Friday, March 6, 2009

Southern Conference Tournament Preview

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Heading into the season, the Southern Conference was looked at as nothing more than Davidson’s playground; a league in which the only question was if the Wildcats could go undefeated in it. Well, those people were in for a surprise. Sure, Davidson won it, but it wasn’t easy. The Wildcats suffered two losses, and finished just three games ahead of The Citadel and Charleston, who were 15-5. Both teams defeated Davidson. Chattanooga and Western Carolina tied for the North division title at 11-9.

Favorite: Don’t jump off the Davidson bandwagon just yet. Yes, the Wildcats lost to The Citadel by 18 at home and then looked sluggish in a loss to Butler, but All-American Stephen Curry was out for the first one and hobbled for the Bracket Buster game. Since then, Davidson has won its last three games by more than 25 points per game. Curry can score from anywhere on the court and the offense functions through him. The second option is big man Andrew Lovedale, who is a double-double threat every night out. Will Archambault and Bryant Barr can shoot, and Max Paulus-Gosselin is a defensive stopper.

Contenders: The Citadel might be the hottest team in the conference, winning 12 of its last 13 games, including road victories at Davidson and Charleston. The Bulldogs slow the game down and force teams to adjust. They are led by one of the better inside-outside combos in the conference in guard Cameron Wells, who can do it all on the court, and forward Demetrius Nelson, a very effective scorer and rebounder. Zach Urbanus can shoot. Charleston lost to Davidson by four at home and beat them by two on the road; the Cougars won’t be afraid of Curry and co. Their defense is not very good, but they are tremendously effective offensively and can really shoot. Andrew Goudelock is a very good three-point shooter who can score in a hurry, while Tony White Jr. is a solid scorer and distributor. Jermaine Johnson is the main man down low. Chattanooga didn’t have a gaudy record, but the Mocs lost just one league game by double-digits and they also have homecourt advantage. Plus, they lost to Davidson by just five on the road. They also have a dangerous and versatile team, led by explosive guard Stephen McDowell, an excellent shooter who can fill it up. Their frontcourt is loaded, with three of the league’s best rebounders in Nicchaeus Doaks, Kevin Goffney and Khalil Hartwell. Doaks and Goffney are very good scorers too.

Sleeper: Wofford won seven of its last nine games, and will avoid Davidson until the finals. The Terriers have one of the better duos in the conference in forward Noah Dahlman and guard Junior Salters. Dahlman is an efficient inside scorer, while Salters is a very good three-point shooter. Tim Johnson is one of the league’s best rebounders and a double-double threat every night. This team is deep and can throw a lot of options at you.

Prediction: Despite Davidson’s struggles in February, the Wildcats are still clearly the team to beat in the conference tournament. They are simply better than everyone else: more talented, more experienced, better coached. Oh, and they have Stephen Curry. He is determined to get this team back to the NCAA Tournament. With Curry fully healthy again, he will do whatever it takes for the Wildcats to get an automatic bid and another shot in the Big Dance. Davidson will sleep soundly heading into Selection Sunday, not worrying about an at-large bid.

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