|Southern Conference Outlook|
|Mike Castiglione, Associate College Basketball Editor|
OUTLOOK: Davidson advanced to the 2012 NCAA Tournament after winning the Southern Conference Tournament, and the Wildcats are certainly primed for a repeat in 2012-13. Coach Bob McKillop returns a dozen lettermen and all five starters from the 2011-12 squad that won 25 games and went 16-2 in conference. UNC Greensboro, the reigning North Division champs, also has a strong shot at winning the league. The Spartans, who were ousted in the tourney semifinals, return four starters and 10 lettermen. Don't count out the Western Carolina Catamounts, who are sure to come back hungry after narrowly falling to Davidson in double-overtime of the SoCon title tilt.
Elsewhere, Elon and Georgia Southern both have talented squads but must become more consistent. The league welcomes a couple of new coaches, as Bennie Seltzer takes over at Samford, while Doug Wojcik takes the reins at College of Charleston. Wofford and Appalachian State are loaded with underclassmen, yet both are still capable of making some noise in the standings. Furman, Chattanooga and The Citadel all have more questions than answers entering the season.
CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Davidson
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: 1. Davidson, 2. UNC Greensboro, 3. Western Carolina, 4. Elon, 5. Georgia Southern, 6. College of Charleston, 7. Wofford, 8. Appalachian State, 9. Samford, 10. Furman, 11. Chattanooga, 12. The Citadel
TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:
No SoCon team's prospects are as bright as the Wildcats, who return all five starters from last year's 25-win team that captured the conference championship and nearly upset Louisville in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Davidson returns its top eight scorers and rebounders. Whatever coach McKillop's formula for success, it's tough to argue against it, as he has won at least 25 games in four of his last six seasons at the helm. The backcourt is loaded, with Nik Cochran (10.9 ppg, 3.6 apg), JP Kuhlman (10.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg) and Chris Czerapowicz (10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg) all back in the fold. Czerapowicz underwent offseason surgery to treat a chronic hip condition that has plagued him throughout his collegiate career. Down low, the 'Cats will once again lean on forwards De'Mon Brooks (15.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg) and Jake Cohen (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg).
Former Spartans assistant Wes Miller took over the head coaching duties last December when Mike Dement resigned following a 2-8 start. All Miller did was resurrect the Spartans to the North Division title and was tabbed the SoCon Coach of the Year. What will Miller do for an encore? With four starters back in the fold, he hopes UNCG can get off to a much better start. Junior swingman Trevis Simpson returns after leading the conference in scoring with 18.3 ppg, the first UNCG player in history to accomplish that feat. Simpson will once again have a strong supporting cast, featuring senior guard Derrell Armstrong (12.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Junior sharpshooter Drew Parker (4.8 ppg, 2.6 apg), who started 26 games and knocked down 40-of-84 3-pointers, spent the offseason trying to sharpen his all-around game. The frontcourt will lean on a couple of newcomers in redshirt senior Kelvin McNeil and freshman Kayel Locke (6-5, 240). McNeil, who stands at 6-8, is a transfer from Delaware who averaged 5.0 points and 5.0 rebounds a year ago, while Locke was a blue chip prospect out of Maryland.
The Catamounts will be hard-pressed to replace Harouna Mutombo, last season's leading scorer, and top 3-point threat Keaton Cole, both of whom were lost to graduation. This year's roster will not feature a single senior, but that won't discourage eighth-year head coach Larry Hunter, who was very pleased with his team's offseason work. Hunter is also counting on the valuable experiences his squad gained last season, which included a late push all the way to the SoCon tourney championship, a game the Catamounts narrowly lost to Davidson in double-overtime. The starting backcourt of juniors Trey Sumler (13.5 ppg, 4.1 apg) and Brandon Boggs (10.0 ppg) returns. Down low, Tawaski King (7.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg) saw his production improve as the season progressed, finishing with averages of 8.1 points, 6.6 rebounds and 52.8 percent shooting from the floor in conference play. He'll need to pick up right where he left off for the Catamounts to accomplish their goals, as will fellow forward Preston Ross, who started 16 games last year as a sophomore.
Entering coach Matt Matheny's fourth season, the Phoenix is no longer in rebuilding mode, but ready to contend. The team returns four starters after finishing in second place (15-16, 9-9) in the SoCon North. Last season's underclassmen-laden squad was streaky, often winning or losing several games in a row. For Elon to challenge for the North this time around, the team can ill-afford to go through stretches like the one last winter that saw the Phoenix lose seven of eight. Jack Isenbarger (14.5 ppg), Sebastian Koch (8.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) and Austin Hamilton (9.2 ppg) headline the guard rotation, although Hamilton is still on the mend from a wrist injury he suffered over the summer. Starting forwards Lucas Troutman (12.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and Ryley Beaumont (7.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg) return to the frontcourt, and Matheny believes the 6-10 Troutman can really be a dominant force in the conference.coring (11.5 ppg) and assists (99). Other players will need to step up, but if everything falls into place this could be a special year for the Catamounts.
The Eagles tied for second place in the South Division last year, finishing with a 12-6 league mark after struggling in non-conference play. Three starters return from that squad, and coach Charlton Young is hopeful his team can build on its late-season momentum. Young's first order of business is cleaning up the sloppy play, as Georgia Southern averaged 15 turnovers per game and as a result, struggled to score with any consistency. It all starts with Eric Ferguson, a consensus First-Team All-SoCon forward who led the team in scoring (15.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.2 rpg) last year as a sophomore. Assuming Ferguson continues along his current path, it's quite possible he'll enter next year's NBA Draft. However, there are some holes in the rest of the lineup. Starters Willie Powers and Ben Drayton were lost to graduation, and junior Jelani Hewitt (10.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is academically ineligible for the fall semester. Hewitt's situation is a real blow, as he was the team's most potent three-point threat a year ago (57-of-144) and also averaged 1.26 steals. Junior Tre Bussey (5.4 ppg) will log significant minutes at the point, while transfer C.J. Reed, a former MEAC player of the year at Bethune-Cookman, will also provide a spark.
COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON
The Cougars return four starters from the 2011-12 squad that won 19 games. Coach Bobby Cremins decided to retire and was replaced by Doug Wojcik. Wojcik was fired from his post at Tulsa at the end of last season despite becoming the Golden Hurricane's all-time winningest head coach. He inherits a Cougars squad that has plenty of experience, and talent. Senior all-conference guard Andrew Lawrence (13.0 ppg, 5.5 apg) spent the summer playing on Great Britain's Olympic basketball team, an invaluable experience. Anthony Stitt, who averaged 9.7 ppg last year as a freshman, joins Lawrence in the backcourt, while 6-5 junior Nori Johnson returns to the wing after averaging 6.0 ppg in just under 18 minutes. Replacing leading scorer Antoine Wiggins in the frontcourt won't be easy, but Wojcik has some capable players to help fill the void. Starting forwards Adjehi Baru (7.8 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Trent Wiedeman (12.1 ppg, 8.7 rpg) are back, and both will step into more prominent roles. Baru started all but one game and was named to the SoCon All- Freshman team, while Wiedeman, a 6-8 junior, is healthy after undergoing offseason ankle surgery.
Coming off back-to-back SoCon titles, Wofford won 19 games last season and went 12-6 in conference, finishing tied for second in the South Division. The Terriers held the opposition to averages of 63.2 ppg and 34.7 percent shooting from the floor, and that strong defensive presence will remain a principle for the 2012-13 squad. The team must replace top scorers Brad Loesing (14.9 ppg) and Kevin Giltner (14.8 ppg), although there are some weapons in the fold. One of those weapons is Karl Cochran, who averaged 11.1 points and 4.7 rebounds last year as a freshman and will now be the focal point. Lee Skinner (6.2 ppg, 5.9 rpg) was another freshman who got plenty of valuable playing time, and he'll now be the primary option in the frontcourt. But if coach Mike Young wants to expand his rotation, that means he'll need to count on a few youngsters to log some minutes as well. Of the incoming freshmen, point guard Bryan Harris, who initially committed to Duquesne, and wiry 6-7 forward Justin Gordon appear to have the most promise.
Jason Capel enters his third year as head coach at Appalachian State, bringing some much-needed stability after the program recently went through three coaches in three years. Still, Capel will have a young squad this season, and he'll need to replace Isaac Butts and Andre Williamson in the paint. That won't be an easy task for a team that finished 13-18 last season and went 7-11 in conference. Then again, Capel hopes to instill some consistency in his players, after last year's team failed to win more than two games in a row at any point. Guards Mike Neal (8.3 ppg) and Tab Hamilton (8.0 ppg) gained some valuable experience as freshmen last year, coming on strong as the season progressed, and they will now become primary options. Speedy freshmen Chris Burgess and Frank Eaves add some depth in the back court. Down low, seniors Jamaal Trice (9.1 ppg) and Nathan Healy (6.2 ppg) return, but both players will need to step up their games if the Mountaineers hope to break the .500 mark. Junior big man Brian Okam and sophomore Jay Canty, a transfer from Xavier, also figure into the forward rotation.
Taking over the clipboard at Samford is Bennie Seltzer, a former assistant under Tom Crean at Marquette and Indiana. Seltzer inherits a team that returns three starters after posting an 11-19 record last season and finishing 8-10 in the SoCon. Tyler Hood (11.1 ppg), a 6-6 forward, is the top returning scorer, while Raijon Kelly (9.4 ppg) and Will Cook (8.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg) were also integral parts of the offense. Hood and Kelly are only sophomores, and Cook is a junior. In fact, the 2012-13 roster does not include a single senior. Although Seltzer doesn't have a particularly veteran-laden team to work with, the Bulldogs are largely battle-tested. He'll need to find out early which of his bench players -- comprised mostly of sophomores and juniors -- are ready to step up. Incoming freshmen Clide Geffrard, Russel Wilson and Jaylen Beckham could also see the floor.
In 2011-12, the Paladins had to replace a lot of impact players from the previous season, and it showed in the win-loss column as the team struggled to a 15-16 record. Of course, injuries further depleted coach Jeff Jackson's lineup on a weekly basis. The backcourt looks to be a strength with the return of starters Jordan Loyd (6.0 ppg), Bobby Austin (7.5 ppg) and Charlie Reddick (10.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg). Reddick and Loyd battled through injuries for much of the season and are now back to full health. On the flip side, last year's trend of mounting injuries opened the door for forwards Colin Reddick (4.3 ppg, 3.2 rpg) and Bryant Irwin (7.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg) to gain some valuable experience, and coach Jackson will count on both players to fill bigger roles this time around. But the real reason for Jackson's optimism is a solid recruiting class featuring four players who could make an immediate impact. Point guard Stephen Croone and shooter Larry Wideman will see some time in the backcourt, while Kendrec Ferrara (6-9, 225) and Kevin Chuisseu (6-8, 230) provide depth down low.
The Mocs lost four starters from last season's team that finished 11-21 overall and 5-13 in conference. Despite having a veteran squad, the Mocs frequently lost close games and tumbled down the stretch, dropping 11 of their final 13 games. This season, coach John Shulman will lean on a roster loaded with underclassmen, although the frontcourt returns senior Drazen Zlovaric (10.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg) and junior Z Mason (5.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Zlovaric is the top returning scorer and rebounder, while Mason is back to full health after being limited by a dislocated kneecap late in the season. Jared Bryant, a 6-7 sophomore forward, averaged 3.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in just over 10 minutes per game, and he figures to log more minutes this season. In the backcourt, the team was dealt a blow when senior point guard Dontay Hampton tore his ACL over the summer. True freshman Farad Cobb, a highly-rated recruit, steps right into a starting role at the point. Guard Ronrico White, who averaged 5.0 ppg last year as a freshman, will also see plenty of floor time.
Fans of the Bulldogs didn't have a whole lot to cheer about last season, as the team won only six games and went 3-15 in SoCon play. The offense struggled mightily from game to game, shooting just 43.7 percent from the floor as a team and averaging only 64.2 ppg. Fortunately for coach Chuck Driesell, his top player returns in 6-8 senior center Mike Groselle. Groselle was a steadying force in the paint last season, as he was the only player in the league to rank in the top three in scoring (third, 16.6 ppg), rebounding (first, 9.8 rpg) and field goal percentage (third, .591). However, if Groselle has to carry the load by himself once again, The Citadel is likely looking at another losing season. Driesell is counting on point guard Marshall Harris III, who averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 assists in 11 starts last season, to handle an expanded role. Sharpshooter Lawrence Miller, also a sophomore, returns after averaging 6.2 ppg and knocking down 50-of-120 3-pointers (.417). And 6-7, 250-pound sophomore forward C.J. Bray (4.3 ppg, 3.5 rpg) is also in line for an increased role.