Andrew Baker is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun and Southern conferences.
Predicted Order of Finish:
- Davidson Wildcats (22-6, 19-1)
- College of Charleston Cougars (20-10, 15-5)
- UT-Chattanooga Mocs (19-13, 14-6)
- Georgia Southern Eagles (18- 11, 13-7)
- Appalachian State Mountaineers (17-12, 13-7)
- Elon Phoenix (14-13, 11-9)
- UNC-Greensboro Spartans (14-15, 11-9)
- Furman Paladins (13-16, 8-12)
- Samford Bulldogs (13-16, 7-13)
- Western Carolina Catamounts (10-20, 7-13)
- Wofford Terriers (9-20, 6-14)
- The Citadel Bulldogs (10-21, 4-16)
WYN2K. In 1921, the Southern Conference was founded with a hodgepodge of future SEC and ACC members. Since the league has hosted many different schools who have left for other conferences, the only constants since 1936 have been The Citadel and Furman (Davidson left for three seasons from 1988-1991). Since 1921, the SoCon has never had two bids into the NCAA Tournement. That’s the entire history we’re talking about boys and girls, not just in the modern era. Last year was the best chance the SoCon has seen in a while. Had Elon beaten Davidson in the conference tournament finals, it would have been a tough justification to leave the Wildcats out. Davidson looks to be on track for another title, but upsets do happen and should Davidson have the same kind of regular season they had last year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the first two-bid SoCon ever.
Predicted Champion. Davidson (#8 NCAA). The Davidson Wildcats were one of the best teams in the country in the year. There are several good reasons for this. Most people will point to one man: Stephen Curry (25.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) (see one of his explosions last year vs. Chattanooga below). It is true that having Curry on any team would make them very hard to beat, but Coach Bob McKillop has built a team that is more concerned with ball control and defense. It also helps that Davidson scored at a clip of 80.9 ppg last year. Looking at their numbers makes it easy to realize how they went 20-0 in SoCon play last year. Their numbers last year were astounding, and are the underlying reason they were able to make it to the Elite Eight and one shot away from the Final Four. Davidson gave up 11.6 to/g and forced their opponents into 16.2 to/g. That’s a turnover rate of 24% for their opponents as opposed to 16.5% for Davidson, both good for 12th in the nation. Check it here if you don’t believe me. Look for Davidson to use ball control and their not so secret weapon, Curry, to continue to dominate the league. It is very difficult to say whether or not the Davidson is going to sweep the league as they did last year because their 20-0 record was the first time any team in the Southern Conference has won twenty games in league play. It will be hard to go through the season unbeaten again, as every team who will play the ‘Cats will bring their A game, and even with the addition of Samford, the league’s 12th team, teams will still play a 20-game conference slate.
Others Considered. Who are we kidding, no team is going to get the #1 seed for the Southern Conference Tournament unless something terrible happens to Stephen Curry. However, the beauty of the oldest conference tournament in the land is that everyone gets a chance at redemption and glory.
College of Charleston looks to be in the best position to pull off an upset down the road. The Cougars return all of their starters from last season and are led by the 1990 Naismith Coach of the Year, Bobby Cremins. The Cougars will need to see improvement in their ball control and defensive capabilities if they are to succeed Davidson to the throne. More turnovers to assists (.910 A/TO) and a turnover rate of 19.6% of the time killed the Cougars in close games last year. In every game that CofC lost last year by less than 10 points, the Cougars had more turnovers than their opponents. Their defensive prowess was only mediocre, ranking at 192nd in the land with their opponents connecting on 44.3% of their shots. Look out for CofC if there is early season improvement in these areas.
UT-Chattanooga also looks to be in a advantageous position for a deep SoCon tourney run. The Mocs excelled in shooting (45.9% FG) and on the boards last year. However, turnovers caused them to have a less than impressive 18-13 record last year. Turning the ball caught up with them, as was the case when the Mocs’ 7-0 SoCon start ended in a disappointing 6-7 record the rest of the way. The Mocs horrific turnover rate was 24.2% and landed them worst in the SoCon and 317th in the nation. The Mocs are hoping that incoming freshmen Jasper Williams will provide some depth at the one slot. If the Mocs don’t see improvement in the turnover category then look for them to slump to another disappointing season.
Important Games/RPI Boosters. The Southern Conference will also be looking to improve their OOC record against the major and money leagues, as SoCon teams were only 5-24 against the BCS conferences plus CUSA and Mtn West last year. However, the SoCon did much better against their mid-major brethren with a record of 30-27 against their contemporaries. Like most mid-major leagues, the most important game of the season is the SoCon Tournament Final on Monday, March 9th, 2009. However, there will be plenty of intrigue as the regular season moves forward. Davidson has again loaded their non-conference schedule with big boys and should they win one or more of those games there is no reason to believe they can get a higher seed than this preview has listed. The 7th of January could be huge if Davidson and College of Charleston can pull off huge upsets against the boys from Durham and Chapel Hill, respectively. Here are some important conference and RPI booster games that you should keep an eye out for:
Chattanooga @ Tennessee (11/15/2008)
Chattanooga @ Missouri (11/17/2008)
Chattonooga @ Memphis (11/20/2008)
Winthrop @ Davidson (11/21/2008)
Elon @ Virginia Tech (11/26/2008)
South Carolina @ CofC (11/28/2008)
NC State v. Davidson (12/6/2008)
Davidson v. West Virginia (12/9/2008)
Davidson @ Purdue (12/20/2008)
Chattanooga @ Alabama (12/22/2008)
Davidson @ Duke (01/07/2009)
CofC @ North Carolina (01/07/2009)
Neat-o Fact. 36. Davidson currently has the longest conference winning streak in the country dating back two seasons. The last conference loss the Wildcats had was against Appalachian State on January 20, 2007, by a score of 81-74. Their first conference game is on the 13th of December, meaning the between the time of their last loss and that game that the country will have elected a new President and a new Congress, two world champions have been crowned in every professional and amateur sport, and nearly 13% of Division I members have seen a coaching change.
65 Team Era. With Davidson’s three wins last year on its run to the E8, the conference doubled its win total to six during the modern era (6-24, .200). That record, however, belies just how tough the SoCon representative has traditionally been in the NCAA Tournament first round. From ETSU to College of Charleston to UT-Chattanooga to Davidson, SoCon teams have made many high seeds sweat bullets to survive and advance, as nine of the twenty-one first round losses of the era were ‘close’ losses (<10 pts), and five of those were a mere possession away (<4 pts), despite a relatively poor average seed of #13.7 over the period.
Final Thoughts. While many people will only see the Southern Conference as Davidson’s to lose, there will be other interesting story lines that you should pay attention to that could have effects through this season and spill over into future seasons. College of Charleston returns all starters from a season that will only be remembered as the season that broke a long streak of winning seasons, and should challenge for the conference tournament title. Chattanooga will be looking for more consistent point guard play in an attempt to build on season that saw a great beginning but crashed as ball control killed in the long run. In conclusion, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the first two bid Southern Conference in history should Davidson be upset in the Conference Tournament.