Thursday, March 2, 2006

Southern Conference Tournament Preview

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The Southern Conference had nowhere near the season it had last year when Davidson went undefeated and brought national attention to the league. As the result of a really awkward unbalanced schedule, South Division winner Georgia Southern won the conference title by a half-game over North Division champion Elon. Davidson finished one game back of George Southern, while four other teams finished at least .500 in conference play.

Favorite: Most would say that Davidson should be the favorite because of their personnel, but the fact that they have struggled down the stretch, while Georgia Southern has won 8 of their last 9 gives the nod to the Eagles of GSU. The league's highest-scoring team loves to get up and down the floor, and they have the players to do it. Guard Elton Nesbitt is the conference's leading scorer and carry GSU. Backcourt mate Donte Gennie is a solid point-producer, while Louis Graham provides scoring and rebounding on the inside. The lack of defense that the Eagles play could catch up to them, though.

Contenders: Davidson, even though they have lost 3 of their last 7, has the ability to make a run and get the automatic bid that they should have won last season. Brendan Winters is one of the best players in the conference, while Ian Johnson is an excellent forward. Those two might form the best duo in the conference. Jason Morton anchors the backcourt. Elon won the North Division, but I don't see them as a legit contender to win the automatic bid. They don't look that impressive on paper and have been blown out when they played both Georgia Southern and Davidson. Therefore, a team that has a solid shot at winning the tournament is Charleston. They hung with both GSU and Davidson on the road, and have one of the best scorers in the conference in Dontaye Draper. He can carry the Cougars. Charleston has also won 8 of their last 11, and they lead the league in scoring defense.

Sleeper: The team that took the automatic bid from Davidson last season was Chattanooga, and they could creep up and grab it again. They have won 4 of 5 and 8 of their last 11. Plus, they have several players back from last year's team that gave Wake Forest everything they could handle in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Keddric Mays leads a quintet of perimeter players that can all produce in several aspects of the game. Jerice Crouch is a consistent scorer. Inside, Charles Anderson is a solid player in the paint. The Mocs play more of a 4-around-1 offense to take advantage of their perimeter depth.

Prediction: This conference tournament, like so many others this season, is wide-open. There is a host of teams that have a chance to win it. In what seems like a year too late, Davidson is going to take the crown. They have an excellent duo in Winters and Johnson, and have the guard play needed to take the pressure off the frontcourt. Additionally, they can score with any team in the league, but they also have one of the better defenses in the conference. Even though they might not have lived up to preseason expectations during the regular season, March is what counts. And Davidson is going to end up in the NCAA Tournament with the Southern's automatic bid. Expect a high-scoring affair against Georgia Southern in the finals.

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