People may not realize that the Southern Conference has busted a bracket or two over the years. In 1991, East Tennessee State came in as a 14 seed and upset the 3 seeded Arizona Wildcats. In 1997, Chattanooga busted a ton of brackets as a 14 seed, defeating #3 Georgia and #6 Illinois, before losing to #10 Providence in the Sweet 16. Finally, who can forget the 2007 Davidson squad with Steph Curry that made the Elite 8. They were the SoCon champions that year, becoming a 10 seed and upsetting #7 Gonzaga, #2 Georgetown, and #3 Wisconsin before losing to #1 Kansas by 2. The Southern Conference has teams that have proven to upset schools in March, and they very well could upset a team or two this season. Here is my breakdown of the Southern Conference and how I think the seeding of the conference tournament will be. Note: All stats and records are as of 1/30.
1) Furman (17-6 Overall, 8-2 Conference)
Overview: The Paladins have been quite impressive on the year, both in conference and non-conference play. As far as out of conference play goes, they have beaten the likes of South Carolina, Appalachian State, and Stephen F Austin. In conference play, they have split games with UNC-Greensboro and recently defeated Samford by 7. If you look at the box scores in every game Furman has played this season, you can tell their biggest strength is their ability to score the ball. Not only are the Paladins the best offense in the SoCon but also are one of the best offenses in the country, scoring 79.6 ppg (18th in NCAA). With one of the leading scorers in the conference in Mike Bothwell (19.1 ppg, 3.4 apg) and one of the best big man in the conference in Jalen Slawson (15.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg), this offense can beat teams on the perimeter and down low in the post. The offense has been spectacular, and they have defeated some of the best teams in the conference already, which is why Furman is my prediction to win the SoCon tournament and receive the automatic bid.
2) North Carolina Greensboro (14-9 Overall, 8-2 Conference)
Overview: If you look at Furman and compare them to the Spartans of UNC-Greensboro, you will see two different reasons for success. While Furman is very solid on the offensive end, UNC-Greensobro is very solid on the defensive end. The Spartans are the best defensive team in the conference giving up only 64.4 ppg, which is also 40th in the entire country. Even in both of their losses within the conference this season, they still held Furman to 69 points and Samford to 70 points. Although the Spartans pride themselves on winning games on defense, they have guys that can also get it done on the offensive end of the floor as well. Three starters are averaging double figures in Keyshaun Langley (13.4 ppg), Keondre Kennedy (12.5 ppg), and Mikeal Brown-Jones (10.8 ppg). The Spartans are the best team in the SoCon defensively and have some weapons on offense as well. You should expect a deep run in the tournament for the Spartans.
3) Samford (14-9 Overall, 8-2 Conference)
Overview: For a good majority of the season, the Bulldogs were sitting at the top of the conference and were a perfect 8-0 to begin conference play. They have appeared to hit a small roadblock in the conference as of late, losing in back-to-back games to Furman by 7 and Wofford by 8. Samford is having no issues scoring the basketball this season, as they are averaging 75.7 ppg (2nd in conference, 58th in NCAA). A big reason for this offensive success is their junior guard Ques Glover. Although he had to miss twelve games this season with injury, Glover has been the leading scorer for the Bulldogs this season, averaging 15.0 ppg. However, Samford did not lose production on offense in Glover’s absence, as big men Logan Dye and Jermaine Marshall have also been solid offensively, averaging 13.9 and 11.6 ppg respectively. If their offense can continue to stay balanced with Glover returning and if they can find a way to get out of this skid that they are in, the Bulldogs could find themselves winning the conference and proving me wrong.
4) Wofford (13-10 Overall, 5-5 Conference)
Overview: Wofford found ways to make themselves known as a threat to any team in the country to start the season, losing to both LSU and Vanderbilt on the road by only three points apiece. Although the Terriers may have started the season not like they would have liked, they have begun to find their rhythm on offense. They have scored 80 points in six of their last eight games in the conference. Wofford has shown they are a force to be reckoned with this season, as they recently defeated Samford by eight points. The guard-big man duo of forward BJ Mack and guard Jackson Paveletzke have been the go-to guys for Wofford. Mack has been the leading scorer on the team averaging 15.7 ppg (5th in the conference) and 5.0 rpg. Paveletzke is not far behind Mack with a 14.7 ppg average along with 3.8 apg (T-3rd in conference). If the Terriers can continue their strong play, they will surprise some teams when the SoCon tournament goes on.
5) Chattanooga (12-11 Overall, 4-6 Conference)
Overview: The Mocs were the 2021 SoCon champions next year, and they unfortunately ran into a buzzsaw that is the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the tournament. The Mocs are missing a key piece of the conference championship last year in 2021 SoCon Player of the Year in Malachi Smith. However, they picked up a massive transfer in the offseason in 2021 All SoCon First Team member and VMI-transfer forward Jake Stephens. With the numbers that Stephens is putting up this season, he seems to be the lock for the Conference Player of the Year, as he is leading the conference in points (21.8 – 6th in NCAA) and rebounds (10.2 – 15th in NCAA). He has had some assistance on offense with Senior guard Jamal Johnson averaging 13.5 ppg. With some close matchups in conference this year, the Mocs have some games this season to improve on closing out games. If they can close out games more efficiently, they are going to have a very nice showing this postseason.
6) Western Carolina (12-11 Overall, 5-5 Conference)
Overview: If there was a way to put a recap on how the Catamounts season has gone so far this year, it would be best described as a roller coaster. They played phenomenal against Furman at the start of conference play and even defeated them by 12 points. Three games later, Western Carolina lost to Chattanooga by 19 points and followed that performance up by losing to The Citadel. The season is absolutely a disappointment for the Catamounts, as they have a ton of talent on their squad. Junior forward Tyzhaun Claude has impressed teams this season with an average of 15.3 ppg and 8.5 rpg (2nd in conference). The backcourt of Vonterius Woolbright and Tre Jackson have been just as impressive, averaging 14.3 and 14.0 ppg respectively to round out the double-digit scorers. Consistency has to improve for the Catamounts if they want a shot to make a run at an automatic bid at seasons end. If things do not improve, a first round exit appears all but likely.
7) Mercer (11-12 Overall, 4-6 Conference)
Overview: If this preview would have been written at the beginning of the season, I may have placed Mercer in the top 4 in the conference at the end of the year. They went 7-6 non-conference and had some key wins over Morehead State and Troy. Of their 6 losses, five came by single digits including Florida State by 9, East Carolina by 2, and Georgia State by 2. Conference play simply has not gone great for the Bears thus far with four of their six conference losses coming by 14 points or greater. Even with the little conference success, the Bears do have a couple of play makers this season. Sophomore forward Jalyn McCreary is having a very impressive season, as the second year man is leading the team in points (15.3 ppg) and rebounds (5.7). In the backcourt, guard Kamar Robertson has played solid as well, averaging 12.0 ppg and is shooting 45.7% from 3. Things need to improve and improve quickly for the Bears or they will have a very quick end to their season come tournament time.
8) East Tennessee State (8-15 Overall, 4-6 Conference)
Overview: Things have not gone as the Buccaneers would have liked this season. They only won four non-conference games and have only won four games within the conference as well. East Tennessee State has played the likes of Georgia, LSU, and Morehead State out of conference, which made that slate quite difficult. In conference, the Buccaneers have not found a way to keep games close, losing four out of their six conference losses by double digits. Although things have not gone as hoped for the Buccaneers are fortunate to have their two leading scorers as underclassman to return for next year, barring transfer. Junior guard Jordan King and sophomore forward Jalen Haynes have been the only saving graces for the squad this year, averaging 13.8 and 13.6 ppg respectively. They may get a win or two against the bottom teams of the conference yet in the regular season, but it is going to take a lot for the Buccaneers to get more wins than that going forward.
9) The Citadel (9-14 Overall, 4-6 Conference)
Overview: With the talented players that the Bulldogs have this season, their record is incredibly disappointing. Unfortunately, the talented players that they have are simply not enough, as The Citadel has been blown out in nearly every game that they have lost. Granted, they have played the likes of North Carolina and Clemson in some of the first non-conference games, but they also have had bad losses to East Tennessee State, Wofford, and Chicago State. Seniors Stephen Clark and Austin Ash have played their tails off for the Bulldogs to end their senior seasons, with Clark averaging 17.0 ppg and 6.0 rpg and Ash averaging 14.8 ppg and 5.1 rpg. The two talented players are simply not enough to assist the Bulldogs this season. They still have the dead last team to play one more time, but otherwise, I think the season is all but over for the Bulldogs.
10) Virginia Military Institute (5-18 Overall, 0-10 Conference)
Overview: Unfortunately for the Keydets, they find themselves as the bottom seed and are four games out of the nine seed. Things have not been good for VMI this season with three of their five wins on the year coming against Division III schools or lower. Otherwise, they have defeated Navy and Radford to round out their wins on the year. The Keydets have struggled both offensively and defensively this season, averaging only 65.3 ppg (310th in CBB) and giving up 76.4 ppg (320th in CBB). However, VMI has something to be proud of and something to look forward to for years down the road: They are only graduating one senior from this squad at the end of the season. The overwhelming majority of players on the team are freshmen, including four of their starters. The Keydets have four starters averaging double figures, so the potential for success in years to come is absolutely there. Unfortunately, it appears that success will not happen this season.
The competition between the teams in the Southern Conference is in groups. The battle between the top 3 teams is going to be very close, and although I predicted Furman to win the SoCon, I could very well see Samford or UNC-Greensboro winning as well. Next, the battle between the 4-6 seeds are going to be very tight, and either of these teams could upset each other in the first round. Finally, the battle between the 7-9 seeds will be very interesting to see who gets a better first round matchup. Teams in the SoCon have upset some brackets before, and it very well could happen again this season!