Southern Conference 2006-07 Preview
by Tyler Annett
The Southern Conference is preparing to once again be as competitive and exciting a conference as it has always been.
There were three coaching changes made and numerous strong players have left in league, which then in turn means its time for some new guys to step up and shine. The biggest news in the conference over the off-season was the coaching changes. Furman hired new head coach Jeff Jackson, a former assistant at Vanderbilt for seven seasons, to replace Larry Davis, who took an assistant coaching position on Mick Cronin’s new staff at Cincinnati. The Citadel hired alumnus Ed Conroy, a former assistant at Coastal Carolina and Tennessee, in April after an atrocious 1-14 record last season in conference play. But the biggest move is the College of Charleston’s hiring of Bobby Cremins.
Cremins is regarded as one of the best coaches in the country. As a coach at Georgia Tech, he has the most wins in the school’s history, and led the Yellow Jackets to 14 winning seasons and 14 post-season appearances in 19 years at the school, including a Final Four appearance in 1989-1990. He coached such stars as Dennis Scott, Mark Price, Kenny Anderson and Stephon Marbury. This is significant because of the legitimacy it brings to the conference. Cremins is a legendary coach who hopes to work his magic at Charleston, who was a consistent winner and NCAA tournament participant in the 1990s, but has recently missed the Big Dance the last few years. Both fans of the Cougars and the league should be eager for the national attention which Cremins can bring to the Southern Conference and help to show the nation the talent that this conference can produce.
Numerous star players leave college basketball each year and the Southern Conference is no different. This 2006-2007 season will have no Elton Nesbitt of Georgia Southern, honorable mention AP All-American; Brendan Winters of Davidson, all-conference guard; Kenny Grant of Davidson, conference leader in assists per game; as well as Alphonso Pugh (Chattanooga), Jackson Atoyebi and Scottie Rice (Elon), Tony Carter (Furman), Dante Terry (The Citadel), and Howard Wilkerson (Wofford) to name a few. But this league is once again full of potential impact players.
The first impact player in the conference is UNC Greensboro’s Kyle Hines. The 6’6″ junior is the highest scoring returning player and was the conference’s leader in rebounds. A ferocious defender with a nice shooting touch, Hines is the leading contender for player of the year in the conference. There is competition out there for Hines, including D.J. Thompson, another returning all-conference player is a natural scorer with an average of 19.1 ppg and is an athletic defender who is disruptive and will create numerous steal opportunities this season. Another returning all-conference player is College of Charleston’s Dontaye Draper, the senior point guard that will lead the way for Cremin’s cougars this season. With lots of size up front in Charleston, look for Draper to be a conference leader in assists and also get lots of opportunities to shoot that beautiful long-range jump shot. Some other players that could have impact seasons this year include Robby Bostain of Furman, Ricky Hickman of UNC Greensboro, and J’Mel Everhart of the Citadel, who will still be a force to reckon with in the low post although his team will struggle.
Last season atop the two divisions were one surprise and one consistent powerhouse. In the North division, Elon surprisingly had the best conference record at 10-4, barely holding off Chattanooga at 8-6. In the South, the Georgia Southern Eagles took the title at 11-4 with Davidson and Charleston following close behind in a much more traditional finish. This year will no doubt be just as exciting.
In the South, the favorites look to be College of Charleston and Georgia Southern with Furman being a potential sleeper. Davidson, after its surprise run to the NCAAs, will be hit hard by the loss of seven seniors and will drop in the standings closer to Wofford and the Citadel, who are once again in 2006-2007 looking to be rebuilding once again. College of Charleston possesses the largest starting five in the conference with four players over 6’7″ along with Draper running the point. This team is a little thin on the bench, and the bench players are young, but with Cremins and Draper expect this team to pound it inside nightly in this small conference. Georgia Southern loses Nesbitt as mentioned earlier, but once again returns another strong team. They notched the best scoring offense in the league last season and will prove to be a threat every night to put up points, especially with sharpshooter Donte Gennie throwing it up from behind the arc. They also have a strong inside presence with Louis Graham crashing the boards. Furman is the sleeper pick to compete with the two big boys. After finishing 8-7 in the conference, Furman returns scorers Robby Bostain and Moussa Diagne who will keep the Podins potent offense continually putting up points. Yet if they really want to contend for the south title, Furman must improve on their mediocre defense.
The North division is the weaker of the two divisions with Chattanooga being the clear cut favorite. Chattanooga, despite the loss of Alphonso Pugh, will have Kedric Mays and Casey Long to enforce their will on offense. The Mocs will also be one of the deepest teams in the league with a rotation of up to ten players by mid-season, which includes five freshmen and three sophomores. Their youth will be expected to improve them defensively from worst in the league last season (72.7 ppg) if they want to regain the North division. Elon will contend again as well with seniors Chris Chalko and LeVonn Jordan leading a young group of six freshmen. Elon is one of the better defensive teams in the league and will use their pressure along with hopeful improvement from Ola Atoyebi in the post to contend. The sleeper pick in the North is UNC Greensboro, who with Kyle Hines, Ricky Hickman, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Oleksiak should be able to improve their stagnant offense. The Spartans were already a tremendous defensive team as league leaders in steals and blocks, so look for this team to take a step forward and be a tough out for everyone in the conference. Although Appalachian State has D.J. Thompson in the backcourt, this team will struggle to score consistently and their lack of experience will hurt them in close conference games as well. Lack of depth will be the downfall for the Catamounts of Western Carolina, who will finish last in the North. Western Carolina provides little pop on offense or defense to consistently win games this season.
College of Charleston
All-Conference Team: D.J. Thompson (App. St.), Kyle Hines (UNC Greensboro), Dantaye Draper (College of Charleston), Robby Bostain (Furman), and Ricky Hickman (UNC Greensboro)
Honorable Mention: Chris Chalko (Elon), Kedric Mays (Chattanooga), and J’Mel Everhart (The Citadel)
Player of the Year: Kyle Hines, UNC Greensboro
The returning rebounding leader, who also averaged 19.3 ppg last season, will only mature and improve in that 6’6″ frame of his. Hines has the rare combination of shooting ability and the footwork to post up in the paint. He will be the most dominant presence in the league, and his success will help to turn around UNC Greensboro as well.
Defensive Player of the Year: D.J. Thompson, Appalachian St.
Thompson returns as a top defensive guard with the departure of Brendan Winters (Davidson) and Elton Nesbitt (Georgia Southern). His quickness and intelligence will garner him to the steals title and his size will help shut down opponents ability to shoot the ball from the outside.
Most Improved: Ola Atoyebi, Elon
The younger brother of former Elon forward Jackson Atoyebi, Ola will see significant minutes off the bench for Elon. His size and strength will allow him to improve his points, rebounds and blocks greatly. On a fairly small team, Atoyebi will give them power in the middle to continue success in the North Division.
Freshmen to Watch: Matt Gwyne (Chattanooga), Bryant Barr (Davidson), and Krysztos Janiszewski (Georgia Southern)
Coach on the Hot Seat: Bobby Cremins, College of Charleston.
This is a wild pick for hot seat in that he will not be fired regardless of the Cougars’ record this season. Yet he is going to be under tremendous pressure for a few reasons. For one, his credentials speak for themselves (most wins in Georgia Tech history, ACC tournament titles, ACC regular season titles, etc.) Second he comes to a school in Charleston that although obviously not an ACC-sized school, it still has a recent history of a strong basketball program dating back to the early 1990s. The fans and alumni will expect Cremins to produce solid teams that can contend for Southern Conference titles and NCAA tournament appearances like they saw only a few years ago, and if he does not pull the team to this level in 06-07 in contention complaints will be abound in South Carolina.
Chattanooga Mocs (1st North)
Head Coach: John Shulman
2005-2006 Record: 19-13 (8-6)
Projected Starters: Kedric Mays (Senior guard) 6’0″/180, Casey Long (Senior guard) 6’2″/190, Ricky Hood (Senior guard) 6’3″/ 195, Bernard Lowndes (Senior forward) 6’9″/200, Khadil Hartwell (Sophomore forward) 6’8″/215
Season Highlights: Las Vegas Invitational vs. Towson, Tennessee State and Prarie View (11/24-11/25); @ Florida (11/18); vs. Davidson (12/18); vs. College of Charleston (1/27)
Chattanooga has finished in the top three or better in their division in the last five seasons, and this season the North Division looks to be much weaker, allowing the Mocs a chance to take the North title. Led by returning senior guards Casey Long and Kedric Mays, Chattanooga will have a strong offensive unit that was in the top four in the conference in scoring offense, rebounding, and field goal percentage. Although they are one of the smaller teams in the league, Chattanooga was able to finish in the top three of the conference in rebounding on both sides of the court. Yet they must improve their shooting from beyond the arc with this smaller team to compete with the bigger teams. The Mocs only shot 31.6 percent from the 3-point line, which was second worst in the conference. Look for production immediately off the bench from freshmen Matt Gwyne, a big guy at 6’10” who could see minutes because of his size, and 6’5″ Jeff Smith who gives them size in the backcourt as well. This is a nice core of veterans along with one of the stronger recruiting classes in the conferences that will make the Mocs the front-runners to win the North Division and compete for the tournament title.
UNC Greensboro Spartans (2nd North)
Head Coach: Mike Dement
2005-2006 Record: 12-19 (4-10)
Projected Starters: Kyle Hines (Junior forward) 6’6″/230, Ricky Hickman (Senior guard) 6’3″/175, Dwayne Johnson (Junior guard) 5’9″/180, Kevin Oleksiak (Junior guard) 6’4″/195, David McClemy (Sophomore gorward) 6’9″/225
Season Highlights: @ Duke (11/16); vs. Virginia Tech (1/10); vs. College of Charleston (2/10); Bracket busters on ESPN, team to be determined (2/17)
UNC Greensboro is coming off its third losing season in four years, yet optimism is high in Greensboro. That optimism can come easily to a lot of teams if they had the kind of talented player the Spartans have in Kyle Hines. The 6’6″ junior from New Jersey was an all-conference player last season and with departures of Davidson’s Brendan Winters and Georgia Southern’s Elton Nesbitt, Hines just might be the most gifted player in the conference. The highest returning scorer in the league at 19.9 ppg and also the defending rebound champ (8.2 rpg), Hines is a quick wing forward who possesses the ability to shoot the mid-range jumper along with post up with anyone in the conference. Yet it’s a team game, and just like last season Hines cannot win games all alone. Greensboro must improve offensively, where they ranked no higher than 6th in every major offensive category, to increase their win total. Defensively, the Spartans were tops in both blocks and steals last season with Hines and Ricky Hickman leading the way on that side of the ball. The offense will continue to improve with solid contributions from the guards once again. The three guard tandem of Hickman, Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Oleksiak combined for 35.8 ppg last season. Depth will be an issue for this team with only seven viable players to contribute night in and night out. Yet good vibes continue to surround this program with such a great inside player like Hines in a mostly small league and a strong core of guards to protect the backcourt, the Spartans could be very dangerous. If this team can overcome their depth issues, they should be the sleeper team of the conference.
Elon Phoenix (3rd North)
Head Coach: Ernie Nestor
2005-2006 Record: 15-14 (10-4)
Projected Starters: Chris Chalko (Senior forward) 6’8″/220, LeVonn Jordan (Senior guard/forward) 6’6″/185, Montell Watson (Senior guard)6’1″/170, Brett James (Sophomore guard) 6’5″/185, and Brian Waters (Junior guard) 6’2″/185
Season Highlights: @ Geogia Tech (11/10); Kent State Tournament (12/27-12/28); vs. Chattanooga (1/15); Bracketbusters Game on ESPN, team to be determined (2/17)
Elon surprisingly finished with a 10-4 conference record last season to steal the North Division from typical powerhouse Chattanooga, and this season you can count on the Phoenix being in the thick of the North Division hunt once again. Elon returns a solid team despite the losses of senior leaders Scottie Rice and Jackson Atoyebi, welcoming a strong group of freshmen. This season’s team has five guys returning who averaged more than 22 minutes a game last season, and this experience will likely minimize the damage of losing Rice and Atoyebi. Elon established themselves last season on the defensive end up the court by holding opponents to 42.3 percent from the field (second in the conference) and in the top 3 in steals. Yet the offense lacked and will need to improve for continued success. Last season Elon averaged only 67.1 ppg, which was last in the league, and was 9th in the league in field goal percentage. Expect senior Chris Chalko, last year’s scoring leader, to increase the workload and the three-headed backcourt of Montell Watson, Brett James and LeVonn Jordan to apply continued pressure in the backcourt to keep the Phoenix in contention. The six freshmen are expected to eventually contribute, but look for a sophomore to make a noticeable impact off the bench – Ola Atoyebi, former all-conference player Jackson Atoyebi’s younger brother. He has the size and post-up ability to give Elon a much-needed presence in the paint. With valuable returning guards to attack on defense, and a huge influx of younger players, the Phoenix should for a second straight year contend for the North Division and make an impact in the conference tournament.
Appalachian State Mountaineers (4th North)
Head Coach: Houston Fancher
2005-2006 Record: 14-16 (6-8)
Projected Starters: DJ Thompson (Senior guard) 5’8″/170, Doug McClaughlin-Williams (Junior forward) 6’8″/220, Tyler Webb (Sophomore forward) 6’9″/225, Nathan Crawford (Senior guard) 6’2″/190, Demetrius Scott (Senior guard) 6’2″/190
Season Highlights: @ Clemson (11/17); @ Wake Forest (11/25); San Juan Shootout vs. Virginia (12/19-12/21); Bracketbusters on ESPN, team to be determined (2/17)
The Appalachian State Mountaineers return a team under Coach Fancher that is led by veterans that would like to see a winning season for only the second time in five seasons. They are led by three senior guards that include all-conference player D.J. Thompson, who was also the team’s leading scorer and assist man, and a strong shooting wing in Nathan Crawford. Also returning is their rebounding leader in forward Douglass McClaughin-Williams, who’s three-point shooting along with Thompson gives the Mountaineers one of the best inside-outside combinations in all the conference. They will rely on these two upperclassmen to improve an offense which ranked fifth in the league in scoring and a lowly tenth in field goal percentage. The defense must improve as well considering that Appalachian State is one of the bigger teams in the conference and was unable to place better than seventh in both offensive and defensive rebounds. This is the key to their success; if the mountaineers can manage the boards much better with five guys over 6’7″, that will open up their ability to run. Their three guards are quick and able to hit the basket hard. With a strong combination of McClaughin-Williams and Thompson, the Mountaineers have some opportunities to contend for a definite .500 conference record if not better.
Western Carolina Catamounts (5th North)
Head Coach: Larry Hunter
2005-2006 Record: 12-19 (4-10)
Projected Starters: Antonio Russell (Junior guard) 6’0″/170, Kyle Greathouse (Senior guard) 6’0″/185, Eric Wilson (Junior guard) 6’1″/210, Negus McKenna (Junior forward) 6’4″/225, Stan Johnson (Sophomore forward) 6’7″/220
Season Highlights: Shamrock Invitational @ St. Mary’s (CA) vs. Rice, Belmont and St. Mary’s (CA) (12/28-12/29); vs. UNC Greensboro (1/6); @ College of Charleston (2/5); vs. Appalachian State (2/19)
Western Carolina comes off a 2005-2006 season where they finished a surprising 7-7 in the conference, yet this season’s team could have its struggles. The struggles begin on the offensive side of the ball, where the catamounts rank in the bottom four in the conference in ppg, field goal percentage, offensive rebounds, and assists. The offense will continue to struggle this season with a continued lack of depth (only seven players with any past playing time) and limited veteran leadership (only one senior). Their lack of size will hurt will be detrimental to their defensive game strategy; the Catamounts only have one guy at 6’8″ in freshman Jake Robinson. There are a few bright spots to this year’s team, though, with the return of guards Antonio Russell (last season’s points leader with 13.3 ppg) and Kyle Greathouse who was in the top 10 in the conference in 3-pt. field goal percentage (40.3%). Although the five freshmen will likely have their struggles early on in the season, look for Robinson and 6’7″ Omar Thomas to be impact players by season’s end because of their size and ability to potentially impact the low-post. This season for Western Carolina and Coach Hunter is a learning and developing season, and with that in mind look for their young players to see significant time by season’s end as the Catamounts begin to look forward past this season.
College of Charleston Cougars (1st South)
Head Coach: Bobby Cremins (first season)
2005-2006 Record: 17-11 (9-6)
Projected Starters: Dontaye Draper (Senior guard) 5’11″/180, Jermaine Johnson (Sophomore jorward) 6’7″/250, David Lawrence (Senior forward) 6’7″/185, Josh Jackson (Junior center) 6’8″/255, Josh McCandies (Senior forward) 6’9″/225
Season Highlights: Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands vs. Villanova, Xavier, TCU, Toledo, VCU, Middle Tenn. St., and Iowa (11/17-11/20); @ South Carolina (12/5); College of Charleston Classic vs. Radford, IUPUI, and Farleigh Dickinson (12/29-12/30); vs. Davidson (2/12); @ Georgia Southern (2/24)
College of Charleston has become the biggest story of the off-season with the signing of coaching legend Bobby Cremins, who has the most wins in Georgia Tech history. Cremins brings back legitimacy to a traditional Southern Conference power who has not won the South Division since the 2002-2003 season. Cremins inherits a strong frontcourt lineup with four guys over 6’7″ along with all-conference point guard Dontaye Draper, who as a senior will be asked to lead this team to success. Although one of the more talented teams in the league, as a whole the Cougars lack experience with six players expected to contribute this season who last season only logged less than ten minutes of playing time on average. There are also three freshmen that Cremins expects to play significant amounts of time, including Taurus Skrimpkauskus, a foreign sharpshooter from Lithuania, and the aggressive guard out of Brooklyn named Javon Paris. Yet the starting lineup does not lack in experience with three seniors and a junior expected to continue Charleston’s dominance both offensively (third in the conference in points) and defensively (second in points allowed). Size will allow the cougars to slow up tempo in games and go to work on the interior against much smaller conference teams. Look for sophomore Jermaine Johnson, last season’s rebounding leader, to improve on both sides of the court after putting on more weight to his large frame this off-season. With Draper at the point, the big men down low and Cremins calling the shots this young and thin on depth team will definitely contend for the Conference titles both in the regular season and in the tournament.
Georgia Southern Eagles (2nd South)
Head Coach: Jeff Price
2005-2006 Record: 20-10 (11-4)
Projected Starters: Louis Graham (Junior forward) 6’8″/220, Jimmy Tobia (Senior guard) 6’4″/190, Donte Gennie (Senior guard) 6’1″/185, Dwayne Foreman (Senior guard) 5’10″/170, and Krysztof Janiszewski (Freshmen center) 6’11″/280
Season Highlights: CBE Classic @ Duke, vs. UC-Davis (11/12-11/13); @ Clemson (12/19); @ College of Charleston (1/15); vs. Chattanooga (2/3); vs. College of Charleston (2/24)
The defending South Division champions ended last season with a disappointing loss to Davidson and are looking to return to the top of the conference once again this season. Aa key for the Eagles will be to find a replacement offensively for Elton Nesbitt, the conference’s leading scorer last season at 22.1 ppg. His ability to score must be replaced if Georgia Southern wants to remain near the top in the conference in scoring. The Eagles will rely on a veteran team of juniors and seniors that includes rebounding leader Louis Graham (7.4 rpg) and sharpshooter Donte Gennie (45.2% from 3-pt. range), who could end up leading this team in scoring. But the most important aspect for this team in 2006-07 is their defense. Their problems were their ability to rebound defensively, giving up 37.5 rebounds to opponents. The Eagles will have to rely on junior center Ryan Hynes (6’8″/270) and incoming freshmen Krysztof Janiszewski (6’11″/280 Polish phenom) to control the paint and open jump shot opportunities and fast-break points for their feisty backcourt of Gennie and Jimmy Tobias. Georgia Southern is a traditional power team in the Southern Conference, and although Nesbitt is tough to replace, the Eagles will still contend for the Conference title because their aggressive offense and strong guard play. This team will be in the hunt for the NCAA tournament bid.
Furman Paladins (3rd South)
Head Coach: Jeff Jackson (first season)
2005-2006 Record: 15-13 (8-7)
Projected Starters: Robby Bostain (Senior guard/forward) 6’6″/200, Eric Webb (Senior guard) 6’2″/185, Moussa Diagne (Senior forward)6’8″/220, Stanley Jones (Sophomore forward/center) 6’9″/240, and Jadee Jones (Sophomore guard) 6’2″/180
Season Highlights: @ Clemson (11/15); @ California (12/19); @ Georgia Southern (1/6); @ College of Charleston (1/13); vs. College of Charleston (2/19)
The Furman Paladins begin Jeff Jackson’s career in the Southern Conference with a return of a very deep and veteran led team that could pose a stronger threat than most believe. Despite the loss of senior point guard Tony Carter, who led the team in assists and steals last season, the Paladins return seven players who averaged over 10 minutes a game last season. These players include last season’s scoring and rebounding leader Robby Bostain, as well as the team’s 3-point threat Eric Webb, who was fourth in the conference in three-point field goal percentage (41.6%). A team that shot 46.4 percent from the field last season (tops in the conference) along with 36.7 percent from 3-point range (third) will be a formidable offense once again this season. Their problems lie in defensive categories, where Coach Jackson needs his team to go from mediocre to a top-tier defense if they want more success. With three 6’8″ forwards/centers along with an aggressive pressing backcourt scheme, the Paladins hope to create more turnovers to help ignite their already potent offense. If this team can continue to shoot well from the field and get defensive production from its youthful bench that features five freshmen and three sophomores, this team can not only compete with the pride of this conference but also be a threat for more significant prizes come the end of conference tournament time.
Davidson Wildcats (4th South)
Head Coach: Bob McKillop
2005-2006 Record: 20-11 (10-5)
Projected Starters: Boris Meno (Junior forward) 6’8″/220, Thomas Sander (Junior forward) 6’8″/220, Jason Richards (Junior guard) 6’2″/190, Bryant Barr (Freshmen guard) 6’4″/185, and William Archambault (Freshmen forward) 6’6″/210
Season Highlights: @ Duke (11/25); Arizona St. Hoops Classic vs. Ohio, UNC A&T, and Arizona St. (12/21-12/22); @ Georgia Southern (1/23); vs. Chattanooga (2/6); @ College of Charleston (2/12)
After an NCAA Tournament appearance last season where the Wildcats lost to No. 2 seed Ohio State in the first round of play, a repeat appearance would be quite an accomplishment for Bob McKillop’s team. McKillop has lost seven seniors from last year’s 20-win team, including first-team all-conference guard Brendan Winters, who led his team in scoring (16.9), Kenny Grant, who led the entire conference in assists per game with 6.7, and his own son Matt, the Wildcats’ top three-point threat at nearly 36 percent from the behind the arc. Last year’s team led the conference in scoring (77.5) and free throw percentage (76.1%), and was in the top three in the conference in field goal percentage, three-point field goal percentage and offensive rebounding. There was no lack on the defensive side of the ball, either. With only two seniors this season, who played a combined 27 minutes last season, this Davidson squad will have its struggles. Seven freshmen and sophomores must develop and mature quickly in McKillop’s traditionally efficient offense for any success to occur this season. Freshmen guards Bryant Barr and Stephen Curry will be looked to build on past backcourt success at Davidson to improve this young team. With a still large frontcourt (seven players over 6’6″), including 6’8″ bruiser Boris Meno, the young guards must include the interior offense to have another March Madness opportunity or it could be a rebuilding year down in Davidson.
Wofford Terriers (5th South)
Head Coach: Mike Young
2005-2006 Record: 11-18 (6-9)
Projected Starters: Drew Gibson (Junior guard) 6’2″/185, Shane Nichols (Junior guard) 6’0″/185, Eric Marshall (Senior guard) 6’4″/185, Emilio Lebolo (Freshmen center) 6’10″/240, Tyler Wheatley (Sophomore forward/center) 6’9″/220
Season Highlights: @ North Carolina St. (11/10); @ Auburn (12/16); vs. The Citadel (1/6); @ College of Charleston (1/22); vs. UNC Greensboro (2/5)
Wofford has not been over .500 in the last five seasons, and if they want to achieve that mark they will have to live and die by the play of their guards. The Terriers have ten players that play the guard position on their 15-man roster, including returning starters Drew Gibson and Shane Nichols, who will be looked upon for leadership and offensive production. They must step up after the loss of forward Howard Wilkerson, who led the Terriers in points and rebounds last season. A woeful offensive team last season to begin with (a league-worst 67.1 ppg), they must rely on their speed at the guard position and ability to shoot the ball. A poor rebounding team, the Terriers will look to three freshmen over 6’7″, including Cory Godziniski (6’8″) who possesses guard-like ball handling skills but also the size to score in the lane. Coach Mike Young sees these big guys as the future for Wofford in the low post. A very youthful team that includes ten underclassmen along with their ability to run up and down the guard with their array of guards, Wofford will be one of the most athletic and fast-paced teams in the league. Although they lack size and experience, Young and the terriers are hoping their speed and aggression can put them into the upper tier teams in the league. If their lack of size begins to expose them it will be another long season for Wofford.
The Citadel Bulldogs (6th South)
Head Coach: Ed Conroy (first season)
2005-2006 Record: 10-21 (1-14)
Projected Starters: Kevin Hammack (Senior guard) 6’1″/189, J’Mel Everhart (Senior forward) 6’6″/205, Warren McClendon (Junior forward) 6’5″/245, Denny McClendon (Senior guard) 6’0″/175, Demetrius Nelson (Junior forward) 6’8″/250
Season Highlights: @ Michigan State (11/12); @ Notre Dame (11/19); vs. South Carolina (11/27); vs. UNC Greensboro (1/20); vs. Wofford (2/12)
After winning only 15 games in the conference over the past five years, including only one win last season, new coach Ed Conroy has his hands full at his alma mater. There is some good to be found in this struggling program is that they have veterans in this lineup to help teach their younger inexperienced teammates. Seniors Kevin Hammack, Denny McClendon and J’Mel Everhart will lead the way on a team that needs improvements in almost every facet of the game. The Bulldogs were ninth or worse in the conference in numerous categories. Improvement needs to be seen by Coach Conroy in all of these aspects to have any chance of success in 2006-07. To make matters worse for the Citadel is the loss of their best player last season in Dante Terry, who led them in points, assists, steals and three-point field goal percentage. Hammack will have to step up and replace Terry as the leader, but it’s a role Hammack can potentially fulfill considering he led the team in steals and assists two seasons ago. This teams lacks size with only one guy over 6’8″, but is going to be at least eight deep with Chris Diasperra and Vytautus Valiulis coming off the bench. Coach Conroy must depend on his upperclassmen starting lineup to set the tone for his group of seven freshmen, so that potentially in a season or two this team can climb out of the basement of the Southern Conference.
A lot can be expected from the 2006-07 season in the Southern Conference. It begins its non-conference slate against numerous powerhouse programs like Duke, Villanova, Michigan State, Florida, Kentucky and Iowa just to name a few. These types of games will help to gauge where the talent level is within the Southern Conference. These powerhouse schools are obviously expected to win, but the degree of difficulty in which College of Charleston or Chattanooga can put up in these games will help to build confidence as the season progresses.
Conference play kicks off November 27th with Wofford visiting UNC Greensboro along with numerous intriguing matchups to follow into December, including Chattanooga vs. College of Charleston and Appalachian St. vs. Georgia Southern. Then by the beginning of the year conference will fully begin and the races will be heating with intense matchups between College of Charleston vs. Georgia Southern twice (1/15 and 2/24) and Chattanooga vs. Elon twice (1/15 and most likely a Bracket Buster match-up on ESPN on 2/17). These conference battles will help shape and determine the two division champions before the conference tournament.
The favorites in the North Division are Elon and Chattanooga with UNC Greensboro as a sleeper pick and in the South Division are College of Charleston and Georgia Southern with Furman as a sleeper pick. The pick here for conference tournament champion and most likely lone Southern Conference representative in the NCAA Tournament is College of Charleston. Bobby Cremins and the Cougars will return to March Madness to give the most likely higher seed they face a challenge in the first round of play.