Thursday, October 30, 2014

VMI Preview: Back in the SoCon Fold, Where They Belong



From now until November 7, each business day, a Scanning the SoCon representative will write a
preview of their team. Today, Shelton Moss from Running the Block will take a look at VMI in their return season to the SoCon.

At long last, Keydet fans, the dawn of the 2014–15 basketball season is upon us, and for those in Lexington as well as everywhere in the college hoops world, we are looking forward to the start of the another year. Given the lackluster performance of our football and soccer counterparts at the Institute, Runnin' Roos basketball may provide some much needed solace this winter in the cozy confines of Cameron Hall.
 
Of course VMI is just six months removed from one of the greatest seasons in program history, a 22-win campaign which included, after a devastating Big South tournament semifinal loss, three wins in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT). It was the first tournament appearance in 37 years for the school, and should find a comfortable spot in Keydet lore. The succeeding off-season seemed to be rather quick, because, well, it was: by making it to the CIT semifinals VMI became the first team in Big South to play in the month of April and provided a March that Keydet fans will never forget.

But enough about the Big South, CIT, and 2013. The future is now, and that's what we're here to talk about. Despite the loss of powerful big-man D.J. Covington and sharpshooting guard Rodney Glasgow, the Keydets return several names worthy of mentioning, the first of course being the dynamic sophomore guard QJ Peterson. As a freshman, Peterson averaged 19 points per game on 40% shooting and had three 30+ point games. If he can get to the free throw line more, Peterson can be a huge threat to any SoCon defense. Other key players will be seniors Jordan Weethee and Brian Brown, who both averaged slightly under 7 PPG last season. Additionally, junior Tim Marshall shot 35% from behind the arc, and Phillip Anglade, along with sophomore Craig Hinton, will receive more playing time.

There will also be two new faces on Post this season. Originally, three players were recruited by Coach Baucom. Unfortunately, point guard Jon Elmore, sought after by twenty-two Division I schools, including some in the Atlantic-10 and ACC, transferred out, along with his brother, Ot, just two weeks before opening tip off. This leaves the Keydets with just two Rats: forward Armani Branch, a 6-foot-7 stud from Hampton, Virginia and Fred Iruafemi rounding out the Rat class for VMI.
 
The schedule for this year is certainly a daunting one. Kicking off with the fourth (and presumably last) installation of the All-Military Classic hosted at West Point's Christl Arena, VMI plays two non-conference home games of interest: UNC Wilmington (Nov. 22), and Marist (Dec. 13). Both are return games from previous years. The Keydets also face four teams from power conferences: Virginia Tech of the ACC, Maryland of the Big Ten, West Virginia of the Big XII, and George Washington of the A-10. The schedule is road-heavy in the first two months, but evens out by February. Saturday conference home games include match-ups with ETSU, The Citadel, Wofford and Samford for Senior Day.

With no true post-presence under the basket, VMI will be relying heavy on smart play and accurate shooting from its guards. The loss of Covington only adds to our lack of height, so rebounding must be a team effort. With that said, predicting 2014-15 is a coin-flip. Our talent at the guard position is a threat, but a lack of size and experience may diminish our chances of a post-season run in Asheville.
 
Prediction: 17–12 (11–7 SoCon), 4th place

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Western Carolina Preview: Rebuild or Reload?

Each Monday through Friday for the next two weeks, one of our regular Scanning the SoCon participants will be previewing their team. Today, Jerry Love from Purple & Gold has a preview of the Western Carolina Catamounts.

Replacing the four seniors that took the Catamounts to the SoCon championship game two times in the last three seasons will be a difficult task for Western Carolina.  “It’s an interesting mix,” said Hunter, speaking about his roster of six upperclassmen (two seniors, four juniors) and five freshmen.  Hunter recently had his contract with WCU extended for three years, and will be in his ninth season as head coach with the Catamounts.

“We’re going to get there,” an optimistic Hunter said.“We graduated over 5,000 career points with those four seniors. I don’t know if there’s anyone in Division I that has to replace that kind of graduation loss." he added. But, “The cupboard is not bare is how I’d respond to that…We have some veterans who have contributed, and they are a hungry group who are anxious to step into more significant roles.”

Returning Players


Returning starter, senior James Sinclair, is a 6-foot-3 guard.  “James has been a good solid player for us the past couple of seasons, and he impacts the game in so many ways,” said Hunter. “I think he’s one of the better players in the league.”  Another returning starter expected to shoulder more of the load is senior forward Kenneth Hall. Players who came off the bench last season include juniors Mike Brown (6-3 guard), Rhett Harrelson (5-10 guard), Justin Browning (6-4 forward) and Torrion Brummit (6-7 forward). This junior group played behind a good group of seniors for the last two seasons and will now have their opportunity to move into either starting positions or more significant roles this season. 

Seniors
James Sinclair (11.8 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.7 )  “He’s really having a nice career and had a great off season. He’s improved and he’s a great player for us at that two-guard position.”
Kenneth Hall (2.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.7 bpg)


Juniors
Rhett Harrelson (2.7 ppg) , 5-11 point guard
Mike Brown (5.1 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.1 apg)  6-3 wing
Justin Browning (2.6 ppg, 2.1 rpg) 6-4wing
Torrion Brummitt, 6-7 forward

Harrelson and Brown will be counted upon to help Sinclair shoulder the scoring load this season. “We’ll do it a little more by committee,” Hunter said.  “I don’t know if we have a true Trey Sumler that you can count on for 17, 18 points per ballgame. Hopefully we’ll have four, five or even six guys [scoring] between eight and 13.”  Browning will back at his natural wing position. Brummitt is believed to be the first bona fide back-to-the-basket scorer Hunter's had at Western. Hunter said Brummitt’s size will draw double teams from opposing defenses and open up some things on the offensive end.
 
New Faces - Freshmen

Devin Peterson, 6-1 guard
Tucker Thompson,  6-9 forward
Ashley Williams, 6-5 forward
Aaron Williams, 6-3 guard
Charlendez Brooks, 6-9 forward

Hunter expects contributions from his four true freshmen and redshirt freshman Charlendez Books, especially 6-9 Tucker Thompson, who could work his way into the starting lineup.  Devin Peterson and Ashley Williams may also have an impact early as well. Peterson, has the ability to score and distribute, and Ashley Williams has been impressive with his skill set and toughness over the summer.

Torrion Brummitt, Charlendez Brooks and Tucker Thompson give the Catamounts plenty of size to work with, size that Hunter's teams at Western have lacked.  Size, even if it is unproven at this point.  Thompson has exceeded Hunter's expectations over the summer. “I think he will be hard to keep out of our starting lineup,” Hunter said. “He’s just so good about taking instruction…His hands and feet are better than I thought they were when I recruited him.” Brooks, a 6-9, 270-pound freshman who redshirted last season, provides the Cats with another wide body. “We’ve got some size with some new people we’ve added, but we’re inexperienced more than anything,”  Hunter said.

While the Catamounts will be bigger overall from past seasons, inexperience at key positions will may make another run toward the SoCon championship game tougher this season.

Schedule
 
Once again, the Catamounts will be road warriors to open the season, playing 9 of their first 10 games on the road. Western opens the season at Mississippi State (Nov. 14) and Alabama (Nov. 17), and will play at Vanderbilt and Minnesota in those opening ten games.  This season, the Catamounts play in the CBE Hall of Fame Classic, meeting Oakland, Georgia State and Chicago State in Rochester, Michigan.  The Cats will open conference play this year in Johnson City meeting the Bucs of ETSU. 

Outlook and predictions

Did the Cats reload or are they rebuilding?  With the task of replacing four seniors that scored over 5,000 career points, the Catamounts, on the surface, seem to have an impossible task ahead of themselves. Depending on how well Hunter can blend his veterans and the inexperience of his new players will answer that question.  Hunter is hoping that at the end of his "road warrior" opening round, the Catamounts will be ready to surprise folks as SoCon play starts. Given what the Cats must replace, a 6th place projection is not unrealistic at this time.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What are we to make of the Spartans?

"Everyone on this team wants to be here."
Those were the words Coach Wes Miller said towards the end of Spartan Madness last Thursday night in Greensboro.
 
That was music to all the UNCG fans' ears. After all, the Spartans had lost three players this past offseason. Tyrone Outlaw, Jordan Potts and Kyle Cain all left the school in the offseason. That was a combined 27.4 points per game, 13.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists. That was the leading scorer and rebounder in Cain. That was the second leading three point shooter, the player who came up with the second most steals and the player with the third most assists in Potts. That was a 6-6 guard who had shown promise in Outlaw.
 
Hope seems to reign in Greensboro. The fan base believes this year will be significantly better. The Spartans are expected to be a mid-range SoCon contender this year.
 
To read the rest of the article at MidMajorMadness, click here.

Furman Preview: Croone Tries to Lead the Paladins to Surprise

Every day for the next two weeks, the Scanning the SoCon participants will get to write a preview of their teams. Today, SoConJohn writes a preview of the Furman Paladins.

Furman basketball begins its second season under head coach Niko Medved looking to improve on what was a 2013-14 season which saw the Paladins finish 9-21 overall and 3-15 in Southern Conference play.

Recently, the Paladins were selected to finish eighth in the Southern Conference, which once again beckons the Paladins to earn their respect on the hardwood once again this season.

In fact, the Paladins haven’t finished in the upper echelon of the Southern Conference since the 2010-11 season, which saw the Paladins win 22 games under the direction of Jeff Jackson, which included taking College of Charleston to the brink before losing a close 63-58 decision to the College of Charleston in the SoCon semifinals and 

The Paladins would have to replace major losses from that team a year later, including Amu Saaka, Noah States, Justin Dehm and Darryl Evans--all starters--to graduation. The Paladins still had experience with Brandon Sebirumbi, Charlie and Colin Reddick as key pillars from that team that won 20 games in a season for the first time in 20 years.

The Paladins would claim a respectable 15-16 record in 2011-12, however, the Paladins finished just fifth in the Southern Conference’s South Division.

However, the following season would see the collective wheels run off for the Paladin basketball program once again, much the same as they had in the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, which saw the Paladins win a combined 13 games in two seasons. When the Paladins won just seven games (7-24) in 2012-13, it marked the third time if seven seasons Jackson had failed to eclipse the 10-win plateau.

Medved knew Furman’s challenges when he took the job in April of 2013, as he had coached under Larry Davis prior to Jackson’s arrival, and helped turn around a Colorado State program which had been mired in its own struggles much like the Paladin basketball program was. However, during the Larry Davis regime, the Paladins were far better and a more stable program than they were under Jackson, especially in terms of recruiting.

Medved was a major part of Furman consistently ranking in the top tier of the SoCon in recruiting classes in the early-mid 2000s, bringing in the likes of Eric Webb, Moussa Diagne, Malaye Ndoye and Quan Prowell. The 2003-04 Furman class was athletic, brash and one that was competitive every time out in the SoCon. The Paladins took eventual champion East Tennessee State to the wire in the 2004 Southern Conference Tournament Quarterfinals before losing, 94-84.


But just two years later, Davis would leave to become an assistant at Cincinnati, while Medved, who stayed for a month as the interim coach, and then Jackson was hired from Vanderbilt.

Medved would move on from Furman to Colorado State in 2006, serving first under Tim Miles and then under Larry Eustachy, helping the Rams to four-straight postseason tournament appearances from 2010-13, helping the Rams to the NIT in 2010 and ‘11 and the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and ‘13.

Looking Back At 2013-14:


In Medved’s first season, the Paladins would finish with a 9-21 overall mark and a 3-15 mark in Southern Conference play.

Although it was just two more wins than Jackson’s final season, there was a more positive enthusiasm about the program in the one season under Medved’s leadership than the final season under Jackson.

Though Medved’s first season as a collegite coach saw the Paladins win just nine games, finishing 9-21 and 3-13 in Southern Conference play, which was 10th out of 11 teams in the SoCon. But the Paladins were young during the 2013-14 season, with only one senior, in Charlie Reddick (6.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG), who battled injuries for much of his final two seasons as a Paladin.

More importantly, the team regained its confidence, and though it seems on the surface that 2013-14 was a disappointment with only nine overall wins and three league wins, history will likely tell a different tale, as it will be looked back upon as a pivotal season during the Medved regime, which saw Furman lay the foundation for future SoCon regular-season and tournament titles, and competing among the elite in the SoCon on a regular basis.

Not since the Butch Estes era has Furman had that type of consistency, but now with the league no longer being divided into divisions, with Furman easily in the tougher of the two league divisions, which also featured Davidson, Wofford and College of Charleston, who were two consistent competitiors for league regular-season and conference titles with each passing season.

Furman would show signs of improvement under Medved from the outset, with an early home win over Big South member Gardner-Webb, posting a 75-64 win over a team that had won 21 games, which included an appearance in the CIT a year earlier.

The Paladins showed plenty of improvement in an early-season matchup at Timmons Arena against a team that made the “Sweet Sixteen” in 2013, as the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, who returned four players from that remarkable team, came to Timmons Arena for an early-season matchup, and after leading most of the game, the Paladins would drop a heartbreaking 70-69 decision to the Atlantic Sun tournament reigning champs. A pair of Brett Comer free throws with 5.2 seconds remaining to help FGCU claim the road win.

After leading 67-63 with 2:35 remaining, Chase Fieler’s lay-up and free throw and a Jamail Jones lay-up helped the Eagles on a mini 5-0 run, and with 60 seconds to play, the Eagles had their first lead (68-67) since the 13:41 mark of the opening half of play. FGCU’s experience would serve them well in crunch time, and they were able to escape Greenville with the win.

Stephen Croone’s 30-point effort would help lead the way in the victory, and it would be the start of a sensational sophomore campaign for the Covington, GA product.

The non-conference slate would get much more challenging, however, including games at two of the nation’s top defensive teams, in Clemson (L, 71-35) and California (L, 90-60), while also facing ACC member Virginia Tech (L, 75-54) and former SoCon and new CAA member College of Charleston (L, 89-55).

The Paladins ran into one of the nation’s top freshman players, in Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year Jon Severe, on a night when Fordham (L, 79-48) experienced one of its best shooting nights of what turned out to be just a 10-win campaign for the Rams last season.

The Paladins would pick up their lone road wins of the non-conference road slate in 2013-14 in victories at UC Davis (W, 75-65) and Presbyterian (W, 74-59).

Then, just prior to Christmas, the Paladins faced the Liberty Flames on Dec. 20, 2013, and it would be a night in which Croone scorched the nets for 40 points to go with 11 boards finishing with one of the best scoring nights in Paladin basketball recent history.

It was the best individual scoring performance in a game since Feb. 5, 1972, when Roy Simpson went for 45 points against East Carolina. Croone connected on 11-of-16 shots from the field and was 13-for-21 at the charity stripe.

The Paladins posted just three wins in Southern Conference play, posting victories against  Appalachian State (68-53) and The Citadel at Timmons Arena (W, ), while the lone road league win came at McAlister Field House, as the Paladins downed The Citadel (W, 76-71).

The win over the Bulldogs would see Croone rise over 6-8 Citadel forward for a one-handed monster dunk to provide one of the more memorable highlights in the recent history of Paladin basketball. It was not the first time a Citadel player had been posterized by a Paladin dunk, as on 1996 Andre Kerr followed up a missed shot inside the final minute, taking the ball from the air and jamming back with two hands over The Citadel seven-foot Russian center Kiril Misuychenko at Memorial Auditorium to secure a 68-67 win for the Paladins.


Furman’s season would come to an end in the opening round of the Southern Conference Tournament, as the Paladins, who entered the tournament as the No. 11 seed, would bow out of the tournament with a loss to No. 7 seed Georgia Southern claimed a 65-50 win over the Paladins in the opening round of the tournament at Timmons Arena.

The Paladin Backcourt:

The 2013-14 would see point guard Stephen Croone come into his own as a player and a scorer for the Paladins, and though he had a strong season as a freshman in 2012-13, averaging 9.9 PPG and 4.0 APG, his sophomore season would be sensational, averaging 19.1 PPG, which ranked him second in the league in scoring.

With Georgia Southern’s Jelani Hewitt, who was the only player that averaged a higher scoring average than Croone, at 19.4 PPG, having moved on to the Sun Belt Conference, Croone returns as the SoCon’s leading scorer. Croone added 4.4 rebounds-per-game and 3.7 assists-per-game.

Croone would finish the 2013-14 season by scoring in double figures in 29 of 30 games for the Paladins this past season, with the only team to hold Croone to less than double figures in scoring this season being Clemson, who limited the sophomore guard to nine points in a non-conference game early on in the season. He scored 20 or points in 15 games in 2013-14.

Croone also got it done on the defensive end of the floor, too, as he was able to finish the 2013-14 season ranking second in the Southern Conference in steals, finishing the season tied with Western Carolina’s James Sinclair in steals-per-game, averaging 1.7 steals-per-contest. All that being said, the conference’s most talented player might reside in Greenville, S.C. in 2014-15.

Furman could have even been more talented and deep in the backcourt, however, Jordan Loyd, who was plagued by back and knee problems eventually decided to transfer to the University of Indianapolis in the spring after red-shirting the 2013-14 season.

Croone will be in good company in the Paladin backcourt this season, however, returning William Gates, Jr. (8.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG). Gates Jr. is famously known for his father, who starred in Hoop Dreams and would go on to become a great collegiate player at Marquette.

Gates, Jr. was impressive in an early-season win against Gardner-Webb, posting a career-high 18 points off the bench, helping the Paladins to an impressive win. It would be the first of four-straight double figure games for Gates, Jr. Gates, Jr. shot the ball extremely well from three as a freshman, leading the team and ranking first on the team, connecting on 42% (26-of-62) from three-point range last.

The Paladins’ top perimeter shooter last season was rising junior Larry Wideman (9.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG), as the Loris, S.C., product ranked third on the team in scoring, with his 47 triples leading the club.

Wideman now has 89 triples in his first two seasons with the Paladin basketball program. Wideman would enjoy his best game of the season against Sewanee in the season opener, netting a career-high 25 points, including going 5-for-9 from three, in the opener, while following that up with a 24-point effort in the win over Brevard.

His top performance against a Division I foe was a 21-point night against Presbyterian in a 74-59 road win. Those were just three of what turned out to be 11 double-figure scoring peformances for the 6-4 wing guard last season.

Rounding out the veteran returnees in the backcourt is senior Aaron O’Neill (1.4 PPG, 42.7% from 3pt range)and the native of Cincinnati, OH walked on three years ago and became an integral part of the Paladin basketball team last season, as he added depth at the point guard position. 

During his junior season of 2013-14, O’Neill registered 11 starts and saw action in 25 games, posting a career-high nine points in an 89-72 win over Brevard last season.

Several newcomers will figure into the rotation in the backcourt, with Daniel Fowler, John Davis III and Devin Sibley expected to see plenty of action in the lineup.

Fowler, a 6-4, 195-lb wing, comes to Furman from Allatoona High School in Acworth, GA, where he was a solid all-around player for head coach Markus Hood.

Fowler could be quite an impact player in the backcourt performer for the Paladins in the upcoming season, as he was a 5A All-State selection and ranked No. 13 in Georgia’s 2014 senior class by HoopSeen.com, averaging 17.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 4.1 assists-per-game. He did that all while leading Allatoona to am impressive 29-2 record as a senior.

Davis III comes to Furman from Beechwood High School in Beechwood, OhIo where he was instrumental in leading the Bison to a Chagrin Valley Conference title and Associated Press No. 1 ranking in Division III during the season. He was named Chagrin Valley Conference Player of the Year and was a three-time all-league performer.


As a senior, he was named the Ohio Division III Player of the Year, and he finished his prep career as Beechwood’s all-time leading scorer, posting a career total of 1,785 points.

Sibley comes to Furman from Knoxville, Tenn, where he was a star guard at Karns High School. The 6-2, 175-lb guard could score points in bunches, averaging 25.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG and 3.0 APG as he led Karns High School to a 23-7 record and a playoff appearance as a senior. The Tennessee Sports Association named Sibley All-State to the All-State team, while he also garnered all-region and was named the 3-AAA Player of the Year.


Medved added a number of athletic scorers and excellent perimeter shooters to the backcourt, with Fowler figuring to be the most versatile of the bunch, while both Sibley and Davis III are excellent perimeter shooters and play with poise, and like Fowler, are also good leapers.
 
The Paladin Front Court:

If there has been a deficiency the last couple of seasons, its been the front court, as the Paladins have had to develop young post performers into being proficient Southern Conference big men in a league that seemingly had some of mid-major college basketball’s best in 2013-14, in Chattanooga’s Z. Mason and Davidson’s De’Mon Brooks.

Medved hopes that with two years under his belt in the league now under his belt as a starter, Kendrec Ferrara (9.8 PPG, 4.9 RPG) will now develop into a dominating big man in much the same way that Mason and Brooks were last season for their respective programs.

Ferrara enjoyed a career-high night against The Citadel, posting 27 points in one of the three road wins for Furman this past season. Ferrara finished an impressive 12-of-17 from the field in that contest, helping Furman to its first of two league wins over The Citadel in 2013-14.


Furman had two players ranked two players ranked in the Top 10 in blocked shots last season, including Ferrara, who averaged 0.9 BPG and posted 27 blocks for the season to finish ranked seventh the in the league. However, the other part of that shot-blocking duo--freshman forward Adonis Rwabigwi, who ranked tied for fifth in the league in blocks (24 blocks in 24 games played, 1.0 BPG)--has transferred.

Despite coming on and becoming a scoring threat in the latter part of the season, Rwabigwi could not stay out of foul trouble, proving costly to a team that lacked depth overall in the front court last season.

There is good news, however, as Kris Acox (3.7 PPG, 4.8 RPG)--an athletic presence on the floor along with possessing a tenacious work ethic--was beginning to come into his own in his first season with the Paladins when his season ended abruptly due to a broken foot suffered just after the start of conference play on Jan. 11, forcing the 6-6 forward from Iceland to the sidelines for the remainder of the season. For what Acox lacks in size in the post, he will make up for in sheer effort and atheticism.

The final returning regular in the front court for the Paladins heading into the 2014-15 season is 6-8 power forward Kevin Chuisseu (0.9 PPG, 1.2 RPG). Chuisseu was extremely raw last season, but is a good athlete. With the loss of Rwabigwi, however, Chuisseu and Ferrara are the only players on the Paladin roster taller than 6-6.

The Paladins have some solid newcomers in the front court, beginning with 6-8 forward Isaiah Watkins, who came to Furman from Duquesne, and he will have three years of eligibility remaining but must sit out the 2014-15 season due to NCAA transfer requirements. Prior to signing with Duquesne in 2012, Watkins was rated as a three-star recruit coming out of high school, according to Rivals.com. 

The best signee of the newcomers underneath and a player that could see the see some significant time underneath this season could be 6-7 freshman forward Geoff Beans, who has been busy hitting the weights in order to get his body in physical shape to be able to bang underneath with Division I college talent in 2014-15.

The 210-lb Beans comes to Furman from Toledo, OH, joining Fowler as a pair of recruits coming to Furman from the Buckeye State. Beans played his prep basketball at Ottawa Hills High School where helped guide the program to a TAAC title, district title and 22-2 record in his final season.

Beans will remind Furman fans of some of the Davidson post players of the past when it comes to his versatility, as he can be a physical presence underneath, as well as possessing the ability to step out and hit the perimeter shot, having connected on 45% (47-of-104) from beyond the arc in his junior season of 2012-13. As a senior, Beans averaged 17.6 PPG and 4.5 RPG.

The Schedule:

The Paladins will play an attractive basketball schedule in 2014-15, as the Paladins will face a pair of former Southern Conference foes, in College of Charleston (Nov. 14) and Appalachian State (Nov. 19) in the early portion of the schedule, with both the Cougars and Mountaineers coming to Timmons Arena. UC Davis, a team that the Paladins recorded one of their three road wins against last season, with a 75-65 win on Dec. 30 of last season, makes the return trip to Timmons Arena on Nov. 22, rounding out what is an early three-game homestand.

The Paladins will also play on the road at three major programs, with road trips to Duke (Nov. 26), TCU (Dec. 9) and Minnesota (Dec. 22). The Paladins will open Southern Conference play on Dec. 19, with a trip to Fort Myers, FL, to battle Florida Gulf-Coast in a key battle with a top-tier Atlantic Sun program.

Dunk City, as they’re affectionately known, of course made that historic run to the Sweet Sixteen two years ago and last year the high-flying Eagles qualified for the NIT after winning the regular-season Atlantic Sun crown before ending the season at 22-13 after a 58-53 loss to Florida State. The Paladins were able to hang with the perennial A-Sun power, leading most of the way before Joe Dooley’ s club was able to escape Greenville with a 70-69 win. The Paladins and Eagles will square off at Alico Arena on Dec. 19.

Final Prediction:

What can we expect from Niko Medved’s second season in charge of the Furman basketball program? Well, for one thing, an improvement in offense. The Paladins struggled to score last season, averaging a league low 65.2 PPG and the Paladins ranked in the middle of the pack in field goal percentage, posting a 46.1% clip last season.

With additions of Daniel Fowler, John Davis III and Devin Sibley in the backcourt will make things a little easier on Stephen Croone this season, and should also improve Furman’s perimeter threats, as the Paladins will also looked to improve on their eighth-place ranking in the league in three-pointers made (196 /5.5 PG) last season, and with both Sibley, Fowler and Davis III all being dynamic scorers for multiple areas on the floor, the Paladins should at least be more versatile and athletic as a team in 2014-15.

The biggest concern is the lack of size for a team that was already one of the smaller teams in the SoCon last season. The Paladins must find a way to get to the boards on both ends of the floor this season, coming off a campaign which saw the Paladins rank second-to-last in rebounding margin (-3.3), with The Citadel being the only team to rank lower in that category.

It’s hard to say what Furman’s improvement will equate to in terms of a win total for the upcoming campaign, however, if I were to guess at such a total, I would say the Paladins will win 13-15 games in 2014-15, and the 2015-16 season should see the Paladins competing for the conference title once again.

Monday, October 27, 2014

SoCon Previews

UNCG
Furman
Western Carolina
VMI
Chattanooga
ETSU
Samford
The Citadel
Mercer
Wofford

UNCG Preview: Time to Make a Move

For the next two weeks, the bloggers from Scanning the SoCon will preview their team, one each day. Today, DashSpartan at SpartanFanNation.net previews the Spartans.

UNCG will start the 2014-2015 season with a roster in transition. For the second straight season the  Spartans were hit with the news that their best returning player was turning pro. Last year, Trevis Simpson left a year early. This year all-conference forward Kyle Cain left school to start his pro career. Guard Jordan Potts, forward Tyrone Outlaw and reigning rookie of the year Tevon Saddler all announced this spring they would be looking for new places to play. Potts (Bethune-Cookman) and Outlaw (JUCO/Lee College) found landing spots. Saddler flirted with a couple of programs (mainly Butler and Temple) but decided he wanted to come back and play for Wes Miller in Greensboro. That was big news for a roster that was looking to be a little thin at the guard position. Now with Saddler back, a manageable schedule and formidable (though mostly untested) front line the Spartans are looking to make a move in the new look SoCon.

The Spartans (14-18, 7-9 SoCon) are returning 3 of their top 4 scorers from last season. In addition to Saddler (12.5 ppg), junior forward Kayel Locke (11.6 ppg & 4.4 rpg) and senior sharpshooter Nicholas Paulos (8.5 ppg & 69 made 3's last season) will be back on the court. Paulos has shown the ability to get very hot from behind the arc. Last season he went 9-9 in a home game against Davidson. During his sophomore season he went 10-12 from three point range at Chattanooga (including making 6 straight on 6 consecutive possessions). Locke started 31 games and scored in double figures in 21 of those games. He is an above average rebounder for his size and is good at getting to the line. His shot selection can be "sketchy" at times though. Coach Miller will also be looking for continued growth from Sophomore big man RJ White. White really came to life during the last few weeks of 2013-2014 season when he averaged scoring 14.6 points in trips to Davidson, Wofford and the SoCon tournament. In a league that really doesn't have a dominant post player, the Spartans would love to see White take that next big step forward in development.

The new guys at UNCG are being led by junior transfer Ben Dickinson (F 6'9" 230 lbs/Alexandria, VA). Dickinson transferred in from Loyola Marymount after transferring there from Binghamton. He averaged 13.5 ppg & 6.1 rpg while earning all-America East Rookie honors at Binghamton. There seems to have been some internal team issues this past season at LMU that caused Dickinson to look for a new school. Based on some tweets from his old high school coach, Dickinson has received a waiver from the NCAA to be eligible to play right away. Also new to the team is JUCO transfer Nik Brown (G 6'3" 200 lbs/Washington, DC). Brown started his career with Longwood (9.7 ppg & 3.6 APG with 17 starts) before moving on to Brunswick CC. He seemed destined to play at UNCW until Buzz Petereson was let go. Brown had some turnover issues at Longwood and comes to a team that already has plenty of those issues to go around. He will need to cut down on the turnovers to really have a productive season at UNCG.

CJ Coleman (G 6'3" 180 lbs/Indianapolis, IN), Lloyd Burgess (C 6'11" 270/Durham, NC), Marvin Smith (G/F 6'6" 190 lbs/Richmond, VA) and Garrett Collins (G 6'5" 185 lbs/Asheville, NC) are the new freshmen for UNCG. Coleman appears to be the one in position to see the most playing time. However, he missed most of his senior season with a foot injury and still appears to be coping with some of the effects from it. Burgess has a huge frame and wingspan. However, with the depth that the Spartans have at his position it may be another year before he sees some serious court time.  Smith is an athletic wing that calls up memories of recent UNCG wings Tyrone Outlaw and Trevis Simpson. Collins has the look of a younger version of Nicholas Paulos. It may take a season in the weight room before he appears on the court for UNCG though.

The biggest change from seasons past for UNCG is the schedule. Gone are the days of playing the entire ACC at the Greensboro Coliseum and getting their heads beat in. The schedule does offer a home contest against North Carolina and a road trip to Bloomington to play the Hoosiers. However, mixed in are games against local schools like Elon, UNCW, ECU, High Point and Presbyterian. Add in three non-D1 games plus a trip to Eastern Michigan to play in a tournament that features mid major schools (Longwood, Youngstown State and EMU) and you find a schedule that looks to give the Spartans a favorable chance at finally get back above 0.500 this season.

All-in-all this feels a lot like a 16-17 win season and a top 6 SoCon finish. This team is very thin and fragile in the backcourt. During the preseason scrimmage, CJ Coleman and Nik Brown didn't even dress out. If that happens in the regular season, UNCG will be playing a combination of freshmen, sophomores and walk-ons at guard. That is not a recipe for winning. However, the strength for UNCG will be the size that it can run out at their opponents. In a league the features very little in the way of returning stars at the forward and center positions, that could be enough to grind out quite a few wins.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

SoCon Preview

It's that time of year again.

It's time to start previewing the SoCon teams, one at time from insiders of those schools programs. Each day, starting tomorrow for the next two weeks, one SoCon school will be previewed each day.

The quest for the SoCon championship has been well underway on this blog for a while now, but it gets underway in earnest tomorrow with the team previews. This is the time of year you've been waiting for.

We have three new teams this year and also lost four teams in the SoCon. This is going to be a very interesting season in the conference. With the SoCon Digital Network, all of the changes in the conference, some new connections for this blog, there is a lot to look forward to this year.

Here is the schedule for each of the SoCon teams:

October 27- UNCG
October 28- Furman
October 29- Western Carolina
October 30- VMI
October 31- Chattanooga
November 3- ETSU
November 4- Samford
November 5- The Citadel
November 6- Mercer
November 7- Wofford

It will of course end with the Scanning the SoCon season preview. I hope you all enjoy it. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: Lipscomb

The Mocs final out of conference game of the season is against Lipscomb. It is also the Mocs first game after the holidays. It will also be their third game of the season against the Atlantic Sun, and quite possibly the best team the Mocs will have played from the conference.

Lipscomb was picked second by the media and third by the coaches in the Atlantic Sun preseason polls. After winning eight of their final ten games a year ago in conference play, the Bison have earned a lot of respect in the last nine months.

Martin Smith is the leading returning scorer in the league and a Preseason All A-Sun pick. At 6-5, he is not a huge player, but he is one of the best players in the conference. His twin, Malcolm Smith, finished third on the team in scoring and second in rebounding a year ago. These two twins certainly pack a punch for the Bison. The Bison's other All A-Sun selection is JC Hampton. He is one of the top three point shooters in the conference.

Where will Chad Lang fit into the mix this year? He is the biggest player in the league at 6-11 and 310 pounds. The Belmont transfer did not see a ton of playing time for the Bruins but will be expected to play minutes for the Bison.

This will be a very interesting team this year. The Bison have some inside presence, some shooting presence and appear to be an overall good team. This is a tricky tough out of conference game. The Bison do not have the name value that a lot of other teams on the Mocs schedule have, but they could end up being one of the better teams.

Lipscomb goes to Vanderbilt, Colorado and Texas early in the season, then Missouri just after playing the Mocs. That will challenge this team. On top of that, they will play Austin Peay and Belmont twice, not to mention Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State. This is a team that plays virtually any team that would agree to play them in the state of Tennessee. That is eight of their fifteen non-conference games against D1 teams against in-state teams. Very impressive.

The Mocs used to play the Dr Pepper Classic at this time of year and it used to be the time of year that they would start to show if they were going to get hot or not. This game against Lipscomb could indicate similar things. The Mocs will be trying to get some positive momentum rolling into SoCon play that starts just after New Year's. This will be an important contest for the Mocs.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Know the Mocs Opponents: UAB

The Mocs will battle UAB just three days after playing Middle Tennessee. It will be another opponent from Conference USA and this one will be in McKenzie Arena and televised on the American Sports Network. This is the second biggest out of conference home game of the year for the Mocs, only behind Georgia. This is a game that the Mocs would certainly like to win before the holidays. After this game, there will just be one game left before the start of SoCon play (other than the game against The Citadel in early December).

The Blazers started off well last year, beating North Carolina. Then they fell on hard times, wound up just 7-9 in CUSA play and were generally a disappointment. But the Blazers have a high level of excitement surrounding the program after signing two of the best players in the state of Alabama in recruiting- William Lee and Lewis Sullivan. Lee is 6-9 and Sullivan is 6-7. The two forwards should be solid performers for the Blazers.

CJ Washington is a preseason All Conference USA player. He is a 6-8 senior. He was the Blazers second leading scorer a year ago with 13.0  points per game and also collected 6.9 rebounds per contest. Washington will be a key component to this year's team. Combine him with Lee and Sullivan, and the frontcourt will be a potentially dominant force for the Blazers this season.

Chad Frazier was dismissed from the team over the summer. He was expected to be the starting point guard. He has left a major void. There are three main players trying to win that spot. Nick Norton is a true freshman who started on the overseas trip and appeared to take control of the team. Denzel Watts played fifteen minutes a game last year. He was injured on the overseas trip, so the Blazers may be expected to play him. Denzel Collins has one year of eligibility remaining, but is a senior transfer and is expected to be a solid contributor. Hakeem Baxter is a big time scoring transfer from Maryland-Eastern Shore who may play some at point guard as well.

The Blazers will challenge the Mocs with their size down low, but with no experienced point guard, the Mocs may be able to present some challenges to UAB as well. They are also competing in the Battle 4 Atlantis event, but in the one where they actually go to the Bahamas. They will play Wisconsin in their opener down there.

This will be the Blazers first true road game of the year. They will play three games in the Bahamas, but their other eight games will all be at home. That could make for an interesting night in Chattanooga, especially if a big crowd turns out for the Mocs home game. The crowd will depend largely on how the Mocs are playing at that point in the season. This is going to be a tough game to win, but the Mocs can certainly make a battle of it.