Tuesday, June 4, 2013

News & Notes- The SoCon Realignment Edition

So many news and notes to get to. Where do we even begin? Tomorrow we'll hit on the recruits added and the coaching staff.

Let's do some bullet points with some long analysis.

--Elon, Davidson, Appalachian State, and Georgia Southern have all joined College of Charleston in leaving the SoCon. Elon is joining the Cougars in going to the CAA. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern are going to the Sun Belt. Davidson is going to the Atlantic 10. What does it all mean?

From a men's basketball perspective (which, let's face it, is what I care most about on this blog), it's bad, but not as bad as you might think. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern were mediocre at basketball at best. The Eagles have been average to below average most years in basketball, even by SoCon standards. Appalachian State has been a middle of the road program for most of their existence. Elon has recently gotten good, but they have below average facilities, and have only advanced to one SoCon Tournament Championship Game (that I can think of off the top of my head).

Davidson and College of Charleston hurt. No questions asked. The Cougars have not won a SoCon Tournament except for once in their time in the league, but they were a quality program, that drew national attention because of what John Kresse had done at the school and Bobby Cremins time at the school, not to mention the "destination location" of the school. Davidson has been the most successful school nationally in the SoCon for the past decade.

That being said, Chattanooga has been down for much of the time the Cougars have been in the SoCon. There is reason to believe (and hope) that with Wade taking over the program, maybe the Mocs are ready to jump back to being a leader of the SoCon, and replacing either Davidson or College of Charleston as a program that draws national attention. If they do that, then the conference needs one more team to step up and join them to replace Davidson and College of Charleston as a consistent team near the top. Truthfully, it seems logical to me that UNCG or Wofford would be that team from the current members. Wofford is a private institution like Davidson, and has had moderate success nationally in recent years, reaching the NCAA Tournament twice and being competitive in both NCAA Tournament games. UNCG is in a major city, play a very strong out of conference schedule, and would be a nice program to get going. Samford? Furman? The Citadel? Western Carolina? Any of those would be OK, but probably would not carry the national cache of either of the other two. Samford is in Birmingham, and they are not a bad option. Furman and The Citadel don't seem like they are ready to make that leap at the moment. Western Carolina I would not mind being strong, but I'm curious if they would carry the national cache. Of course, Wofford's two NCAA Tournaments rose them to the level where I think they could, so any of these teams can get there with a couple of NCAA Tournament appearances. With Davidson (and the others) out of the picture, there is room for anyone to win the SoCon...and anyone to make that leap.

--But what of the new schools joining? ETSU, Mercer, and VMI have all formally accepted invitations to join the SoCon. They will join beginning in the 2014-15 season. What do I think about these teams joining?

I think VMI is fun to watch with their exciting offense. Watching VMI's up and down offense against the Mocs Chaos defense could be a lot of fun in years to come. But all in all, VMI does not bring a ton to the table in the SoCon men's basketball. I'm not sure they really make the SoCon a better conference. They do not hurt the conference, though. They are fine. They also provide a very nice rivalry for The Citadel, who is losing their in-city rivalry with College of Charleston.

ETSU can be a very good addition. They were not a particularly good team last year. Over the last eleven seasons, they have been to the NCAA Tournament four times. In the eight years away from the SoCon, they won the Atlantic Sun twice. They will provide a tremendous rivalry instantly for the Mocs- someone for the Mocs to hate again in the SoCon. Personally, I love ETSU coming back, and think that it does provide some bonus for the SoCon. I think that they CAN join the Mocs atop the SoCon again, and could be the second team, if the Mocs are the first.

Mercer is on the rise. They split with Florida Gulf Coast during the regular season before losing to them in the Atlantic Sun Championship Game. The Bears actually finished ahead of FGCU in the Atlantic Sun regular season by one game. That's the same team that went to the Sweet Sixteen as America's sweethearts for this year. Mercer has not been to the tournament since 1985, but won 24 games last year, and won 26 games in 2011-2012. This is a program on the rise. They are also capable of moving to the top of the SoCon.

--All in all, the SoCon movement has left me feeling like this- it's going to leave the SoCon a little bit down. But I don't think it will be down for the long haul. I think on the whole, if Furman and Chattanooga with their new coaching staffs improve, if ETSU and Mercer bring what I think they can bring to the conference, if Samford continues to improve, and if Wofford can build off of their two NCAA tournament appearances, then this SoCon will be better than last year's. Now, it would be hard to be worse than last year's SoCon. But getting the conference RPI back up into the Top 25 would be good. I think the SoCon can do that with these members. We'll see in history if I'm right or wrong.

Am I too optimistic about the Mocs chances? Few schools care as much about basketball as Chattanooga in the new SoCon. No team has as much tradition as Chattanooga. That makes Chattanooga the prime candidate to step up and take the lead in the new SoCon. Someone has to. The SoCon needs them to. Could someone other than the Mocs do that? Sure. But tradition, fan base, and facilities make Chattanooga the most likely candidate.

I'm sure every other school is saying similar things, though.

It's an interesting time in the SoCon. I'm glad to be along for the ride.

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