Saturday, October 20, 2012

Conference Calling's 31 in 31 Series: 2012-13 Southern Conference Preview

The Conference Calling 31 in 31 preview series will examine each of the NCAA Division I auto-bid conferences (so no Great West or independents), one per day, leading up to college basketball's opening day on November 9. 


Davidson's happy in the Southern Conference. At least that's what we can infer from the school's rejection of an invitation to join the Colonial Athletic Association.

The College of Charleston thinks it might be happier in the CAA. We can infer that from its Board of Trustees authorizing negotiations with the Colonial yesterday afternoon.

The question of who'd get the better deal if Charleston leaves is one to be debated in its own post. Right now, the question is: Which SoCon titan will be dancing in March, the Wildcats, the Cougars, or some other cats altogether?

Let's examine. Follow me past the jump.

North Division:
1. Western Carolina
--The football Gestapo always likes to talk about how a few days in March are all that matters in basketball, and in the lower-rung conferences like the SoCon, it's a valid criticism. Western Carolina was on a wild seven-game winning streak, then fell to Davidson in the conference tourney final.

By two points.

In double overtime.

The league was that close to having an 18-17 team represent it in the NCAA tournament and its 24-win flagship program heading to the CBI or something. The fact that Western got that hot, however, bodes well for the Catamounts this season. Two productive seniors are gone, but the nearly all of the returnees played roles in WCU's up-and-down 2011-12 season.

Juniors Trey Sumler and Brandon Boggs have a combined 117 starts, making them the SoCon's most experienced guard duo outside of Davidson. Sumler played 36.3 MPG last year and made them productive, finishing in the conference top five in total points, assists and steals. The 6'5" Boggs was wildly inconsistent with his shot, but he's still a tough matchup for a lot of off-guards at this level.

Forward Tawaski King was one of the SoCon's hottest players during the second half of the season. The 6'7" 250-pounder scored in double figures nine times in Western's last 17 games after managing the feat only twice in the first 18. He also tore down more than seven boards per game in that span, finishing with four double-doubles. That includes a 20-10 effort against Davidson in the SoCon final. If King can carry that kind of play over an entire season, All-SoCon honors should await.

Beyond those three, coach Larry Hunter is seeking other impact players, sifting through a group of four returnees and six newcomers. Forward Preston Ross started 16 games, but only played 14 minutes a night. He saved some of his best ball for March, carding 10 points and seven boards against Greensboro in the conference semifinal.

Junior Tom Tankelewicz and sophomore James Sinclair will add backcourt depth. Both are streaky shooters who can heat up fast. Sophomore Kenny Hall and redshirt junior Josh Mendenhall may get to help out if they're not beaten out by an athletic freshman class.

Wings Justin Browning and Mike Brown add slashing ability that many of the veterans lack. Point guard Rhett Harrelson is a 5'11" distributor who knows how to get his own shots. He could play next to Sumler when Boggs isn't shooting well. Hunter has compared 6'7", 220-pound Torrion Brummitt to King, so that should give an idea of his upside.

If a couple of the freshmen play strong roles from the start this year, the Catamounts may keep last season's closing kick going all season.

2. UNC Greensboro
--After the Spartans won only 17 games in Mike Dement's last two-plus seasons, Wes Miller took over as interim coach last December. Miller only proceeded to win 11 games in three months and storm to a SoCon North title. No biggie.

Only three of the 10 players who averaged at least 10 MPG last year are gone, leaving the Spartans with a lot of guys who learned how to win on the job. Chief among them is the SoCon's top scorer, 6'4" guard Trevis Simpson. Simpson was a volume shooter, only recording an eFG% of .445 on his 486 shots. He's spent a large portion of the summer trying to expand his repertoire by improving his left hand. If he can come anywhere close to a .500 eFG%, he could easily be a 20-PPG man.

Guards Korey Van Dussen (6.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG), Drew Parker (4.8 PPG, 2.6 APG) and Derrell Armstrong (12.5 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 1.5 SPG) form the rest of the backcourt experience for UNCG. Armstrong in particular caught fire when his team did. From January 12 on, a span of 16 games, Armstrong averaged 17.6 PPG and 5.2 RPG as the team went 11-5 after its 2-14 start.

Junior David Williams (6'6", 205) is the anchor up front, making his bones as a relentless rebounder, strong defender (1.6 SPG, 3rd in league) and underutilized inside scorer. During the month of February, Williams averaged fewer than three FGA per game. That will need to change.

Delaware transfer Kelvin McNeil watched his playing time and production dwindle after being a 6-and-6 man as a redshirt freshman. Now a graduate student, he's immediately eligible, and his 6'8", 230-pound frame will come in handy from day one in Greensboro. Freshman Kayel Locke is another burly presence at 6'5" and 240, one who fell just short of the 2000-point/1000-rebound plateau as a high schooler. His physicality will likewise be welcome.

Sophomore Nicholas Paulos (6'7", 185) shot nearly 35% from long range last season. He'll see time at both the two and three.

Many of the Spartans' scorers found grooves they never thought possible under Miller. Now, both ends of the court need to demonstrate that kind of improvement all season long.

3. Elon
--Elon coach Matt Matheny is another one who put a young team on the court last season and watched them weather the slings and arrows of SoCon basketball. Six of his eight 10-plus minute men return after a run to the tournament semifinals.

Guard Jack Isenbarger emerged as one of the league's most effective scorers, racking a .566 eFG% and a .611 TS% as he scored 14.5 points per game, eighth in the conference. He had a four-game stretch with at least 20 points in each, capped by a 34-point smacking of the Citadel.

Point guard Austin Hamilton was playing solid ball until he contracted mononucleosis at the start of February. He missed six games, coming back to score only 14 points total in the final five. He's also battled a wrist injury for most of this summer, so he's got to be exhausting his supply of bad karma soon.

Rangy 6'8" swingman Sebastian Koch wasn't quite as efficient a starter as he had been as a reserve, but he had his moments. A 17-point night against North Carolina was a primary highlight. Koch is easily capable of averaging 12 and six, and if he does so, a great amount of pressure comes off of Isenbarger.

Up front, 6'10" junior Lucas Troutman had his own ACC highlight when he carded 22 points and seven rebounds against NC State around Thanksgiving. For Christmas, he added 11 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and three blocks against UNC. Troutman's a good shot-blocker and improving rebounder who manages to do his dirty work inside without committing a ton of stupid fouls. The Phoenix would really benefit if he could get his rebounding average closer to eight per game.

Junior Ryley Beaumont saw his scoring efficiency drop last season, but he improved nearly everywhere else, particularly on the glass. He's made 42 starts the past two seasons.

Junior Egheosa Edomwonyi provided some timely rebounding and shot-blocking in his 10 MPG last season, and he may be as close as the Phoenix come to solid veteran depth. Freshmen Tanner Samson and Tony Sabato may get on the court immediately.

Samson is a versatile guard with range well beyond the arc. At 6'4" and 195 pounds, he can play three positions. Sabato is a 6'7" hardnose who could make an effective backup for Troutman.

Watch out for Elon next season, as well. The only seniors on this roster project as highly sparse contributors.

4. Samford
--New coach Bennie Seltzer is a local product, raised in Birmingham. He's been part of a storybook turnaround at Indiana, and he's assembled a coaching staff that includes former Kentucky star Scott Padgett. The star power on the bench may help impress recruits who can increase the star power on the court.

Seltzer returns only five contributors off of last season's roster, but three of them were regular starters. Sophomores Tyler Hood and Raijon Kelly are the top two returning scorers. Hood, a 6'6" forward, made a whopping 63% of his two-point shots last year, which made it unfortunate that less than half his shots were of that variety. He only made 30.8% of his 133 bomb attempts. Kelly was a bit more efficient, but he would be aided by getting a few pounds on his 6'4", 170-pound frame. He wasn't much of a penetrator last season, attempting only 44 free throws.

Junior guard Will Cook (6'4", 185) is the team's top returning rebounder, which says a lot about the frontcourt's contributions last year. Cook's not a terribly reliable shooter and occasionally struggles with ball security.

Guards Brandon Hayman and Connor Miller, both 6'3", combined for about six points and three boards in 24 MPG last season. Hayman established himself as a sneaky offensive rebounder and mid-range scorer. Freshman Russell Wilson (5'11", 170) is nicknamed "The Sheriff" because he was a lockdown defender in high school. Defensive skill and effort is a great way to get playing time for any Tom Crean disciple.

The rest of the freshman class could see immediate work, too. Forward Tim Williams (6'8", 210) is quick on both ends and capable of blocking multiple shots per night. Guard Clide Geffrard can post up threes and take fours out to the perimeter, making him a candidate for a scoring sixth-man role. Tweener guard Jaylen Beckham (6'0", 160) will be a good fit for Seltzer's system when it can generate fast breaks, but he lacks the jumper to play shooting guard and is still learning how to play the point in the halfcourt.

5. Appalachian State
--Young backcourts abounded in the SoCon last year, and Appalachian State was one of the places where freshmen got a chance early. Guards Mike Neal and Tab Hamilton return after starting a combined 40 games as freshmen. The two combined for 26 points in only 28 minutes against North Carolina in a game that Hamilton didn't start. Hamilton is the more prolific shooter, but it was Neal who ended the season with six double-digit scoring games in the final eight.

Freshmen Chris Burgess and Frank Eaves should get the opportunity to back up the sophomores, and Eaves could threaten Hamilton's minutes if Hamilton continues to shoot wildly. Eaves was set to play for his dad Jerry at North Carolina A&T before Jerry was fired. After that, Eaves the younger decided to bring his steady jumper to Boone. Burgess is a 5'8" waterbug who can score from nearly anywhere.

In the frontcourt, a couple of guys who started their careers at power programs will determine the Mountaineers' direction. Former UConn Husky Jamaal Trice (6'6", 230) averaged over nine points a game, including three 20-plus nights. Unfortunately, he also had eight games of five points or less. Greater scoring consistency will be essential if he's going to be a top scorer for ASU.

Xavier transfer Jay Canty (6'6", 200), a former four-star prospect according to Scout and ESPN, made a minimal impact in Cincinnati. ASU coach Jason Capel has gone on record as saying that he expects Canty to be one of the SoCon's top players very soon.

Senior Nathan Healy is an underutilized scorer who converts his looks when he gets them. A former walk-on who's earned his way to a scholarship, he's outhustled by no one.

The rest of the frontcourt will be staffed by newcomers and rarely used returnees. Junior Brian Okam (7'0", 260) played less than six minutes per game, but showed forcefulness on the glass and in swatting shots. Juco transfer Tevin Baskin can score inside and out. Freshmen Rantavious Gilbert and Michael Obacha are both 6'8" bangers who can rebound and defend the post. Gilbert also has the bounce to be a fearsome shot-blocker.

6. Chattanooga
--When you lose four starters from an 11-win team, not many people expect much from you the following season. Chattanooga has that kind of problem, and even a top expected returnee has already blown a tire. The Mocs could conceivably see three freshmen in the starting lineup at some point this season.

One of those freshmen, point guard Farad Cobb, is likely to be the best player on campus from day one. A gifted scorer, Cobb may be a shoot-first point man, but he'll be forgiven if he ends up with 16-18 PPG. He's one of ESPN's top 40 point prospects in America.

Senior Dontay Hampton was expected to be the starter, but he blew an ACL over the summer. Hope is being held out that he can return this season, but the Mocs may try to gamble on a sixth year if Cobb is a quick study.

The Mocs' frontcourt could be an understated strength. Ex-Georgia Bulldog Drazen Zlovaric was one of the league's more efficient scorers last season, finishing 10th with a .548 eFG%. The 6'9" Serb's inside scoring, rebounding and leadership will all be key for Chattanooga.

The other forward is Z Mason, a 6'5", 238-pound specimen who was America's top tight end recruit coming out of high school. Last season was his first in college basketball after a couple of years riding Ole Miss football's bench. Mason struggled as a scorer, but did average 14.1 RPG per 40 and rank top-5 in the league in both OR% and DR%. With starter's minutes and some perimeter help to spread the floor, Mason should be able to score a bit more and dominate the glass.

Forwards Jared Bryant and Drew Baker should play frontcourt backup roles, with the 240-pound Bryant being a potential wrecking ball inside.

Next to Cobb in the backcourt, there may be two other freshman starters coming from a group of three. 6'5" wings Casey Jones and Gee McGhee and 6'4" Eric Robertson will all see the court, it's merely a matter of how the minutes are divided.

Robertson is the outside gunner, a 42% three-point shooter in his hugely successful high school career (three Alabama state championships). McGhee has already established himself as a vocal presence in practice and may prove capable of playing three positions by the time he's done. Jones is a strong scorer who could expand his minutes at three positions himself, either by adding a few pounds of muscle or improving his long jump shot.

Sophomore Ronrico White is the primary backcourt returnee. He shot 40% from deep last season and scored 10 or more in three of the Mocs' final five games.

If coach John Shulman can get his youngsters to buy into his in-your-shirt man defense and one or two step up as strong scorers, the Mocs could challenge the top three in the weaker North division. If not, it'll be a long five months in the 'noog.

South Division:
1. Davidson
--Davidson is the anti-Chattanooga, bringing everyone back from a 25-win outfit and sporting several of the SoCon's best and most proven players. The Wildcats have five players on the roster who could make legitimate cases for all-conference honors, depending on how the season unfolds.

Hell, the team had two conference Players of the Year last year, as Jake Cohen won the media award and De'Mon Brooks took the coaches' honor. The two both averaged better than 14-and-6 last season, both are strong scorers inside and out, and Cohen is a big man who opponents do not want to foul (.876 from the line).

At small forward, junior Tom Droney saw most of the starts, and he's a Swiss army knife in coach Bob McKillop's pocket. He's played some point guard, he can rebound with the fours and he can guard nearly anyone. Junior gunner Chris Czerapowicz was a 10-and-5 man in 25 minutes per night, and that's with a chronic hip condition that's rendered him nearly invisible at every practice in his career. An offseason surgery could have him at 100 percent, a piece of news that the rest of the SoCon takes with a gulp.

Guards Nik Cochran and J.P. Kuhlman don't really carry conventional point guard-shooting guard designations. Both are great passers, both can shoot from deep, both can attack the basket and both make a mean spaghetti bolognese. (One of these assessments may or may not be factual.)

Inasmuch as a team with this much talent needs veteran depth, the Wildcats have some of that, too. Forward Clint Mann carded 13 points, three blocks and two steals against Louisville in the NCAA tournament. He can get 10 and five any night. Guard Tyler Kalinoski is a designated shooter off the bench who won't commit stupid turnovers in the search for a shot.

Injuries appear to be the only thing that can truly derail the Davidson train, as the team's talent, unselfishness and teamwork have been well proven. The Wildcats have trouble scheduling quality opposition because they're such a strong team, so unfortunately, the SoCon tournament could still be critical unless Davidson knocks off all their non-league road tests (New Mexico, Drexel, Duke).

2. Charleston
--New coach Doug Wojcik returns a solid group from a 19-win club, a group that could probably contend if it was dropped into the CAA today. In the SoCon, the Cougars would be division title shoo-ins if they didn't share the standings with Davidson.

Six players return who scored six-plus PPG last season, led by British Olympian point guard Andrew Lawrence. Lawrence led the SoCon in steals, finished third in assists and recorded a sparkling 2.1 A/T ratio. All that and he scored 13 PPG. That average could easily climb above 16 if Lawrence wants to press his own offense.

Sophomore Anthony Stitt was a borderline 10-PPG man before going down with a broken hand late last season. A solid shooter with three-point range, Stitt will need to improve his 58% mark from the line to make him truly unstoppable when he attacks the iron. Stitt is also the most likely replacement for Lawrence when he leaves the floor.

Backcourt depth is expected to come from junior swingman Nori Johnson, freshman Theo Johnson (no relation) and sophomore Trevonte Dixon. Nori busted out with 27 points in the Cougars' BracketBusters win over Kent State. Theo is a left-handed freshman with superb athletic ability, capable of playing the two and three. Dixon is a combo guard who will be the emergency point guard option.

Up front, returnees Trent Wiedeman and Adjehi Baru form a frontcourt duo as potent as any not named Brooks and Cohen. Wiedeman's impressive freshman shooting numbers dipped a bit as he transitioned to starter's minutes, but he asserted himself as one of the SoCon's top rebounders. If he can crash the offensive glass a bit harder (6.9 OR%), he could easily be a double-double man every night and help those shooting efficiencies in the process.

Baru was another of the league's top 10 rebounders as a freshman, and he has the potency Wiedeman lacks on the offensive glass. He smashed Elon for 18 and 12 in their meeting last January. His TS% finished at a lackluster .495, indicative of his struggles from the line and occasional jump shot issues.

Juco transfer Anthony Thomas is projected to play the three. Nearly a 15-and-7 man for Hutchinson (Kan.) JC, Thomas is capable of being a starter, distributor and finisher on the fast break. Don't be surprised if he plays some backcourt and a little bit of power forward as well, since his 6'7", 210-pound frame should stand up well in the SoCon.

Reserve forwards Matt Sundberg and Willis Hall bring tons of experience. The 6'8" Hall was a highly productive starter two years ago before tearing an ACL last season. He's a smart rebounder rather than an athletic one and can stroke a three if left open. Sundberg is a true stretch four, more comfortable popping threes (almost 35% career) than in banging for rebounds.

With plenty of roster flexibility and some strong athletes on the roster, Wojcik's dismissal at Tulsa may turn out to be a textbook case of getting, ahem, fired up. He's got the players to give him a great chance to go somewhere he could never go with Tulsa: the NCAA tournament. Remember, just a few days in March...

3. Georgia Southern
--GSU's 15 wins last season exceeded their total from the prior two years combined. Head coach Charlton Young's second recruiting class now forms a large nucleus of his improving squad. Personal connections have and will continue to be a big part of this team's makeup.

Star swingman Eric Ferguson isn't only the top returning scorer, he's the son of Young's college roommate. Young cops to being in attendance the day Eric was born, and now he's riding the 6'7" junior to All-SoCon honors. Ferguson has a superb mid-range scoring game (.568 FG% last season), which helped him lead the team in both scoring and rebounding. No one had accomplished that feat at GSU since longtime NBA guard Michael Curry did it in 1990.

The major question mark lies at point guard. Junior Jelani Hewitt is academically ineligible for the fall semester, and the first handful of games will be spent in search of a point guard. Junior Tre Bussey was more of a shooter in his 15 MPG last year.

Senior transfer C.J. Reed may be the immediate solution. Reed is another one of those personal connections that Young has ably exploited. Reed was MEAC Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman, playing for his father Cliff. When Cliff was fired, C.J. headed to UCF until sanctions came down there. C.J. had the option to transfer and play immediately, and his destination was clear when Young hired Cliff Reed as an assistant. C.J. Reed averaged 18.8-3.8-4.8 with a 1.6 A/T ratio in his junior season at B-C. If he seizes the point early, Hewitt may never see it again.

Either Bussey or freshman Cleon Roberts may see the start at shooting guard if Ferguson plays more up front. Roberts is a great athlete and shooter with potential to play either guard spot with further handling improvement.

The Eagles lack both size and depth in the frontcourt, and that's the largest hurdle they must jump to compete for a postseason bid. Senior Cameron Baskerville, junior Marvin Baynham and sophomore Kameron Dunnican are the experienced returnees. Baskerville (6'7", 226) is the biggest of the bunch, and the most accomplished, carding about four points and three boards per game last year. The 6'6", 217-pound Baynham is tough to keep off the glass.

GSU could have the SoCon's best backcourt by season's end, but it's hard to picture the Eagles' relatively diminutive front line winning the wars with Davidson and Charleston.

4. Furman
--Injuries played hell with any continuity that Furman could muster last season. Only three players played in every game last season, and two of them are gone. If health concerns rear their ugly heads again, the Paladins can at least bring in some experienced replacements now.

Guards Jordan Loyd, Bobby Austin and Charlie Reddick started a combined 63 games and missed a total of seven, although Loyd was struggling with knee and back ailments. The hope is that a healthy Loyd can be a reliable distributor and shooter. Reddick is already a solid shooter, making better than 38% from deep, and the Paladins' top returning scorer and rebounder. Austin must have carried his lucky rabbit's foot last season, because he managed to stay healthy last season and now enters his sixth year. He's as good a shooter as Reddick, and this trio can compete with many of the SoCon's top backcourts...if they stay healthy.

Furman wants to run this season, and backcourt depth will be essential. Redshirt freshman Keith Belfield (6'6", 205), sophomore Dominic Early (6'5", 185) and sophomore David Brown (5'10", 170) will see minutes...if they stay healthy. Brown is already battling a foot injury and may start the season slowly, while Early is expected back in time for the opener after tearing a meniscus in the spring. And, of course, Belfield's redshirt last year was of a medical nature.

In the frontcourt, 6'9" senior Colin Reddick and 6'7" senior Bryant Irwin will become full-time starters after serving fill-in duty for 23 starts last year. Colin Reddick, Charlie's twin brother, has proven himself to be a reliable rebounder in his career, but will need to score more consistently in the paint. He did have a fine game against Davidson in the SoCon tournament, going for 10 points, six rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Irwin spends most of his time on the perimeter, as more than 60% of his shots were beyond the arc last year.

Frontcourt depth will need to come from a pair of freshmen. Kendrec Ferrara (6'9", 225) is expected to provide scoring from all over the court, whether in the post or around the arc. If he can, he'll be a matchup nightmare. Cameroon native Kevin Chuisseu should be more of a conventional post banger.

Furman has talent, but it's hard to bet on such a fragile bunch. They could climb as high as third place... more time, with feeling...

...if they all stay healthy.

5. The Citadel
--"Knob" sounds like a third-grade insult, but it's the term for a first-year student at the Citadel. A knob's duties start at the crack of dawn, and any Citadel team with a large recruiting class is bound to struggle. Seven knobs suited up for the Citadel last year, and all struggled to consistently produce.

This season, the knobs have the opportunity to relax a bit, inasmuch as cadets at a military school can relax, and the question becomes whether coach Chuck Driesell can lift them out of the SoCon basement.

Senior center Mike Groselle has conquered all the other obligations of his school and become an All-SoCon performer. He played a whopping 35 MPG last year and came agonizingly close to averaging a double-double, never scoring fewer than eight points in any game. He's the only reliable weapon in Driesell's arsenal, as many of the others can be prone to misfires.

Sophomore guards Lawrence Miller and Ashton Moore are both solid distributors and shooters who had flashes of brilliance. Miller had four double-figure scoring games in February. Moore had six in his first nine games, then largely struggled until he dropped 24 on Georgia State in February.

Another newly reformed knob, Marshall Harris III, should be the starter at the point. He's the returning assist leader and an aggressive penetrator who likes to draw some contact. He's productive when he does, too, dropping 70% from the line.

Two more sophomores, C.J. Bray (6'7", 250) and P.J. Horgan (6'8", 220) are as experienced as it gets up front aside from Groselle. Bray fancies himself a wingman, but only made 28% from deep last season, so that habit needs to be broken. He's a solid rebounder and inside scorer, so if Driesell can get him to focus on his strengths, he can be a highly productive player. Horgan rebounded fairly well in his 7.5 MPG last season.

This year's knobs are 6'6" Matt Van Scyoc, 5'10" guard Janeil Jenkins, 6'5" wing Quinton Marshall and 6'3" guard Raemond Robinson. Van Scyoc was a 50% three-point shooter as a high school senior, and may see the start early at small forward. Marshall averaged 17 and eight at Charis Prep in Wilson, N.C. Robinson was recruited as both a 16-PPG man and a linebacker, so his toughness isn't up for question. Jenkins should get a chance to spell Harris.

The Citadel will usually struggle, since it takes a different kind of cat to become a student-athlete at a military institution. Luckily for the Bulldogs, they have one of those cats on the roster, and damn, that's one hell of a mixed metaphor. Groselle's ability will be tested unless some of the guards discover consistent scoring touches. That improvement may happen, though, now that the difficulties of knobhood have passed for many of these guys.

6. Wofford
--Mike Young did an insane coaching job last season, winning 19 games with a roster that returned 12% of its scoring and 18% of its rebounding. The damage isn't quite as substantial this year, but the level of experience isn't what it was in fall 2011.

Sophomore guard Karl Cochran hit the ground, if not running, then at a brisk jog. He recorded a 15-point/eight-rebound game against Davidson and a 12-point night against South Carolina before the calendar turned. He demonstrated a nose for the ball, both defensively and on the defensive glass.

Up front, sophomores Lee Skinner and Jarell Byrd join junior Aerris Smith as role players who must become team leaders this season. Skinner (6'6", 212) wasn't a reliable scorer, but he averaged nearly six RPG and finished second in the league with 96 offensive boards. He carded 23 points and 20 boards in the Terriers' two postseason games, the conference tourney loss to Western Carolina and the CBI loss to Pitt.

The 6'8", 250-pound Smith is the only upperclassman likely to see major minutes this season. Smith was a more efficient and consistent scorer than Skinner, but wasn't as fierce on the glass. That said, Smith's only double-figure scoring game was a 14-point effort against Virginia-Wise. Byrd is a perimeter-oriented player who struggled to score from anywhere last year.

The five freshmen Young signed for this season will need to grow up fast. Forwards Justin Gordon (6'7", 195), Zac Grossenbacher (6'8", 220) and C.J. Neumann (6'7", 220) could all compete for a starting spot if one of the returnees stumbles.

Point guard Bryan Harris (6'2", 180) could start immediately next to Cochran. Harris averaged 18 points and three assists last season at Massanutten Military Academy in northern Virginia. The final signee, 6'4", 200-pound guard Spencer Collins, racked up more than 1800 points during his high school career.

Mike Young should probably get COY votes if this outfit can finish above .500 in conference play. If it happens, it's likely because Cochran, Skinner and at least one of the freshmen played near all-conference levels.

In this section: each team's most compelling non-conference game, weighted for visibility and chance of a win.
Appalachian State: Dec. 19 at South Carolina
--Eh, it's on Fox Sports South, so there's a little "visibility." Best available.
Chattanooga: Jan. 2 at Georgia Tech
--Tech lost to the likes of Mercer, Fordham and Tulane last season. Can Brian Gregory get the Ramblin' Wreck up for a "gimme" game like this one?
Charleston: Nov. 15 vs. St. John's (Charleston Classic)
--The Cougars got a strong field in for their annual tournament, and this matchup is a great early test for both new Cougar coach Wojcik and returning Johnnies coach Steve Lavin.
The Citadel: Dec. 19 at St. Bonaventure
--Last season, Mike Groselle vs. Andrew Nicholson would have been a sensational matchup. This year, do the Bonnies have the horses to slow Groselle?
Davidson: Jan. 2 at Duke
--The 'Cats are potent enough that they can go hunting big game. Props to Duke for being an opponent that doesn't hide from McKillop's phone calls.
Elon: Jan. 5 vs. Princeton
--An Ivy contender coming to town makes a decent measuring stick for a potential SoCon sleeper.
Furman: Nov. 25 at Mercer
--An expected SoCon mid-packer vs. an Atlantic Sun contender. Sounds about right. Better than games against Auburn, Wake Forest, or Larry Brown's free-agent signees at SMU.
Georgia Southern: Nov. 9 at Valparaiso
--A fine matchup between Eric Ferguson and Ryan Broekhoff, two of the better under-the-radar players in America.
Samford: Nov. 15 at Louisville
--Two days later, the Bulldogs travel to Memphis. Ouch.
UNC Greensboro: Nov. 19 vs. Virginia Tech
--Beatable ACC opposition at home is a rare combination for a SoCon club.
Western Carolina: Nov. 17 at Western Kentucky
--Two teams led by talented young veterans, both of whom could surprise in their respective leagues.
Wofford: Nov. 18 at Ohio
--The Terriers specialize in the roadkill game (only three non-con home tilts, and one's against something called Webber International), so why not spotlight the one with the All-America dark horse?

"While you played CP3 on the PS3, I played him at the Olympics."
F De'Mon Brooks, Davidson (6'7", 227, Jr.)
--So many talents on the Wildcats' roster, they split the votes. Brooks is the most likely 'Cat to score 30 on any night.
F Jake Cohen, Davidson (6'10", 235, Sr.)
--Scores inside and outside, makes other teams' bigs highly nervous when they have to follow him 20 feet from the cup.
F/G Eric Ferguson, Georgia Southern (6'7", 205, Jr.)
--Top-six last year in points, rebounds, steals, blocks and FG%. Unless Reed siphons some shots, no reason he can't do it all again.
C Mike Groselle, The Citadel (6'8", 238, Sr.)
--If his numbers dip at all, it's because he doesn't have to strap the whole team to his back. We're not expecting a dip, however.
G Andrew Lawrence, Charleston (6'1", 185, Sr.)
--Spend your summer playing at the Olympics, and suddenly the SoCon seems that much easier. Your SoCon Player of the Year.

C Adjehi Baru, Charleston (6'9", 225, Soph.)
--A former four-star prospect when he got to college, Baru's about to start proving why.
G Nik Cochran, Davidson (6'3", 188, Sr.)
--Could be Cochran, could be Kuhlman, their numbers will likely be almost identical anyway. Cochran's automatic at the line, so there's our tiebreaker.
G Jack Isenbarger, Elon (6'2", 180, Jr.)
--Second in the league from the arc and third from the line. Trevis Simpson wishes he were that reliable.
F Tawaski King, Western Carolina (6'7", 250, Jr.)
--Dominated nearly everyone he faced once the calendar turned. No reason to believe that will stop now.
F Trevis Simpson, UNC Greensboro (6'4", 185, Jr.)
--Simpson can certainly score, but he can also shoot his team out of a game. Until he displays more efficiency, second-team it is.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Andrew Lawrence, Charleston
COACH OF THE YEAR: Charlton Young, Georgia Southern
--With players like Eric Ferguson and C.J. Reed, the Eagles' backcourt can compete with anybody. If Young finds frontcourt ability, look out in March.
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR: C.J. Reed, Georgia Southern
--The Eagles aren't likely to miss Jelani Hewitt while he's gone, and he may be better suited for a bench scoring role anyway. Reed's an experienced college player, and the SoCon, Davidson and Charleston aside, aren't all that different from the MEAC.

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