Friday, March 7, 2008

Southern Conference Tournament Preview

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The Southern Conference was a one-team league from day one of this season. Davidson was the preseason favorite by a landslide, and the Wildcats proved the prognosticators right as they went 20-0 in conference play, finishing seven games ahead of the nearest competitor. Three teams finished 13-7, with UNC-Greensboro going 12-8. After those five teams, though, the rest of the league was below .500 in both conference and non-conference play. Don’t expect a wide-open tourney.

Favorite: This tournament is definitely Davidson’s to lose. The Wildcats are obviously the best team in the league, head-and-shoulders above the nearest competition. They went undefeated in conference play, with just four of the 20 wins coming by single-digits. They can do everything offensively, and they have the experience to win close games. Stephen Curry is one of the premier shooters and scorers in the country, while Jason Richards leads the nation in assists. Up front, Thomas Sander and Boris Meno lead the way. The only weakness that Davidson has is that they don’t defend the three very well, but it’s a weakness that won’t be exposed within the conference.

Contenders: Outside of Davidson, there are a number of teams that could make a run to the title game. Appalachian State struggled down the stretch, losing four of its last six, but the Mountaineers have one of the best players in the conference in Donte Minter, as well as a solid backcourt in Donald Sims and Kellen Brand. Georgia Southern had won six in a row before dropping its last three. The Eagles have a go-to-guy in the frontcourt in forward Louis Graham, and a number of options in the backcourt, led by Willie Powers and playmaker Dwayne Foreman. Chattanooga and its inside-outside duo of Stephen McDowell and Nicchaeus Doaks is also solid. However, the team to really watch is UNC-Greensboro. It had high expectations heading into the season, mainly because of All-American candidate Kyle Hines. He is a dominant inside force, and could be good enough to carry the Spartans to a league title.

Sleeper: Although there are plenty of contenders aside from Davidson, there is still room for a potential sleeper, namely Charleston. The Cougars are just 5-8 in their last 13 games, but five of those losses were by single-digits. They have four double-figure scorers, including Andrew Goudelock on the perimeter and all-conference candidate Jermaine Johnson on the interior.

Prediction: This is not really much of a question. Some conference favorites are vulnerable and susceptible to several other teams in the league; Davidson is not one of them. The Wildcats ran through the league, with only a few remote speed-bumps along the way. They are hitting their stride at the right time, and are going to be a tough out for whoever they draw in the first-round. If they lose, the big question is if Davidson will get an at-large bid. Luckily for the committee, they won’t have to decide that. The Wildcats will get the automatic bid.

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