32 Conferences, 32 Previews, 32 Days: Southern

By Kevin Sweeney

The Southern Conference has been one of the conferences most effected by conference realignment.  Just a few years ago, when the Southern Conference drew huge amounts of attention due to Stephen Curry’s national stardom, the league had 11 teams, including 5 that are no longer in the SoCon. Now, the SoCon is down to 10, with Davidson, Charleston, Elon, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State being replaced by East Tennessee State, Mercer, Samford, and VMI.  This creates an interesting mix of schools in the conference, as it includes large public universities, small private schools, and military academies. In recent years, the SoCon has performed very well on the national stage, earning 12 seeds, perfect upset position, in each of the past 2 NCAA Tournaments.

Picks:

  1. Chattanooga
  2. East Tennessee State
  3. Mercer
  4. UNC Greensboro
  5. Furman
  6. Wofford
  7. Samford
  8. VMI
  9. The Citadel
  10. Western Carolina

Champions: Chattanooga- The Mocs should be scary good this season.  They won 29 games, including impressive road wins at Georgia, Illinois, and Dayton, and reached the NCAA Tournament despite losing the defending SoCon Player of the Year to a season-ending injury before conference play got underway.  Jones should be back, and so will 4 of the top 5 scorers from last season, excluding Jones. Jones, as well as forwards Tre’ McLean and Justin Tuoyo, are player of the year candidates in the conference for this season.  2nd year head coach Matt McCall is one of the young stars in the business, and should bolster his resume with a 2nd consecutive NCAA Tournament bid.

Dark Horse: Mercer- Mercer was struck with a horrible tragedy in the middle of their season last year, when Jibri Bryan, a guard, was murdered.  Somehow, the Bears were able to continue to play, but struggled down the stretch, winning just two games in February. This season should be a different story, as the Bears bring back 3 starters and welcome multiple talent transfers from the JUCO ranks, including guards who began their careers at Rutgers and Wichita State, respectively.  This talent injection should boost the Bears back to the top half of the SoCon, and perhaps even higher.

Preseason First Team:

  • F: Tre’ McLean-Chattanooga
  • G: T.J. Cromer-ETSU
  • G: Fletcher Magee-Wofford
  • G: Casey Jones-Chattanooga
  • G: Q.J. Peterson-VMI

Player of the Year: Casey Jones- Jones is one of the most versatile players in college basketball. Playing on the wing, Jones provides a major scoring punch, as well as being an excellent rebounder and good distributor.  He was leading the Mocs in points, rebounds, and assists per game before losing his season to an ankle injury suffered in practice in December.  The only thing that could keep Jones from be the player of the year in the SoCon is the talent surrounding him.  There are so many excellent players on Chattanooga that his numbers could take a hit.  Even if his numbers aren’t as impressive as the stars from opposing teams, Jones will still be one of the best players in the conference.

Newcomer of the Year: Hanner Mosquera-Perea (ETSU)- An incredibly gifted athlete, Mosquera-Perea will be expected to expand his offensive repertoire from his time at Indiana, where his job was mostly focused on being a rim protector. At 6-9, 220 pounds, Mosquera-Perea is a matchup nightmare for mid-majors, especially if he’s deployed next to 7 footer Peter Jurkin, another Indiana transfer.  To have averaged 13.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.6 blocks per 40 minutes in the Big 10 is no small feat, and I expect those to be close to his per-game averages this season for the Bucs.

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