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The Southern Conference had been one of the more underrated conferences all season long last year. They had two legitimate at-large contenders in Davidson and Appalachian State, plus a few other quality teams. Davidson won the conference with an outstanding 17-1 record, while ASU won the North division with a 15-3 record. Only two other teams, UNC-Greensboro and Charleston, finished .500 or better. In the conference tournament, ASU fell before the title game, leaving them on the wrong side of the bubble come Selection Sunday, but Davidson won the championship and then gave Maryland a run before falling in the NCAA Tournament. Expect a repeat champion this season.
Favorites: Davidson has a chance to be one of the top mid-major teams in the country this season. The Wildcats return all five starters from a team that went 17-1 in conference play last year and 29-5 overall. The Wildcats are led by super sophomore Stephen Curry. Curry was on one of the best freshmen in the nation last year, and ranks among the shooting guards in America this season. His partner-in-crime is point guard Jason Richards, the nation’s returning leader in assists. He can also knock down shots and score. On the wing, Max Paulus Gosselin is a shutdown defender and Bryant Barr can shoot the three. Up front, the forward tandem of Thomas Sander and Boris Meno. Both players are all-conference candidates who get overshadowed by the Wildcats’ backcourt. Sander is a very good scorer and a solid rebounder who is a tough player inside, while Meno is long and athletic and is a terrific rebounder. Andrew Lovedale is a very good rebounder, while William Archambault can shoot the three and score.
Contenders: Appalachian State had a very good season last year, knocking off the likes of Virginia, Vanderbilt, and VCU and finishing 15-3 in the Southern—yet they struggled towards the end of the year and did not get an at-large bid to the Big Dance. This year, the forward duo of Donte Minter and Jeremy Clayton will lead the way. Minter is an efficient shooter, while Clayton can score around the basket. Davis Bowne and Doug McLaughlin-Williams provide depth. In the backcourt, Ryann Abraham, Eduardo Bermudez, and Kellen Brand return, but they will face stiff competition from newcomers. UNC-Greensboro has one of the best all-around players in the country in Kyle Hines. The SoCon Player of the Year averaged about 21 points and 9 rebounds per game, but also threw in over 2 blocks per game. The Spartans also return a slew of wings on the perimeter. Mikko Koivisto can score and rebound well, while Kendall Toney can knock down shots. Kevin Oleksiak is solid, while Ben Stywall is a very good rebounder and a good scorer. Dwayne Johnson runs the show. Georgia Southern has been a solid contender throughout the past several seasons, and will be again this year. Louis Graham is one of the best players in the conference, and is a very good scorer and rebounder, while Ryan Hynes and Matt Fields help him down low. Dwayne Foreman, a terrific distributor, will lead the backcourt, while Anthony Marshall and Antoine Johnson return on the wing.
Sleepers: College of Charleston is a perennial contender in the SoCon, and last year was no different. The Cougars finished second in their division and then lost in the conference title game. This year, they are led by all-conference candidate Jermaine Johnson, a big man with potential. Freshman Antwain Wiggins will likely start next to him. In the backcourt, Marcuus Hammond and Tony White return as starters. Western Carolina could make noise this year if all the pieces come together. The Catamounts have one of the best frontcourts in the league, led by all-conference Nick Aldridge. He is an outstanding scorer and a very good rebounder. Arnold Gore provides very good scoring from a forward spot, and Jake Robinson is an inside-outside option. The backcourt will be inexperienced for the most part, but Brigham Waginger and Negus McKenna return, as does Eric Wilson. Wofford has arguably the second-best backcourt in the league behind Davidson, led by all-conference guards Shane Nichols and Drew Gibson. Both players can shoot the ball, while Nichols is the better scorer, Gibson the better passer. Junior Salters also returns as a starter, while Matt Estepp provides depth. Tyler Whatley and Corey Godzinski return up front, but freshman Noah Dahlman is expected to start. Chattanooga missed the conference title game for the first time in five years last season, and is not likely to return this year. In the backcourt, Kevin Bridgewaters is the main returnee, while JC transfer Keyron Sheard and South Carolina transfer Stephen McDowell will fight for starting jobs. Up front, Nicchaeus Doaks is a double-figure scorer and a solid rebounder, while Marcus Watts can do a variety of things offensively. Khalil Hartwell is a good rebounder, and Matt Gwynne brings size.
Rounding Out the Pack: Furman loses four starters from last year’s 8-10 conference finish. Stanley Jones is the lone returning starter, and he is a solid inside player who can finish. Alex Opacic will likely start next to him; he brings size and scoring. Noah States and Connor Nolte lead a large group of newcomers. Tony Anderson and George Brozos return on the perimeter. Elon could be a potential sleeper in the conference if it stays healthy. The backcourt of Montell Watson and Brett James is a very solid combo. Watson missed last year with a foot injury, while James is a good scorer and a solid rebounder and defender. Brian Waters and Devan Carter will also play in the backcourt. Up front, Ola Atoyebi and Scott Grable lead the way, while Adam Constantine is an efficient shooter. The Citadel finished last in the league last year, and loses three starters from that group. The leading returnee is Demetrius Nelson, a solid post player. Bryan Streeter is another good player up front, while Jonathan Brick can handle the ball well in the backcourt. A long list of newcomers, led by Cameron Wells and Austin Dahm, will fight for time.
Prediction: The Southern Conference will be carried by Davidson this season—the better the Wildcats are, the better the SoCon will be perceived to be. In addition to Davidson, Kyle Hines will become more of a national name after dominating the mid-major world for three years if UNC-Greensboro can make some noise and win the Northern division, which I think it will. In the end, though, Davidson is too good for any other team in the conference. Stephen Curry is a terrific scorer, and will be in a dogfight with Hines for conference player of the year honors.
Player of the Year: Stephen Curry, G, Davidson
G- Stephen Curry, Davidson
G- Jason Richards, Davidson
F- Nick Aldridge, Western Carolina
F- Kyle Hines, UNC-Greensboro
F- Louis Graham, Georgia Southern
G- Drew Gibson, Wofford
G- Shane Nichols, Wofford
F- Thomas Sander, Davidson
F- Boris Meno, Davidson
F- Donte Minter, Appalachian State
Photo Credit: Ultimate College Hoops
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