Southern Conference 2007-08 Preview
by Phil Kasiecki
The Southern Conference has been getting its share of national attention this off-season, and it has come largely because of one team that many have high expectations for. It’s safe to say that the prohibitive favorite this season is Bob McKillop’s team at Davidson.
There is good reason for the attention. With a young team consisting of eight freshmen and sophomores and just two seniors (both walk-ons), the Wildcats won a school-record 29 games last season and rolled to a 17-1 conference mark. They entered the season with just 30 collegiate starts between all of their players, with only one Division I school having fewer. Meanwhile, Stephen Curry raked in the accolades, and now is receiving many preseason ones in light of his terrific freshman year.
It’s safe to say that everyone else will be chasing the Wildcats this season, as they bring back every scholarship player. They have one of the best backcourts in the country, as Curry’s backcourt mate Jason Richards is also the conference’s top point guard and a good scorer and passer. There is good depth in the frontcourt, and McKillop is perhaps the most underrated coach in America.
While Davidson is getting plenty of exposure, the conference is also home to another star that isn’t well-known outside the local landscape. UNC Greensboro senior Kyle Hines was the conference’s Player of the Year last season and has gone from someone known primarily for blocking shots to a complete player who could average a double-double as a 20-10 player this season. With Davidson being the focus of the conference nationally, Hines may still fly under the radar while potentially leading his team to a North Division title.
Curry is also not the only sophomore who has already shown plenty of potential, which bodes well for the conference’s future. Western Carolina sophomore Nick Aldridge had a big freshman year last year and could have three classmates starting alongside him this season. Curry’s teammate, William Archambault, was a key reserve last season, and UNC Greensboro sophomore Kendall Toney shot the ball very well from long range last season.
No teams changed head coaches this past off-season, making it one of four conferences that could claim that. Helping that is the fact that a number of teams have changed coaches in the previous two off-seasons. There is some stability in the ranks, and that bodes as well as the young talent does for the conference as a whole.
Player of the Year: Stephen Curry, Davidson
Top Newcomer: Antwaine Wiggins, College of Charleston
Defensive Player of the Year: Kyle Hines, UNC Greensboro
Best NBA Prospect: Stephen Curry, Davidson
Nick Aldridge, So. F, Western Carolina
Stephen Curry, So. G, Davidson
Louis Graham, Sr. F, Georgia Southern
Kyle Hines, Sr. F, UNC Greensboro
Jason Richards, Sr. G, Davidson
UNC Greensboro Spartans (16-14, 12-6 Southern)
Sr. G Dwayne Johnson (4.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 3.9 apg)
So. G Kendall Toney (6.1 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Sr. G Kevin Oleksiak (6.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Sr. F Kyle Hines (20.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.2 bpg, 1.4 spg)
So. F Ben Stywall (5.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: A December 1 date with Kent State is the highlight of three non-conference home games. The Spartans open the season at Georgia Tech, then play in the Missouri State Classic, while also traveling to play Virginia Tech and Atlantic 10 contender Fordham. In Southern Conference play, much of January is marked by a five-game road stretch, while they finish the regular season with three straight at home.
Outlook: Hines is arguably the best player in the conference, but might not repeat as Player of the Year depending on the team’s success. The Spartans lose their top outside scoring threat in Ricky Hickman, but there isn’t a shortage of candidates to move into the role of primary outside weapon. Toney and Oleksiak are joined by Mikko Koivisto among the options, with Toney likely to start full-time after starting just over half of last season’s games and shooting 43.5 percent on three-pointers. Three freshmen provide depth behind them and Johnson, the steady floor leader who might be asked to score more. Stywall joins Hines in the frontcourt and should continue to support him primarily with his rebounding, although it wouldn’t hurt if he scored more to take some attention off Hines. Little-used sophomore Pete Brown is the only veteran in the frontcourt, so additional depth will likely come from junior college transfer Michael Mitchell. Only two teams turned the ball over more last season, so taking better care of the ball is likely to be one priority this season.
Appalachian State Mountaineers (25-8, 15-3 Southern)
So. G Ryan Abraham (2.5 ppg, 1.1 apg)
So. G Kellen Brand (6.2 ppg, 1.7 rpg)
Sr. F Donte Minter (11.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.2 bpg)
Sr. F Jeremy Clayton (10.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.7 bpg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. C Davis Bowne (5.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Schedule Highlights: The Mountaineers have three home games in a challenging non-conference slate, highlighted by a visit from Wichita State and a BracketBusters game. Early on, they go to Middle Tennessee for three games in the First Shot Exempt Tournament. The toughest road games look to be at Arkansas and Atlantic Sun favorite East Tennessee State. When Southern play begins in earnest in January, they start with three straight on the road before coming home for three straight.
Outlook: The Mountaineers still have a good team, but their departures hit hard in that they come in the backcourt, leaving a pair of sophomores as likely starters there. At the very least, Abraham has good options to get the ball to in Brand, who showed some promise last season, and forwards Minter and Clayton. Minter could make a nice jump with his scoring numbers, while Clayton can do a little of everything inside and together they make a solid forward tandem as part of a unit that has good size. With that unit, they should improve on their positive rebounding margin last season. Freshmen Donald Sims and Donterious Hughes could each get significant minutes in the backcourt. The Mountaineers will be hard-pressed to lead the conference in scoring again, so improving defensively will be important to staying in contention.
Western Carolina Catamounts (11-20, 7-11 Southern)
So. G Brigham Waginger (3.7 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg)
So. G Brandon Giles (6.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.4 apg)
Sr. F Arnold Gore (9.6 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1.2 apg)
So. F Nick Aldridge (18.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.7 spg)
So. F Jake Robinson (8.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: A challenging non-conference schedule features four home games and opens with an in-season tournament. To start the season, the Catamounts travel to Cincinnati for the Peggy Cronin Classic, where they play Bowling Green, the host Bearcats and Atlantic Sun contender Belmont. In mid-December, they play at Indiana and Illinois two days apart, and close out 2007 with a trip to North Carolina State. When Southern Conference play begins in earnest, they start with three of four on the road, including the oddity of playing both games against Furman within a week.
Outlook: Larry Hunter has a young team with some potential that might be a year away from seriously contending, as the core of the team is the sophomore class. Aldridge and Robinson are already a solid forward combination, while Waginger and Giles have potential in the backcourt. Giles also gives the backcourt good size at 6’6″ and might move to the wing from time to time, though senior Negus McKenna is better suited to there than shooting guard. The frontcourt also gets more size with the recruiting class, as three of the four freshmen are 6’8″. The Catamounts had the best turnover margin in the conference last season in part from forcing over 16 turnovers per game, but when they didn’t do that opponents scored often. Only three teams in the conference allowed opponents to shoot better than the nearly 46 percent clip the Catamounts allowed.
Chattanooga Mocs (15-18, 6-12 Southern)
Sr. G Kevin Bridgewaters (6.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Jr. G Keyron Sheard (junior college transfer)
Jr. F Nicchaeus Doaks (10.2 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
Jr. F Khalil Hartwell (4.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
Jr. C Qavotstaraj Waddell (junior college transfer)
Schedule Highlights: Six home games are on top in a non-conference schedule that features two in-season tournaments. Highlighting the home games are visits from Atlantic Sun favorite East Tennessee State and Tennessee, and they also host the Dr. Pepper Classic to close out 2007, where they could play Atlantic Sun contender Belmont. After playing at Indiana early on, they travel out west for three games in the Anaheim Classic, opening with Southern Illinois. In Southern Conference play, they close the regular season with five of six on the road.
Outlook: With just two seniors and seven juniors on the roster, the Mocs might be a year away from contention. Two of the juniors figure to start right away in Sheard, who could run the show from the outset, and junior college teammate Waddell, who adds more size to a front line that also includes 6’10” sophomore Matt Gwynne and 7’1″ redshirt freshman Jeremy Saffore. Doaks is one good forward, while Hartwell could be displaced from the starting lineup by one of the aforementioned big men. In the backcourt, another junior newcomer, South Carolina transfer Stephen McDowell, will figure into the mix and could eventually start. The Mocs held their own on the glass last season and should again this year with the size they have. The big area for improvement is taking care of the ball, as only one Southern Conference team turned the ball over more last season.
Elon Phoenix (7-23, 5-13 Southern)
Sr. G Montell Watson (redshirt)
Jr. G Brett James (12.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.5 spg)
So. G Devan Carter (5.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Jr. F Ola Atoyebi (5.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg)
So. F Scott Grable (4.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Phoenix will play four non-conference home games, including a BracketBusters game. They open the season at Virginia Tech, then later head to Georgia, VCU, Penn and Virginia. In a scheduling oddity, they play four conference games before the new year, three of them at home. Starting in late January, they play five consecutive road games.
Outlook: The young Phoenix will have some growing pains this season with just two seniors and three juniors on the roster. Watson returns after a foot injury kept him out of last season, giving them an experienced floor leader to go with James, the top scoring option, and Carter, who looked promising last season. Senior Brian Waters and sophomore Jon Ogolo should also be in the mix. The frontcourt has two players in Atoyebi and Grable who should get better, with Grable being counted on to give them more after starting 11 games last season and seeing his minutes increase in conference play. Sophomore Adam Constantine should see good minutes up front as well, and freshman Daniel Watts adds more size with his seven-foot frame. This season is a building one for the Phoenix, and if Watson can help the younger guards and make the younger players on this team better, the season will be a step forward.
Davidson Wildcats (29-5, 17-1 Southern)
Sr. G Jason Richards (13.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 7.3 apg, 1.5 spg)
So. G Stephen Curry (21.5 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.8 spg)
Jr. G Max Paulhus Gosselin (4.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. F Boris Meno (11.0 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 1.0 spg)
Sr. F Thomas Sander (13.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.1 spg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference schedule is one that fits a team like this, as it has plenty of challenges. Only three games are at home, with the big ones being on the road or at a neutral site. North Carolina and Duke come to Charlotte at Bobcats Arena, and they play UCLA at the John Wooden Classic. True road games of note are at MAC favorite Western Michigan, Charlotte, North Carolina State, and a BracketBusters game. Early in Southern Conference play, they play six of seven on the road.
Outlook: The Wildcats are getting plenty of attention, and deservedly so. With just about everyone back from last season’s 29-win team, expectations are sky high. Curry gets plenty of attention, but as one would expect of a team that won as much as they did, he has plenty of help. Richards is the best point guard in the conference as he can score and pass, while Gosselin is a solid role player who can hit from long range. Sophomore Bryant Barr is a sniper off the bench as well, in much the same way that classmate William Archambault is from the forward spot. Archambault plays behind solid seniors in Meno and Sander, who play well together and are solid at both ends of the floor. There is plenty of depth up front, with junior Andrew Lovedale and sophomore Stephen Rossiter joining Archambault off the bench. The Wildcats will be tough to beat, so the conference looks to be theirs for the taking and they will have a chance for wins that could earn them an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament should someone shock them in the conference tournament.
Georgia Southern Eagles (15-16, 7-11 Southern)
Sr. G Dwayne Foreman (9.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 6.1 apg, 1.2 spg)
Sr. G Anthony Marshall (3.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Sr. F Matt Fields (6.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Sr. F Louis Graham (14.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.5 bpg)
Sr. C Ryan Hynes (2.4 ppg, 2.0 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Eagles will play in two in-season tournaments as part of a non-conference schedule that has just three home games. Early on, they play in the Glenn Wilkes Classic in Daytona Beach, taking on UAB along the way. They close out 2007 in the Flint Hills Resources/Islander Invitational in Corpus Christi. Among their challenging road games are trips to Florida State and Florida, as well as a BracketBusters game.
Outlook: The Eagles could be a sleeper team, as they struggled out of the gate last year but could put five seniors starters on the floor year. It starts with the excellent inside-outside combo of Foreman, who was second in the conference in assists, and Graham, a solid inside force. Foreman should break into double figures, while Marshall and Fields will be counted on for more with the departure of Donte Gennie. Antoine Johnson could also nab the starting spot alongside Foreman on the perimeter, and there is some depth with freshman Willie Powers and Julian Allen leading a guard-oriented group of newcomers. Hynes is the incumbent in the middle after starting 17 games last season, but junior college transfer Trumaine Pearson and freshman Jared Collins should push him. The Eagles were second in the conference in field goal percentage defense and third in rebounding margin, so concerns aren’t big defensively, but although they were second in field goal percentage, they led the conference in turnovers. Taking better care of the ball could mean another winning season and contention again.
College of Charleston Cougars (22-11, 13-5 Southern)
So. G Tony White, Jr. (6.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.6 apg)
Jr. G Marcus Hammond (7.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Jr. F Jermaine Johnson (10.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.0 apg)
Jr. F Dustin Scott (junior college transfer)
Fr. F Antwaine Wiggins
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference schedule has just three home games on tap, two of which come in the Cougar Classic at the end of December. Early on, they travel for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, where they begin with Arkansas and then play either Temple or Providence in the second of three games. Later trips include Atlantic 10 contender Fordham, Florida State and South Carolina.
Outlook: The Cougars have a new look this year, as Hammond, White, and Johnson have the most experience by far. Hammond has started before, so he needs White to make a smooth transition into the starting lineup. Freshmen Andrew Goudelock and Donavan Monroe should each get plenty of time early on. The frontcourt was stung by Josh Jackson’s transfer in the summer, making Johnson the only returning start. Much will be expected of Scott, while freshman Jeremy Simmons figures to at least provide rebounding and a defensive presence. Wiggins comes with a good reputation as well and could play right away, though he needs to get stronger. The Cougars were the best defensive team in the conference last year, and repeating that will be necessary with the offense they have lost.
Wofford Terriers (10-20, 5-13 Southern)
Sr. G Drew Gibson (12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 5.4 apg, 2.2 spg)
Sr. G Shane Nichols (15.6 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.8 apg)
Jr. G Matt Estep (5.8 ppg, 1.4 rpg)
Fr. F Noah Dahlman
Jr. F-C Tyler Whatley (7.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.1 bpg)
Schedule Highlights: The Terriers’ non-conference slate is challenging, and it includes four home games, none of them against Division I teams. They open the season at Arkansas, then later go to Wisconsin and close out 2007 in the Findlay Toyota Las Vegas Classic, where they first play at Alabama and at Purdue before two games in Las Vegas. Southern Conference play will see an early test for them, as just over a week into January they start a stretch with Appalachian State and Davidson at home followed by three straight on the road. They also play three straight on the road in February before the regular season finale is at home.
Outlook: It’s safe to say that guards rule the Terriers, as they have no shortage of them and depth won’t be a problem, and they helped the team turn the ball over less than any other Southern team last season. The senior tandem of Gibson and Nichols makes this team go, with Gibson running the show and playing well at the other end of the floor. Estep could grab the third perimeter spot to give them a little more size, but don’t be surprised if sophomore Junior Salters starts often after he showed a lot of promise as a freshman. If they want even more size, they can go with 6’8″ sophomore Corey Godzinski, who started nine games last season, on the wing. Whatley is the only returning frontcourt player who played significant minutes, which means there will be plenty of opportunity for freshmen Dahlman, Drew Crowell and Terry Martin. The Terriers allowed the most points in the conference and were next-to-last in field goal percentage defense, so those are concerns, but with Whatley surrounded by inexperienced frontcourt players, it appears that rebounding will be the biggest concern as they were by far the worst team in that category last season.
Furman Paladins (15-16, 8-10 Southern)
So. G Tony Anderson (4.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 1.7 apg)
Fr. G Bryson Barnes
Sr. F George Brozos (3.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg)
Jr. F Stanley Jones (5.4 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Jr. F Alex Opacic (6.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: Just two non-conference home games are on tap, both coming back-to-back in November. On tap for road games are trips to Clemson, Saint Louis, and two consecutive in-season tournaments. The first is the Gossner Foods Holiday Classic at Utah State, where they play Northern Arizona and either Utah or host Utah State, then they go to St. Mary’s for the Shamrock Office Solutions Classic against Big West contender Cal State Fullerton in the first game.
Outlook: The Paladins are starting over this season, as four starters are gone and several reserves have left as well. Anderson might have the best chance of staying in the starting lineup, as none of the holdovers have done much but Anderson has experience at the important point guard spot. Brozos is the only senior on a squad that has six freshmen, with Barnes having the best chance to start right away with his size at the point guard spot. This young group will be tested right away, as the non-conference schedule is not easy. By the end of the season, they should look a little different than they do at the beginning.
The Citadel Bulldogs (7-23, 4-14 Southern)
Jr. G Jonathan Brick (2.4 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 2.3 apg)
Jr. G Jon Heyland (junior college transfer)
Fr. G Andrew Gonzalez
Fr. F Matt Clark
Sr. F-C Demetrius Nelson (9.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Schedule Highlights: The non-conference schedule has six home games, highlighted by an early visit from USC and a New Year’s Eve visit from Ivy League contender Cornell. The Bulldogs will travel for games at South Carolina, another Ivy League contender in Penn, and Washington State at the Cougar Hardwood Classic in Seattle. Once Southern play begins in earnest in January, the Bulldogs get some home cooking, as seven of the first eight are at home, including five straight. They follow that with four straight on the road.
Outlook: The struggles continued for this program last season, and second-year head coach Ed Conroy is giving it a facelift in the form of ten newcomers. Seven of the newcomers signed early, indicating that this was a plan all along. Nelson is by far the most experienced player, while Brick could run the team after doing so for most of the conference season as he started 17 of 18 Southern games. Conroy is high on his newcomers, with Heyland bringing a reputation as a shooter and Gonzalez and Clark bringing some size to their positions. The newcomers will play early and often throughout the season as the Bulldogs try to turn the page to more success.
The conference is Davidson’s to lose, although there are some good teams to keep an eye on besides the Wildcats. UNC Greensboro should be the favorite in the North, but not by a wide margin, and it wouldn’t be a shock if Western Carolina contends a year early with their core group of sophomores. Meanwhile, a couple of bottom teams are trying to rebuild almost from scratch and will likely have some growing pains.