After a 2013 Southern Conference championship, Bob McKillop and Davidson will attempt to leave on a high note before joining Atlantic 10 in 2014. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)
We serve up a Sunday morning football appetizer today with another "32 In 32" conference preview, this one taking a closer look at the Southern Conference, which will feature a changing of the guard after two of its eleven teams leave at the end of the season, which trims the SoCon down to nine teams since College of Charleston already left for the Colonial Athletic Association. Here's how we see it playing out:
1) Elon - The Phoenix, who will join Charleston as SoCon expatriates in the CAA next season, return all six of their top scorers in an all-out effort to leave on a high note. Big men Lucas Troutman and Ryley Beaumont are the perfect blend of efficient offense and hard-nosed rebounding, while Jack Isenbarger and Sebastian Koch can shoot the lights out of any gym. Junior guard Austin Hamilton makes the motor run for Elon, and will be available for the full season after being limited to sixteen games last year.
2) Davidson - Bob McKillop has come to be known as the king of the SoCon since arriving in North Carolina in 1989, but will be giving up his throne next season as the Wildcats defect to the Atlantic 10. This final year in their current home will be a challenge for Davidson with three of their top five scorers having graduated, but senior forward De'Mon Brooks is a burgeoning big man who will benefit from the presence of Swedish swingman Chris Czerapowicz. Pay close attention to junior guard Tyler Kalinoski, who will be Davidson's gunner this season after shooting 36 percent from three-point range last year.
3) Western Carolina - The Catamounts get one more year out of one of the more explosive guards in the league in the form of senior Trey Sumler, a point guard by trade that does a little bit of everything, and could even average 20 points per game this year. He does not do it alone either, as Brandon Boggs and sharpshooter Tom Tankelewicz give him a pair of deceptively strong running mates in the Western Carolina attack. Senior forward Tawaski King, despite being one of the few size options for the Catamounts, will keep his team in contention with his ability up front, and could average a double-double if he improves enough on the glass.
4) Chattanooga - The Mocs have a new head coach in Will Wade, a former Shaka Smart assistant who will install his own variant of the patented "Havoc" defense Smart has ridden to national prominence at VCU. Fortunately for Wade, Chattanooga returns each of their three top scorers, including senior forward Z. (real name Zaccheus) Mason, who averaged nearly fifteen points and eight rebounds per game last year. Gee McGhee and Ronrico White give their new coach an underrated all-around backcourt that could be one of the best in the league by the end of the season.
5) Appalachian State - The Mountaineers lose leading scorer Nathan Healy, but return each of their next four options in the offense, starting with junior forward Jay Canty. Canty will carry the load for Appalachian State this year after averages of fourteen points and six rebounds per game, while Tevin Baskin joins him up front to make the transition from sixth man to starter. Tab Hamilton and Mike Neal will anchor the backcourt, but will need to improve their ball handling after having identical assist and turnover numbers last season.
6) Samford - Leading scorer and rebounder Tim Williams returns for his sophomore season with the Bulldogs, and will seek to build off his sensational rookie season as he once again teams with junior point guard Raijon Kelly in a formidable inside/outside scoring duo. Juniors Tyler Hood and Connor Miller will be lethal weapons from the wing and shooting guard positions, respectively, as both shot 35 percent from three-point range for Samford a year ago.
7) Wofford - The Terriers may have a contender for best name in the nation, that being Australian point guard Indiana Faithfull, but Wofford is more than just an insert for cheap preseason fodder. Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins, both of whom ignited the offense last season, return; as does junior forward Lee Skinner, who will be relied upon heavily in an undersized frontcourt.
8) Georgia Southern - Senior swingman Eric Ferguson, who did a little bit of everything for the Eagles last year, will once again fill that role this season as Georgia Southern loses three of its top five scorers. Tre Bussey, also a senior, returns to anchor the backcourt while Marvin Baynham will need to maintain his efficient shot selection for the Eagles to remain relevant. Georgia Southern will get a boost next year with the return of Trent Wiedeman, who is sitting out this season after transferring from College of Charleston.
9) The Citadel - Losing leading scorer and rebounder Mike Groselle will not be easy for the Bulldogs, but sharpshooting swingman Matt Van Scyoc returns for his junior year as the primary target in the offense. Point guard Marshall Harris will once again make the motor run for The Citadel, but remember this name: P.J. Horgan. Some of our New York readers will instantly associate the New Mexico native with the legendary bar/restaurant of the same name on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside, but the sophomore forward might just be one of the best players in the conference. After burning his redshirt season during the year, Horgan came on strong in only nineteen games, averaging just under eleven points and over six rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field and 73 from the free throw line.
10) UNC Greensboro - Kayel Locke will be the center of the Spartan offense after finishing as the third-leading scorer last year, and gets a huge boost with the return of junior swingman Nicholas Paulos. Senior point guard Drew Parker will need to have his offense match his assist capabilities, or it could be a long year down Tobacco Road.
11) Furman - The Paladins are a much better team than last year's 7-24 record may indicate. Gone is leading scorer Colin Reddick, but his twin brother Charlie remains for one more year, and he will likely lead the Furman offens alongside sophomore point guard Stephen Croone and shooting specialist Larry Wideman. If the name Aaron O'Neill looks familiar, it's because the walk-on is the son of New York Yankee great Paul O'Neill.