Mercer’s basketball team set for key week

dshirley@macon.comDecember 28, 2012 

Monday is New Year’s Eve, and for most people, that means there is a big party on their schedule.

A good way to kick off that party Monday afternoon could be by watching some quality college basketball.

There’s a chance to do just that right here in Macon as Mercer will host Stetson in a women’s/men’s doubleheader beginning with the women’s game at 2 p.m. Both Mercer teams have winning records, the men at 7-6 and the women at 6-5, and both have played well at home: The men are 4-0 at Hawkins Arena, while the women are 4-1.

It’s a key stretch for both teams, but especially the men. Susie Gardner’s women’s team is much improved this year and has a chance to get a spot in the A-Sun tournament after missing out the past couple of seasons, and the Bears need to get off to a good start in conference play to get in that chase.

Bob Hoffman’s Bears are at the other end of the A-Sun’s spectrum, expected to win the conference, and they really could use a strong start in A-Sun action. They face a tough test in getting that done with two important games next week. Stetson has struggled a bit to a 3-8 record, but the Hatters can be dangerous, and things get really interesting for the Bears after that game.

Florida Gulf Coast is 8-5 and will play Monday at Kennesaw State in its A-Sun opener before facing the Bears on Wednesday. The Eagles, remember, knocked the Bears out of the A-Sun tournament last year with a young roster and have a win over Miami on their résumé already this season.

But the Bears have a couple of those wins, as well, beating Florida State and Alabama on the road earlier this month. In doing so, Mercer posted a winning non-conference record for the second straight year, something the program hadn’t accomplished since the 1984-85 and 1985-86 seasons.

The Bears have carried over the momentum from their CollegeInsider.com tournament championship last year into the first part of this year, and they could certainly use some momentum from a strong start next week in conference play. After those two games next week comes a three-game road stretch against Kennesaw State, North Florida and Jacksonville, and it’s typically much harder to win games away from home.

Hoffman’s team won’t play at home again until Jan. 17 when it hosts East Tennessee State. That’s a long break between home games and makes next week’s matchups, and what kind of crowd is there to see them, so important.

A 2-0 start in A-Sun play would be huge, and the Bears could use a big, big crowd and a true home-court advantage to help make that happen.

Contact Daniel Shirley at 744-4227 or dshirley@macon.com

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