The Sports Network Men's SoCon Preview

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The Sports Network Men's SoCon Preview

Postby BestOfBreed on Tue Nov 01, 2005 4:33 pm

College Basketball Preview - Southern Conference

The Sports Network

By Pat Taggart, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: Last season, Davidson finished 23-9 overall and a perfect 16-0 in league play. The Wildcats did not take care of business in the Southern Conference Tournament, however, and were relegated to the NIT. Chattanooga represented the league in the NCAA Tournament and lost to Wake Forest in the first round. This season, Davidson is being billed as the team to beat, although this will be far from a one-horse race. Georgia Southern will be tough, and UNC-Greensboro is another team that can win it all. Four schools finished with at least 10 conference victories a year ago, and three others went 9-7. The parity figures to continue in 2005-06, and there are also a few clubs who could sneak up the ranks and surprise some people. For players such as Davidson's Brendan Winters, Georgia Southern's Elton Nesbitt and Western Carolina's David Berghoefer, this is their final season as collegiate athletes and they will look to shine.


PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: NORTH DIVISION: 1. UNC-Greensboro; 2. Chattanooga; 3. Appalachian State; 4. Elon; 5. Western Carolina; SOUTH DIVISION: 1. Davidson; 2. Georgia Southern; 3. Furman; 4. Wofford; 5. College of Charleston; 6. The Citadel



UNC-GREENSBORO: The Spartans welcome back Mike Dement, who has returned to coach the team again after a 10-year hiatus. Dement doesn't exactly have a rebuilding project on his hands, as his team has the potential to challenge for the SoCon title this year. The guard combo of Ricky Hickman and Kyle Hines could be the best in the league. Hickman scored 14.5 ppg a year ago and figures to be at least as productive as a senior. As for Hines, he is a 6-6 forward who scored 13.6 ppg as a rookie to go along with 8.6 rpg and 3.4 bpg. The fact that Hines posted those extremely impressive numbers and shot 62 percent from the floor is a bit surprising considering that he only has the size of a small forward. The hope for Dement is that 6-11 juco transfer Bart Tooms and fellow frontcourt performer Danny McClenny can deflect some pressure from Hines. If so, the Spartans will be a tough out.

CHATTANOOGA: The Mocs won the 2005 SoCon Tournament championship in front of their home fans last season, so confidence should not be a problem as this new year begins. Alphonso Pugh may be the best of the returnees, as the 6-6 senior forward brings back 11.3 ppg to the lineup. The hope is that he can help with the rapid development of freshman forward Khalil Hartwell, who will be counted on to make a considerable contribution from day one. Junior point guard Casey Long, fellow junior Ricky Hood and senior Steve Cherry will patrol the backcourt, and while none of those individuals has big-time offensive numbers to speak off, it is unfair to call the guard position one of weakness. John Shulman went 20-11 in his first season as the leader of the program, and that success has expectations extremely high. The Mocs will be strong, but another title is questionable.

APPALACHIAN STATE: In five years at the helm, coach Houston Fancher has a lackluster 67-81 record. Fortunately, he was able to lead the Mountaineers to an 18-12 overall mark in 2004-05, including a 9-7 ledger in league play. They leaned on a high-paced attacking offense predicated on the three-point shot, and the results were impressive. Expect more of the same this year, as D.J. Thompson and company will push the tempo. Thompson, a 5-8 junior guard, makes up for a lack of size with tremendous quickness and an accurate shooting touch. He tallied 11.2 ppg a year ago on 40.7 percent accuracy from behind the arc, and there is no reason to expect a drop-off this season. Nathan Cranford and Douglass McLaughlin-Williams are also back after starting a year ago, and while neither put up big offensive numbers, both will get added touches this season.

ELON: The Phoenix haven't won a regular season conference championship since 1971 when Elon was a member of the Carolinas Conference. The program has never reached the NCAA Tournament, so expectations are perennially muted. Although there is no reason to expect the team to rise to the top of the conference standings this season, there are a couple of players capable of willing the club to wins. Most notable, of course, is forward Jackson Atoyebi, who is coming off shoulder surgery. The 6-6 senior is a big-time scorer who brings a degree of tenacity to the court, and he will line up alongside 6-8 junior Chris Chalko. As for the backcourt, 6-4 senior guard Scottie Rice returns 10.5 ppg to the lineup. If Atoyebi is able to prove healthy, and there is no reason to doubt that at this point, Elon should be competitive. Still, don't expect the team to contend for a division title.

WESTERN CAROLIONA: Clearly, Western Carolina is a team in need of a new identity, as the Catamounts haven't won a regular-season title since 1996 and haven't reached the NCAA Tournament since 1966. With that in mind, the program hired Larry Hunter this offseason to be the new head coach. With over 200 Division I-A victories, Hunter brings a strong resume' and some much-needed legitimacy to the program. While the lineup isn't loaded with talent, Hunter knows that he has at least one strong performer in David Berghoefer, a 6-10 senior center who averaged 14.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg last season while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. It will be the job of Trey Hopkins to get the ball to Berghoefer, and the sophomore is more than capable of doing just that. If Hunter can find a legitimate second scoring option to take some pressure off of his star center, the team will benefit tremendously.


DAVIDSON: The Wildcats have won at least a share of four consecutive division titles, and it is hard to bet against the team as we enter a new season. Coach Bob McKillop has always gotten the most out of his roster, and there is some serious talent in place. Brendan Winters may be the best player in the SoCon, as the 6-5 senior was a force against league opponents last season as well as against clubs such as Duke and Missouri. He averaged 16.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg as a junior, and his 43.4 percent shooting from behind the arc is deadly. Kenny Grant dished out 5.6 apg a year ago, and the team will certainly benefit if he can score consistently. Up front, Ian Johnson is the team's top scoring option, as the 6-9 senior can step away from the basket and knock down shots out to the three-point line. The fact that Davidson can give the ball to its star in the final minute of close games and let him operate is an advantage not enjoyed by most teams.

GEORGIA SOUTHERN: Anyone who has closely followed college basketball knows that Georgia Southern can score points in bunches. The Eagles love to push the tempo, and they may be the team most capable of preventing Davidson from reaching the NCAA Tournament this season. Elton Nesbitt is only 5-8, but the senior guard scored 20.2 ppg a year and is never bashful with the ball in his hands. It may be difficult to maintain those numbers this season because the club lost a pair of all-conference performers from a year ago who took a great deal of attention away from Nesbitt. The hope is that Donte Jennie can prove to be a legitimate second scoring option, as both he and Louis Graham are capable of being double-digit performers. Not since 1992 has Georgia Southern reached the NCAA Tournament, but the club clearly has a shot this season.

FURMAN: The Paladins have to feel good about finishing two games above the .500 mark in conference play a year ago, and the fact that four of the top five scorers are back from that squad is reason for fans of the program to be excited. The most notable returnee for the club is 6-8 junior forward Moussa Diagne who is clearly one of the league's top post performers. He netted 12.3 ppg and pulled down 5.3 rpg a year ago, and he is expected to improve those numbers with another year of experience under his belt. Eric Webb contributed 10.8 ppg and 3.7 apg last season, and it will be his job to feed Diagne in the post. Robby Bostain is a 6-6 swingman who netted 10.7 ppg a year ago, and he can create mismatches because of his versatility. Ben Earle is a dangerous three-point shooter, and the same can be said of Tony Carter. Furman has a chance to make some serious noise this season.

WOFFORD: The Terriers have only a few players in the lineup who are proven performers, but those individuals are certainly capable of putting up some strong numbers. Forward Howard Wilkerson should be a force once again after posting 13.8 ppg and 7.8 rpg a couple of seasons ago. He is back from injury and eager to prove that he is still an impact performer. He will be joined up from by center Tyler Berg, a fellow senior who netted 10.4 ppg and 6.0 rpg a year ago. Those two form one of the top frontcourt duos in the Southern Conference, but their effectiveness will be hindered if the backcourt proves unproductive. The team's top guard figures to be Eric Marshall, who tallied 10.3 ppg a year and will now be asked to take more shots. Coach Mike Young is entering his fourth season as the leader of the program, and although expectations are low, things could certainly be worse.

COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON: The Cougars have developed a national reputation as a legitimate threat in non-league play, but they have not been to the NCAA Tournament since the turn of the century. Pressure is building among the loyal fan base, and Tom Herrion may not have the horses in place to make a run in 2005-06. Sure, the backcourt appears to be strong with the duo of Drew Hall and Dante Draper, but the frontcourt remains a major question mark. Hall is a 6-2 senior who dished out 5.1 apg a year ago, and Draper is a 5-11 junior who tallied 12.0 ppg as a sophomore. The duo lacks size and may struggle against some of the teams with bigger guards. The fact that the starting lineup may be completed by a pair of juco transfers and an untested transfer from Virginia Tech is concerning. The SoCon Tournament is in Charleston this season, but expect the Cougars to watch the championship game in the stands with their fans.

THE CITADEL: Sure, fans of the Bulldogs will have fun watching the McLendon brothers, Donny and Warren, who both scored in double figures a year ago. Unfortunately, those two players are surrounded by subpar talent at best, and a finish in the basement of the South Division is likely once again. The Citadel won just four league games in 16 attempts a year ago, and it is hard to imagine the club improving on that win total. Point guard Kevin Hammack is a solid assist man who must become more consistent as a scorer, and J'mel Everhart must become more active at the offensive end from his forward position. It is tough to recruit at The Citadel, explaining why coach Pat Dennis is 64 games under .500 in his 13 years at the helm.
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