Note: The following piece was prepared by Dean Keener, who provides commentary on Southern Conference men’s basketball broadcasts.
Keener played collegiately at Davidson before embarking on a successful 20-year coaching career. He served as head coach at James Madison from 2004-08. You can follow him on Twitter: @DeanKeener1
The Dean’s List
January 9, 2019
I. Inside the SoCon
It’s now 2019, conference play is now in full swing and things have started off with a bang. As we all know, the league had several quality nonconference wins and positioned itself very well. In fact, though games of Jan. 5, the Southern Conference is currently ranked 11th in average NET ranking among member schools, one below the A10, and ahead of the Mountain West (13), Conference USA (15), Missouri Valley (15), Sun Belt (17) and Colonial (18). There are four teams in the top 100 as Wofford is currently at No. 42, Furman No. 63, UNCG No. 64 and ETSU No. 69.
What we’ve seen in the first two weeks of league play has been fantastic. The league may be as competitive as any in Division I this season, but what fans need to keep in mind is the SoCon plays a full round-robin schedule. That is, all members will play each other home and away, everyone needs to understand it’s going to take until early March for things to play out.
That said, even though there is very little separation among the 10 member schools, it does look like there is a first and second tier to the league this season. But I still believe anyone can win at home, and that makes for exciting conference play.
SoCon fans need to hang on for what should be a wild ride. Great players and great coaches have helped to make the Southern Conference one of the most talked-about leagues in the country. It’s way to early to talk about a regular-season champion, so sit back and enjoy all the league has to offer.
ETSU is averaging over 4,000 fans through nine home games. Yes, they have talent, but they also have tremendous support throughout the Tri-Cities and that will help during conference play. But what about some of the other league members? UNCG has won 17 straight (most of them at them at the Greensboro Coliseum, where capacity is set at 7,617 for Spartan home games). Yet, they are only averaging 2,214. I’m hopeful the Spartan faithful will pack the Coliseum starting Thursday, Jan. 10, when UNCG hosts Wofford in a key matchup.
Every league member’s attendance is slightly down from last season except for Furman (which is currently averaging 1,754 fans, as opposed to last season, when it averaged 1,604), but no doubt that will change as we hit the heart of conference play. Part of the rationale for a slight dip is the home opponents (some non-DI games), but more importantly many games have been played during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday breaks.
The attendance numbers generally go way up in January and February and I’ve got to believe this season will be bigger and better than ever. Let’s hope every SoCon member’s fan base comes out in droves to see what the best conference race in years!
III. Did You Know
• Southern Conference teams combined to go 77-47 (.621) in nonconference play, including a 54-47 (.535) mark against Division I opponents
• Wofford’s Fletcher Magee currently leads all active scorers in the Southern Conference with 2,096 career points. That’s a crazy amount of points when you consider he rarely gets open looks
• Magee broke Steph Curry’s Southern Conference record of career 3-point field goals last Saturday. He currently has 415 made 3FG (in 115 games). Curry made 414 in 104 games, so I don’t want to hear talk about Curry doing it in just 3 years and it taking Magee that much longer. Just 11 more games – that’s it!
• Furman’s Clay Mounce averaged just 5.0 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game last season. He is currently averaging 11.3 ppg and 6.8 rpg! Can you say most improved player in the league?
• The Citadel continues to lead Division I in scoring at 96.8 points per game. The Bulldogs have hit 100 points four times this season
• UNCG is off to the best start in program history and has won a school-record 17 straight home games
• Wes Miller become the Spartan’s all-time winningest coach (125) with their win over Chattanooga on Dec. 29
IV. Impact of Transfers
These days, transfers come in lots of different forms. They come from four-year institutions and must sit out one year, as well as from junior colleges and as graduate transfers who are eligible immediately. Regardless of where they come from, transfers have become a way of life to most in college basketball. This year, transfers are making a big splash in the Southern Conference. Here are the top transfers in the SoCon thus far:
1. Jeromy Rodriguez (ETSU) – After two seasons at Northwest Florida State College, Rodriguez signed with the Bucs. He sat out last year after having a medical procedure on his right shoulder. He is currently the leading rebounder in the league (fourth in the country) and a has league-leading nine double doubles
2. Ruben Guerrero (Samford) – The University of South Florida transfer is big and very skilled. As he continues to learn to be the “go-to’” player, he will only get better
3. Lew Stallowrth (The Citadel) – The California native started at UTEP then transferred to UT Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). Now a graduate working on his master’s degree, he has been fantastic for the Bulldogs. He leads the SoCon in assists per game and is fourth in scoring.
4. Carlos Dotson (Western Carolina) – Began his career at Anderson (S.C.) University but quickly transferred to Central Florida Community College after just four games. He has rapidly adapted to Division I and currently leads the Catamounts in points, rebounds and field-goal percentage
5. Myron Gordon (Samford) – Junior college transfer from Harcum College has been solid from the start for the Bulldogs
6. Patrick Good (ETSU) – Appalachian State transfer can really shoot it. In fact, he’s shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range and 83 percent from the free-throw line
7. Jerry Johnson Jr. (Chattanooga) – Originally from Memphis, he spent one year at Notre Dame Prep before moving to Fairfield, where he averaged almost 10 ppg during his two seasons
8. Lucas N’Guessan (ETSU) – The native of the Netherlands played two seasons at Oklahoma State before transferring to ETSU. At 7-0, 220, he brings impressive size to the league
9. Eric Hamilton (UNCG) – The Wichita State transfer stepped in for the injured James Dickey and gained valuable experience. He is currently shooting 67.6 percent from the field
10. Ramon Vila (Chattanooga) – Since becoming eligible, the former Arizona State forward is averaging 10.6 ppg and shooting 64 percent from the field. He has three years of eligibility for the Mocs and will be an integral part of their growth
V. Young Guns
Most Southern Conference members rely on upperclassmen. But we are also seeing that there is a lot of good, young talent in the Southern Conference. Here are a few of the best freshmen to keep an eye on during the next few months:
1. Kevin Easley (Chattanooga) – Easley leads all SoCon freshmen in scoring at 14.6 ppg. The Indiana native is a rising star in this league
2. Donovann Toatley (Chattanooga) – The 5-9 guard from Maryland is another top-flight newcomer for Lamont Paris and the Mocs. He also averages double figures (11.8 ppg) and almost 3.5 assists per game
3. Kameron Gibson (Western Carolina) – The freshman from Cincinnati, Ohio, is averaging over 30 minutes per game. With that, he’s producing 12.2 ppg
4. Robert Allen (Samford) – The 6-8 forward is averaging over 9 ppg. More impressive, he grabs 7 rpg
5. Ryan Larson (Wofford) – The first-year player is another good one for Mike Young and the Terriers from the state of Minnesota
VI. The SoCon Ladder
We’ve completed the nonconference slate and are fully into conference play, so it’s time to begin the annual SoCon Ladder. As usual, I’m sure this will cause debate, but fans need to be patient, as it’s going to be a very competitive race all season long. With that said …
1. (1a) UNCG – The Spartans have won seven straight and are riding a 17-game home winning streak. This week will tell us a lot about a team that is 14-2 and only lost at LSU and at Kentucky.
2. (1b) Wofford – The Terriers are more than just Fletcher Magee. In fact, Cameron Jackson is a huge key to Wofford’s success.
3. ETSU – The Bucs have won five in a row, but more impressive is they have eight players averaging between 7.0 and 12.4 ppg!
4. Furman – The Paladins were the talk of the nonconference season and with good reason, but I just don’t know if they are better than the three teams listed above. Like UNCG and ETSU, they are undefeated at home this season, but with six of their next eight on the road, we will find out a lot about this group.
5. Chattanooga – The Mocs are young and lack experienced depth. That said, they will be a tough out for most every league opponent.
6. The Citadel – Maybe the most dangerous team in the Southern Conference. The Bulldogs have fire power and experience.
7. Western Carolina – This could be a difficult transition year, but rest assured the Catamounts will play hard. Plus, it’s always difficult to win at the Ramsey Center.
8. Samford – The Bulldogs are good, but after losing to Western Carolina, I have to place them below the Catamounts. My guess is Scott Padgett’s group will respond during the next three games and jump into the top five by the next edition of the Dean’s List.
9. Mercer – The Bears are young and that’s tough this year in the league. My guess is once they get back to the friendly confines of Hawkins Arena (only two home games since Nov. 27), they will start to accumulate some wins. Six of their next nine are at home, but none more important that the first one against Western Carolina on Jan. 10.
10. VMI – This team’s margin for error is razor thin, but they are well coached and will continue to increase their win total.
The next Dean’s List will be released Jan. 23, 2019.
Follow me throughout the year on Twitter: @DeanKeener1