Memorial (14-1, 8-0 SAC) – Lincoln Memorial is 3-0 since returning from the holiday break, with wins over Lenoir-Rhyne, Anderson, and Coker. Emmanuel Terry has led the way, averaging 21.7 points and 12.3 rebounds per game. Terry dominated Coker on Saturday, scoring 27 points on 12-14 shooting. The Railsplitters won all three games by an average margin of 32 points. They'll face the #1 team in the country for the second time in five games when they face Queens on Saturday (1/13).
Upcoming: @Queens (1/13)
Queens (15-0, 7-0 SAC) – Queens is also 3-0 since the break, beating Tarleton State, Wingate, and Mars Hill. The Royals are ranked #1 in the country despite playing a relatively weak schedule compared to teams like Northern State or NW Missouri State. Their upcoming matchup against Lincoln Memorial will be their biggest test of the season, and will be the first of potentially three showdowns between the two powerhouse programs this year.
Upcoming: @Newberry (1/10), vs. Lincoln Memorial (1/13)
Carson-Newman (13-2, 5-2 SAC) – Charles Clark continued to dominate as the Eagles won both of their games in the past week. Carson-Newman eked out an 83-79 victory over Johnson C. Smith and then blew out Catawba 101-75 on Saturday. Clark scored 30 points or more in both games, and joined the 2000-point club in the Eagles win over Catawba.
Upcoming: @Tusculum (1/10), @Wingate (1/13)
Wingate (8-7, 5-2 SAC) – The Bulldogs have gone 2-1 since the break, losing only to #1 Queens. Kerigan Farley has consistently filled the stat sheet, including a 14-point performance against Mount Olive where he also had six rebounds, eight assists, and three steals. The Bulldogs have a very favorable upcoming schedule, with the potential to win five or six of their next seven games.
Upcoming: vs. Lenoir-Rhyne (1/10), vs. Carson-Newman (1/13)
Coker (7-8, 4-3 SAC) – The Cobras split their games last week, beating Newberry before losing to Lincoln Memorial 120-74 on Saturday. Coker has been the surprise team of the conference this season, after getting picked to finish near the bottom of the conference in the preseason coaches' poll. The emergence of freshman Khalil Halls has been a big boost to the program. Halls is averaging 19.5 points per game in January, and 13.5 points per game overall.
Upcoming: @Catawba (1/10), vs Anderson (1/13)
Lenoir-Rhyne (6-8, 4-4 SAC) – The Bears have won two straight games, capped by a 79-72 overtime victory over Tusculum on Saturday. Djibril Diallo just missed a triple-double with 26 points, nine rebounds, and 10 assists in the victory. LR has a difficult upcoming schedule with four road games out of their next five, including road games against both Queens and Lincoln Memorial.
Upcoming: @Wingate (1/10)
Newberry (8-6, 3-4 SAC) – Newberry lost a close contest to Coker before beating Mars Hill 111-99 on Monday. The Wolves' second team played much better than the first team in that contest, with Marshall Lange scoring 23 points, and Rob Valentine scoring 26 points off the bench. Newberry will get their shot against the #1 team in the country when they face Queens at home on Wednesday night.
Upcoming: vs. Queens (1/10), @Tusculum (1/13)
Tusculum (4-10, 2-5 SAC) – The Pioneers stopped their three-game losing streak when they beat Mars Hill 85-71 on Wednesday. Donovan Donaldson scored 16 points off the bench, and Elon Smallwood added 11 points in the victory. Tusculum followed that up with an overtime loss to Lenoir-Rhyne. The Pioneers held a three-point lead in that game before a clutch three-pointer from LR's Billy Bales sent the game to overtime, where the Bears ultimately prevailed.
Upcoming: vs. Carson-Newman (1/10), vs. Newberry (1/13)
Anderson (4-11, 2-5 SAC) – The Trojans have dropped three straight games since the break, losing to Lees-McRae, Lincoln Memorial, and Wingate. Anderson held a lead throughout their game against Lees-McRae, but the Bobcats used a 21-10 spurt over the final five minutes to pull out the victory. Gage Ellis averaged 18.7 points per game during the stretch, including a 34-point outburst against Lees-McRae. The Trojans have a favorable stretch of their schedule coming up with games against Mars Hill, Coker, Tusculum, and Lenoir-Rhyne.
Upcoming: vs. Mars Hill (1/10), @Coker (1/13)
Catawba (3-9, 0-7 SAC) – The Indians are in the midst of a four-game losing straight, but have a chance to snap out of it with a home game against Coker on Wednesday evening. Catawba lost to road contests to Lenoir-Rhyne and Carson-Newman by an average of 24 points per game since the break. Jerrin Morrison has averaged 17.5 points per game over the stretch, but hit just 3-16 three-pointers.
Upcoming: vs. Coker (1/10), vs. Mars Hill (1/13)
Mars Hill (2-13, 0-8 SAC) – Mars Hill is 0-4 since returning from the break with losses to Kentucky Wesleyan, Tusculum, Queens, and Newberry. They've lost seven straight overall, with their last win coming against Warren Wilson, a member of the USCAA DII. They rank 307th overall out of 309 teams in DII basketball according to the Wilson Ratings. The good news for the Lions is that they face #309, Southern Wesleyan on January 17th for a chance to stop their losing streak if they're unable to do so this week against Anderson and Catawba.
Upcoming: @Anderson (1/10), @Catawba (1/13)
J. Scott Sewell is an intern from Coker College in Hartsville, SC. He's currently majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies with a focus in English, Communication, and Physical Education