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
This is the final installment of a preseason series on Southern Conference men’s basketball
As we prepare for the 2018-19 season, I believe there are two tiers. The upper tier includes UNCG, Wofford and ETSU. On paper, these three look to be the teams to beat. Most everyone else falls into the second tier, but due to major changes in personnel, it’s hard to handicap. I like The Citadel, Furman and Mercer to challenge the upper tier. The lower group of the second tier contains so much uncertainty that we will simply have to take a wait-and-see approach. Chattanooga and Samford have just five returning players between them!
Taking care of home court will be one of the keys to win the regular season. For that reason, it should be fun watching all the stories that unfold this year.
Again this year, I have put together my predications for the coming season. I’m certain some of these will cause debate among Southern Conference fans at each of the 10 schools. I know nothing is exact, but here are my “Best Bets” for the 2018-19 season:
Best nonconference games
Nov. 6: North Carolina at Wofford
The Tar Heels will be looking for revenge, but the Terriers have talent, confidence and the home court working for them
Nov. 9: UNCG at LSU
What a terrific game for the Spartans to make a splash on the national scene
Nov. 20: The Citadel at James Madison
The Bulldogs can really score, and the Dukes had a hard time stopping people last year. I like Duggar Baucom’s chances in this game
Nov. 26: Wofford at South Carolina
The Terriers have a terrific nonconference schedule. This is one I think they get
Dec. 1: UNCG at Kentucky
The veteran Spartans have a legitimate chance in this one
Dec. 15: ETSU at Illinois
The Bucs have a chance to “steal” a Power Five road win
Dec. 15: UNCW at Furman
A big home game for Furman and the league
Best conference games
Dec. 1: Mercer at The Citadel
Dec. 1 is awfully early for a conference game, but regardless, this game will have big implications come March
Dec. 1: ETSU at Wofford
Another key early conference game that will have star power and lasting effects on the regular-season crown
Jan. 5: Chattanooga at ETSU
This is always a heated game in front of a sellout crowd
Jan. 10: Wofford at UNCG
A Thursday night matchup, but it doesn’t really matter as this is a huge early conference game
Feb. 2: Wofford at The Citadel
Saturday games at McAlister Field House are always tough on the visitors. The Terriers lost last year and will have to be ready for another track meet, or else
Feb. 16: UNCG at Wofford
Huge game at Richardson Indoor Stadium. Oh yeah, Senior Day for the Terriers, as well!
Feb. 23: Wofford at Furman
I love this rivalry. And yes, this should be a huge game late in the conference season
March 2: UNCG at Mercer
This game looms very large in the last week of the regular season
Perimeter scorers: Fletcher Magee (Wofford) & Francis Alonso (UNCG)
Low post scorer: Cameron Jackson (Wofford)
Playmakers: Demetrius Troy (UNCG) & Storm Murphy (Wofford)
Shooter: Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
Rebounder: James Dickey (UNCG)
Shot blocker: James Dickey (UNCG)
Defender: James Dickey (UNCG)
In the clutch: Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
Toughness: Francis Alonso (UNCG)
Potential X-factor: Cory Kilby (Mercer)
Transfers: Jeromy Rodriguez & Isaiah Tisdale (ETSU) and Jerry Johnson Jr. (Chattanooga)
Versatility: Matt Rafferty (Furman)
Backcourt: UNCG & Wofford
Player most likely to…
Lead the league in scoring: Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
Lead the league in rebounding: James Dickey (UNCG)
Lead the league in assists: Demetrius Troy (UNCG)
Lead the league in shots per minute: Matt Frierson (The Citadel)
Lead the league in assist/turnover ratio: Storm Murphy (Wofford)
Have a breakout year: Isaiah Miller (UNCG) & Clay Mounce (Furman)
Score 40 points in a game: Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
SoCon “Super Six”
The league lost several good players from a year ago, but there is always another group of talent, and this year is no different in the SoCon. While it’s not easy selecting players for a preseason all-conference team, these guys are simply some of the best the Southern Conference has to offer this season:
Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
Possibly the best player to come through the SoCon since Steph Curry. He can score from 25 feet and in. He had 36 in a win against Georgia Tech and 27 at UNC in the upset last December. He rarely gets open looks but still shoots over 40 percent from 3-point range. In fact, he needs 153 3-pointers to break the Division I record (he made 148 last year). While he’s a nightmare for rival coaches, fans should sit back and enjoy his last season in a Wofford uniform.
Francis Alonso (UNCG)
Alonso became the all-time leading freshman scorer in UNCG history and was just a good as a sophomore and again as a junior. Like Magee, he is a gifted long-range shooter and a difficult matchup for most defenders in this league.
James Dickey (UNCG)
Possibly the best pro prospect in the league. Long and athletic, Dickey is evolving into a terrific player. He led the league in rebounding and blocked shots last season and should do so again.
Bo Hodges (ETSU)
On a team full of transfers, Hodges quickly found his way into the rotation as a freshman. The Bucs will again have several talented transfers, but Hodges will be one of the centerpieces. He is athletic and very good in transition. If he has improved his jump shot, look out!
Cameron Jackson (Wofford)
As good as Magee is, Jackson is just as valuable to the Terriers success. He’s a dominant force inside with a variety of post moves. He shot 61 percent from the field as a junior while also leading the team in rebounds, steals and block shots! If there is one area he needs to improve on, it’s cutting back on fouling.
Zane Najdawi (The Citadel)
The senior can do a bit of everything. He shot 51 percent from the field as a junior and a career best 40.7 percent from behind the arc. He also is a fine rebounder.
Others considered (alphabetically): Mladen Armus (ETSU), Ross Cummings (Mercer), Marc Gosselin (Western Carolina), Nathan Hoover (Wofford), Bubba Parham (VMI), Matt Rafferty (Furman), Jeromy Rodriguez (ETSU), Josh Sharkey (Samford), Trevor Stumpe (Wofford), Demetrius Troy (UNCG)
These are some of the most indispensable players in the Southern Conference. This group is not necessarily the best players in the league, but certainly some of the most important. And while these guys don’t get always get the headlines, they are vitally important to the success of their teams:
Josh Sharkey (Samford)
Personally, I think Sharkey is the quickest player no one has heard of in college basketball. He’s also tough and unselfish. That’s a great combination for any player, especially a point guard. I give him major credit for staying put while his teammates fled.
Marc Gosselin (Western Carolina)
Gosselin needs to shoot a good percentage if the Catamounts are to make some noise in the SoCon this season. It would also help if he rebounded a bit better, as well.
Mladen Armus (ETSU)
Armus is a rising star. At 6-10, the sophomore is skilled inside and a terrific passer. Equally, he is one of the best rebounders in the league.
Demetrius Troy (UNCG)
Troy doesn’t always get the pub like his running mates, but the senior can play with most in this league. There’s a chance he could go over 1,000 points, but more importantly, he should finish in the top three all-time in assists at UNCG.
Matt Frierson (The Citadel)
Yes, the Bulldogs play fast, very fast, and love to shoot lots of 3s. This fits the sharpshooter from Maryland perfectly.
Seniors that need to step up
This is not necessarily a list of the best seniors. This is simply a list of seniors that possess everything necessary to make an impact this year. However, if they don’t excel, it could put major pressure on others in order for their respective programs to do well:
Andrew Brown (Furman)
On a team that lost over 42 points per game to graduation, Brown needs to step up. He’s coming off a broken foot in the off season but should be fine. Did I mention, he can really shoot it!
Cory Kilby (Mercer)
With the loss of eight players, the Bears need Kilby to step up and be a leader on and off the floor. He’s played in 94 games while in Macon and should that should help Bears coach Bob Hoffman.
Stefan Lakic (Samford)
Lakic should fit into the Bulldogs rotation as he can shoot from long-range. He also has experience in the Samford system, which is valuable.
Austin Vereen (VMI)
The Keydets need help and Vereen is capable at both ends of the floor. He has shown improvement each year and is expected to do the same during his senior year in Lexington.
As usual, this preseason series has been fun putting together comments on all things Southern Conference basketball. Now it’s time for the real action to start. I look forward to seeing everyone at a SoCon game soon.
Follow me throughout the year on twitter: @DeanKeener1