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 2019 Ingles Southern Conference Basketball Championships presented by General Shale are from March 7-11 at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville, North Carolina.
The Dean’s List
March 6, 2019
I. Inside the SoCon
It’s hard to believe, but we are just days away from the start of the 99th edition of the Ingles Southern Conference Basketball Championship presented by General Shale, in Asheville, North Carolina. There is no better time of the year as the calendar has turned to March. For Southern Conference basketball fans, nothing compares, as there is so much riding on every possession in every game at the U.S. Cellular Center. It’s a nerve-racking time for coaches and players as there is immense pressure in each game, but a thrilling weekend for basketball fans.
This is as good as the SoCon has been in many years. For the second consecutive year, the Southern Conference has four teams with 20 wins before the tournament begins. In fact, the top four teams have won a combined 99 regular-season games! Wofford is nationally ranked and may have already secured the league’s first-ever at large bid in the event they don’t win the tournament. Barring an upset in the quarterfinals, the Terriers should be a lock for the tournament with a NET Ranking of 14. But in the event they win the championship, they should be just the fourth Southern Conference team to receive a single-digit seed (College of Charleston No. 8 in 1999, Chattanooga No. 9 in 1983 and Appalachian State No. 6 in 1979).
Although Wofford enters as hot as any team in the country having won 17 consecutive games, this is by far a one-team race, and that’s what makes this so exciting. The UNCG Spartans are the defending tournament champions and have won 26 regular-season games. They are certainly focused on getting back to the Big Dance and have the talent and coaching to do it. Furman and ETSU also have the ability to win three straight in Asheville. But most importantly, all 10 teams can win at least one game, which could throw things into total bedlam by the time we hit Sunday.
Personally, I don’t know who will win the tournament. I just know it’s going to be a great weekend of basketball in Asheville!
II. Celebrating “The Best of Everything”
As mentioned, it’s been a great regular season, but before we get to the postseason tournament, let’s take a minute and celebrate those that deserve recognition.
In what has become an annual list of the Best of Everything in Southern Conference men’s basketball, the following are my 2018-2019 Dean’s List postseason award winners:
Best starting five – Wofford and Furman
• The Terriers were perfect in conference play. They are solid at every position. The Paladins have a nice blend of talent and experience in their starting five. Best of all, both teams have terrific chemistry and play unselfish basketball. UNCG and ETSU are right there as well. I can’t remember a time when the league had this many good teams
Best bench – Wofford
• The Terriers are like Noah’s Ark – they have two of everything. They don’t lose much when they go to their bench. This is a major reason why they were 18-0 in league play. ETSU has an argument here as they also have a very talented (and deep) bench
Best backcourt – UNCG
• Lots to choose from in the league, but the Spartans’ backcourt is very dangerous. Demetrius Troy, Francis Alonso, Isaiah Miller and Malik Massey. This is an outstanding group, but I’m not sure there is much difference with those at Wofford
Best frontcourt – ETSU and Wofford
• Both have size and depth in the frontcourt. Most importantly, they are talented
Best freshmen – Kevin Easley (Chattanooga) & Kameron Gibson (Western Carolina)
• These two have very bright futures at their respective schools. Equally, they look to be the cornerstone of the rebuilding within each program
Best sophomores – Isaiah Miller (UNCG) & Bubba Parham (VMI)
• Miller led the league is steals, Parham in scoring. These are two very talented young players
Best juniors – Josh Sharkey (Samford), Ross Cummings (Mercer) & Jeromy Rodriguez (ETSU)
• Sharkey helped Samford to 16 regular-season wins while leading the league in assists. Cummings was the go-to player for Mercer, while Rodriguez led the league in rebounding. Jordan Lyons (Furman) also warrants consideration. Remember that he put up 54 in a nonconference game!
Best seniors – Fletcher Magee (Wofford) & Matt Rafferty (Furman)
• Magee and Rafferty were fantastic in their final campaigns. Each led their team in multiple offensive categories. Cameron Jackson (Wofford) and Francis Alonso (UNCG) also deserve mention as they had outstanding senior seasons
Best sixth man – Tray Boyd III (ETSU) & Marcus Thomas (Western Carolina)
• Boyd led the Bucs in scoring. Marcus Thomas was also a terrific player off the bench for the Catamounts, particularly late in the year when he averaged 16.1 points per game during the final nine games
Best newcomer – Jeromy Rodriguez (ETSU)
• The junior college transfer was terrific from the start. He had 14 double-doubles. Also, under close consideration were Carlos Dotson (Western Carolina) and Brandon Austin (Samford)
Best long-range shooter – Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
• Magee can knock down 3s with the best of them. In fact, he’s still got a shot at the all-time 3-point record. Teammate Nathan Hoover is a close second. Ross Cummings (Mercer) and Andrew Brown (Furman) also deserve mention
Best dunker – Isaiah Miller (UNCG)
• The clear-cut winner. Miller is 6-0 but plays much bigger. That said, he can hammer it home like no one else in the league
Best defender – James Dickey (UNCG)
• Repeat winner. Dickey blocks two shots per game and alters several more. The Spartans will need him to play well if they are to return to the NCAA tournament. Teammate Isaiah Miller is also a lock-down defender on the perimeter and worth consideration
Best glue guy – Demetrius Troy (UNCG) & Garrett Gilkeson (VMI)
• Both guys are listed among the leaders in several offensive categories, but their value is more than that. They can defend, have basketball IQ and are great teammates
Best in the clutch – Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
• Repeat winner. Everyone knows he is going to take the tough shot for Wofford, but he consistently makes the tough ones. Teammate Storm Murphy hit some big-time game-winners this season as well that allowed Wofford to stay undefeated
Best versatility – Matt Rafferty (Furman)
• Repeat winner. The Southern Conference version of the Swiss Army knife, Rafferty does a little bit of everything for the Paladins. He scores in double figures, is third in the league in rebounding, third in steals and third in assists. He’s also a high IQ defender. I would say this guy is as versatile as any player in the country
Best player who didn’t get an award by the media or coaches – Nathan Hoover (Wofford)
• Hoover is vital to his team’s success. He averages 13.0 points per game while shooting 45 percent from 3, which is second in the league. But he did not win a postseason award by the league coaches or media. That said, I didn’t forget him. Ruben Guerrero (Samford) was another player that was key to his team’s success without much recognition
Best table setter – Josh Sharkey (Samford)
• The leading assist man in the Southern Conference can do a lot of things with the ball. Heck, he set a school record with 16 assists against Wofford back in January!
Best in transition – Lew Stallworth (Citadel)
• Stallworth is really good when he gets going downhill. And he’s not just a scoring guard, as he can distribute, as well
Best toughness – Mladen Armus (ETSU) & Matt Pegram (Wofford)
• Both players did whatever was needed to in order to provide toughness for their team
Best lungs – Josh Sharkey (Samford)
• The Ironman of the Southern Conference, Sharkey simply did not come out in league play this season
Best prospect – Noah Gurley (Furman)
• The redshirt freshman is sometimes forgotten on a roster full of good players, but he possesses immense talent. He has length and can play/guard multiple positions. If his work ethic matches his potential, look out!
Best surprise – Alex Hunter (Furman) & Keve Aluma (Wofford)
• Hunter is just another point guard in a long line at Furman that has stepped up. Aluma rarely receives the proper recognition as he is in the shadow of Magee, Jackson and others. That said, his 7.0 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game while shooting 65.6 percent from the floor was a big reason for the Terriers’ success
Best individual improvement – Clay Mounce (Furman)
• Mounce showed great improvement this year while averaging 11.1 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game. As a freshman, he averaged 5.0 points per game and 2.9 rebounds per game. He’s got a bright future at Furman
Best team improvement – Samford
• The Bulldogs won 10 games last year, then lost three players to Power 5 conferences. All Scott Padgett and staff did was win 16 regular-season games! Also, Lamont Paris is slowly putting things together at Chattanooga
Best coach – Mike Young (Wofford)
• I say this every year, but in a league with really good coaches, it’s hard to select just one. But going undefeated (18-0) is worthy of recognition and thus Mike Young is the selection. Hats off to Bob Richey as well for a job well done at Furman
• For the second straight season, the Bucs averaged over 5,000 fans in Southern Conference play. Their fan base is passionate. Equally, there is a good product to watch
Best student section
• Certainly, a state-of-the-art arena and a winning team help, but the Terriers’ student section was great all year. #snacktime
Best SoCon moment – Furman and Wofford nationally ranked
• Only separated by 35 miles, both programs terrific regular seasons. In fact, both brought national exposure to the league when they were ranked in the Top 25
III. It’s been a while…
UNCG participated in the NCAA tournament last year, but for some it’s been too long since they last danced. Here’s offering some luck to every team in the tournament:
Team (last time they participated in the NCAA tournament)
ETSU – 2017
Chattanooga – 2016
Wofford – 2015
Mercer – 2014 (as member of the Atlantic Sun Conference)
Samford – 2000 (as a member of the Trans America Athletic Conference)
Western Carolina – 1996
Furman – 1980
VMI – 1977
The Citadel – never participated
I’m hopeful that everyone will remember Larry Hunter in Asheville this year. Regardless of the Catamounts’ regular-season record, his teams always played well inside the U.S. Cellular Center. Some of the most exciting games in recent tournament play involved the Catamounts. Unfortunately, he could never get Western Carolina to the Big Dance. The league lost a great coach and I hope everyone, regardless of affiliation, will take a moment to remember Coach at tournament time
I must say thanks to Commissioner John Iamarino and his staff for allowing me to again report on Southern Conference men’s basketball. I also want to thank those that have followed The Dean’s List. This has been the best regular season in recent memory, and I hope that everyone has enjoyed the articles and content as much as I have enjoyed putting everything together.
I look forward to seeing everyone in Asheville for what should be a great Southern Conference tournament!
Follow me on Twitter: @DeanKeener1