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SoCon Tournament Preview

By Matt Hill

 

March Madness is here and for the Southern Conference, it is win or go home time in Asheville, NC this week at the SoCon Tournament.


Despite having some great basketball teams over the last 40 years, the Southern Conference has always been a one-bid league and unfortunately, that is the way it is this year.


Samford is the favorite based on winning the regular season, but many experts feel there will be a surprise champion in this tournament.


We are not going to predict a winner, but we have phased it into three categories: Contenders, Bracket Busters and Longshots. We did not necessarily go by the conference standings on this.

 

CONTENDERS 

 

Samford


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS:

* Samford rolled after losing by 43 points to Purdue and to VCU to start the season.

* Scored 134 points against VMI.

* Had its struggles against Furman, losing 78-68 to the Paladins and won in overtime 74-72 in Birmingham last week.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Achor Achor 15.0 ppg, 39 FG Percentage

AJ Staton McCray 12.6 ppg

Jaden Campbell 11.5 ppg

Jermaine Marshall 11.3 ppg

 

OUTLOOK: 

There is a lot of talk around the conference among SoCon fans that Samford is going to get beat in this tournament and that was magnified after a blowout loss Wednesday night at Wofford without three starters.  While there are doubts about whether Bucky McMillian's style of play works in a three-day tournament, you can't deny that this is most talented team in the SoCon and that until they are beaten in Asheville, they are team to beat, 

 

FURMAN


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

* Rough non-conference season filled with injuries.

* Beat Samford at Furman and lost in overtime in Birmingham.

* Defeated Chattanooga 82-65 on national television.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Marcus Foster 18ppg

J.P. Pegues 17.2ppg

Alex Williams 14.6ppg 7.5 rpg

Carter Whitt 3.9 apg

 

OUTLOOK

Furman has had a couple of tough losses to Samford, Mercer and Western Carolina recently. Like many of the teams, they can get hot in the tournament and win it. Pegues is on a roll right now and has the potential to lead Furman to the title, there just hasn't been a lot of consistency this year with Furman but the Paladins are definitely a contender,

 

Chattanooga


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

*Beat Louisville 81-71.

*Lost to Auburn 101-66.

*Won seven in a row early in conference play but has faded some in recent weeks.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Honor Huff 17,6 points per game

Trey Bonham 16.6 ppg

Sam Alexis 8.9 rpg

 

OUTLOOK

Chattanooga won seven in a row early in the conference season but has struggled some down the stretch, The Mocs were able to get back on track last Wednesday night against Mercer, a team that has been very hot coming in, Honor Huff has been on fire the last few games for Chattanooga and Bonham has been solid all year for the Mocs.

 

Western Carolina


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

*Beat MTSU and Vanderbilt.

*Struggled some in conference play after the great non-conference.

*Vonterius Woolbright Player-of-the-Year.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Vonterius Woolbright 21.9 ppg, (First in the conference) 12.1 rpg (First in conference) 5, 1 assists (2nd in the conference)

Tre Jackson 13.4 ppg

Russell Jones 12.9 ppg

Donovan Atwell 11.1 ppg

 

OUTLOOK

Woolbright has been the rock for Western Carolina this year, the problem at times has been finding help. WIth a player like Woolbright it would not be surprising if Western won this whole tournament. The Catamounts defeated Chattanooga 82-63 on Saturday and are on a roll.

 

UNCG


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

*Upset Arkansas on the road 74-70.

*Swept by Mercer.

*One of the best defensive teams in the SoCon.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Mikeal Brown Jones 19.5 ppg

Keyshaun Langley 15.0 ppg

Donovan Atwell 11.1 ppg

 

OUTLOOK

UNCG prides itself on defense and the big knock on this team is it basically relies on three or four guys and then everybody else are role players. UNCG hasn't had a lot of success in the tournament under head coach Mike Jones and there is a good chance that could continue this year, The Spartans lost to ETSU Saturday but may have caught a break in the bracket as they avoid the two hottest teams in the league, Mercer and Western Carolina.

 

BRACKET BUSTERS


Wofford


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

Wofford started 4-1 in the league. Faded down the stretch.

Blew out Samford Wednesday in a game they led by 40.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Corey Tripp 15.7ppg 3.4 assists

Dillon Bailey: 11.7 ppg

Kyle Filewich 9.0 apg

 

OUTLOOK

Because Wofford defeated Samford even if it was a short-handed Bulldog squad, I am moving Samford to the Bracket Buster category out of longshots. This squad is known more for defense than offense, but the Terriers really had it rolling against the Bulldogs. I don't think Wofford is going to win the title, but I do think the Terriers are a dangerous quarterfinal opponent.

 

Mercer


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

*After a slow start. won seven of its last 10 to close the season.

*Has defeated several of the league's upper division teams including Samford and Furman.

*Has some head scratching losses like a season sweep by ETSU of the Bears.


KEY  PLAYERS

Jalyn McCreary 15.8 ppg

David Thomas (Just under 10ppg)

Alex Holt 4.7rpg

 

OUTLOOK

The reason I have them as bracket busters and really could have put them as contenders is how the Bears have fared recently and against some of the league's top teams including a win over Samford two weeks ago. Yes, they have struggled against some of the bottom teams like ETSU and The Citadel, but this is March, and you have to look at the metrics. This team is very dangerous. Not sure Mercer can win four-games in four days but this is a team that has proven it is very dangerous and could make some major noise.

 

LONGSHOTS


ETSU


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

*Beat Davidson and East Carolina.

*6-0 against the bottom part of the SoCon.

*Only one SoCon win against the top 6 teams.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Ebby Asamoah 15.1ppg

Jaden Seymour 15.0ppg 6.3rpg

Quimari Peterson 13.0ppg 3.7apg

Jaayn Parker 2.3 blocks per game (Leads Conference)

 

OUTLOOK

The Bucs have done a great job on beating the teams they should beat in the Southern Conference. However, I have them as a longshot because of their lack of ability to defeat the top teams in the league. The biggest problem with ETSU this year has been the lack of perimeter shooting. ETSU defeated UNCG Saturday to give the Bucs that elusive victory over a top-tier team. The question is can they do it consistently in Asheville?

 

The Citadel


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

*Defeated Chattanooga in the last two weeks of the regular season.

*Defeated Notre Name in the Non-Conference.

 

KEY PLAYERS

AJ Smith 16.4ppg

Elijah Morgan 14.8ppg

Madison Durr 11.3ppg 3.2 assists

Quentin Milora-Brown 10.8ppg 9.3rpg

 

OUTLOOK

Almost put them in the bracket buster category because they are kind of a mystery having four starters in double figures. Have a few head scratching wins and a lot of head scratching losses. They are locked into the nine seed, meaning they will have to play in the Play-in-game on Friday.

 

VMI


TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

*Has not won a game in a month heading into Saturday's season finale.

*Only lost to South Carolina by 10 points.

 

KEY PLAYERS

Tyran Cook 12.6 ppg 2.3 apg

Teshaud Jackson 10ppg

Stephen Olowoniyl 5.4rpg

 

TEAM HIGHLIGHTS

This might be one of the toughest places to win in college basketball and going .500 usually means other colleges poach the coach like Chattanooga did taking Dan Earl away from VMI. The team just doesn't have the weapons to compete in the SoCon. It would be a shock if the Keydets pulled off a couple of wins in this tournament.

 

_________________________________________--

 

SOCON SUPERLATIVES

 

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Vonterius Woolbright, Western Carolina

There is no debate about this one and not even people that believe the POY should go to the champion would disagree with this pick. Woolbright finished first in scoring at 21.9ppg, first in rebounding at 12.1 per game and second in assists at 5.1. As far as one of the most all-around players he is one of the best this league has had.

 

COACH OF THE YEAR: Bucky McMillian, Samford

Four years ago, the administration at Samford took a chance on a Birmingham high school coach and what a decision it was. McMillian has Samford at heights it hasn't see in two decades. Samford won its first SoCon title this season. Samford did it as a team regularly having multiple players in double figures.

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