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
I. Inside the SoCon
We are now in 2018 and conference play is now in full swing, and boy, did we start things off with a bang. The league had several quality nonconference wins and positioned itself very well as league play began Dec. 30, but what we’ve seen in the first two weeks of league play has been fantastic. 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, so no fan base should get too high or too low this early. Even with ETSU capturing three road wins to open conference play (quite impressive) and Furman also opening 3-0, I firmly believe we are in for one of the most exciting conference regular seasons in a very long time.
There is competitive balance throughout the league with talent on every roster and lots of good coaching. In addition, fans at most of the member institutions are starting to rally behind their teams, making for some great home-court environments. By the time we get to Asheville in early March, there won’t be many secrets among teams, so we should have a terrific post-season tournament.
SoCon fans need to fasten up for a very fun and no doubt wild ride during the next six weeks!
I believe replay has helped the college game, but I have a few issues with the format. First, while the intent is to “get the call right,” officials are still taking too long to determine the call. As important as it is, I would be in favor of a time limit placed on officials. I suggest keeping the flow of the game going by putting a time limit in place.
Equally importantly, there needs to be a rule that all players in the game cannot go to the sideline and visit with their coaches. These stoppages in play are being used like a timeout by coaches. No way was this the intent of the rule when replay was installed. In fact, we’ve seen many times where a team that is out of timeouts “steals” 60 to 90 seconds, which allows its coach to draw up a play or set the defense. This is simply not fair.
The NCAA rules committee would be well-served to keep the use of replay, but tweak the way it’s handled and install some parameters. The intent was to get the correct ruling, not give one team an advantage.
III. Did You Know
• Furman’s Devin Sibley currently leads all active scorers in the Southern Conference with 1,620 career points
• Wofford’s win at No. 5 North Carolina was the biggest upset in the SoCon since the College of Charleston beat No. 3 North Carolina 66-64 on Dec. 5, 1998
• Lamar Jackson (Louisville) won the Heisman Trophy last year. I mention this because Devin Sibley is the reigning SoCon Player of the Year. Like Jackson, Sibley’s stats are better this year, but he is going to have a hard time repeating. There’s that much talent in the league this year
• Wofford’s Fletcher Magee still has not missed a free throw this season. He’s 40-for-40 on the year and obviously leads the country
• Magee also leads NCAA Division I with a 3-point percentage of 55.2. Mercer’s Ria’n Holland is third at 53.4
• This is looking like the year of the guard. Shooting guard, that is, as just three of the top 16 scorers are over 6-4
IV. Impact of Transfers
Transfers come in lots of different forms these days. 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 and have one year to play. Regardless, transferring has become a way of life in college basketball and this year, transfers are making a big splash in the Southern Conference. While some have been in the league for a few years, others are making their mark for the first time this season. Here are the top transfers in the SoCon this season:
- Ria’n Holland (Mercer) – Holland is a SoCon Player of the Year candidate. He spent two years at Wichita State, then one year at Indian Hills JC. He is a terrific scorer
- Justin Coleman (Samford) – The University of Alabama transfer is as quick with the ball as anyone in the league. He rarely leaves the floor and plays like he has three lungs. He also leads the SoCon in assists
- Mike Amius (Western Carolina) – Amius has made an immediate impact in Cullowhee. He is just the low post player coach Larry Hunter needed
- Demetrius Denzel-Dyson (Samford) – He started his career at UMass. The 6-5 wing is a shot-maker
- Desmond Ringer (Mercer) – The transfer from South Carolina has been solid in the middle for the Bears. Now in his third season in Macon, he is really starting to assert himself offensively
- Peter Jurkin (ETSU) – He’s been in Johnson City three years, so many may have forgotten he transferred from Indiana. Healthy, he’s having his best season to date. Also a terrific free-throw shooter for a player his size
- Makinde London (Chattanooga) – The Xavier transfer leads the Mocs in points per game, rebounds per game, steals per game and blocks per game
- Jalan McCloud (ETSU) – The graduate transfer from Texas Southern has been terrific for the Bucs
- David Burrell (ETSU) – The junior college transfer from SW Tennessee CC was instant offense off the bench for the Bucs last season, but has struggled a bit with his shot. That said, he’s a big piece for ETSU
- Alex Thompson (Samford) – A four-year transfer by way of Auburn. Thompson is the perfect fit in Scott Padgett’s system. He can really stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting ability
- Ryan Johnson (Mercer) – He started his career at Rutgers, and then spent a year at Tallahassee CC in Florida. He has been solid for the Bears
V. Young Guns
Most league members are relying on upperclassmen. In fact, there were 10 senior starters in the ETSU/Mercer game Dec. 31! But we are also seeing that there is a lot of good, young talent in the Southern Conference. This bodes well for the future of the league. Here are a few of the young guns to keep an eye on during the next few months:
- Bubba Parham (VMI) – Currently, the leading freshman scorer in the league
- Isaiah Miller (UNCG) – The high-flier has made an immediate impact on an already talented Spartan team
- Tariq Simmons (The Citadel) – A great, young scorer
- Marcus Cohen (Mercer) – The lefty from Tampa, Florida, is a reliable jump shot away from being an all-conference performer
- Matt Halvorsen (Western Carolina) – Pure shooter! Defenses need to locate him as soon as he crosses half court
- Storm Murphy (Wofford) – Murphy has been near the top of the league in assist/turnover ratio
- James Lewis Jr. (Chattanooga) – He can do a bit of everything
- Bo Hodges (ETSU) – The kid from Nashville is a player!
- Desmond Johnson (Western Carolina) – He’s starting to find his grove
VI. The SoCon Ladder
We’ve completed the nonconference slate and are into conference play, so it’s time to begin the annual SoCon Ladder. I know 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 …
- ETSU – First three on the road, and yet no problem for Steve Forbes’ group. The Bucs won at Mercer, at Samford and at UTC to start league play. Now they host UNCG at home Thursday, Jan. 11. Freedom Hall will be like Times Square on New Year’s Eve!
- Furman – For the Paladins, the whole is better than the sum of its parts. This group is very solid
- UNCG – Wes Miller’s group is for real! The Spartans have always been able to score; now they are defending at a high level
- Wofford – The Terriers own the biggest victory of any Southern Conference team in recent memory. Can they now continue their solid play in conference play? I think so
- Mercer – The Bears missed a few opportunities in the nonconference portion of their schedule. They also missed against ETSU in their conference opener, but I’m confident they will be there at the end – they are too experienced and too talented
- Samford – The Bulldogs are closer than most people think, but without Wyatt Walker and Christen Cunningham, they will continue to be up and down
- Western Carolina – For just the fourth time in 40 attempts, the Catamounts came away from Chattanooga with a win. Like ETSU, their first three conference games were on the road, and they were able to capture two
- Chattanooga – The Mocs are young and lack experienced depth. That said, they will be a tough out for most every league opponent
- The Citadel – The Citadel is young, very young. With no seniors and just three juniors, the Bulldogs need to grow up quickly
- VMI – This team’s margin for error is razor thin, but they are well coached and will continue to increase their win total