Monday, October 31, 2005

Southern Conference Preview


The Southern Conference was home to the lone undefeated-in-conference team in Division 1 a season ago. Davidson went 16-0 during conference play, then proceeded to lose to Chattanooga in the conference tournament. They wasted a perfect season and ended up going to the NIT. UT-Chattanooga beat UNC-Greensboro in the conference championship to go to the NCAA Tournament. They gave Wake Forest a nice run in the first round, but lost steam in the second half and lost. The league is going to be home to a host of good teams, although a familiar face should be atop the standings at the end of the regular season. As last year proved, however, the conference tournament is a different story.

Favorites: Davidson probably won't go undefeated in the regular season again, but they return enough to make the NCAA Tournament. Player of the Year Brendan Winters leads the way. He is an excellent shooter and scorer, and can dominate a game if he needs to. Winters is one of the most underrated players in the country. The rest of the perimeter has a multitude of options. Kenny Grant averaged almost six assists per game and is one of the best point guards in the conference. Matt McKillop is a good shooter that provides solid all-around play. Sixth man Jason Morton averaged double figures off the bench for the Wildcats. Up front, Ian Johnson will shoulder the load. He didn't start last season, but he could have a huge year in the lineup. The job next to him is up for grabs. Returnees Boris Meno and Thomas Sander and newcomers Stephen Rossiter and Andrew Lovedale will fight for the spot.

Contenders: Chattanooga is looking to repeat their NCAA Tournament appearance from a season ago. Their backcourt is deep and balanced. Casey Long is a good scorer and shooter on the wing, while Steve Cherry also returns as a starter. Ricky Hood provides a little bit of everything, and Jerice Crouch is a decent point guard. Newcomers Kedric Mayes and Jaycen Herring will make impacts on the perimeter. Up front, Alphonso Pugh could be an all-conference player if he plays to his potential. Charles Anderson returns as a starter who improved as the season went on, while Matt Malone will provide depth. UNC-Greensboro returns the league's best duo in guard Ricky Hickman and forward Kyle Hines. Hickman is an excellent scorer that will boost his scoring average this season, while Hines is a dominant post player. He is a top notch rebounder and shot blocker. The supporting cast could use some work, though. Guards Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Oleksiak are decent, but have to improve their shooting. Forwards Brian Beckford and Dustin Everette will take on more of a role, while freshman David McClenny is expected to make an immediate impact down low. Furman may have the most offensive talent in the league, giving them a legitimate chance to make a run at the league title. The backcourt trio of Tony Carter, Robby Bostain, and Eric Webb all averaged at least nine points per game and complement each other's games very well. Carter is a quick guard that is a decent scorer and passer; Bostain is the best long-range shooter on the team, in addition to being a good defender and assist man; and Webb is a very good shooter and distributor. Wing Gerad Punch also sees plenty of playing time. Up front, Moussa Diagne returns. He could be an all-conference player by the end of the season if he progresses the way he should. He's tough to stop down low. Redshirt newcomer Stan Jones could start next to Diagne, while several other players will vie for time in the froncourt.

Sleepers: Georgia Southern has the best scorer in the conference in Elton Nesbitt. He is explosive on the offensive end and had up to 43 points and 11 three pointers in a game. The 5-9 guard is difficult to stop, but he is also a very good defender. His partner in the backcourt is Donte Gennie, a combo guard capable of running the team. He is a decent scorer and passer. Anthony Marshall and Dwayne Foreman will also see time on the perimeter. Up front, Louis Graham could have a huge year after coming off the bench a season ago. Willie Dunn and Sean Olivier return as frontcourt contributors. JC transfer Lafayette Lofton will also make an impact. College of Charleston loses the bulk of their team, but the Cougars return a talented cast of players. The backcourt of Dontaye Draper and Drew Hall is very good, and is one of the best in the conference. Draper came off the bench last season, but was one of the best all-around players in the SoCon. Hall takes excellent care of the ball, and is a solid point guard. Richmond transfer Jose Garcia should help on the wing. In the frontcourt, Josh Jackson could have a breakout year, while Virginia Tech transfer Philip McCandies might start down low. Returnees J.R. Hairston and Jermaine Johnson and JC transfers Renardo Dickerson and David Lawrence will also get time up front. Appalachian State returns numerous players that had contributions a season ago, led by all-conference performer D.J. Thompson. He is tough to stop when he has the ball, and is also a good defender. The 5-8 point guard was one of the best passers in the league and can shoot well from deep. Nathan Cranford, a good shooter, and Demetrius Scott, a tough defender, will also start on the perimeter with Thompson. 6-3 Derek Thomas could get a starting job due to his athleticism. The inside spots are up for grabs. Jeremy Clayton should get one of them. He is a good all-around post player. Douglas McLaughlin-Williams and Lennox Marshall will get chances to start, as well.

Rounding Out the Pack: Elon has one of the best --albeit one of the most underrated-- players in the conference in post man Jackson Atoeybi. He went down with an injury in the fourth game of the season, effectively ending the Pheonix's chance of making any noise in the SoCon. The rest of the inside game isn't too shabby, either. Chris Chalko is a good low-post option, while Colin Wyatt and Rasmi Gamble also contributed last season. On the perimeter, Brian Waters and Scottie Rice are good scorers and Le'Vonn Jordan is a nice inside-outside player. Western Carolina has one of the best big men in the conference in center David Berghoefer. He can dominate a game from the low block. Joining him in the frountcourt is Cory Muirhead, a solid scorer and rebounder. A trio of good perimeter players all return in Kyle Greathouse, Trey Hopkins and Antonio Russell. Hopkins could develop into a go-to-guy in the backcourt. Wofford has an all-conference candidate in forward Howard Wilkerson. Wilkerson went down with an injury in January, but should be healthy. He is a near-impossible match-up for the defense. Tyler Berg is his partner down low, and proved he can be a go-to-guy as well. Eric Marshall is an excellent shooter on the wing, while Drew Gibson and Byron Fields are a decent duo at the point. Former MAAC Freshman of the Year Shane Nichols, a St. Peter's transfer, will have an impact on the perimeter. The Citadel has a nice returning group of players. The brother duo of Warren and Donny McLendon lead the way. Forward Warren is a very good inside-outside player that should be all-conference at the end of the season. Guard Donny is a good scorer. Donny's backcourt mate, Kevin Hammack, is a very good point guard. He takes good care of the ball and is a good distributor. Forwards J'mel Everhart and Matt Davis are very solid contributors for the Bulldogs.

Prediction: Davidson should repeat as the regular season champions, given their experience and the presence of Brendan Winters. The conference tournament is a different story. UNC-Greensboro has the best duo in the league; Georgia Southern has the best scorer; Furman is loaded on offense; Chattanooga won it last season; Appalachian State may have the best team out of all the contenders. After Davidson, the league is wide-open. Even the bottom feeders have some of the best players in the league. Top to bottom, the Southern Conference is going to be strong yet underrated throughout the season. Prepare for a competitive and entertaining year.

Player of the Year: Brendan Winters, SF, Davidson

All-Conference Team:
G- Elton Nesbitt, Georgia Southern
G/F- Brendan Winters, Davidson
F- Jackson Atoyebi, Elon
F- Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro
C- David Berghoefer, Western Carolina

Second Team:
G- Kenny Grant, Davidson
G- Ricky Hickman, UNC-Greensboro
F- Warren McLendon, The Citadel
F- Moussa Diagne, Furman
F- Howard Wilkerson, Wofford


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