Dean's List - Preseason preview, part 1
Courtesy: Southern Conference
Release: 10/31/2017
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Courtesy: Southern Conference

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 first part of a two-part preseason series on Southern Conference men’s basketball

I. Inside SoCon Basketball:
It’s late October. The leaves are changing color and while football is making national headlines (although college hoops made some for the wrong reasons a few weeks ago), college basketball is just days away from the opening tip. Teams have been practicing – and participating in “closed scrimmages” around the nation. Ready or not, another season of hoops is upon us!

And with that, welcome to another season of The Dean’s List. I’ve been fortunate to cover Southern Conference men’s basketball for the past six years and this begins season the fifth season of The Dean’ List. This is all about men’s basketball in the Southern Conference. Over the years, I have also touched on national topics to help provide some perspective on rules and other facts relevant to the college game. We will look to do the same again this year to bring you a bit closer to the coaches and players.

I would like to take a moment to again thank the league office for allowing me to continue writing about all the great things happening in Southern Conference basketball. Commissioner John Iamarino, along with Geoff Cabe and Jason Yaman have done a marvelous job directing the league in recent years. Realignment, new league scheduling and other critical items during the past few years has been difficult, but they’ve handled things in a first-class manner and the league is as strong as ever. Because of their leadership, it’s fun to be part of this league as the SoCon stands strong and men’s basketball is collectively ready for another terrific season. 

This year, there seems to be a strong feeling among most members that this could be an extraordinary year, and I fully concur. Each league member has something that gives them hope for that special year every coach, player and fan craves. For the seventh consecutive year, the season will culminate in Asheville, North Carolina, and the U.S. Cellular Center for the 98th edition of the Southern Conference tournament. As I have said many times, I don’t believe there is a better location to hold this event and I look forward to being part of all the action again the first weekend in March. For hoop historians, the Southern Conference tournament is the nation’s oldest postseason tournament in college basketball. 

As we know, with each new season comes the anticipation of so many things. Regardless of what has happened in the past, it’s always exciting to have a discussion about the upcoming season. Trying to determine what will potentially be the headlines and stories that guide us through the winter months is fun for everyone associated with SoCon basketball.

True, there are new coaches and new players that dot many of the rosters. But because of the overall stability of the league, each program has to be excited about the new year. In particular, Wofford is just weeks away from officially opening their beautiful new Richardson Indoor Stadium. 

In Part I of this preseason preview, we will look at Southern Conference basketball from A to Z! I hope this will get you started for the new season and cause some discussion on Twitter. 

With that, we begin the 2017-2018 Dean’s List:

II. SoCon basketball from A to Z
A. Alonso – UNCG guard Francis Alonso is one of the top long-range shooters in college basketball. 46 percent last season from 3-point range and the best is yet to come
B. Bears, Bucs and Bulldogs – Take your pick, the Mercer Bears, ETSU Bucs and Samford Bulldogs are the favorites this season
C. Chattanooga – Arguably the best job in the league is going through a bit of transition. Lamont Paris is the third coach in four years and having lost six seniors could make his first season a bit more challenging
D. Dickey – James Dickey is primed for a breakthrough sophomore season. The slender UNCG forward has all the tools to be a great SoCon player
E. ETSU – The Bucs returned to the Southern Conference after a nine-year absence and have made their mark in just three short seasons. Steve Forbes has done a masterful job in Johnson City
F. Freedom Hall – The Bucs posted the nation’s 15th-best increase for average attendance from the previous year. This has become a very good home court advantage for Steve Forbes’ crew 
G. Gosselin – Marc Gosselin. The Western Carolina junior needs to step up for Larry Hunter’s Catamounts
H. Holland – Ria’n Holland is a gifted scorer, by evidence of his 17.2 ppg average last year. Now he needs to smooth out the highs and lows and take the bad shots out of his game
I. Iamarino – John Iamarino is in his 12th year as commissioner of the Southern Conference. He’s done a terrific job through realignment and all things men’s basketball
J. Jelks – Stephon Jelks may very well be the key to a loaded Mercer team. Jelks is a leader. Equally important, he can score from all three levels (in close, mid-range and from 3), rebound and defend
K. Kuiper – UNCG center Jordy Kuiper is a true student-athlete. He is a valuable member of the Spartans, providing size and strength in the frontcourt while also earning Academic All-Southern Conference honors a year ago
L. London – Makinde London was Chattanooga’s sixth-leading scorer last season at 6.0 ppg. The 6-10 forward is the leading returning scorer and will most certainly need to double his output
M. Magee – Fletcher Magee is the leading returning scorer in the league. He has already put up 1,056 in two seasons. Magee is a very dangerous player!
N. Never – The Citadel Bulldogs have never participated in the NCAA tournament. I have a feeling Duggar Baucom may very well be the guy that gets them over the hump in the near future
O. Onno – Onno Steger was one of the few long-range threats that Western Carolina had last season. He will need to be even better this season
P. Parks – Preston Parks burst on the scene last season to the tune of 18.1 ppg to lead all SoCon freshmen by a wide margin. The Citadel guard is primed for a terrific sophomore season.
Q. QJ – The graduation of QJ Peterson hurts VMI. QJ was the leading scorer in the league a year ago
R. Richey – Bob Richey is the new head coach of the Furman Paladins. Richey moves over to calling the shots after five years beside Niko Medved
S. Sibley – The returning Player of the Year, Devin Sibley will help make Bob Richey’s first year as a head coach a good one 
T. Three-point shooting – 12 of the top 15 SoCon 3-point shooters return this season
U. UNCG – The Spartans broke through last year. They played for the tournament championship and then advanced to the NIT. Can they keep an upward trajectory?
V. VMI – By far the most difficult job in college basketball. Can the Keydets gain some momentum this season?
W. Walker – Samford’s Wyatt Walker is quite possibly the best rebounder in the SoCon. But he does much more than that for the rising Bulldogs
X. X-factor – Plenty here to discuss: how will Richardson Indoor Stadium help the Wofford Terriers? What about the guards at Samford: Josh Sharkey may be the best player no one is talking about and Alabama transfer Justin Coleman is cat-quick and has the potential to be the Bulldogs’ best player!
Y. Young – Mike Young enters his 16th season as head coach of the Wofford Terriers. He is the dean of SoCon coaches
Z. Zane – Zane Najdawi was eighth in the SoCon in scoring and fifth in rebounding last year. The Citadel junior can do a bit of everything

III. Three Questions That Need To Be Answered
1. Can Mercer get back to its winning ways?
This is probably an unfair question, because a Bob Hoffman team is always well-coached. What I mean is, can they get back to be a postseason team? Equally important, can Hawkins Arena get back to being the most feared arena in the league?

They certainly have enough proven fire-power. Chemistry will be one of the keys for a senior-laden lineup. Will this group be able to put aside individual goals for the betterment of the team? If so, look out, as they have all the ingredients to be a very tough out!

2. What can the league do to make some noise on a national stage?
It’s pretty simple; the league needs some quality wins in the pre-conference portion of the slate. The league also needs some of its talented players to make some noise on the national level. The SoCon has been close to being a top-15 league but must do more if it wants to get there. League members need quality nonconference wins and a few spots on Top 10 highlights in November and December.

If you’re a SoCon fan, then cheer for Samford when they play at Arkansas, LSU, Memphis and Clemson. The same when Chattanooga hosts Charlotte. ETSU also has plenty of chances playing at Kentucky and at Xavier. Mercer gets its chance on the road at UCF, Tennessee, Memphis and Alabama. UNCG has Delaware, Elon and UNCW in the Greensboro Coliseum and Wofford hosts South Carolina, Georgia Tech and Harvard in the new Richardson Indoor Stadium! It’s games like these that can catapult the league on the national level.

3. Who will be the sleeper?
This is always a difficult question during a preseason preview. That is especially true this year in the SoCon. There are always several choices, including The Citadel, which has some great firepower, but I’m going with Western Carolina. 

No doubt, Larry Hunter is a terrific coach and will always get the most out of his troops. But with the bulk of their roster back, including the top four scorers’ and a talented recruiting class, the Catamounts are primed for a good year. With seniors Haboubacar Mutombo, Devin Peterson and Deriece Parks as well as junior Marc Gosselin and sophomores Onno Steger and Adam Sledd, the WCU roster has the ability to make some real noise come conference play!

Next edition: Part II of my preseason preview will include my “Best Bets” for the upcoming season in the Southern Conference

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