Sunday, October 15, 2006

Southern Conference Preview


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 an awkward and unbalanced conference 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. The championship of the conference tournament featured neither of the division winners, though. Georgia Southern was knocked out in the quarterfinals, while Elon fell to Davidson in the semi-finals. The Wildcats took home the automatic bid when they defeated Chattanooga by 25 in the title game. Once in the NCAA Tournament, Davidson played #2 seed Ohio State closely the entire game, but could not get over the hump and fell to the Buckeyes. This season, several of last year's contenders fall back to the pack, while a couple of underachievers look to rise to the top.

Favorites: College of Charleston, led by new coach Bobby Cremins, comes into the season as the leading candidate to win the automatic bid for the Southern Conference. The Cougars had a good season last year, finishing 3rd in the South Division, going 9-6. They were one of the league's best scoring and rebounding teams, but Charleston should be even better this season. SoCon Player of the Year candidate Dontaye Draper leads the way for the Cougars. The 5-11 guard is a big-time scorer and a very good distributor and defender. He does need to cut down on his turnovers, though. Joining him in the backcourt is Renardo Dickerson, who uses his strength to get rebounds and points. The Cougars also have the best frontcourt in the conference. Josh Jackson is one of the better post players in the league, and could be due for a breakout season. Jermaine Johnson, the league's Freshman of the Year, is a load to handle on the inside and played very well down the stretch. David Lawrence is a good inside-outside option who is versatile on the wing. UNC-Greensboro finished 5th in the North Division last year and went only 12-19 overall, but they should improve greatly this season. The Spartans return the best inside-outside combo in the league, and one of the best in the country, in guard Ricky Hickman and forward Kyle Hines. Hines is arguably the best player in the SoCon and is one of the top power forwards in the nation. He dominated the conference last year and is capable of a 20-10 outing every game. Moreover, he is an outstanding defender. Hickman is an excellent scorer and a solid shooter who is also a very good on-ball defender. He has NBA potential. The third option is guard Kevin Oleksiak, a double-figure scorer who could improve his numbers this season. At point, Dwayne Johnson is a good distributor and defendera who needs to improve his scoring. Rounding out the frontcourt is David McClenny. He is a very good post player who takes some of the pressure off of Hines. Appalachian State played well to finish the season last year, but needs to be more consistent throughout the season in order to reach their full potential. The Mountaineers return all five starters, including guard D.J. Thompson. He is one of the best players in the conference and one of the more underrated mid-major guards in the country. Thompson is an outstanding scorer who can fill it up in a hurry. He is also a very good defender and passer. Joining him on the perimeter will be Demetrius Scott and Nathan Cranford. Scott is an excellent defender and a solid rebounder who is a capable scorer, while Cranford is a good shooter and scorer in the backcourt. Jarvis Jackson and Eduardo Bermudez will provide depth. Up front, Jeremy Clayton could be poised for a big year. He is a very good shot blocker and rebounder who will need to improve his scoring. Doug McLaughlin-Williams is a nice complement to Clayton down low. He is a very solid player. Virginia transfer Donte Miller and Tyler Webb are quality players off the bench.

Contenders: Georgia Southern, the league's defending regular-season champion, loses two starters, including Elton Nesbitt, one of the players in school history. They will have to replace him if they are to repeat a league title. Their strength remain s in the backcourt, though. Donte Gennie is a potential all-conference player who will likely take over Nesbitt's job as the go-to-guy. He is an excellent long-range shooter who can also drive to the basket and pass the ball efficiently. Dwayne Foreman joins him on the perimeter. He is an outstanding distributor who came off the bench last season, but should become one of the top point guards in the conference this year. Freshman Antoine Johnson could start as well. Down low, all-conference performer Louis Graham leads the way. He is a solid scorer and a very good rebounder and shot-blocker. Jimmy Tobias is another key player up front. Diego Salazar needs to establish himself in the paint. Furman was above-.500 season, winning between 14 and 17 games for the fifth straight season. They will have to improve that number if they want to contend for a title. One of the best perimeter duos in the league returns for the Paladins. Robbie Bostain is a very difficult match-up. He is 6-6 and can score from anywhere on the court. He is also a solid passer and a good rebounder. Eric Webb is a stout long-range shooter who is a very good second option. Jadee Jones and Gerard Punch are two more experienced perimeter players that will play key roles. Moussa Diagne is a very good inside-outside player in the frontcourt who could have a big year. Stanley Jones will be an important contributor down low. Chattanooga was on the verge of their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance before getting blown out in the SoCon title game by Davidson. With the loss of three starters, it will take a lot of work to get to that level again this season. However, the Mocs return one of the better perimeter trios in the league. Casey Long is the best all-around player on the team and is the leading returning passer and rebounder. He is also a solid scorer. Keddric Mays, the lone double-figure scorer back from last season, is a very good shooter. Ricky Hood is another good all-around player who can do a little bit of everything. The frontcourt needs help, though. Nicchaeus Doaks and Khalil Harwell were role players last season, but need to improve their production this year. Redshirt Tyler Troupe could get immediate playing time, while JC transfer Marcus Watts will also make an impact.

Sleepers: With the loss of four starters, Davidson could take a big step back this year after being a perennial title contender over the past several years. However, one can never count out the Wildcats, especially with coach Bob McKillop and three key players returning. Forwards Thomas Sander and Boris Meno were both part-time starters a year ago, and could develop into one of the best frontcourt tandems in the conference. They are both solid scorers and rebounders. The third returning player is point guard Jason Richards. He is a good shooter and a very good distributor who will start this year. The newcomers will have to make an immediate impact, namely guards Stephen Curry and Bryant Barr and big man Dan Nelms. Elon will also fall a bit after winning the South Division a season ago. Three starters do return, though. All-conference forward Chris Chalko leads the way. He is a versatile offensive player who can also rebound well. LeVonn Jordan joins him up front. He is a very good athlete who can defend several positions. Freshman Scott Grable is expected to make an immediate impact in the frontcourt. Brett James and Brian Waters return in the backcourt. Both were role players last year that will have to elevate their games. Freshman Devan Carter will see immediate playing time.

Rounding Out the Pack: Wofford could be a potential sleeper this season, but after finishing 5th in the South Division and losing three starters, they could also be a disappointment. An excellent perimeter trio does return for the Terriers, though. Eric Marshall missed all but eight games last season, but should be healthy this season. He is a very good scorer and a solid rebounder who could have a big-time season. Sane Nichols is one of the best shooters in the conference and is an all-league candidate. Drew Gibson returns at the point. He is an efficient passer who is also a good defender. Matt Estep comes off the bench. The frontcourt is in bad shape. Matt O'Connor and Tyler Whatley are the top returnees, while freshman Emilio Lebolo will make an impact. Western Carolina had a surprising season last year, having one of their best campaigns in the last decade. They have a very good backcourt returning, led by Antonio Russell, an all-conference candidate. He is a big-time scorer who can shoot the ball and drive to the basket. Kyle Greathouse runs the point. He is a very good shooter and a solid passer. Negus McKenna and Eric Wilson are also key returnees on the perimeter. Both are good long-range shooters. Freshman Nick Aldridge and JC transfer Arnold Gore are impact newcomers in the frontcourt. Freshman Omar Thomas is a good inside-player who will see playing time right away as well. The Citadel were far and away the worst team in the conference, going 1-14 in the league and only 10-21 overall. Four starters return for the Bulldogs, but a drastic improvement is necessary for them to make a leap in the standings. The perimeter is deep. Kevin Hammack missed all of five games last season, but returns as a starter in the backcourt. Donny McLendon is a double-figure scorer, while Mark Schiavoni was a part-time starter for the Bulldogs. Vytautas Valiulis is another key player on the perimeter. Up front, J'Mel Everhart leads the way. He is an all-conference candidate who is capable of a huge season this year. The 6-6 forward is very versatile, and is also a good scorer and an excellent rebounder. Demetrius Nelson will start beside Everhart again this season, while Jason Thompson will provide depth.

Prediction: The Southern Conference could be a league to watch out for this season. Charleston has a very balanced squad that could be one of the top mid-majors in the country this season. Dontaye Draper is an excellent scorer, while Josh Jackson and Jermaine Johnson anchor a talented frontcourt. UNC-Greensboro will contend for a title with the inside-outside duo of Ricky Hickman and Kyle Hines, while Appalachian State will be carried by guard D.J. Thompson. In the end, however, Charleston has too much depth and talent in their starting five to lose. Watch out for the Cougars in March.

Player of the Year: Kyle Hines, PF, UNC-Greensboro

All-Conference Team:
G- Ricky Hickman, UNC-Greensboro
G- Dontaye Draper, College of Charleston
G- D.J. Thompson, Appalachian State
F- Robby Bostain, Furman
F- Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro

Second Team:
G- Donte Gennie, Georgia Southern
F- Chris Chalko, Elon
F- Jermaine Johnson, College of Charleston
F- Louis Graham, Georgia Southern
C- Josh Jackson, College of Charleston

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