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Southern Conference Preview

November 10, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Southern Conference Preview

by Robby Trail

After a conference tournament last season that featured neither number one seeded team making it to the championship game, the Southern Conference returns this year with many of the usual suspects picked to do well in the conference.

The biggest development of the off-season was a realignment of divisions within the conference. Chattanooga moves to the North Division, switching divisions with Davidson, who will now play in the South Division. This could break up the conferences two best rivalries between Chattanooga and Charleston and Davidson and ETSU, making it where these schools only play each other once.

Elon enters the Southern Conference this season from the Big South Conference, taking the place of VMI, who was “asked” to leave the conference due to the cancellation of its football program.

In the North Division, ETSU, last season’s conference tournament champion, returns all five starters and is the favorite to win the division. In the South Division, Davidson despite losing their two leading scorers is my favorite to win the division. Davidson does return three of five starters. Charleston, who held a slight edge in preseason media and coaches’ poll, is the other team that many people believe will contend for the division title.

All SoCon Team
Zakee Wadood, ETSU
Thomas Mobley, Charleston
Tim Smith, ETSU
Ashley Champion, Chattanooga
Frank Bennett, Georgia Southern

MVP: Zakee Wadood, ETSU

How can you not award a guy MVP who last season was top five in the conference in six different statistical categories? Not to mention he was the conference tournament MVP. Wadood is by far the best player in SoCon and he will be big part of why ETSU will repeat as conference champions this year.

Most Improved Player in the Conference:

Look for Chattanooga’s Mike Matthews to make drastic improvements this season. Matthews showed flashes of brilliance last season using his rare quickness to take just about anyone off the dribble, but was turnover prone, which limited his playing time. If Matthews can limit his turnovers, he will be near the top of the conference in scoring and assists.

North Division:

1. ETSU Buccaneers

(20-11, 10-5 2nd in North Division)

It is easy to see why the Bucs are the favorites to win the North as they return all five starters including Zakee Wadood (14.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Jerald Fields (12.3 ppg, 6.5 rpg), James Anthony (6.1 ppg, 5.4 apg), Tim Smith (15.3 ppg), and Ben Rhoda (8.6 ppg). New head coach Murray Burtow will pick up right where Ed DeChellis left off and lead ETSU to another conference title. The Bucs play two tough non-conference games, including a trip to Texas Tech and a trip to Clemson.

2. Chattanooga Mocs

(21-9, 11-5 2nd in South Division)

Chattanooga moves to the weaker North Division of the conference, which should help the Mocs record their second straight 20-win season. The Mocs two leading scorers, Ashley Champion (15.4 ppg) and Jason Rogan (13.9 ppg), both return this season. Point guard Ray Trowell (10.8 ppg, 6 apg) also returns for the Mocs. Head coach Jeff Lebo opted not to take any of the big name jobs he was offered in the off-season and I’m sure the Mocs are very grateful for this. The Mocs have tough non-conference dates at Kansas on Nov. 21 and Alabama on Dec. 16, but the biggest two games of year will be Feb. 9 and Feb. 24 against ETSU, which will decide the winner of the North Division.

3. Appalachian State Mountaineers

(19-10, 11-5 3rd in North Division)

Appy State only returns one starter, Chris McFarland (11.3 ppg), to a team that finished in a three-way tie in the North Division last season. The Mountaineers will struggle early in the season, but will benefit from a lack of depth in the North Division and will be able to surmise a 3rd place finish in the Division. They open their season at the University of Virgin Islands Paradise Jam with games against Monmouth and Boston College. The Mountaineers also will travel to Nashville on Dec. 22 for a game against Vanderbilt.

4. UNC-Greensboro Spartans

(7-22, 3-13 6th in North Division)

The Spartans return three starters, Jay Joseph (14.6 ppg), Ray Bristow (9 ppg), and Josh Gross (7.6 ppg), to a team that finished dead last in their division last season. The Spartans overall experience should lead them to a slight improvement this year, and if they get a win against Appy State, finishing third in this division is not out of the question. The Spartans play the toughest schedule in the conference, opening their season on Nov. 21 at Indiana, and traveling to Maryland, Missouri, and Villanova during the non-conference season.

5. Western Carolina Catamounts

(9-19, 6-10 4th in North Division)

The Catamounts returns four starters, Kevin Martin (22.8 ppg), Rans Brempong (7.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Alex Osipovitch (6.9 ppg), and Emre Aster (6.6 ppg), to a team that struggled early in the season but ran off seven straight wins at one point after Christmas last year. The Catamounts are still two or three years away from contending in the conference, but they have shown improvement over the last two seasons. They have big non-conference games at Georgia, Virginia Tech, and Arkansas.

6. Elon Phoenix

(12-15, 6-6 6th in Big South)

You make a conference change that is equivalent to switching divisions in football, make a coaching change, and return no starters. What more could you want? Welcome to the SoCon Elon. Hope you enjoy your stay more than others think you will. And, to top it all off, the Phoenix has non-conference dates at Wake Forest, Georgetown, Xavier, and Cincinatti. Good luck boys because ten wins would be a miracle from this bunch.

South Division:

1. Davidson Wildcats

(17-10, 11-5 1st in North Division)

After being upset by VMI in the second round of the conference tournament last season, the Wildcats will come back this season hungry for more. Davidson returns three starters, Brendan Winters (12.4 ppg), Conor Winters (9.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg), and Matt McKillop (8.2 ppg), and will, contrary to popular opinion, overtake Charleston in this division. Davidson opens the season against Texas Tech in the preseason NIT before traveling to North Carolina, so we will quickly get to see how good this team is. Later in the non-conference season, the Wildcats travel to Seton Hall and Duke.

2. College of Charleston Cougars

(25-8, 12-2 1st in South Division)

The Cougars return three starters, Thomas Mobley (13.8 ppg), Tony Mitchell (9.7 ppg), Mike Benton (9.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg), to a team that was shocked in the semi-finals of the conference tournament last season. Charleston is perennially overrated and has a tendency to choke in the big games. They will choke again this year, maybe twice against Davidson, and this will cost them the division title. The Cougars have a relatively easy non-conference schedule with the highlight being a game at Auburn.

3. Georgia Southern Eagles

(16-13, 8-8 3rd in South Division)

The Eagles return four starters, Frank Bennett (14.7 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Jean Francois (11.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg), Terry Williams (8.8 ppg), and Courtney Joseph (4.1 ppg), and will be pesky enough to Davidson and Charleston to play a part in who wins the division. Georgia Southern has a non-existent non-conference schedule difficulty-wise, with the toughest game being at UAB on Nov. 24.

4. Wofford Terriers

(14-15, 8-8 4th in South Division)

The Terriers return three starters, Adrien Border (8.8 ppg), Sam Daniel (7.8 ppg), and Grant Sterley (5.2 ppg), but lose their two leading scorers. The have had Davidson’s number the last four years, going 3-1 in their four meetings during the regular season. Wofford has a horrendous non-conference schedule traveling to Tennessee, Clemson, Vanderbilt, Dayton, and Minnesota. These games will more than help them get ready for the conference season, and their two match ups with Davidson and Charleston.

5. Furman Paladins

(14-17, 8-8 5th in South Division)

The Paladins do not have a lot to be optimistic about going into this season. Their two returning starters, Tony Carter (5.2 ppg) and Maleye Ndoye (5 ppg), only scored 10 points a game between them last season. Plus, Georgia Southern and Wofford will both be improved this year, which doesn’t leave a lot of hope for the Paladins when it comes to improving in the conference standings. Maybe Furman can upset Ohio State or Minnesota during its non-conference season to make the program actually worth existing.

6. The Citadel Bulldogs

(8-20, 3-13 6th in South Division)

Circle February 9 on your calendar because it’s the night that the Bulldogs travel to Elon. No, don’t really circle the game on your calendar but realize that this may be the only game that Elon or The Citadel wins in conference this season. On the bright side, the Bulldogs do return their leading scoring Max Mombollet (12 ppg, 6.1 rpg) along with Kevin Hammack (7.5 ppg). The Bulldogs travel to Georgetown and South Carolina during their non-conference season.

As always the Southern Conference will be full of surprises as no team (besides Charleston) ever does as well or as bad as predicted at the beginning of the season. But, I will leave you with a few guarantees. First, Elon will not win the conference. In fact, they will not win more than four conference games, if that many. Second, the SoCon will have at least three teams have 20-win seasons, but, as always, only the conference tourney champion will get into the Big Dance. Furthermore, only one, maybe two of the other 20-win schools will get into the NIT. For the ultimate shafting example, see Chattanooga and last season. Finally, it will rain all week the week of March 3 when I am in Charleston for the conference championship wishing I were on the beach and not in my hotel room watching the rain.


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