By Kevin Sweeney
The SoCon projects as one of the more interesting mid-major leagues to follow this season. Each team at the top has a flaw, but has more than enough talent to win the league. There’s an overall veteran feel to the league this year as well, with multiple teams bringing back all their production from a season ago. This should make for one exciting race to follow.
- Furman- The loss of head coach Niko Medved is certainly something to monitor, but the Paladins have hired a capable replacement from within in Bob Richey. He inherits a roster that returns everyone except for versatile big man Kris Acox and former walk-on TK Hayes, including SoCon POY frontrunner Devin Sibley. A dangerous team to watch come March.
- Mercer- If you are looking for an experienced team, look no further than Mercer. Bob Hoffman’s club will send out 5 senior starters this season, including the special backcourt duo of Ria’n Holland and Jordan Strawberry. A definite contender in this SoCon title race.
- Samford- It is remarkable the job Scott Padgett has done building this Samford program, and this season, the Bulldogs are legit SoCon contenders. They return all 5 starters, and the trio of PG Christen Cunningham, wing Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, and big Wyatt Walker is as good as any at the mid-major level. Padgett also adds a very interesting piece to the backcourt in Justin Coleman, who averaged more than 6 points and 3 assists per game at Alabama.
- East Tennessee State- There are a lot of question marks on this roster, but the Buccaneer’s have the best coach in the conference in Steve Forbes and some very intriguing newcomers that should compliment an all-league-level player like Desonta Bradford.
- Wofford- The Terriers have an outstanding scoring guard in Fletcher Magee, as well as a very solid big man in junior Cameron Jackson. My concern with them lies in point guard play, as 4-year starter Eric Garcia graduates after averaging 14 points and nearly 7 assists per game last season. I’d imagine sophomore Donovan Theme-Love and freshmen Tray Hollowell & Storm Murphy will duke it out for starting honors at the point.
- UNC-Greensboro- It can’t be understated how good a job Wes Miller has done atUNCG, winning 25 games and claiming a share of the league’s regular season title last season. They do lose 2 starters, but bring back talented Spanish scorer Francis Alonso and a potential breakout star in James Dickey. A team to not sleep on in the SoCon.
- Chattanooga- It was always going to be a bit of a rebuilding year for UTC with the amount of production they were projected to lose, but Matt McCall jumping ship for UMass and losing 2 highly-touted 2017 commits in Jalen Crutcher (Dayton) and Terry Nolan (George Washington) leaves this program in full rebuild mode. They’ll need a huge year from talented forward Makinde London in year 1 of the Lamont Paris era.
- Citadel- They may not win many games, but watching a Citadel game is an experience in of itself. They led the nation in scoring offense last season with 89.8 points per game. The only issue: they were worst nationally in scoring defense, conceding over 94 points per game. Perhaps year 3 of the Duggar Baucom era will be improved.
- Western Carolina- A lot of production returns for WCU from last year, but the Catamounts were horrifically bad offensively last season and will need to improve drastically in order to stay out of the cellar.
- VMI- The Keydets were nothing short of awful a season ago and lose star guard QJ Peterson. That’s not anyone’s recipe for success.
You can make a convincing case for a few teams to be champs, but I went with what I believe to be the most complete roster in the conference. Devin Sibley is one of the most underrated guards in the country, coming off a season in which he averaged over 17 points per game while shooting over 45% from 3 en route to being named SoCon Player of the Year. Meanwhile, Daniel Fowler is one of the more solid guards in the conference and does a little bit of everything for this club. The one concern I have beyond the coaching transition is replacing Kris Acox, but I think junior forward Matt Rafferty has the tools to do most of what Acox did a season ago.
Dark Horse: ETSU
Last season’s conference champions, it feels like ETSU is getting overlooked a bit going into this season. While TJ Cromer, Tevin Glass, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea all graduate, head coach Steve Forbes brings in Longwood transfer Kanayo Obi-Rapu in the backcourt as well as a pair of talented JUCO big men in Jeromy Rodriguez and James Harrison to compliment a returning core that includes the talented Desonta Bradford. Forbes will have his team ready to go, and I expect them to put up an excellent fight for the conference title this season.
First Team All-Conference
- G: Devin Sibley (Furman)
- G: Flethcer Magee (Wofford)
- G: Ria’n Holland (Mercer)
- G: Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (Samford)
- F: Wyatt Walker (Samford)
Player of the Year: Devin Sibley (Furman)- It’s truly remarkable just how efficient a scorer Sibley was a season ago. He posted a true shooting percentage over 65% for the season, shooting nearly 60% from inside the arc and 45% from downtown despite drawing the attention of defenses all season. Sibley should be considered one of the best guards in all of college basketball.
Breakout Player of the Year: Demetrius Troy (UNCG)- With point guard Diante Baldwin graduating, Troy will likely take the reigns at that position. After 2 years of being a very solid role player, I expect Troy to thrive in his new role and have a big year for the Spartans.
Newcomer of the Year: Jeromy Rodriguez (ETSU)- A highly-touted JUCO prospect out of Northwest Florida State, Rodriguez was ranked 16th among all 2017 JUCO prospects by JUCOrecruiting.com. He should provide an immediate impact for the Buccaneers, who need help in the frontcourt with Glass and Mosquera-Perea graduating.