ASHEVILLE, N.C. – ETSU is the preseason favorite to win the 2019-20 Southern Conference men’s basketball title in polling of the league’s 10 men’s basketball coaches and media. UNC Greensboro junior guard Isaiah Miller is the coaches’ pick for preseason player of the year.
The coaches, who also picked a preseason all-conference team, were not allowed to vote for their own teams or student-athletes as part of the balloting. The coaches and media predicted the league’s teams to finish in the same order.
The reigning SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, Miller led the league with 104 steals last season, the second-best mark in conference history. Miller was also ninth in the league in scoring at 15.3 points per game and finished sixth in the league in field-goal percentage, shooting at a 51.4-percent clip. Miller helped the Spartans to a school-record 29 wins and the No. 1 seed in the NIT.
ETSU is the preseason pick to win the league after going 24-10 overall and 13-5 in SoCon play to tie for third last season. The Bucs return four starters from that squad and have three of the 10 members of the preseason all-conference squad in redshirt senior forward Jeromy Rodriguez, junior guard Bo Hodges and sophomore guard Daivien Williamson. Rodriguez was the lone player in the SoCon to average a double-double last year, as he scored 11.2 points and pulled down 10.9 rebounds per game.
ETSU earned 80 points and eight first-place votes from the coaches and 286 points and 20 first-place votes from the media. The Bucs are the preseason favorites for the first time since rejoining the league in 2014-15 and for the first time since being picked to win the North Division in 2004-05.
Last season’s regular-season and tournament runner-up, UNCG, was slotted second in both preseason polls. The Spartans earned 74 points and the remaining two first-place votes from the coaches and 264 points and six first-place votes from the media. Miller is joined on the preseason all-conference team by teammate and 2017-18 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year James Dickey, a redshirt senior forward. UNCG returns three starters this year.
Third in both polls is Furman, which earned 61 points from the coaches and 245 points and four first-place votes from the media. The Paladins went 25-8 overall, setting a school record for wins, and were 13-5 in SoCon play to tie for third. Furman won its first 12 games of the season last year, knocking off Loyola Chicago and No. 8 Villanova, who were both coming off of Final Four appearances the season prior, and spent three weeks in the national rankings. Senior guard Jordan Lyons, who scored 54 points and matched the NCAA Division I record with 15 3-pointers in a win over North Greenville last season, represents the Paladins on the preseason all-conference team.
Defending SoCon regular-season and tournament champion Wofford is picked fourth in both polls. The Terriers won a school-record 30 games last year, going 18-0 in SoCon play en route to a 30-5 overall mark. Wofford finished the season ranked 18th in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 and 19th in the Associated Press poll and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament, downing No. 10 seed Seton Hall in the first round. The Terriers, whose No. 7 NCAA seed was the SoCon’s highest since 1979, graduated two-time SoCon Player of the Year Fletcher Magee and lost Sporting News Coach of the Year Mike Young to Virginia Tech. Jay McAuley, who spent the last two seasons as associate head coach for the Terriers, takes over as head coach this season. Senior guard Nathan Hoover, who led the league with a .469 3-point percentage, is one of two returning starters and is a preseason all-conference pick.
Samford follows in fifth in both preseason polls, with guard Josh Sharkey earning preseason all-conference honors after dishing off 239 assists last season, fifth-most in a season in SoCon history. Sharkey enters his senior campaign 10th in league history with 541 career assists.
Chattanooga is sixth in the polls, edging Western Carolina by just three points in the coaches poll. The Catamounts feature preseason all-conference selection Carlos Dotson, a senior forward who averaged 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season.
Mercer checks in at No. 8 in both polls, with senior guard Ross Cummings rounding out the preseason all-conference team. Cummings was sixth in the SoCon in scoring last year at 17.4 points per game. The Bears will be under the direction of first-year head coach Greg Gary.
The Citadel and VMI were ninth and 10th, respectively, in both polls.
The 2019-20 season gets under way Tuesday, Nov. 5, with seven league teams in action.
The 2020 Ingles SoCon Men’s Basketball Championship presented by General Shale will be held March 6-9 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville in Asheville, North Carolina. The 2020 edition of the tournament is the 100th for the nation’s oldest collegiate conference basketball tournament.
2019-20 Preseason Southern Conference Coaches Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. ETSU (8) 80
2. UNCG (2) 74
3. Furman 61
4. Wofford 52
5. Samford 48
6. Chattanooga 41
7. Western Carolina 38
8. Mercer 29
9. The Citadel 16
10. VMI 11
2019-20 Preseason Player of the Year
Isaiah Miller, Jr., G, UNCG
2019-20 Preseason All-Southern Conference Team
Bo Hodges, Jr., G, ETSU
Jeromy Rodriguez, R-Sr., F, ETSU
Daivien Williamson, So., G, ETSU
Jordan Lyons, Sr., G, Furman
Ross Cummings, Sr., G, Mercer
James Dickey, R-Sr., F, UNCG
Isaiah Miller, Jr., G, UNCG
Josh Sharkey, Sr., G, Samford
Carlos Dotson, Sr., F, Western Carolina
Nathan Hoover, Sr., G, Wofford
2019-20 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. ETSU (20) 286
2. UNCG (6) 264
3. Furman (4) 245
4. Wofford 216
5. Samford 169
6. Chattanooga 128
7. Western Carolina 117
8. Mercer 115
9. The Citadel 70
10. VMI 40