n Southern Conference division champion features senior guards, beefy inside player - just like Ole Miss.

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

OXFORD - Other than some geographic overlapping, there don't seem to be many similarities between the Southern Conference and the Southeastern Conference.

That won't be the case tonight, when differences will be few in an NIT first-round meeting at Tad Smith Coliseum, Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy says.

The fourth-seeded Rebels meet Southern Conference North Division champion Appalachian State. Tipoff against the fifth-seeded Mountaineers (25-7) is at 7 p.m., and the game will be televised by CSS.

"They've got senior-oriented guards and a post guy who is about 6-8, 255, a transfer from Virginia," Kennedy said. "The makeup of their team is very similar to ours."

Appalachian State is different in the sense that it plays in a one-bid league. After the Mountaineers lost to College of Charleston 89-87 in overtime in the Southern Conference semifinals, athletics director Charlie Cobb took the aggressive and unusual approach of advertising.

The Boone, N.C., school paid $10,000 for a full-page ad in the Indianapolis Star outlining its accomplishments and its case for an NCAA tournament at-large bid.

"It got a lot of people talking about us," Appalachian State coach Houston Fancher said.

The Mountaineers' case includes a 3-2 record against top 50 RPI teams and wins against NCAA tournament teams Virginia, Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth and Davidson.

The big angle scorer is Donte Minter, and he's been critical to the Mountaineers' success.

They were just 5-3 without him, and the losses weren't close - by 30 at Clemson, by 10 at Wake Forest and by 32 at Virginia Tech.

With Minter, who is averaging 11.4 points and five rebounds, Appalachian State won the San Juan Shootout where it defeated Virginia, Central Florida and, by an 87-79 score in overtime, Vanderbilt. The shootout came in Minter's first week of eligibility. He scored 27 against Vanderbilt in his fifth game.

Appalachian State's leading scorer is D.J. Thompson, a 5-8 guard who shoots 38.1 percent behind the arc and is averaging 15.1 points a game.

Kennedy compares Thompson to Devan Downey, whom he coached at Cincinnati last year and who considered Ole Miss before he transferred to South Carolina.

"He's extremely quick and can score from the perimeter," Kennedy said. "He creates a lot for their team with dribble penetration."

Another similarity between the two is motivation. Whether it's seeding concerns or feeling a bit snubbed, getting up for the NIT is often a story line.

"They're excited about being in the postseason, and they're going to be jacked for playing in the first game of the NIT," Fancher said. "We have to be sure to match their energy level early, so we can be there at the end."

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