March Madness at Western Carolina

Harouna Mutombo. Photo: Doug Powell

The Madness

This has definitely been a down season for the Western Carolina men’s basketball team in the eyes of many including mine. They have struggled this year closing out teams and pulling out hard-fought wins. This has led to a 13-17 (7-10) record in the SoCon division and currently a fourth place standing in the North division.

However, the Catamounts seem to be getting hot at the right time and are riding a three-game win streak which includes wins over the Citadel, Elon, and Samford.  The North Division and well, the SoCon conference in general, is so mediocre that the Catamounts could actually end up with the two seed in the SoCon tourney and be the beneficiary of a first-round bye. Seems crazy right? It’s unlikely, but could happen if certain scenarios take place. The Catamounts have to take care of business Saturday against rival, Appalachian State (12-16, 7-10) and hope that a couple of other teams lose (Elon and Samford).

With that being said, from the team chemistry and emotion that this team is playing with here at the end, I would not be surprised at all if they make a nice little run in the SoCon tournament. They have the talented guards in Trey Sumler and Keaton Cole and strong forward play from Brandon Boggs and Harouna Mutombo. Tawaski King has come on as of late and made his presence felt in the interior. Three point shooting has been huge for the Catamounts on the winning streak, most notably from Cole and Boggs (33.6% shooting from three on the season). When you shoot from distance as well as Western has as of late, you can hang with anybody.

Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, “you live by the three and you die by three.” Many games this season, the Catamounts have started out on fire from behind the arc only to see teams make adjustments and come back from being down (See Samford game this past Thursday). One thing that I have noticed about the Cats is that they settle too much for the three ball instead of working it into the posts or looking for backdoor cuts. Sure, everything is good and well when the three is falling, but when it’s not, this team struggles to find answers on the offensive end and it frustrates their gameplan.They are going to have to work on this area if they want to still be dancing into March.


Being at home Saturday, the Catamounts should find a way to pull out the game against Appalachian State, knowing how critical this game is. I don’t however, think the scenarios will play out as much in their favor as far as the other games and I think they will be playing on the first day of the tournament. A day one and day two win are possible, but I think that is about it. There are too many teams in this conference that Western has shown they cannot compete with and their lack of consistency on offense and defense will start to show going deeper into the tournament.

Other notes

Catamount seniors, Harouna Mutombo, Sam Smithson and Keaton Cole will be honored on Saturday prior to the Appalachian State game. Harouna Mutombo is ranked 8th in the SoCon in points, ranked 9th in the SoCon in rebounds, and ranked 4th in the SoCon in steals. Keaton Cole is ranked 5th nationally in three pointers and ranked 8th in the SoCon in steals. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the Ramsey Center.