Top of the O26 Class: A-10, A-Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC & SoCon

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on October 30th, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region of the U.S: the Atlantic 10, Atlantic Sun, Big South, Colonial, MEAC and Southern Conference. Previous installments include the Northeast region leagues and the Midwest region conferences.

Top Units

Which mid-major will make the most noise this season? in Rush the Court's Polls on LockerDome

Atlantic 10

  • VCU – 2013-14 record: 26-9 (12-4). Shaka Smart has led VCU to four straight NCAA Tournaments including a Final Four run in 2011, and yet this might be his most talented bunch to date. Perhaps his most highly motivated, too. After suffering a bitter, never-should-have-happened defeat to Stephen F. Austin in the Round of 64 last March, preseason all-conference picks Treveon Graham and Briante Weber return, along with several other key pieces and Smart’s best recruiting class. Graham, a 6’6″ forward, is poised to break the school scoring record this season, while the quick-handed Weber looks to build on the career steals mark he already shattered – it’s like the guy was built for HAVOC. The presence of forward Mo Alie-Cox, backcourt contributors JeQuan Lewis and Melvin Johnson, and a trio of heralded freshmen – including four-star Terry Larrier – makes this team more than ready for a tough non-conference slate. Expect a bunch of wins, an A-10 title and big things come March.
VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

VCU is loaded with talent this season. (Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports)

  • Dayton – 2013-14 record: 26-11 (10-6). Last year’s Cinderella should be top-three good in the A-10, but it may need some time to rediscover the magic. Gone is Dayton’s best all-around player, Devin Oliver, its most important big man, Matt Kavanaugh, and two productive guards. Luckily, Archie Miller’s tendency to use a deep rotation last season – 10 to 12 guys a game – should pay off; this year’s newly-anointed starters all saw quality minutes in 2013-14. Among them will be Scoochie Smith, who steps in as starting point guard following the transfer of Khari Price. Smith’s ability to open up the offense, along with the continued emergence of forwards Jalen Robinson and Devon Scott, will be important factors. Dyshawn Pierre and sharpshooter Jordan Sibert should lead the way, but it is the (probably large) supporting cast that will determine the Flyers’ ceiling.

  • George Washington – 2013-14 record: 24-9 (11-5). Mo Creek’s shooting and Isaiah Armwood’s interior strength and defense will be missed, but George Washington remains in fine shape this season. Pacing things for the Colonials is a quartet of talented, experienced juniors: Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage in the backcourt, 6’6’’ Brazilian Patricio Garino at the wing and 6’10’’ Kevin Larsen down low. McDonald is rock-solid at the point, and Savage, who missed the second half of 2013-14 due to injury, should emerge as the primary scoring threat along with Garino. Larsen is efficient, skilled enough in the post and strong enough on the boards to become an all-conference center. The starters will be reliable. It’s the lack of depth and perimeter shooting that might become an issue for GW, however, so reserves like Nick Griffin (14-of-29 3FG in 2013-14) will need to give Mike Lonergan productive minutes off the bench.

Atlantic Sun

  • Florida Gulf Coast – 2013-14 record: 22-13 (14-4). Mercer went out with a bang last season, beating Duke in the NCAA Tournament before bolting to the SoCon along with East Tennessee State. Lucky for the downsized conference, Dunk City remains and should be as good as ever in 2014-15. Guards Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson – holdovers from that 2013 Sweet Sixteen squad that captured the hearts of America – comprise one of the best backcourts at the mid-major level. Comer has boasted a top 25 assist rate in each of the past three seasons, while Thompson might be the league’s top player after averaging more than 15 points per game last year. A pair of proven incoming transfers will elevate the guard play even further. The frontcourt is more of a mystery following the departures of Chase Fieler and Eric McKnight, but several quality returnees and numerous additions should give the Eagles enough big bodies to roll through the conference. FGCU likely goes dancing again.

Big South

Coastal Carolina looks to keep the celebration going in 2014-15. (Richmond Times-Dispatch / Mark Gormus)

Coastal Carolina looks to keep the celebration going in 2014-15. (Richmond Times-Dispatch / Mark Gormus)

  • Coastal Carolina – 2013-14 record: 21-13 (11-5). Averaging 22 wins per season since 2010, Cliff Ellis finally led Coastal Carolina to an NCAA Tournament appearance last March. His Chanticleers seized the moment, too, holding a lead against top-seeded Virginia for much of the first half before fading over the game’s final 10 minutes. Nearly everyone is back this year, including the team’s top three scorers, guards Elijah Wilson (15.8 PPG), Warren Gillis (14.7 PPG) and Josh Cameron (13.8 PPG). The addition of Mount St. Mary’s transfer Shivaughn Wiggins is sure to bolster the already-loaded backcourt, so despite losing its center to graduation – 6’7’’ power forward Badou Diagne is now the strongest interior presence – Coastal could be even better in 2014-15. A Big South regular season title is probably in the cards. Navigating through the reliably-chaotic Big South Tournament is a different story altogether.

Colonial

  • Northeastern – 2013-14 record: 11-21 (7-9). The Huskies suffered minimal turnover this offseason, which is huge in a conference that saw several of its best players graduate. Back for Bill Coen’s bunch is CAA Defensive Player of the Year Scott Eatherton (15.9 PPG, 10.2 RPG) and nearly every other major contributor. Things would have looked even better if starting guard Demetrius Pollard had not left the program earlier this month, but the re-addition of 6’8’’ forward Quincy Ford, a talented wing who was among the team’s best players before suffering an injury last November, more than mitigates the loss. Northeastern is deep enough and talented enough to win the league. Still, for a program coming off a meager 11-win campaign, piecing it all together and remaining consistent is no guarantee. William & Mary and Hofstra are not far behind.

MEAC

  • North Carolina Central – 2013-14 record: 28-6 (15-1). NC Central loses the MEAC’s top assist man and Player of the Year, so why are the Eagles favored to repeat as champs? Well, for one thing, Levelle Moton is still the head coach – more on him later. For another, the influx of quality transfers should make this more of a reloading year than a rebuilding year. NCCU adds a bevy of talent to the backcourt, including Nimrod Hilliard (Lamar) and Jamal Ferguson (Marquette), which should help fill the void left by graduating seniors Jeremy Ingram (20.6 PPG) and Emanuel Chapman (6.4 APG). Likewise, the frontcourt will be even better in 2014-15, as 6’11’’ transfer Nate Maxey and several other additions join Jordan Parks (an excellent offensive rebounder), Jay Copeland (another excellent offensive rebounder) and Karamo Jawara down low. Add it all up and another conference title makes sense.

Southern

  • Wofford – 2013-14 record: 20-13 (11-5). With Davidson no longer around to steal preseason headlines, Wofford enters 2014-15 as the clear-cut SoCon favorites – and with good reason. Nearly everyone is back from last year’s NCAA Tournament unit, including conference Player of the Year candidate Karl Cochran (15.7 PPG, 1.7 SPG) and top rebounder Lee Skinner (8.5 RPG). The Terriers were excellent on defense last season – holding 13 of their final 16 opponents to less than a point per possession – and the model should be much the same this year. Mike Young’s deep, steady backcourt and undersized-but-tough front line fits his grinding approach well, lending itself to a level of consistency that few other clubs in the new-look conference can match. Chattanooga, ETSU and VMI have talent and contrast in style (especially the Keydets), but Wofford should control the SoCon in 2014-15.

Top Players

High Point's John Brown is a physical specimen and one the O26's top players. (AP)

High Point’s John Brown is a physical specimen and one the O26’s top players. (AP)

  • Karl Cochran  Wofford. The Terriers’ point guard is solid across the board, using his quickness and athleticism to score (15.7 PPG), rebound (5.0 RPG), distribute (led the team in assist rate) and disrupt things on the defensive end. In a game against High Point last season, the 6’1’’ Cochran racked up 23 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and six steals. He’s simply the best player on the SoCon’s best team.
  • Marcus Thornton – William & Mary. If William & Mary finally reaches the NCAA Tournament this season, Thornton will have a lot to do with it. The 6’4’’ guard can score in a variety of ways – he’s an excellent three-point shooter (40.3% career), quick off the bounce, able to get to the rim and exhibits a lethal step-back move. Points come in droves, and there’s a good chance Thornton earns the CAA scoring crown – and possibly the Player of the Year award – as a result.
  • Kendall Anthony – Richmond. There are several A-10 guards we could include here, but the way Anthony played in the final third of last season – posting 19.3 points per game over 12 contests, mostly without backcourt mate Cedrick Lindsay – makes us think he’s poised to break out in 2014-15. The senior is diminutive in stature, standing at just 5’8’’, but he packs quite a punch.
  • John Brown – High Point. We know he can dunk [see below] and his big personality and high motor have been well-documented, so how about we just let the numbers speak for themselves. In 2013-14, the Big South Player of the Year finished among the top 10 in his conference in scoring (19.5 PPG), rebounding (7.7 RPG – also ranked first in offensive rebounding), field goal percentage, steals and blocks. He scored 25+ points nine different times and logged seven double-doubles, including a 27-point, 13-rebound outing against Stephen F. Austin. Brown is one of the best players in mid-major basketball.
  • Treveon Graham – VCU. If it wasn’t already clear who VCU’s go-to guy was last season, Graham’s dominant performance in a double-OT victory at La Salle settled any doubt. The forward put up 34 points and 12 rebounds, single-handedly keeping the Rams alive throughout the second half. He enters 2014-15 as the best player on one of Shaka Smart’s most talented units ever, and his continued excellence could land him on a national All-America team by season’s end.
  • James Daniel – Howard. Howard was not very good last season and probably won’t be very good in 2014-15, but Daniel can flat-out score. The guard poured in 21 points per outing last year and racked up 30+ on four different occasions… as a freshman. Whether it ever translates into victories remains to be seen, but at this rate, Daniel is going to break a bunch of school and MEAC records before his career is over.

High Flyers

  • John Brown – High Point. There are few players in the country, much less the Big South, as powerful and athletic as Brown. The 6’8’’ junior is one of the very best dunkers in college basketball, sure to make a few more SportsCenter Top 10s before his career is over with. Sit back and enjoy.

  • Ike Nwamu – Mercer. SoCon fans get to check out some new blood this season as Mercer, ETSU and VMI join the league. There’s a good chance Nwamu will emphatically alert them of his presence, much the way he alerted Midnight Madness spectators (and Twitter) earlier this month. The dude can throw down.

  • Hassan Martin – Rhode Island. Highly-regarded freshman Jared Terrell won this year’s Rhody Madness dunk contest, but last year’s winner, Martin, might be even more explosive. Regardless, both are uber-athletic players who should help Rhode Island to a much-improved campaign in 2014-15.

Coach on the Rise

Levelle Moton is among the up-and-coming coaches in college hoops. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports / reuters)

Levelle Moton is high among the up-and-coming coaches in college hoops. (Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports / reuters)

Levelle Moton – North Carolina Central. The NC Central administration was wise to extend Moton this offseason, because after taking the Eagles to their first NCAA Tournament in school history – and then interviewing for the FAU and Marshall jobs – the 40-year-old head coach is quickly becoming a hot commodity. In just four years, Moton has turned a fledgling D-I bottom-feeder into a serious winner, notching as many victories in his first season (15) as the program had in its previous three, and lowering the team’s defensive efficiency ranking from 315th in the country in 2011 to 94th in 2014. Last year’s 28 wins were among the most in MEAC history, a total which included a 19-game winning streak during league play and an early season upset at North Carolina State. Crosstown legend Mike Krzyzewski has called Moton a ‘grand slam’, and if the burgeoning head coach continues winning – and with this year’s roster, he should – there’s a chance another school’s athletic director will be echoing that same sentiment next season.

Tommy Lemoine (206 Posts)


Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *