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:
6. Western Carolina
10. The Citadel
Preseason All-SoCon Team Selected By The League's Head Coaches
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: