The Southern Conference gave us one of the best regular season conference title battles last season, which ended with Furman, UNC-Greensboro and East Tennessee State in a three way tie at 14-4. ETSU won the conference tournament and got the league’s automatic bid. While seeing three teams tie like that is a pretty rare event, it wouldn’t be a complete shock if the same thing happened again this season, although the participants in such a tie will almost certainly be different.
Five of the ten SoCon members return four (2 teams) or all five (3 teams) of their starters from last season. That means that the league is flush with experience and depth, and could lead to some very exciting battles. The pick to win it is Samford, as the Bulldogs seems to have every ingredient needed for a league crown. However, any of the top six preseason picks can make a case for being the champions, most notably Furman with conference Player of the Year Devin Sibley back.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Samford – The Bulldogs return almost their entire rotation, including four starters that averaged in double figures. They have a double-double threat big man in Wyatt Walker and a big-time scoring guard in Demetrius Denzel-Dyson. In other words, every piece seems to be here to take the conference championship this season.
- Furman – The Paladins tied for the league title last season on their way to 23 overall victories. They return four senior starters, led by defending conference Player of the Year Devin Sibley. If they can get enough rebounding down low to make up for the loss of Kris Acox, new head coach Bob Richey could have them back on top of the standings again this season.
- Mercer – The Bears should be right in the thick of the SoCon battle this season with five returning senior starters, led by guards Ri’an Holland and Jordan Strawberry. If they can develop even more of a presence down low, there will be very few teams in this conference that will be able to beat them.
- Wofford – The Terriers have three returning starters, all of whom will contribute significantly this season. Fletcher Magee led the conference in three-pointers made, while Cameron Jackson is a solid post player and Nathan Hoover can hit the long ball as well. The biggest issue will be finding a replacement at the point for Eric Garcia. One replacement that Wofford does have ready is its arena, as they open a new 3,300 seat facility this season.
- UNC-Greensboro – With the amount of returning talent in this conference, the Spartans may find it difficult to make up for the loss of two of their top three scorers from last season. That being said, Francis Alonso can certainly pick up the slack, especially if he shoots over 45% from three-point range again.
- East Tennessee State – 27 wins, a regular season tie for the conference championship, a SoCon tournament title and an NCAA Tournament appearance made 2016-17 a pretty good second year for head coach Steve Forbes. Unfortunately with only one starter back from that team, the Buccaneers should take a few steps back this time around.
- Western Carolina – The Catamounts return all five of their starters, including Haboubacar Mutumbo (Dikembe’s nephew). These same five only went 9-23 last season and, in a conference so stacked with returning talent, moving up more than a few spots in the standings may be difficult.
- Chattanooga – One problem with success in the SoCon? It can cost you your head coach. Three years ago it was Will Wade moving on up to a higher-paying job, and this past season the same happened with Matt McCall. The Mocs did bring in Lamont Paris, former assistant for Bo Ryan and Greg Gard at Wisconsin and a guy noted for his recruiting, so this team should rebuild quickly. As for this season, not a single starter returns, and a finish near the bottom seems likely.
- The Citadel – The Bulldogs were #1 two years ago and #2 last season — in Adjusted Tempo according to kenpom.com. Their style of play is certainly entertaining, but even with four starters returning they don’t really have the size or talent to do more than pull off a few upsets during the course of the conference season.
- VMI – The Keydets went 6-24 last season, only have one starter returning, and have no returning players that averaged 8 or more points per game. Matching their 3-15 SoCon record last season may be an accomplishment in itself.