Tuesday night's Collegeinsider.com Tournament game between East Tennessee State and Chattanooga is a rivalry with a different twist. The combatants had to be told about the intensity of the series.
For years, the teams were bitter rivals, and as far as the fans go, they still are. But for the players, it's a new thing. They've never even seen each other, let alone had reason to build up any animosity.
"It is very unfamiliar to our current team," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. "They don't know the history. I visited with them and I hopefully conveyed that to them. Not only from the importance of the game, but the history of the game.
"It's always a big game for our fans whenever we play Chattanooga. It's an important game. It's a chance in postseason play to get a win and obviously there's a lot of other reasons that make it an interesting game."
The Mocs (18-14) and Bucs (18-15) will be together again in the Southern Conference next season when ETSU rejoins the league after nine years in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Although none of the players have been involved in the rivalry, they're beginning to learn about the intensity of the meetings between the two teams. From five Southern Conference championship game meetings — ETSU has won three of them — to the 1989 incident when Chattanooga's Benny Green hit ETSU cheerleader Jenny Worley in the face after a SoCon tournament game, there's always been an extra edge when the Bucs and Mocs square off.
"I've been getting a lot of notifications on Twitter and a lot of people are retweeting 'renewed rivalry,' " ETSU guard Rashawn Rembert said. "It's getting crazy. As much attention as it's getting, it's feeling like an ESPN game, like Duke and North Carolina."
This will be the Bucs' second trip to the CIT. They made the semifinals in 2011 with wins over Furman and Ohio before falling in overtime to Iona in the semifinals.
Rembert, a first-team all-conference pick, has a chance at the A-Sun's scoring title. He's tied with USC Upstate's Torrey Craig at 16.8 points a game. Both players have 555 points in 33 games.
Upstate is also in the CIT, playing host to Towson on Wednesday night. Whoever averages the most in the tournament will be the A-Sun's scoring leader.
"That's not on my mind at all," Bartow said. "We need him to score a lot to win this game. Hopefully he can score a lot and get that."
Rembert says if he does his job, the rest will take care of itself.
"I'm just trying to get the win," he said. "The other stuff really doesn't play too much into it. I'm a big part of what we do, but as long as we play our game I'm not worried about it."
Both teams are coming off quarterfinals losses in their respective conference tournaments. The Mocs, who finished second in the SoCon, lost to Georgia Southern. ETSU fell to Florida Gulf Coast.
Chattanooga had a 10-game winning streak during the season, and won its first nine conference games.
"When you think of Chattanooga over the years, this is a similar team," Bartow said. "They're very athletic and they probably have the best player in the Southern Conference."
Z. Mason, a former football player, is a 6-foot-6, 235-pound forward who averages 18.3 points and 9.5 rebounds a game. Mason played football at Ole Miss and was once listed as the No. 2 high school tight end in the country.
"He's a handful," Bartow said. "He's a hard matchup because he's a load inside plus he's made 40 threes."
The Bucs might have point guard Petey McClain back from an ankle injury that kept him out of both A-Sun tournament games, but he won't be at full speed.
"I'm not sure he'll play, and if he plays, I'm not sure how effective he'll be," Bartow said. "I'm hopeful he can maybe help us some."
Bartow was mulling three options, Jalen Riley, Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard and Devin Harris, as the starting point guard. Riley was the A-Sun's newcomer of the year and has given the Bucs a boost off the bench all season. Gilliard isn't a prototypical point guard with his power-forward size, but has had some of his best moments at that position. Harris went a long stretch of not seeing any action and played well in the A-Sun tournament.
Chattanooga leads the all-time series 43-32.
The CIT does not follow an NCAA-type bracket, so the winner of tonight's game won't find out ifs next opponent until all first-round games are completed Wednesday night.comments powered by Disqus