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
Feb. 6, 2019
I. Inside the SoCon
There are just 18 teams in Division I with 19 or more wins. Three are in the SoCon! I’m not sure I can recall a better league race during the past decade. The level of talent is high, the coaching is outstanding and even the fans are recognizing this by attending games in really good numbers. In fact, attendance is up at several programs and with good reason. Fans are even following their team on the road. As an example of this is, Wofford had over 400 fans attend their game last Saturday at The Citadel. Of course, Charleston is a great city to visit, but the Wofford faithful were strong in their support.
But even with Wofford perfect through 11 conference games, there is still a lot of basketball to play before the regular-season champion is crowned. Along with the Terriers, UNCG, ETSU and Furman have proven they are the top teams in the league thus far, yet Samford is also capable of beating anyone. Even Chattanooga has shown glimpses of being a top-tier team. Every remaining game has a lot riding on it as teams want to finish in the top six so they can receive a first-round bye in the tournament.
Everyone wants to stake claim to be regular-season championship, yet ultimately it will come down to the 99th Southern Conference tournament to guarantee a ticket to the NCAA tournament.
II. Did You Know
• This year, there are 268 European players in Division I. That’s up 64.4 percent compared to the 2011-12 season
• ETSU has won its last seven road games
• Furman has won 25 of its last 31 game overall
• For the first time in program history, UNCG has reached the 20-win mark in three straight seasons
• Wofford currently has a NET ranking of No. 27. UNCG is No. 52, ETSU is No, 66 and Furman is No. 77. Here are the highest ranked teams in other “mid-major” leagues:
- A-10 – VCU (#49)
- Colonial – Hofstra (#56)
- C-USA – Old Dominion (#89)
- Horizon – Northern Kentucky (#110)
- Missouri Valley – Loyola Chicago (#134)
- Ohio Valley – Belmont (#61)
- Sun Belt – Texas State (#106)
• I have regularly stated that the SoCon has the best collection of shooters of any Division I conference in the country. But surprisingly, there is not a senior ranked in the top 12 in the SoCon in 3-point field-goal percentage. Seniors Matt Frierson of The Citadel, Francis Alonso of UNCG and Fletcher Magee of Wofford are all shooting over 38 percent behind the arc but are not ranked in top 12! Samford’s Kevion Nolan (sophomore) leads the way at 53 percent
III. By the Way …
Seriously, how the heck is Gonzaga still considered a “mid-major?” Sure, they’re in the West Coast Conference (WCC), but that’s the only thing that isn’t high major about this program. During the past 10 years, they’ve played for a national championship, put multiple players in the NBA, chartered to most games, and dominated the WCC. In fact, since losing at North Carolina on Dec. 15, they’ve won their past 12 games by an average of 32.8 points per game. Oh, and they’re currently ranked No. 4 in the nation and count wins against Duke, Washington, Arizona and Creighton.
So, when I see that they’re No. 1 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, I simply laugh. There is nothing mid-major about the Zags!
IV. Chasing History
During the past four years, Fletcher Magee has wreaked havoc on the Southern Conference. As we head toward the end of his collegiate career, the question remains; can he break the all-time NCAA Division I 3-point field-goal made record?
He currently has 445 3s to his credit and needs 59 to tie the record held by Travis Bader of Oakland University. If you consider he has seven regular-season games and potentially three games in the SoCon tournament, plus one postseason game (the Terriers will play in the postseason regardless if they don’t win on Monday in Asheville), he would need to average 5.45 made 3-pointers per game. That’s a bit of a stretch, but then again, we’re talking about Fletcher Magee. Stay tuned …
V. SoCon Most Improved
There are a variety of reasons why it takes some guys longer to break into a lineup. For some, they need to adjust to the speed and physicality of the college game. In other instances, a player may be stuck behind an older/more talented player and simply needs to wait his time. Therefore, it’s always fun to see players grow and improve throughout their careers, especially in a league like the Southern Conference where there aren’t one-and-done players going to the professional ranks.
Coaches talk about player development in recruiting, but not all of them invest the time and energy that’s needed to help players improve on their strengths and weaknesses. I think each staff in the Southern Conference does a really nice job of developing their players.
You must understand that player development comes in many different forms. It’s time spent on the court developing the fundamentals, in the weight room getting stronger and quicker as well as time in the film room. It’s also learning about proper nutrition and diet as well as simply maturing as a young person while on a college campus.
Let’s take a quick look at those players that have shown a jump in their game this year:
• Clay Mounce (Furman) – Quite possible the most improved player in the SoCon, Mounce has been terrific this season for the Paladins
- Sophomore numbers: 11.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 44.6% 3FG
- Freshman numbers: 5.0 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 20.8% 3FG
• Isaiah Miller (UNCG) – One of the most athletic players in the league, Miller has worked on his game and is now a big part of the Spartans
- Sophomore numbers: 14.7 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 14 3FGM
- Freshman numbers: 8.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 1 3FGM
• Kyrin Galloway (UNCG) – He sometimes gets lost behind Alonso, Demetrius Troy, Miller and James Dickey, yet Galloway has gotten better every year. In particular, his ability to knock down 3s. Next, he needs to become a better set-up player. He has just five assists this season in 603 minutes
- Junior numbers: 9.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 35 3FGM
- Sophomore numbers: 5.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 13 3FGM
- Freshman numbers: 2.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0 3FGM
• Jaylen Stowe (Mercer) – Stowe is the equivalent of a utility infielder. He’s been asked to play multiple positions during his career in Macon and does with great work ethic for the Bears
• Kaiden Rice (The Citadel) – He had some moments as a freshman, yet has become a key cog for the Bulldogs in his second season
- Sophomore numbers: 11.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg
- Freshman numbers: 5.7 ppg, 1.4 rpg
• Matt Pegram (Wofford) – While his stats aren’t gaudy, the senior has simply gotten better each year. Equally important, he’s got a big (and positive) voice inside the Wofford locker room. His recent ankle injury will keep him sidelined for a bit, but he will still be a leading the Terriers from the bench
VI. Rules Update
Following the 2014-15 season, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee and the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Oversight Committee began a review to identify potential rules changes to improve the pace of play and reduce physicality in the game.
The rules committee put the following changes in effect:
• Shot clock reduction – from 35 to 30 seconds
• Requiring teams to be ready for play at the second horn following a timeout and after a player was disqualified
• Reducing the number of 30-second timeouts from four to three per team, per game
• Reducing the time on a shot clock reset from 30 to 20 seconds when a personal or technical foul was called by the defense
In addition, officials were directed to enforce rules that affected areas such as hand-checking, body bumping, freedom of movement for cutters and screening. During the past three seasons, points per game has gone up by six points. Equally, field-goal percentage in Division I was 44.4 percent, which was the best in over two decades.
With that, the committee is continuing to explore addition rules to help with the flow of the game. The potential new rules include:
• 3-point line – Moving from 20 feet, 9 inches to 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches. This would make it the same distance as used in international play
• Widen the lane – Widen the lane to 16 feet (from 12 feet), which would match the NBA and international play
• Four quarters – Use four 10-minute quarters similar to international play and college women’s basketball
• Shot clock reset after an offensive rebound – Reset the shot clock to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound. Currently, the clock is reset to a full 30 seconds
It will be interesting to see if any of these proposed changes are implemented for the 2019-20 season
VII. The SoCon Ladder
The Ladder suggests that only one thing is for sure – Wofford is good, really good! The next three positions remain consistent with UNCG, ETSU and Furman, but the battle for sixth place is still very much wide open. My guess is Samford grabs one of the remaining spots. Right now, here is the Ladder:
1. Wofford – Perfect! That’s what the Terriers are through 11 conference games. The good news for Wofford fans is I don’t believe they’ve peaked yet. This might very well be Mike Young’s best team in 17 years at the helm, and that’s saying something. Regardless, their chemistry and unselfishness are something for all to admire
2. UNCG – The Spartans are off to their best start in school history. Currently, they sit at 20-3 with loses at LSU, at Kentucky and at home against Wofford. They have experienced talent. How in the world are they not receiving more love nationally? This team could compete with anyone in the country save a very select few
3. ETSU – The Bucs are playing really good basketball. Patrick Good has been fantastic, Jeromy Rodriguez continues to do his thing and Bo Hodges is rounding back into form after being injured. With Wofford coming to Johnson City on Thursday, Freedom Hall will be rocking. This will be the Game of the Week in all of college basketball
4. Furman – The Paladins conclude a three-game road swing at Western Carolina on Thursday. Then they play four straight at home. The opponents (in order): ETSU, UNCG, VMI and Wofford. This will tell us just how good they really are. Check back Feb. 23
5. Samford – The Bulldogs have won just four of their last 10. But with Josh Sharkey and Ruben Guerrero, they can compete (and beat) anyone in the Southern Conference. Even with four of their next five on the road, DO NOT SLEEP on SAM, they are talented!
6. Western Carolina – There is good, young talent on this roster and they continue to be very competitive. The problem is they have not yet played at Wofford, at ETSU or at UNCG. Ouch
7. Chattanooga – Lamont Paris’ group will go on the road for four of its next five. This after dropping its last four games. But, the Mocs have talent and can score so they will collect some wins down the homestretch
8. The Citadel – There have been some tough times in Charleston recently, yet I firmly believe the Bulldogs will make some noise as we enter the final stretch of conference play. Lew Stallworth and Zane Najdawi are too talented not to get things headed in the right direction. The league best beware
9. Mercer – The Bears have been in every league contest. They simply need to keep believing in the end goal and that’s to finish in the top six and be playing their best ball when they arrive in Asheville. My guess is Bob Hoffman will have this group primed down the stretch
10. VMI – The Keydets have played some good ball the past few weeks, yet have just one win to show for it. Injuries have really hurt this team. They still have five home games remaining and that’s big!
Until the next “Dean’s List” on Feb. 20, follow me on twitter: @DeanKeener1