The top-seeded UNC Greensboro Spartans try to advance to the NCAA Tournament when they face the upset-minded Mercer Bears in the Southern Conference tournament championship game on Monday in Asheville, NC. The seventh-seeded Bears have won three games in the tournament, including upsets of the Nos. 2 and 6 seeds.
UNC Greensboro (20-8) comes into this game having won three in a row, including wins over East Tennessee State and The Citadel to advance to the final. The Spartans won the regular-season crown in the Southern Conference with a 13-5 mark against league opponents.
Mercer was seventh in the conference standings, managing to go 8-9 against Southern competition. The Bears have now won three in a row to advance to their first Southern Conference tournament championship game in school history.
The Spartans are five-point favorites when you’re looking at the college basketball odds, with the over-under set at 137.
Unprecedented Run for Mercer Bears
The Bears have never been to the point they are, sitting just a victory away from being a part of the NCAA March Madness bracket when it’s released on Sunday. Mercer is 0-2 against UNC Greensboro this season, though the last loss was a three-point affair in mid-February.
Neftali Alvarez was the top scorer in Mercer’s latest victory, scoring 23 points, including three 3-pointers, in the Bears’ semifinal win over VMI. The sophomore guard is one of two Bears averaging a team-high 13.5 points, and he’s dishing out a team-best 4.2 assists per outing.
Senior guard Ross Cummings is also averaging 13.5 points, and he’s shooting 41% from 3-point range, making a team-high 73 from beyond the arc this season. Cummings will be looking to bounce back from a horrible game in the semifinals, as he finished with just two points on 1-of-11 shooting, including going 0-of-7 from 3-point range.
Junior forward Felipe Haase had a double-double in the semifinal win, finishing with 15 points and 11 rebounds. He’s averaging 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds on the season.
Experienced UNC Greensboro Bunch
UNC Greensboro is in the Southern Conference tournament championship game for the fourth time in the last five years, but the Spartans are looking for just their second appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2001.
In its first two games of the tournament, UNC Greensboro has averaged 78.5 points and come through down the stretch. Over the last three minutes of their tournament games, the Spartans have outscored their opponents 20-5.
Southern Conference Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Isaiah Miller has been leading the way, scoring 21 points in each of the first two tournament games. Miller, who led the league in scoring, would be the first Southern Conference scoring champion to advance to the NCAAs since Stephen Curry did with Davidson in 2008.
Against East Tennessee State, Miller filled up the scorebook, adding seven rebounds, five assists and four steals to his team-high scoring total. Miller is averaging 19.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 2.7 steals per game, with no other Spartans player scoring in double figures.
Upset String Ends
The Spartans have the best player in this game, and Miller has been rising to the challenge so far in the tournament. The senior wants to finish this year with a trip to the NCAAs, and he’s going to do everything to get UNC Greensboro there.
While Mercer has had a nice run, it’s going to have a hard time keeping up with the Spartans. Cummings must have a better game if the Bears are going to keep this one close.
When you’re making your college basketball picks, give the five points and go with the Spartans to take the title and cover.