A moment to ponder Southern Conference basketball, where Samford (picked to finish last) is first in the North Division, and UNC Greensboro (picked to finish first) is last; where The Citadel won at a place (Georgia Southern) where Davidson and College of Charleston could not; and where, if the season ended today, three of four first-round byes would go to the North Division.
In other words, a league where nobody knows anything.But we’ll try to make sense of it, anyway.
1. Davidson (11-7, 6-1; 120 RPI, 108 kenpom): The Wildcats have been just as mysterious as anyone else, losing at Georgia Southern before routing The Citadel and handling College of Charleston. Davidson has road games left at Western Carolina, College of Charleston and Elon, so winning out won’t be easy. But it wouldn’t surprise me if the Wildcats did — or not.
2. Samford (7-12, 5-1, 280 RPI, 298 kenpom): Despite the RPI and kenpom rankings, it’s time to give these Bulldogs their due. Coach Bennie Seltzer is off to a great start in his first SoCon season, and the former Indiana assistant has some good young talent in Raijon Kelly, Tim Williams and Clide Geffrard. Samford has won at CofC and has beaten North Division contenders Western Carolina and App State. Their next three games are on the road (UNCG, Davidson and Elon) before the revenge-minded Cougars go to Birmingham. Those four games will tell a lot about Samford’s staying power.
3. College of Charleston (12-7, 4-3, 143 RPI, 176 RPI). The Cougars remain the SoCon’s biggest enigma, winners at Baylor and losers at home to Anderson. They went 0-2 at GSU and Davidson, a trip on which the lowly Citadel Bulldogs managed a 1-1 slate. Per the numbers, CofC is a much-improved defensive and rebounding squad over recent years, but seems to be struggling to find consistent offense, ranking seventh in the SoCon in offensive efficiency and 10th in turnover percentage. The individual parts are greater than the sum total right now, but watch out if the Cougars put it together — no league team is more talented. Their next four games are ripe for a bounceback, with home games vs. The Citadel, App and UNCG and a trip to struggling Wofford.
4. Elon (11-7, 4-2; 154 RPI, 165 kenpom): The Fightin’ Phoenix are on a nice roll with three straight wins (at WCU, Furman and Wofford) to get themselves back in the top half of the North Division. If the season ended today, Elon would edge out CofC for that fourth first-round tourney bye. 6-10 Lucas Troutman, just a sophomore, has emerged as one of the SoCon’s better big men and a Mr. Inside to Jack Isenbarger’s Mr. Outside, and Sebastian Koch’s 3-point marksmanship. Elon doesn’t turn it over much, plays solid D and has no clear statistical weaknesses, aside from maybe 3-point shooting as a team (32.6 percent, 11th in SoCon). Elon only has to play Davidson once and CofC not at all the rest of the way, which should boost their chances in the North.
5. Western Carolina (8-11, 5-2; 279 RPI, 220 kenpom): The Catamounts benefited from pre-Christmas wins over Furman and App State, barely edged struggling UNCG and lost two straight to Elon and Samford before winning at Chattanooga. PG Trey Sumler is terrific, and when former Charleston Southern Buc Tom TANKELEWICZ is hitting from long distance, WCU can score, as 90 points at Chatt shows. The Cats have two games with Davidson and one at College of Charleston left, aside from their North Division rivals.
6. App State (7-10, 3-3; 297 RPI, 250 kenpom): It was easy to give up on App after a seven-game losing streak early in the season, but coach Jason Capel’s team has rebounded with the return of guard Mike Neal, who missed eight games while academically ineligible. He’s averaging 10.1 points and 3.7 assists in nine games, and App won five in a row before losing the last two to Chattanooga (in OT) and Samford (by four). App has five players averaging in double figures and scores 72.9 points per game, so the Mountaineers’ issues are on defense. App has a tough stretch of GSU, Davidson, CofC, WCU, GSU and Davidson coming up. A 3-3 mark there would set the Mountaineers up for a late-season run at the North Division, or at least a bye.
7. Georgia Southern (8-11, 2-4; 254 RPI, 295 kenpom): The Eagles surprised with home wins over Davidson and College of Charleston, but reportedly looked tired and lethargic in a 70-55 home loss to The Citadel. Coach Charlton Young has really hit the brakes on his offense, going from 72.1 possessions per game in his first year in 2009-10 (No. 18 the nation) to 61.1 per game this year (No. 335). But the Eagles are last in the SoCon in assists and assist/turnover ratio, and despite PF Eric Ferguson aren’t a great rebounding team, either. Seven of the Eagles’ final 12 games are on the road, so it’s hard to see them making a push for a bye.
8. Chattanooga (8-11, 3-3, 258 RPI, 296 kenpom): The Mocs could well have lost at The Citadel if Dontay Hampton had not made his season debut (after ACL surgery) and hit some deep threes. As it is, Chattanooga followed up with a no-show loss at CofC, an OT win over App State and a 90-81 loss to WCU, and Hampton suffered a broken hand. The Mocs are a good rebounding team, but there are a lot of rebounds to be had; they are dead last in the SoCon in 3-point shooting (29.5 percent). The Mocs’ next three are on the road, but they only have one game left against the Davidson/CofC duo (home vs. Cougars), and seven of the final 10 are at home. It’s on the Mocs if they can’t make a run late.
9. Furman (5-12, 2-4; 323 RPI, 317 kenpom): Given up for dead after a string of nine losses in 10 games, the Paladins shocked by nearly upsetting CofC on Jan. 5. Then they played Davidson tough and won two of the last three, against Wofford and at UNCG on Sunday. Furman’s next four games are against Wofford, GSU, The Citadel and UNCG (three at home), so the Paladins, starting three freshmen, could see a surge in the next week.
10. Wofford (7-12, 1-5; 247 RPI, 215 kenpom). The Terriers’ 56-55 win at Xavier (No. 67 RPI) remains one of the other great mysteries of the SoCon this season. Wofford has lost six of seven since then, including three straight. Those three were all on the road, but two were at Furman and UNCG. That Xavier game jacked up expectations for Wofford, which is starting two freshmen and two sophomores. The Terriers still are playing their trademark tough defense (tops in the SoCon in scoring defense), but struggle mightily to score and to rebound with a frontline that goes 6-8, 6-6, 6-4. Seven of the final 12 games are at home, with two games against The Citadel, so the Terriers could make a run at .500 — which is about what we thought before Xavier.
11. UNC Greensboro (4-13, 2-4; 343 RPI, 279 kenpom). No bigger shock in the SoCon than the predicament of the Spartans, who were picked to win the SoCon North after wonderboy coach Wes Miller came to the rescue last season. Since a 30-point win over The Citadel on Dec. 1, UNCG has lost eight of 10, the lone wins over Lees-McRae and Wofford. UNCG has two of the top three scorers in the SoCon in guards Trevis Simpson and Derrell Armstrong, and averages a league-best 73 ppg. As befits a Tar Heel, Miller’s team plays at a blistering pace (72 possessions per game, No. 19 in the nation), but struggles on defense and fouls way too much. Only The Citadel allows foes to shoot a better rate from 3-point range in the league. The Spartans’ next three games are at home vs. North Division rivals Samford, Chattanooga and Elon; they need to win all three to get back in the wide-open North race.
12. The Citadel (4-13, 1-6; 341 RPI, 341 kenpom). After snapping a 12-game skid at Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs rose from No. 347 (dead last) in the NCAA RPI ranking to No. 341, so The Citadel avoids that distinction for the time being. Matt Van Scyoc is making a run at SoCon freshman of the year, averaging 17 points and shooting 48.5 percent from 3-point range over the last five games. The Citadel could have gone 4-1 over that stretch, the 70-38 debacle at Davidson the only unwinnable game. Sophomore guard Marshall Harris also is coming into his own, averaging a league-best 4.8 assists per game. PJ Horgan’s move to the starting lineup should help take pressure off Mike Groselle, who’s scoring average is down to 13.8 ppg. The Bulldogs can pass and shoot; they average 14.6 assists per game, tops in the SoCon. Turnovers and defense remain the issues, and progress must be made down the stretch. Six of the final 11 SoCon games are on the road, but eight are against teams ranked No. 215 or below by kenpom, including home games against Wofford (215), GSU (295) and Furman (317). Got to win those.