Tuesday, October 8, 2019

East Tennessee State tabbed as favorite in the 2019-20 SoCon hoops race

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Coming off what was an unprecedented season on the Southern Conference basketball hardwood, the 2019-20 season offers more unknowns than certainties, but then again, it was not known just how good the league would be going into the 2019-20 season either.

ETSU guard/forward Bo Hodges
One thing most figured heading into last season was the top four in the league’s pecking order would likely be the same again when the coaches and media convened in Asheville at the Renaissance Hotel for the 2019-20 SoCon preseason media day, which was resurrected by new league commissioner Jim Schaus. It was the SoCon’s first preseason league gathering for the media since 2013-14. 
No team picked to win the preseason media or coaches poll has ended up winning the conference regular-season or tournament was the 2015-16, when Chattanooga claimed both. 
In the 2019-20 media and coaches  polls, East Tennessee State (24-10, 13-5 in SoCon in 2018-19) was the consensus pick to win the league’s regular-season at Monday afternoon’s media outing held at the Renaissance Hotel.
The Bucs return four starters from a team that won 24 games a year ago and took part in the college basketball postseason as a part of the CollegeInsider.com (CIT). The Bucs received 20 of a possible 30 votes in the media poll, while receiving eight of the 10 coaches votes for the coaches all-league squad.
ETSU has three players selected to the preseason all-conference team, with senior forward Jeromy Rodriguez (11.2 PPG, 10.9 RPG), sophomore guard Daivien Williamson (9.5 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 74 assists/52 turnovers) and junior guard Bo Hodges (10.3 PPG, 4.4 RPG) were part of the the 10-player all-conference team as selected by the league’s 10 head coaches. 
Rodriguez was certainly impressive last season for the Bucs, as was one of the nation’s leaders on the backboards. He gives the Bucs that grit and toughness that Forbes is such an advocate of, having his roots in basketball played in the midwest. Forbes knows Rodriguez’s importance to that particular team dynamic.
UNC Greensboro (29-7, 15-3 in SoCon in 2018-19), which won a school-record 29 games a year ago was selected to finish second in both the media and coaches polls. The Spartans bring back three starters, but graduate two key backcourt performers, in Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy. 
The Spartans received four first-place votes in the media poll and received two in the coaches poll. UNCG had two selected to the preseason All-SoCon team, including also having the league’s preseason SoCon Player of the Year, Isaiah Miller (15.3 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 104 steals).
Rim-protector James Dickey (7.5 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 55 blocks), who missed six games with an injury last season, also returns to the fold and was a member of the preseason all-conference team. 
Bob Richey’s Furman Paladins were picked third and are coming off a season which saw them defeat a pair of Final Four teams last season, in Loyola-Chicago and reigning national champion Villanova to put themselves in the bubble conversation over the final month of the regular-season and even throughout championship week. 
In the media poll, Furman (25-8, 13-5 in SoCon in 2018-19) garnered four first-place votes, and had one player selected to the preseason All-SoCon team, with leading returning scorer Jordan Lyons (16.2 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 105 threes) garnering preseason distinction by the coaches as part of the preseason all-league squad.
Though the Paladins were ultimately left out of the field, despite an NET rank in the high 40s, the attention garnered by Richey’s club was enough to garner Furman its first NIT invitation since the 1990-91 season. 
Wofford (30-5, 18-0 SoCon in 2018-19) didn’t necessarily take anyone by surprise, as Mike Young’s Terriers will fully capable of claiming the league title, however, the fashion in which the Terriers was surprising to most, as the Terriers went a perfect 18-0 and league play, and ran through the SoCon to enter the 2019-20 season having won 21-straight SoCon games. 
Star shooting guard Nathan Hoover (13.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 46.9% from three) was the lone Terrier selected to the preseason All-SoCon squad. Hoover will now be the go-to-guy with the graduation of college basketball’s all-time three-point king Fletcher Magee. 
Rounding out the rest of the preseason predicted order of finish in both polls were in the following order: 5. Samford (17-16, 6-12 in  SoCon in 2018-19), 6. Chattanooga (12-20, 7-11 in SoCon in 2018-19 , 7. Western Carolina (7-25, 4-14 in SoCon in 2018-19), 8. Mercer (11-20, 6-12 SoCon in 2018-19), 9. The Citadel(12-18, 4-14 SoCon in 2018-19) and 10. VMI (11-21, 4-14 SoCon in 2018-19).
The most likely team darkhorse appears to be Scott Padgett’s Samford Bulldogs, who return all four of five starters and add another talented guard via the transfer portal, in Preston Parks. Parks, of course, played in the SoCon once before, garnering Freshman of the Year plaudits at The Citadel.
The Bulldogs will have arguably the quickest guard in all of mid-major basketball, in preseason All-SoCon guard Josh Sharkey (16.3 PPG, 7.2 APG, 2.61 SPG). Samford head coach Scott Padgett is excited about the depth he has added in both the backcourt and frontcourt. 
“We’ve added to our depth and I think that was paramount for us to be able to take that next step. Last year we had two guys we had two guys get hurt early. Logan Dye played about three or conference games that and then got hurt for the rest of the season. That affected our depth at the bigger spots,” Samford head coach Scott Padgett said.
“Then we had kind of some bad luck. Kevion Nolan, who ended up transferring. He had an injury and then had a flagrant two foul, which ended up costing him and then he got sick late in the season, which ended up costing him about six or seven games in conference games and that would end up shrinking our depth in the backcourt,” Padgett added. 
Chattanooga has had to endure some tumultuous times in head coach Lamont Paris’ first two season at the helm of the Mocs basketball program, however, he has his best collection of talent yet, despite losing some talented players like 2019 SoCon Freshman of the Year Kevin Easley, who is now part of the TCU basketball program.  
Paris added some reinforcements like high-profile transfers from Vanderbilt and West Virginia.  Forward Matt Ryan (Vanderbilt) and athletic guard Trey Doomes (West Virginia), who will be eligible immediately. 
The most improved team in the league might be Western Carolina, as the Catamounts were close in more than a few SoCon games last season, but couldn’t seem to get over the top in some of those games. 
However, second-year head coach Mark Prosser returns one of the top big men in all of mid-major basketball, in Carlos Dotson (13.9 PPG, 9.5 RPG), who is one of four double-digit scorers returning to the fold for Prosser. 
Mercer head coach Greg Gary is the other head coach in the Southern Conference heading into the 2018-19 season, and he returns Ross Cummings (17.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 101 threes), who is one of the SoCon’s best shooters and was a member of the preseason coaches all-league team. 
Gary comes to Mercer from Big Ten country, where he was Matt Painter’s top assistant at Purdue, helping the Boilermakers make an Elite Eight run last March before losing to eventual national champion Virginia in overtime. 
“I learned an awful lot from coach [Matt] Painter and if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in this situation with such a great opportunity at Mercer,” Gary said. 
“He knows how to do things the right way and we were successful there by being able to recruit the right type of kid,” Gary added. 
The league’s two military schools round out the media and coaches polls, with both losing some key pieces, with no one being hit harder by graduation than The Citadel. 
Head coach Duggar Baucom’s high-octane basketball will be in full effect once again in Charleston once again in 2019-20, and he’s of my favorite interviews. Baucom’s unique style lends itself to his upbeat personality, and he is excited to get the new campaign under way. 
“We have seven scholarship newcomers with five freshmen and two grad transfers and seven returners, so we’re pretty balanced,” Baucom said.
“The old guys are certainly trying to help indoctrinate the new guys, but now the grad transfers have college basketball experience so that helps and they know how hard you have to practice and those types of things, but our freshmen have been awesome and they incredible young men and they’ve done everything we have asked them to do and it makes for an exciting time...a learning curve, but still an exciting time,” Baucom added. 
VMI head coach Dan Earl lost his two top double-digit scorers to transfer, in  SoCon leading scorer Bubba Parham (21.4 PPG) and Sarju Patel (10.2 PPG), who transferred to Georgia Tech and Cornell, respectively. 
Myles Lewis (10.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG) is athletic and will blossom into one of the league’s better players this year, while Baucom at The Citadel must replace four of his five starters from a year ago, but do return Kaiden Rice in the backcourt. 
Below are the coaches and media polls, and the poll submitted by Mid-Major Madness. 
2019-20 Preseason Southern Conference Coaches Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. ETSU (8)                     80
2. UNCG (2)                    74
3. Furman                        61
4. Wofford                        52
5. Samford                       48
6. Chattanooga                41
7. Western Carolina         38
8. Mercer                         29
9. The Citadel                  16
10. VMI                            11

2019-20 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll

Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. ETSU (20)                   286
2. UNCG (6)                    264
3. Furman (4)                  245
4. Wofford                       216
5. Samford                      169
6. Chattanooga               128
7. Western Carolina        117
8. Mercer                         115
9. The Citadel                  70
10. VMI                            40

Poll I submitted:

2. Furman
4. Wofford
5. Samford
6. Western Carolina
7. Chattanooga
8. Mercer
9. VMI
10. The Citadel

Preseason All-SoCon Team Selected By The League's Head Coaches

Bo Hodges, Jr., G, ETSU
Jeromy Rodriguez, R-Sr., F, ETSU
Daivien Williamson, So., G, ETSU
Jordan Lyons, Sr., G, Furman
Ross Cummings, Sr., G, Mercer
James Dickey, R-Sr., F, UNCG
Isaiah Miller, Jr., G, UNCG
Josh Sharkey, Sr., G, Samford
Carlos Dotson, Sr., F, Western Carolina
Nathan Hoover, Sr., G, Wofford
SoCon Player of the Year:
Isaiah Miller--UNCG

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Furman ready to return to its hoops roots

Furman Director of Athletics Jason Donnelly
In life, timing is everything. Fresh off a school-record 25-win campaign, the program’s first-ever AP Top 25 ranking, and second appearance in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT), Furman has decided to return to its roots on the college basketball hardwood for three weekend games during the upcoming 2019-20 campaign.
At a press conference held on Pepsi Terrace at Bon Secours Wellness Arena on what was a blistering hot early October afternoon, arena manager Beth Paul, Greenville Mayor Knox White, Furman Director of Athletics Jason Donnelly, and Furman President Elizabeth Davis, announced that Furman men’s basketball will return to downtown Greenville for three games in the 2019-20 season. 
Furman men’s basketball coach Bob Richey was also on hand, however, did not formally address the media, but was available to the local media to answer questions following the short presentation.
The initiative is a collaborative effort between the city of Greenville and Furman University to showcase Greenville’s team at Bon Secours Wellness Arena and has been introduced to the public for the upcoming season as “Weekends at the Well.” 
“I speak about this from the perspective of somebody who is a native of Greenville and one of those that has been a longtime member of this community and of course there are so many new people in the city who might not have that perspective but I was sitting there reflecting on something we never thought we two things would see happen again. A downtown arena and that seemed impossible, and they never thought they would see the Poinsett Hotel re-open again...it could never happen...and they never thought they would see Furman basketball downtown again..it would never happen,” Greenville Mayor Knox White said. 
“Furman has been an important part of Greenville for well over 100 years and some great things did happen in the Memorial Auditorium (Furman’s former home for hoops in downtown Greenville) and the basketball tournaments and games that were played here and they conversations that would happen and the stories that were told, but they never thought it would happen again in downtown Greenville, so thank you to everyone who made this possible and Furman University for making this happen, and I have no doubt the community will be all in on helping paint this town purple,” White added.
The Paladins will take on perennial Big South power Winthrop (Dec. 14), and SoCon powers UNC Greensboro (Jan. 11) and Wofford (Feb. 22) at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena. 
Wofford, like Furman, spent time in the AP Top 25 last season, became the first 30-win team in the SoCon since NC State in the 1950-51 season, and captured the SoCon’s first tournament win since 2008 last season, while UNC Greensboro, like Furman, won a school-record 29 games last season and will be one of the league’s top teams yet again in 2019-20. 
In an effort to capture the attention of the city of Greenville coming off its historic season of 2019-20, the Paladins will return to their roots playing in the heart of downtown, which was home to the Furman from 1958-97 at the Memorial Auditorium, which has since been demolished. 
The Paladins will play at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, which seats almost 15,000 for hoops and was a regional site for the 2017 NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional first and second rounds, hosted by Furman and the Southern Conference. The Tournament will return to downtown Greenville in 2022.
The Paladins, of course, captured the attention of the nation last season when they knocked off a pair of Final Four Teams and were ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for three weeks. On Dec. 1, 1958, Furman played the Jerry West-led West Virginia University Mountaineers in the first-ever game played Memorial Auditorium, although it called downtown Greenville home from 1908-1996 at two different venues. 
The perfect marriage had been forged between the city and its University, which at the time was still located in downtown Greenville before moving to its current campus location in northern Greenville County in 1959. The Memorial Auditorium was referred to as the “Big Brown Box” by many. 
Prior to Furman’s days spent at Memorial Auditorium, it played its games at Textile Hall, where Frank Selvy became the first and only NCAA Division I college basketball player to score 100 points in a game when he did so on Feb. 13, 1954. That game was the first college basketball game to ever be televised in the state of South Carolina, giving Furman an early relationship and presence with the surrounding downtown community.
Despite what was an outstanding win over the Wildcats at the Brown Box, head coach Lyles Alley’s Paladins had managed just an 11-15 overall mark in 1963-64, but enroads were being made and a foundation of future success laid brick-by-brick through the struggles of the 1960s for Furman basketball. Furman sported just two winning seasons during the 1960s, and Davidson, under the direction of James "Lefty" Driesell, were always the class of the SoCon.
One thing that was always a guarantee, however, was that the Paladins would play well on their home floor. During the 1963-64 season, for example, the Paladins had put together a decent homecourt record that season, posting what was a 6-3 mark on the home floor, including a big 70-55 win over No. 5 Davidson on Feb. 11, 1964.
In 2018-19, Furman became the first SoCon team since that Davidson team to start a season 10-0 or better.
Nearly three decades later to the day of that win over a top five team, the Paladins would take down another ranked conference foe, when they downed No. 10 East Tennessee State and Keith “Mister” Jennings, 103-94, before a packed crowd at the Brown Box.
The dates Feb. 11 and Feb. 13 have become significant milestone moments in the history of Furman basketball, and two of those monumental moments for a program that has won four Southern Conference regular-season titles and six Southern Conference Tournament crowns.
Striking While The Iron is Hot
Furman new Director of Athletics Jason Donnelly is one of those guys that just understands mid-major basketball, and the dynamics of it. He comes from Villanova, where he spent time as an Associate Director of Athletics and even spent some time as the Director of Basketball Operations on the Main Line.
He comes from a place that consistently wins, but does it in a big city with five other pretty good basketball programs in the same city competing all for a big piece of the pie. When Furman shocked Villanova, 76-68, in overtime last season, the Wildcats were reigning national champs and had won two of the last three under head coach Jay Wright. 
The Paladins also downed Loyola Chicago--another Final Four member from the 2017-18 season--and the Paladins have four starters returning from that record-setting team of a year ago. Furman will play yet another Final Four team from the previous season on the road, when it faces Auburn on Dec.5, 2019. 
“So one of my first days on the job I came down to the the Well with President [Elizabeth] Davis, myself and our university leadership and we had a chance to look around to see what this is and what I was explaining to them is that for all the success we had at Villanova we had to take some chances as well and we had to build our brand and our product,” Director of Athletics Jason Donnelly said. 
“Philadelphia is a larger city, but we’re also competing against five or six other Division I college programs in that city and it was a little bit of a shared market in that space. The difference we’re looking at for Furman is that it’s an opportunity for us to build and to grow and I described a game at the Wells Fargo Center and it was Jay Wright and John Calipari and you could hear crickets in the gym and people didn’t really understand what it was going to be, but then if fast-forwarded 15 years later it was sold out games and weekend committment, people coming in from all around the country from Chicago to New York to Florida to be a part of that tradition,” Donnelly added.
Head coach Bob Richey, who heads into his third season as head coach of the Furman basketball program and is excited to see the program take another step forward in to re-connecting with Greenville and its roots, is a big thinker/big idea type person, and a major reason for its success is the fact that wise beyond his yeards head coach has never had a limited vision for what Furman’s basketball can eventually become.
“Let’s not put limiting beliefs on this and if you’re seeing this announcement and you’re putting a limiting belief on this, you’re already trying to go against the way we’re trying to go,” Richey said.
“If you’re saying this place is too big or your going to lose home court advantage, that’s not the train of thought we’re trying to get here,” he added. 
For Furman basketball, it all seems to be part of a bigger picture idea to go back and  re-visit its roots, but at the same time blend with one of the fastest growing cities in the nation with the university in the process. Today, on the surface, it appears both of those goals have been accomplished.
Furman opens the 2019-20 season on the road against NCAA Tournament participant Gardner-Webb.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Ten non-conference matchups to watch in SoCon Basketball in 2019-20

Furman is 1-4 all-time vs. Auburn
With summer well past its midway point and college football about three weeks away from kickoff, college basketball non-conference and conference schedules are starting to be released, and as you might expect, it has captured the attention of college basketball fans all over the country.

With the Southern Conference having captured the attention of the nation with some big upsets, I thought it would be fun to take a look at 10 non-conference matchups that could be intriguing this season. The countdown is in order of intrigue, as well as potential upset.

The ten matchups I take a look at are against all against power five conferences, and with all the schedules still being put together, here are some of the matchups I know of. 

10. Wofford at Duke (Dec. 19)—Just before the start of Southern Conference play, Wofford will get a crack at one of the big boys on Tobacco Road, traveling to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the Duke Blue Devils a few days before Christmas. It will mark just the second all-time meeting between the Terriers and Blue Devils, with the only other clash between the two coming almost five years ago to the day to when the two will meet in 2019. In that New Years Eve meeting back in 2014, the Terriers were soundly defeated, 84-55.

The Blue Devils will just reload, and despite losing Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett, the Blue Devils will be among the teams favored to cut down the nets next spring. The Blue Devils have another star-riddled with more five-star recruits for the 2019-20 season, including the likes of arguably the top big man coming into college hoops once again, in 6-10, 270-lb center Vernon Carey.

The Blue Devils also welcome in Cassius Stanley, who is a 6-6, athletic guard that will present the Terriers with several matchup issues. He averaged 15.8 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 1.3 SPG during his senior season at Sierra Canyon High School in Los Angeles, CA.

Probability of Upset: 5%

North Carolina avenged its 2017 loss at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium

9. Wofford at North Carolina (Dec. 15)—Just before heading up the road to play Duke at Cameron, first-year head coach Jay McAuley will take his Terriers to Carmichael Arena to face the North Carolina Tar Heels. It will mark the third-straight season that the two will meet on the college basketball hardwood, with the two having split the past two meetings. One of the neater things about this particular matchup is the fact that it will be played in an arena that has been a part of so much Tar Heel basketball history, and it will mark North Carolina’s first game inside Carmichael since 1986.

Last season, the Tar Heels avenged a shocking 79-75 loss less than a year earlier, handing the Terriers a 78-67 setback in the home opener last season. It turn out to be the only game the Terriers would lose all season en route to the SoCon’s first 30-win team since 1954-55. It will mark just the fourth all-time meting between the two programs, with North Carolina holding the 2-1 series edge. The first-ever meeting between came back in 2015, when North Carolina came away with a 78-58 win over the  Terriers in a mid-November clash. The one really neat

Like Duke, Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams will reload, despite losing guards Nasir Little, Cam Johnson, Coby White and forward Luke Maye  to either graduation or to the early enrollees into the NBA Draft. The one newcomer for the Tar Heels to keep an eye on is Day’Ron Sharpe—a 6-10, 246-lb center from Winterville, N.C., and is ranked the 22nd best recruit in the nation and fifth-best center in the country, according to 247sports.

Probability of Upset: 10%

8. UNC Greensboro at Kansas (Nov. 8)—For the first time since 2002, UNCG and Kansas will face off on the hardwood in an early test for both teams. Obviously, the Spartans will hope the game against the Jayhawks will go better than when eventual SoCon champion Wofford visited Allen Fieldhouse early on in the season. The Spartans will be one of two SoCon teams to face the Jayhawks in the 2019-20 season, with ETSU slated to visit Kansas 11 days later as a part of the Cayman Islands Classic.

For Wes Miller’s club, it will give a chance to take the Spartans into a harsh environment without his two veteran guards—Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy—who were a part of so many big wins over the past four years. It will also give a chance for Isaiah Miller to gauge himself against some of the best of the best in college basketball, as he will enter the season as one of the top players in mid-major basketball.

Kansas head coach Bill Self will once again be one of a handful of teams expected to compete for a national title this spring. Talented guards Devon Dotson, Christian Braun and Isaiah Moss return, as does 7-0 center Udoka Azubuike. Azubuike will offer UNCG shot-blocker James Dickey his biggest challenge on both ends next season.

Probability of Upset: 15%

7. East Tennessee State at Kansas (Nov. 19)—Probable Southern Conference preseason favorite East Tennessee State will take a trip to Kansas as part of the Cayman Islands Classic. 

The Bucs welcome back all five starters, and have added solid transfers to be what many feel is the deepest team in the Southern Conference entering the 2019-2020 season. The Bucs return one of the nation’s top rebounders, in Jeromy Rodriguez, who is likely to be chosen as the Southern Conference preseason Player of the Year. 

The Bucs and Jayhawks will be meeting for just the third time on the hardwood, with the last coming on Jan. 4, 1996, with the Jayhawks winning the game handily, 108-73, at Allen Fieldhouse.

Probability of Upset: 20%

6. Furman at Auburn (Dec. 5, 2019)—Furman knocked two Final members from the 2018 Final Four last season. This season, Bob Richey’s Paladins get a chance at another, when the Paladins face the Auburn Tigers at Auburn Arena on Dec. 5. It will mark the third-straight season the Paladins have faced an SEC foe, having faced Tennessee and LSU each of the past two campaigns. The most recent wins over SEC programs for Furman came in November of 2006 over Vanderbilt and December of 2010 over South Carolina. 

It will mark the sixth all-time meeting between the Paladins and Auburn, with the Tigers holding a 4-1 all-time series edge. The last time the Paladins knocked off the Tigers on the hardwood was 2012, with the Tigers posting a 64-50 win over the Paladins. 

The Paladins have four starters back from a team that started 12-0 last season and garnered the school’s first-ever Top 25 ranking. The one loss is a major one, however, with the graduation of All-SoCon and mid-major All-American Matt Rafferty, as well as sharp-shooter Andrew Brown.

Auburn nearly made magic happen in the state of Alabama last season by coming within a possession of making the national championship game. However, the Bruce Pearl-led Tigers fell to eventual national champion Virginia, 63-62. 

The Tigers lose talented guard Bryce Brown to graduation, but do return talented guards Chuma Okeke and Jared Harper. The cloud of expected NCAA infractions still hangs over the program, however, in the wake of its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. 

Probability of Upset: 25%

5. Alabama at Samford (TBA)—One of the more intriguing matchups of the non-conference basketball schedule heading into the 2019-20 season is the one between Alabama and Samford, and that’s primarily because the Crimson Tide will be traveling to Birmingham to take on a Samford team that’s some expect to compete for a place in the top four in the SoCon in 2019-20.

It will mark the 33rd all-time clash between the two programs, with the Crimson Tide holding a commanding 29-3 all-time edge. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide haven’t met on the hardwood since the 2009-10 season, with Alabama posting a 60-45 win.

The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide have to work out a date to meet this fall, but when it happens, it will offer talented Samford rising senior Samford guard Brandon Austin to get a little bit of revenge, as the He transferred into Samford from Alabama. Austin had an outstanding inaugural season for the Bulldogs, averaging 12.9 PPG and 4.7 RPG last season. He is one of four starters returning to the fold for head coach Scott Padgett this season.

While Padgett will be entering his sixth season at the helm of the Bulldogs’ basketball program, the Crimson Tide, who barely missed the NCAA Tournament last season, will have a new coach in town to try and help the Crimson Tide climb out of mediocrity in SEC basketball. Nate Oats comes to Tuscaloosa from Buffalo, as he looks to turn around the Crimson Tide on the hardwood in a football-crazed state.

Probability of Upset: 25%

4. Chattanooga at Virginia Tech—Chattanooga will see a familiar face on the opposing sidelines when it travels to Virginia Tech to face the now Mike Young-led Hokies.

Young was a part of something special at Wofford, winning five titles in 10 years, including helping the Terriers to a school-record 30 wins last season, and now he’s charged with trying to rebuild the Hokies coming off a Sweet 16 appearance last season. The Hokies lost a majority of that talented squad either to transfer or the NBA Draft.

For Chattanooga, the program seems to be back on the right track going forward. The Mocs, thanks in large part to an outstanding recruiting class. It’s a year that should see third-year head coach Lamont Paris and the Mocs produce, thanks in large part to this recruiting class.

Freshman of the Year Kevin Easley transferred  out of the program. That said, Paris definitely went out and addressed the lack of depth in the frontcourt with three solid signees for the 2019-20 class. The most significant of those is Vanderbilt transfer forward Matt Ryan. Ryan is 6-8 forward that can play right away due to him being a grad transfer. He will provide immediate support for the Mocs underneath that basket. 

During his only season at Vanderbilt, he started 25 of 29 games for the Commodores, averaging 8.1 PPG and 2.7 RPG during his only season with the Commodores. Ryan spent his first two seasons at Notre Dame prior to transferring to Vanderbilt. 

Probability of Upset: 30%

3. Wofford at Missouri (Nov. 18)—Wofford and Missouri will be facing off for just the second time in series history, with the only other meeting between the two coming in Fletcher Magee’s first game back in November of 2015. The occasion saw the Terriers drop an 84-73 contest.

Missouri, despite having a couple of outstanding recruiting classes under head coach Cuonzo Martin, have seen some ‘one-and-dones’ but return some impressive talents in the backcourt, in Xavier Pinson and Mark Smith. The Tigers were just 15-17 last season, but could be one of the more improved teams in the SEC.

Still, Wofford is an team that can shoot, and against a Missouri team early that is still trying to find its confident, it could offer Wofford the prime opportunity. Remember the Terriers return outstanding guards Storm Murphy and one of the league’s top players—Nathan Hoover.

Probability of Upset: 35%

2. N.C. State at UNC Greensboro (Dec. 15)—Two years ago UNC Greensboro picked up its third win ever over an ACC team, and that team just happened to be one of the ACC blue bloods, in North Carolina State. The Spartans won a 81-76 contest over the Wolfpack in Raleigh. 

The Wolfpack have won 10 of 11 games against the Spartans, but have been vulnerable in pre-conference matchups with mid-majors in the past.

The Wolfpack comes to the Greensboro Coliseum facing a UNCG team that returns three starters, with guard Isaiah Miller and big men Kyrin Galloway and James Dickey back, as the trio was a major part of that team that beat the Wolfpack two years ago.

N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts will once again have a team that should contend for an NCAA Tournament berth. After all, the Wolfpack and Spartans were two of the final teams left out of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. 

The fact that Markell Johnson returns for his senior season could make this one even tougher for the Spartans to pull the upset, however, they have a real shot. Johnson did not play in the NC State five-point loss two years ago.

Probability of Upset: 38%

1.East Tennessee State at LSU (Dec. 18)—ETSU will head to Baton Rouge to face off against the LSU Tigers almost a year-to-the-day that No. 24 Furman faced the Tigers in the Pete Maravich Center. Just maybe Steve Forbes will have a ranked ETSU team heading to the Maravich Center in 2019, but only time and results will determine that.

Furman lost that game 75-57, thanks in large part to LSU’s size and its SEC athleticism, however, the margin of victory is a bit deceiving with the game hovering around a 6-10 game with a little less than four minutes left. LSU’s game a month earlier with another SoCon power—UNCG—was much closer, with the Tigers posting a 97-93 win in that contest. 

Still, the Bucs have four of five starters back, and coupled with transfers in from Southeast Missouri State and Central Connecticut State off a team that won 24 games last season, will likely enter the season as the preseason favorites in the SoCon.

LSU head coach Will Wade suffered massive losses to the NBA, with Tremont Waters and big man Naz Reid having opted to move on to the NBA. Talent still returns for Wade’s Tigers, with guards Javonte Smart and Skylar Mays back, as well as ultra-athletic forward Emmitt Williams. 

An interesting note of interest is that ETSU assistant coach Brooks Savage was once an assistant under Wade during his two seasons in the Scenic City. Perhaps he has the scout for this game and can lend some expertise on Wade and the Tigers.

Probability of Upset: 40%

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

SoCon Basketball: Season Recap and Early Predictions for 2019-20

Image result for ETSU's Jeromy Rodriguez
ETSU forward Jeromy Rodriguez

Short Recap of 2018-19:

In case you missed it, the 2018-19 season in the Southern Conference was an unprecedented campaign.The 2018-19 Southern Conference basketball season will be remembered for so many different reasons, but mainly, it was one of the best in the 100-year history of the league. The 2018-18 season in the Southern Conference was one that checked all the boxes.

It was a season that saw the league finish ranked 11th nationally in the new net evaluation rankings, or NET, which is a new rating the NCAA used this season, which replaced the the old RPI system. The No. 11 ranking to end the season in the NET is the highest the SoCon has ever finished nationally as a league.

In the history of the nation’s fifth-oldest conference, the league experienced many “firsts” as a league, as well as individual programs. Two programs achieved national rankings for the first time in their respective histories, with one of those teams likely to be ranked in the final Associated Press poll. Current AP No. 19 Wofford and former No. 23 Furman were both been ranked this season, which marks the first time that two teams have ever been ranked in the same season in Southern Conference history.

This conference has been so much fun to navigate this season, and one that I must say has been more for me personally to cover than any other.

Three teams established new high-water marks for wins in a single-season, with Wofford (30), UNC Greensboro (29) and Furman (25) all establishing a new school record for victories in a season.

Wofford went wire-to-wire unbeaten in the Southern Conference, winning a school-record 21-straight games before eventually losing in the NCAA Tournament round of 32 to Kentucky, 62-56.

The Terriers turned in maybe the best single-season in Southern Conference history, and in the ESPN Coaches Top 25 poll of the season, Wofford found itself ranked 18th. Wofford claimed the 2019 SoCon Tournament title with a 70-58 win over UNC Greensboro in early March, punching the Terriers’ ticket to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015, but for the fifth time in the past 10 years.

Rolling into Jacksonville as the No. 7 seed, the Terriers took down Seton Hall, 84-68, to claim the school’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win and in the process, became the first Southern Conference team to win 30 or more games in a season since NC State in 1950-51. Wofford is just the third team overall to win 30 games in a single-season in league history.

A big reason for the Terriers’ success this season was the inside-outside punch of Cameron Jackson and Fletcher Magee. Both were first-team All-SoCon picks, with Magee setting a new NCAA three-pointers made record, finishing his career with 509. He did so back making seven three-pointers in the opening round NCAA Tournament win over Seton Hall.

The excitement started from the very outset of the season, when Clay Mounce’s dunk allowed Furman to claim the first of its two Final Four scalps from a year ago, as his thunderous finish allowed the Paladins to escape Loyola Chicago with a shocking 60-58 win.The Paladins would later go on to defeat defending national champion and eighth-ranked Villanova (76-68, OT) a little over a week later.

The Paladins also saw junior guard Jordan Lyons tie the NCAA record for most three-pointers hit in a single game (15) in his 54-point performance in a win over Division II North Greenville. Furman was an at-large qualifier for the National Invitational Tournament, where it lost in the opening round to Wichita State, 76-70.

UNCG and East Tennessee State also had outstanding seasons, with both participating in the college basketball postseason. The Spartans were the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament, but garnered the top overall seed in the NIT. After winning a first-round game over Campbell, the Spartans eventually bowed out in the next round with an 84-69 loss to eventual runner-up Lipscomb.

It would turn out to be the final game for talented guards Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy, with both graduating after helping lead the Spartans to 96 wins, two SoCon regular-season league titles and a SoCon Tournament title over the past four years.

ETSU put together a campaign, which saw the Bucs win 24 games and were invited to play as a part of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament. With the absence of three starters due to injury, however, the Bucs bowed out of the tournament with a 102-94 loss to Green Bay. ETSU head coach has now won 100 games in four seasons at the helm of the ETSU program.

An Early Look at 2018-19:

1. East Tennessee State (24-10, 13-5 SoCon/4th)--Head coach Steve Forbes returns all five starters and his top eight scorers from a year ago. The Bucs have a pair of sharpshooters in the backcourt, with Davien Williamson and Patrick Good back, as well as the alway-reliable Bo Hodges back for his junior season. The Bucs will continue to capitalize on have someone as efficient and skilled as Jeromy Rodriguez in the paint.

2. Furman (25-8, 13-5 SoCon/3rd)--If Furman was a surprise this season, maybe they shouldn’t have been. Bob Richey continued off his outstanding inaugural season by leading Furman to a school-record number of wins in his second. The Paladins lose once in a lifetime talent Matt Rafferty to graduation, but four starters are back, led by rising senior guard Jordan Lyons.

3. Wofford (30-5, 18-0 SoCon/1st)-Reigning Southern Conference champion and NCAA Tournament participant lost the SoCon’s second all-time winningest coach, the NCAA’s all-time three-point king and one the program’s most efficient scorers in the low post of all-time for starters. However, newly minted head coach Jay McAuley knows the program well, and he takes over one that expects to not relinquish its title so easily. Storm Murphy and Nathan Hoover return in the backcourt, and these two were a couple of 40% shooters from long range last season.

4. UNC Greensboro (29-7, 15-3/2nd in SoCon)--Head coach Wes Miller continues to do big things as the head coach at UNCG, and one thing he has done so well throughout his career is recruit to the Gate City. That theme hasn’t changed, with the additions of 6-8 Derricko Williams and backcourt twins Keyshawn and Kobe Langley, as the trio will look to offset the huge losses of seniors Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy from the backcourt. James Dickey is back to patrol the middle of the paint once again, and look for Old Dominion transfer Michael Hueitt, Jr. to be an immediate impact player in the backcourt. The Spartans may well return the best all-around player in the league next season, in rising junior guard Isaiah Miller, as the reigning SoCon Defender of the Year will give the Spartans once again add to their trophy case.

5. Western Carolina (7-25, 4-14/9th in SoCon)--I’m going to go ahead and call Western Carolina the darkhorse to do big things in the SoCon next season. Second-year head coach Mark Prosser saw more downs than ups in close games this past season, but he returns a solid nucleus that should see the Catamounts be in the mix in 2019-20. Carlos Dotson is set to be one of the premier big men in the SoCon next season, and the backcourt will get a major boost with the Northern Kentucky Mason Faulkner joining both SoCon All-Freshman Team member Kameron Gibson and sharpshooting guard Matt Halvorsen.

6. Samford (17-15, 6-12 SoCon/7th in SoCon)--Josh Sharkey is by far one of the top returning players in the SoCon, and the jet-quick guard will be back for one more season to give the SoCon opposition fits. He'll team with rising senior Brandon Austin and Myron Gordon in the backcourt, which gives the Bulldogs one of the best backcourt alignments in the SoCon. Ruben Guerrero has graduated, leaving head coach Scott Padgett needing to go out and get a center. The good news is Robert Allen returns in the paint following a season that saw him capture SoCon All-Freshman team honors. 

7. Mercer (11-20, 6-12/6th in SoCon)--Mercer will be one of two teams in the league with a new head coach, with Greg Gary, who takes over for Bob Hoffman following his firing at the end of the 2018-19 season. Gary comes to Mercer fresh off a deep run in the NCAA Tournament, as Purdue's top assistant under head coach Matt Painter. Purdue lost a heartbreaker to eventual national champion Virginia (80-75/OT) in the Elite Eight. The Bears have a talented corps of players returning, led by All-SoCon performer Ross Cummings. Three starters return, including four with starting experience. Senior forward Ethan Stair and rising junior guard Marcus Cohen need to have breakout seasons offensively. The bad news is Fardaws Aimaq is transferring, so Gary's primary focus in recruiting will be establishing depth in the Bears front court.

8. VMI (11-21, 4-14/8th in SoCon)--VMI might have had one of the best backcourts in the SoCon next season, however, shortly following the campaign, sophomore guard Sarju Patel, who was VMI's second-best perimeter threat this past season. The good news is potential preseason Player of the Year Bubba Parham does return, and the rising junior eight games of 30 or more points last season, including a 42-point performance in the SoCon Tournament win over Western Carolina. Parham will be joined by Greg Parham and the ever improving Garrett Gilkeson. Gilkeson is VMI's defensive stopper. Head coach Dan Earl will look to make freshman center Jake Stephens even more a versatile threat in the paint next season, and Myles Lewis will play the stretch-four for the Keydets once again next season. He was one of the most improved players in the Southern Conference this past season, and was the team's third-leading scorer. Look for Connor Arnold to step into a bigger role as a post presence next season. This might be Earl's most-talented team since coming to Lexington as the Keydets' head coach four years ago.

9. The Citadel (12-18, 4-14/10th in SoCon)--The Citadel looked like it might be the darkhorse team in the Southern Conference, getting off to a 10-3 start. However, when the calendar flipped to 2019, the Bulldogs mustered only a 3-15 record over the final two months of the season and caused the Bulldogs to go through a free fall following a conference-opening win over Mercer in December. The Bulldogs have to replace four of their top six scorers from a year ago, including its top three scorers. The top three alone averaged 47 of The Citadel's 85.6 PPG last season. The leading returning go-to-scorer will be rising junior forward Kaiden Rice, who comes off a season which saw him average 11.4 PPG. Head coach Duggar Baucom must replace his entire starting backcourt, and will need to get Jerry Higgins III and Kaelon Harris to step up and provide leadership. Both Alex Reed and Hayden Brown return as holdovers in the front court.

10. Chattanooga (12-20, 7-11 SoCon)--Just prior to last season, it looked as though head coach Lamont Paris was about to have the Mocs turning the corner. But with three key players already having transferred out of the program, the 2019-20 season could be another step back for the Mocs. The biggest loss is obviously Kevin Easley, who was the Mocs leading scorer and the Freshman of the Year in the SoCon last season. David Jean-Baptiste returns to lead the backcourt, and with both Jerry Johnson Jr and Donovann Toatley having transferred out, expect Maurice Commander's role to increase even more. Ramon Vila returns to anchor the front court. This recruiting cycle could be make or break for Paris and the Mocs.

Preaseason All-SoCon Team
G--Jordan Lyons (Furman)
G--Nathan Hoover (Wofford)
G--Isaiah Miller (UNCG)
F--Jeromy Rodriguez (ETSU)
F--Carlos Dotson (WCU)

Second Team:
G--Ross Cummings (Mercer)
G--Bo Hodges (ETSU)
G--Josh Sharkey (Samford)
C--James Dickey (UNCG)
F--Noah Gurley (Furman)

Player of the Year: Isaiah Miller (UNCG)
Defensive Player of the Year: Bo Hodges (ETSU)
Coach of the Year: Steve Forbes (ETSU)

East Tennessee State tabbed as favorite in the 2019-20 SoCon hoops race

ASHEVILLE, N.C.—Coming off what was an unprecedented season on the Southern Conference basketball hardwood, the 2019-20 season offers more ...