***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
Not much on the schedule tonight but the action picks up on Tuesday and Wednesday. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Davidson @ St. John’s – 9:30 pm on MSG (**)
This is game two of the MSG Holiday Festival with the winner taking on Northwestern or St. Francis (NY) tomorrow night at the Garden. St. John’s is 5-3 but has lost two straight games to teams they arguably should have beaten, St. Bonaventure and Fordham. St. John’s hasn’t tasted victory since December 1, a win over Wagner. Steve Lavin makes his Garden debut tonight as coach of the Red Storm in a game pivotal for confidence moving forward towards Big East play. The keys to this game will be ball protection and inside scoring. Neither team shoots or defends the three well at all, though Davidson has a constant threat in Brendan McKillop. 6’10 big man Jake Cohen can also shoot it well from deep but he does most of his work inside, leading the team with 15/7 per game on 53% shooting. St. John’s has to defend the paint well because they’re not exactly a potent offensive club, either. The Johnnies are a poor free throw and three point shooting team but they do have some talent. D.J. Kennedy is a versatile forward who can score inside using his athleticism against bigger plodders and has a good mid-range game. Dwight Hardy is also a key player for Lavin’s team as he’s the main three point threat but has been dreadful so far this year, shooting just 26%. Hardy has to get going for St. John’s to make any kind of noise this year. When it comes to ball control, St. John’s has a strong edge. The Red Storm are second in the nation in turnover percentage, committing just ten turnovers a game. By contrast Davidson is ranked #220 and averages 15 per game. The Wildcats have to protect the ball much better than they have been doing in order to have a chance tonight on the road against St. John’s. With Cohen in the post, Davidson may have a rebounding advantage and should use that to create more possessions and limit the damage from possible turnovers. St. John’s should win but the two losses to inferior competition have to give you some pause. They’re at home but this game may be closer than you think.
WYN2K. The Southern Conference has a reputation as a league on the rise, and deservedly so. After stellar regular seasons in 2006-07 from division winners Davidson and Appalachian St., including five wins over BCS schools among the league members (the highest total wins among the conferences we’ve rated thus far), the league has its sights on breaking into mid-major territory. If this is to ultimately happen, it will likely be led by Davidson, who with spectacular sophomore guard Stephen Curry, will challenge itself with several elite OOC games this season. Even though the league has been a one-bid conference throughout the 64/65 team era, last year Appalachian St. was very close to earning an at-large NCAA bid before ultimately settling for an NIT berth. And with the name cachet of Bobby Cremins bringing in exceptional recruits at College of Charleston, this league could be knocking on the door for two bids sooner rather than later.
Predicted Champion. Davidson (#9 seed NCAA) is the clear choice here. Davidson returns all five starters from the team that pushed extremely talented and athletic Maryland in the NCAA first round last year (down only four after the last tv timeout), including the aforementioned Curry, who had sick numbers for a freshman guard (22 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, .408 3fg%, .855 ft%) including a run of 26.1 ppg the last ten games. But this is no one-man show. Aside from excellent point guard Jason Richards (#2 nationally in total assists), post men Thomas Sander and Boris Meno also both had outstanding seasons manning the inside, clearing boards and playing tough defense. Coach Bob McKillop also adds two significant recruits – Aaron Bond, who received some Burger Boy consideration last year; and his son, Brendan McKillop, who turned down ACC teams Virginia Tech and NC State to play for his pops. Knowing that Davidson needs a high RPI to offset any chance of being left at the altar should the Wildcats stumble in the conference tourney, McKillop has beefed up the OOC schedule considerably, setting up made-for-tv games with local bullies UNC and Duke in Charlotte and a trip to Raleigh to play NC State. Another road trip will include a game vs. UCLA at the Wooden Classic. All four of those teams are ranked in the Top 25.
Others Considered. We don’t expect another team to push Davidson like Appalachian St. did last season, but if Davidson gets lackadaisical or suffers a significant injury, we’d expect UNC-Greensboro to be next in line. Believe it or not, Curry didn’t win conference POY last year, and it’s not a sure thing that he will this year either. This is due to the fact that UNCG has a 6’6, 230 lb. Sir Charles clone named Kyle Hines returning in the post. Hines has scored in double figures in fifty straight games, and the last time a team went single coverage on him, he dropped 38 on their heads. Although #2 scorer Ricky Hickman is gone, UNCG returns a trio of talented sophomore wing scorers who all showed promise of bright futures. Appalachian St. is another team to watch despite losing three key seniors. The key is that two post men, Donte Minter (who should be healthy this year) and Jeremy Clayton, are returning, and in a league of little size, this could carry them a long way. One concern is the loss of heady PG DJ Thompson, who led the team’s uptempo attack, along with two other guards that saw significant time. Georgia Southern is another team on our radar, simply because they have an all-conference performer in the post (Louis Graham – #18 nationally in defReb%) and at the point guard position (Dwayne Foreman – #32 nationally in asstRate). And although College of Charleston lost three starters and a transfer from a 13-5 team, Bobby Cremins brought in the best recruiting class the league has seen in some time, and we should keep an eye on his team for that reason alone.
Games to Watch. The SoCon is going to a 20-game round robin conference schedule this season, which is the largest we’ve ever seen. Next year when the league expands to twelve teams with the addition of Samford, we suspect there will be a push by league coaches to return to a more reasonable sixteen game schedule. But for this year, it guarantees that Davidson will have to visit every road arena to test its mettle.
Davidson @ Appalachian St. (11.26.07) & Appalachian St. @ Davidson (02.27.08)
UNCG @ Appalachian St. (01.12.08) & Appalachian St. @ UNCG (02.16.08)
Southern Conference Championship Game (03.10.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. We alluded to it above, but the SoCon went 5-38 (.118) against BCS teams last year (Appalachian St. – 2; Davidson – 1; Furman – 1; Wofford – 1). The number will be reduced this year, thanks to the additional conference games, but we expect a similar showing.
UNCG @ Georgia Tech (11.09.07)
Western Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.10.07)
Davidson vs. UNC (Charlotte) (11.14.07) ESPN
College of Charleston @ Arkansas (11.15.07) ESPNU
Chattanooga @ S. Illinois (11.22.07) ESPNU
Wichita St. @ Appalachian St. (11.28.07)
Davidson vs. Duke (Charlotte) (12.01.07) ESPNU
Tennessee @ Chattanooga (12.04.07) ESPNU
Davidson @ UCLA (12.08.07)
Georgia Southern @ Florida (12.15.07)
Western Carolina @ Illinois (12.17.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. This one is interesting, because if Davidson performs well against the ACC trio + UCLA, has a great SoCon record (like 18-2), yet loses in the conference tourney, we believe that this will be a two-team league.
Neat-o Stat. The Citadel must be one of the most historically horrific basketball programs in the NCAA. It joined the Southern Conference in 1937, and has yet to see its first NCAA or NIT bid. Pat Conroy wrote of his losing season there in the 60s, and not much has changed since. His cousin, Ed Conroy, will begin his second season at the school with what he calls the youngest team in America – 15 freshmen (incl. redshirts), one sophomore, one junior and one senior. Good luck, Ed, you’re going to need it.
64/65-Team Era. The SoCon has been a one-bid league throughout this era, and it will probably remain so this year (unless Davidson lays an egg in the conference tourney). The conference record (3-23, .115) reflects the success of two Tennessee teams, one of which is no longer in the league. In 1992, #14 ETSU defeated #3 Arizona 87-80 in one of Lute Olson’s earlier tankjobs, and in 1997, #14 UT-Chattanooga went to the Sweet 16 by defeating #3 Georgia (the year prior to Tubby Smith winning the NCAA title at Kentucky) 73-70, and #6 Illinois 75-63. Since then the conference (as an average #13.6 seed) has lost ten straight first round games by an average of 13.0 pts – not too encouraging. Still, the last four years show improvement, as the league representative has only lost by an average of 9.8 pts. Below is a nice clip of Curry dropping three of his thirty against Maryland.
Final Thought. This league is all about Davidson this year. The MSM will remember the Wildcats’ performance against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament and pundits like Dickie V. will be touting Curry as a PTPer all season long. Even if Davidson merely pulls one upset against the four ranked teams it plays in the pre-conference schedule, that’ll be enough to entice everyone to claim it as their Cinderella come March. But there are other good teams in this conference, so Davidson shouldn’t be reading its press clippings too closely. Several other teams could surprise much as Davidson did last year, and the level of talent entering the league is rising. It should make for a very fun SoCon season this time around.