Thursday, October 31, 2013

Furman Preview: Medved to the Rescue

By SoCon John

Furman posted the league’s worst overall record last season, winning just seven games (7-24) and just 3-15 in league play, which placed the Paladins at the bottom of the South Division. That led to the dismissal of Jeff Jackson after seven seasons, and now at the helm is Niko Medved. Medved comes back to Furman, where he served two separate stints under Jackson’s predecessor, Larry Davis, as an assistant.

Medved was an integral part of Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament club last season, which won 26 games and was the No. 8 seed in West region, helping the Rams to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments under two different head coaches, in Tim Miles and Larry Eustachy.

After serving as the Paladins’ recruiting coordinator in his previous stint, bringing in talents such as Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball Eric Webb in 2003, Medved has a knack for finding the kind of talent that could make Furman a factor once again on the SoCon basketball scene. At Colorado State, Medved was in charge of the Rams’ motion offense, and that will be something he will look to implement this season, with the luxury of four returning starters from a year ago. The only loss the Paladins suffered as a result of graduation is Colin Reddick underneath, and he led the Paladins averaging 12.6 PPG and 6.2 RPG last season.

Medved admits to being happy to be back at his old stomping grounds, and Greenville is an important place to him, having met his wife, the former Erica Nessleroad, who was a softball player at Furman in Medved’s previous tenure in Greenville.

“Greenville is a very special place for me and I some many fond memories of it, and I met my wife there and she’s a Furman graduate, and we love Greenville and love the university, so coming back is pretty neat and I think we have a lot of pieces in place to really build something great there, Medved said.”

Those pieces include players like senior guard Charlie Reddick (9.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG)--Colin’s younger brother--sophomore guards Stephen Croone (9.9 PPG, 4.0 APG, 38 steals) and Larry Wideman (7.9 PPG, 1.9 RPG), and sophomore forward Kendrec Ferrara (6.9 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 30 Blks).

Those building blocks have been trying to get down the new terminology, and learn a completely different offensive mindset, as opposed to the more Princeton-style approach the Paladins utilized under Jackson.

“Like everything else, change is difficult and change because you have a change in terminology, your system, your expectations and whatever for kids and they’ve bought in, but we still have a ways to go as far as implementing and we obviously have to look at it and tweak and will we look the same as we have looked the last couple years at Colorado State, well no, but we’ll continue to get there.”

One of the biggest missing pieces in the lineup and a guy the that had been groomed to take over the point guard duties last year was Jordan Loyd (6.0 PPG, 3.4 RPG), but an early-season knee injury ended his season after just two games. Loyd is now battling a new injury, which he also battled as a freshman two years ago, and that is a back injury and surgery could once again be on the horizon, according to Medved, marking another unfortunate setback for the talented point guard.

Furman has some excellent additions, and much the same as the same as in the past when Medved served on Larry Davis' staff, the Paladins have reached outside borders of the United States to bring in some talent to help bolster depth. Kris Acox from Reyakjavik, Iceland and Adonis Rwagibwi from Kiglai, Rwanda both adding bulk and athleticism underneath the basket, with Rwagibwi having the chance to be one of the most athletic front court players in the SoCon, though a big unpolished.
William Gates Jr. will step in as a understudy in the backcourt after starring at Clemens High School in Dallas, TX, where he was an excellent perimeter shooter. Gates, Jr. is the son of former Marquette star William Gates Sr. who was one of the main characters in the Hoop Dreams documentary. T.K Hayes and Damien Leonard round out the newcomers in the backcourt, with Leonard transferring in from South Carolina. The local Greenville, S.C. product starred at J.L. Mann high school and is another perimeter threat at the two-guard position, although he must sit out the 2013-14 due to NCAA transfer requirements.
Furman has one of its most attractive schedules in recent memory in non-conference play, facing NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen qualifier Florida Gulf Coast in an early season clash, while also facing tough road tests at College of Charleston, Virginia Tech, Clemson, California and UC Davis before entering conference play. The Paladins start the campaign with their first four at home, including that game with the extremely athletic FGCU squad out of the Atlantic Sun. Furman will have a chance to make a statement against the Eagles, who lost top player Sherwood Brown from that squad from last season.
The Paladins face Davidson (Jan.9) and Elon (Feb. 12) in their two top home conference matchups, as the Paladins look to take strides back to respectability in the transitioning league.
With just seven wins last season, any improvement upon that in Medved's first season would be considered a plus at this point. However, Furman I do think will finish in the 8-9 range in the league this season, springing a few surprises along the way. The Paladins are a team that is hard to figure, but they are likely better than UNCG, The Citadel and Georgia Southern on paper heading into the season. Look for Furman to start putting things together come March, and though a conference tournament title might be several years away, I wouldn't be shocked if Furman won a game in Asheville once again this season.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

UNCG Preview: Push the Reset Button

By DashSpartan

At this time last year, UNCG was the trendy pick to be the contenders to the long time Davidson-controlled throne of "Best in the SoCon". They returned the SoCon leading scorer, best 6th man and had a manageable schedule. Also they had hired a new, young coach which had excited the fan base. It was going to be the Spartans year. Except that it wasn't. What transpired was an unmitigated disaster. UNCG managed just 2 non-confernce wins (Winston-Salem State & Lees-McRae). At times they seemed disinterested, lost and generally seemed to not like each other very much. Also every break or close game that went the Spartans way in their 11-5 finish to the 2011-2012 season, went the opposite way in 2012-2013. In the months following the end of the season, UNCG's roster (and maybe even the program in general) has really hit the reset button. Gone are heavy volume shooters and scorers Trevis Simpson (18.7 ppg & 15.9 FG attempts per game) and Derrell Armstrong (14.7 ppg & 11.5 FG attempts per game). Simpson decided to turn pro, while Armstrong graduated. Also graduating were "glue" guys Korey Van Dussen and Kelvin McNeil. Junior defensive stopper David Williams (1.6 steals per game) then announced he was leaving the program. Even UNCG alum and assistant coach/DoBO Kevin Oleksiak is no longer with the program. All-in-all, The Spartans lost roughly 73% of their points and 63% of their rebounds from last season. That is a lot to replace and it's easy to see why no one has picked them to finish above 8th.
UNCG does return several players with starting experience, though. Senior Drew Parker (21.9 mpg, 3.3 ppg, 2.5 apg) and sophomore Jordan Potts (16.5 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 1.3 apg) both spent time in the starting lineup. Also back is forward Kayel Locke (9.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and sharpshooter Nicholas Paulos (8 ppg & 40% 3 Pt) . Locke is looking to build off a solid freshman campaign that saw him start over half of UNCG's games. Paulos showed what he could do when he drained 10 shots from behind the arc at the Roundhouse last season. Center RJ White was given a medical redshirt and will still be listed as a freshman. White put up some big numbers when UNCG traveled to Spain this Summer. Against the Aragon Select Club Team, White had a double-double (14 pts & 14 rebs) and looked very comfortable playing with his new front court running mate Kyle Cain.
Cain is a 6'-8" transfer from Arizona State that had to sit out last season due to the transfer rules. He could be the breakout star of the SoCon this coming season. During the trip to Spain, Cain recorded double-doubles in 3 of the 4 games, including and 18 point, 11 rebound performance against the Venezuela National team. Cain, along with White and freshman European big man Jory Kuiper (6'-9" 238 lbs), figures to shore up the interior defense, which was a glaring weakness for UNCG a season ago. Along with Cain and Kuiper, Spartan fans are going to get to meet a huge group of new players this season. Wes Miller and his staff seemed to really concentrate on getting good in-state talent this season. Clay Byrd, Tyrone Outlaw and Diante Baldwin were all local targets that UNCG managed to pick up. Outlaw (6'-6" 205 lbs) is reminding everyone of Trevis Simpson with his athleticism. The Spartans went north the Baltimore/DC area to find a highly sought after wing player in Tevon Saddler. They also brought in Allen Baez (Miami, FL) and JUCO transfer Modestas Masilionis. Masilionis was 2nd in NJCAA in 3 point shooting percentage (52%) last year.
In case you lost count, that's 8 new faces that will be trying to work their way into the rotation and develop chemistry with each other. UNCG has scheduled accordingly. The Spartans will face 3 non-D1 teams in its first 9 games. They also get home games with Big South favorite High Point, CIT winner East Carolina and a neutral site match up with NCAA sleeper pick LA Tech. The LA Tech game is the first game of three that Wes Miller's squad will play in Naples, Florida as part of the Gulf Coast Showcase Tournament. The tournament features a lot of mid-major teams that the Spartans should match up well against. As always, UNCG has scheduled 4 ACC teams. The young NC State team is coming to the Greensboro Coliseum, but UNCG will travel to UNC-Chapel Hill, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. The schedule does seem much more manageable then in seasons past. But I said that last year too and we all know how that turned out.
At this point, it's very hard to make any solid predictions for the 2013-2014 season. I think most realistic UNCG fans would be excited to see the team finish around the 0.500 mark and I think that's an obtainable goal. However, UNCG has struggled for the last 5 years to win out of conference games against D1 teams. It's hard to imagine that they can get to 0.500 without getting some of those wins. With High Point, ECU, Presbyterian and James Madison all making visits to the Greeensboro Coliseum, there are opportunities to get those wins. There is a very real chance that 4 freshmen could be on the floor at the same time for the Spartans. To me, that means no one will see the best of the UNCG basketball team until January and February. But with so many freshmen, the worst case scenario would be to see the young guys start to lose confidence if things don't go well right out of the gate.
I wish I could write this article and happily say that UNCG will finish with 17 wins, but I honestly think the total will be in the 12-14 win range. I can see the Spartans finishing in the 6-8 range of the SoCon and if that happens I believe we could call that a success. I am sure some in our fan base would expect more, but with all of the new faces it's just too hard to guess what kind of product we'll see on the court. But I am excited to see this newly "reset" UNCG program on the court again soon.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Davidson Preview: One More Run

By David Sink
Returning Faces
Everyone around the league is familiar with De'Mon Brooks, Chris Czerapowicz, Tom Droney, and Tyler Kalinoski. Also returning are senior Clay Tormey, junior Ali Mackay, and sophomores Jordan Barham, Jake Belford, and Connor Perkey. The Wildcats lost Jake Cohen, Clint Mann, Nik Cochran, and JP Kuhlman to graduation, Mason Archie to transfer, and Youssef Mejri. Those four seniors scored well over 4000 points. They'll be missed. But the Wildcats return 6 of their top 10 scorers, 3 of their top 4 rebounders, and their leading assist to turnover guy. Brooks, Czerapowicz, Droney, and Kalinoski have all started games for Davidson.

New Faces
The Wildcats welcome a freshman walk-on, Manu Giamoukis, two seniors who have been team managers for their first three years, Ryan Ansel and Will Thoni, three scholarship freshmen, Joe Aase, Andrew McAuliffe, and Jack Gibbs, and a transfer sophomore, Brian Sullivan. Sullivan comes to the Wildcats from Miami University where he was a member of the MAC all-freshman team. He shot 45% on 3s that season, including an 8-10 game against Vandy and a 6-9 game against Western Michigan. Wildcat fans report that he's torched the nets this summer and in early practices. He can really shoot the ball. But he does a lot of other thing well, too. He's a quick and capable defender and solid ball-handler. The same things can be said of Jack Gibbs. He's a strongly built point guard who can shoot, distribute, and defend. Aase and McAuliffe are both 6'8. They'll both have opportunities to contribute. Some observers think that McAuliffe will be a starter this season.

The schedule is full of opportunity. At Duke, UNC, Charlotte, and Wichita State. Georgia and two other opponents at the Charleston tournament. Home for Virginia, CofC, and Drexel. Also games against Stetson, Niagara, and UWM. And, finally, a 16-game Southern Conference schedule.

Best case/Worst case
The best case is that Davidson does well in the OOC season, rolls the Southern for a third consecutive championship, and celebrates Bob McKillop's 25th season with a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Barring injuries, I think the worst case scenario is that Davidson's confidence is destroyed by the tough OOC schedule, that the team finishes around .500 in the conference, and we limp out of the Southern.

Check out my worst case scenario again. It ain't happening. The coaches and the media both predict that Davidson will finish second to Elon. I'm not buying it. This Davidson team will be very exciting to watch. They have the depth and quality of personnel to play with any team on the schedule and should win the Southern Conference for the third straight year. NCAA rule changes to protect the ball-handler and help the scoring should benefit the Wildcats. They led the nation in free throw shooting last season at 79.5% and should be excellent free throw shooters again. My prediction is that this group of Wildcats will cut down the nets in Asheville and win at least one game in the Big Dance.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Western Carolina Preview: What A Difference A Year Makes

This year in Cullowhee, expectations are high for this veteran team contending for a conference championship and the first trip back to the NCAA Playoff since 1996.  

The Catamounts were recently selected third, behind both Elon and Davidson in the coaches and media polls for the 2013-14 season.   

“Our seniors are very hungry,” Catamount head coach Larry Hunter explained.  “They realize this is their last go around, and they really haven’t left a legacy here to remember themselves by.  These guys understand that, and you can see that in the way they worked in the off-season.”

Western Carolina finished 9-9 in SoCon play (14-19 overall) last season, losing a total of 6 games by 4 or less points.

“I think it was just the nature of our team. We were more inexperienced and didn’t have any seniors a year ago,” Hunter told NBC Sports.  

But a lack of seniors will not be a problem for the Catamounts this season.

Returning Players

Under ninth year head coach Larry Hunter, the Catamounts return five seniors to this years team – Brandon Boggs (guard), Tawaski King (forward), Josh Mendenhall (forward), Trey Sumler (guard) and Tom Tankelewicz (guard).  This group of seniors is expected to provide the veteran leadership that was lacking from last season’s team, void of any seniors. 

 “I like this team.  We have five seniors, and perimeter-wise, this is one of the better groups I’ve had in my coaching career,” Hunter said at the preseason tip-off event in Asheville.  “We’re legitimately two deep at all three perimeter positions, and all of them could start, and they all might depending on who is playing well.”

This year’s Catamount team also returns all five starters from last season, including player of the year candidate, senior Trey Sumler.   Sumler was an all-conference selection last season averaging 18.4 points per game (second in the SoCon), scored in double figures 29 times, while averaging  nearly 38 minutes per game. 

Sumler will be joined in the backcourt by senior guard Tom Tankelewicz, one of the conference's better shooters from behind the arch (80 3-pointers), and senior guard Brandon Boggs (10.3 ppg) who made 22 starts last season.  Senior forward Tawaski King (11 ppg, 6.3 rebounds pg) started in all 33 games and scored in double figures 21 times along with  junior guard James Sinclair (7.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg) who made 27 consecutive starts for the Cats, round out the probable starting five. 

“Obviously we are going to build around Trey and Tawaski,” said Hunter  “We don’t have as much depth as I would like inside and I wish we were a little more consistent offensively around the basket, but we’re OK.”   

New Faces

The Catamounts only added one player in the offseason, Charlendez Brooks, a post player
from Byrnes High School in Duncan, S.C -  (6-9 / 270 - forward) .  Last season, Brooks
averaged 7.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.   He was selected to the All-Region II 4-A
basketball team in March of 2012, helping Byrnes HS to a playoff victory over defending 4-A
state champion, Gaffney, in the first round of the South Carolina state  playoffs. Brooks was  
listed as the third-best recruit out of the state of South Carolina . He played AAU basketball
for the SC Raptors Elite.  At the time of Brooks signing, Hunter said, "With our entire squad
returning for next season and only having one scholarship to offer for the 2013 class, we
targeted a talented big man as our priority. We are very pleased and excited that Char will be
joining our basketball family. At 6-9 plus and well-over 200 pounds, he has good size, length
and natural strength."

2013-14 Schedule

"Our players have had the best offseason workouts and improved their basketball skills and bodies to a man of any team I have had at Western Carolina”. Hunter said of this season’s returning Catamounts. “They are an excited and hungry bunch of Catamounts. We will need to carry this ‘I will not be denied’ attitude throughout the season because we again have a very challenging schedule."

This season’s schedule includes seven games against teams that made it into postseason play in the 2012-13, including three games against NCAA tournament teams.

The Catamounts open the season with Wittenberg on November 8 in the Ramsey Center. Coach Hunter spent 13 seasons as the head coach at Wittenberg and in the 1976-77 season, led them to the NCAA Division III National Championship and was named NCAA Division III Coach of the Year.

This year’s schedule includes out of conference games against Oregon, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Niagara, Wright State, and Georgia. The Cats also face Big South foes UNC Asheville, Liberty and Coastal Carolina.   In the conference schedule, Georgia Southern, Wofford, Davidson, and  Furman are the four teams the Cats will play only once this season. 

The Cats will be in the Ramsey Center 13 times during the 2013-14 season where the Cats have won 54 of the last 69 games back to the 2007-08 season, including 36 of the last 48 (.750) SoCon games in the same stretch.

Best case/worst case   

The Cats could have three players over the 1,000-point career plateau before the end of the season.  Sumler crossed that threshold last year and now sits at 1,439 points.  Brandon Boggs has 945 career points and Tawaski King has scored 749 points up to this point.   The Cats are one of the most experienced teams in the conference and scoring should not be a problem. 

The problem may be the defense, Western’s man-to-man defense has resulted in a high number of costly fouls, many times costing the Cats a game on the free throw line, as well as lacking in interior defense.   Josh Mendenhall should be able to provide help in the interior, after being injured most of last season.   Best case, a late season run at both Elon and Davidson for a regular season crown and a bye in the conference championships, worst case – another mid-pack finish for the Cats. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wofford Preview: Getting Back to Winning

By JohnMoc1

After putting together one of the most impressive runs in the SoCon in recent years, Wofford came back to earth a bit last year. A 13-19 record (7-11 in the SoCon) and a first round exit from the SoCon Tournament (early on the first day, which makes it even worse somehow) left Terrier fans wanting more.

The key for the Terriers will be finding more offensive production. A year ago Karl Cochran took about 40% of the teams shots, and was not a particularly great shooter. They need to find a way to create more open looks for Cochran so that his shooting percentage can go up. Lee Skinner and Aerris Smith may be the two most important players for that. Skinner plays aggressively down in the paint. He will need to be a big time scorer. He is only 6-6, but small big guys have been important to the Terriers in the past.

Smith is a senior and a pretty wide body. But he did not score much last year. Will his offensive game have developed enough to help take some pressure off other players? Tim Johnson (who Terrier fans remember fondly from a couple of years ago) has returned to the coaching staff, and has been working with Smith quite a bit. He should be able to improve his offensive game.

Indiana Faithfull did a good job at point guard. In terms of pure point guard (not scorer), Faithfull was very effective distributing the ball. He also has one of the best names in all of college basketball. John Swinton may contend for the starting point guard spot this year over Indiana Faithfull.

Spencer Collins shot about the same percentage from the floor at Cochran, and took 30% of the team's shots. That means that Collins and Cochran have taken about 70% of Terrier shots a year ago. Collins was a freshman last year and should be a year more experienced this year. There is often a jump from freshman year to sophmore year. If his shot develops this year, he could truly be a special player.

The Terriers have two young freshman guards. Jaylen Allen should be able to come in and provide depth immediately for Cochran. The other freshman is Eric Garcia and he should be able to challenge to some degree or another for the starting spot at point guard. He is 5-11 and 170 pounds, but he could instantly increase the offensive ability at the point guard spot. Faithfull may be better at distributing the ball, but Garcia is a more pure shooter.

Wofford plays three non-D1 teams this year. Emory & Henry, Johnson & Wales, and Hiwassee are all on the schedule. There are also trips to Georgia, Minnesota, Saint Louis, and VCU. The out of conference games that are not against non-D1s or against bigger school, are at Iona, at High Point, at Gardner-Webb, at Winthrop, and at home against High Point and William & Mary. That's not an absurdly difficult schedule, but it's not easy.

Western Carolina, Appalachian State, UNCG, and Elon are the teams in the SoCon that Wofford plays once. That means that two of the preseason top three teams the Terriers only play once. That should help them some. There is the very odd back-to-back games against Chattanooga for Wofford. They play in Chattanooga on January 11 and in Spartanburg on January 18 with no game in-between. That is odd.

Best case scenario for a team returning all five starters is of course big. If they figure out how to feed the post better, if Collins starts shooting the ball better and if Smith develops into an offensive threat, this team could be very good. They could win the whole SoCon. In a worst case scenario, the offense doesn't develop, and the Terriers wind up about like they did last year, when they finished 8th in the SoCon.

I'm not completely convinced that the offense will developed, but Mike Young is a very good coach and he will coax a few more wins out of this team. They will be good, but they will not be able to move up quite to a bye spot in the SoCon. Expect them to really be a solid contender in the SoCon in 2014-15.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Elon Preview: It's Tournament or Bust for the Phoenix

By Tyler Ash

Elon’s final year in the Southern Conference presents their hoops squad with their best chance to grab their first NCAA berth. Elon will be transitioning to the Colonial Association in 2014-2015, leaving the basketball squad one final chance to represent the Southern Conference in the March Madness NCAA tournament for all eyes to see.
2012-2013 Season Recap
The Phoenix enjoyed their most successful season in school history in 2012-2013, posting their first 20-plus-win season since the program elevated to Division I play in 2003. The Phoenix won 13 Southern Conference games a season ago under the tutelage of head coach Matt Matheny, capturing the So-Con North Division Title. However, NCAA tournament aspirations fell short as the Phoenix bowed out to the Charleston Cougars in the So-Con semifinal. After losing in the So-Con semifinal, the Phoenix accepted an invitation from the Postseason Tournament (CIT), marking the school’s first postseason appearance at the Division I level. Elon lost in the first round of the invitational tournament to Canisus, but a playoff berth proved to be a major step in the development of a program that is trying to put itself on the college basketball map.
Departing Players/ New Faces
The only departing players from last year’s campaign are Aaron Smith, John Moody and Josh Bonney. Of the trio of seniors, only Bonney held a role in the rotation in the regular season and the conference tournament. As the backup point guard, Bonney gave the Phoenix a consistent threat to attack the basket and push the ball in transition. Bonney left a lasting impression in his final game with the Phoenix, scoring 15 points in 16 minutes in the loss to Charleston.
Highly touted freshmen Christian Hairston (6’7) and Brian Dawkins (6’8) provide the Phoenix with much needed size off the bench. Hairston reportedly turned down offers from Davidson and Richmond to play for coach Matheny. Dawkins has been described “a sound scorer and rebounder” by various scouts. Other newcomers to the Phoenix include point guard Luke Eddy and shooting guard Ryder Bowline.
Starting Lineup Loaded with Talented Upperclassmen
With all five starters returning from last year’s squad, Elon has a terrific opportunity to unseat the two-time defending Southern Conference champion Davidson Wildcats. After suffering a season-ending ACL tear in mid-January of last season, junior guard Austin Hamilton is set to run the point for the Phoenix. Joining him in the backcourt will be senior guard Jack Isenbarger, who notched the second most three-pointers (82) in the Southern Conference last season. Isenbarger, a third-team All-SoCon honoree, registered 13.2 points per contest last season. A year after shooting an otherworldly 86.5 percent from the free-throw line, Isenbarger was selected to the 2013-2014 all-conference preseason team by the league’s head coaches.
The Phoenix has a particularly strong front-court, led by senior center Lucas Troutman, last season’s runner up for Player of the Year in the Southern Conference. After being selected to the All-SoCon first-team last season, Troutman was tabbed to the Preseason All-American team. Troutman led the Southern Conference in blocks (64) in 2012-2013, posting 15.1 points per contest on 54.6 percent shooting from the field. Troutman, named to the preseason all-conference team for the second year in a row, will be joined by seniors Ryley Beaumount and Sebastian Koch. Beaumount, the third member of the Phoenix named to the preseason all-conference team, had a breakout season in 2012-2013, leading the team in rebounds per game (7.1), while posting 11.8 points per contest. Beaumount was the only player on the Phoenix to start all 33 games last year. Koch, an athletic swingman that started 31 games a season ago, rounds up the starting lineup. Koch averaged 9.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game last season. He drained the second-most three pointers for Elon last year with 67 hits from behind the arc.
Team X-Factor
The Phoenix will unquestionably feature the best starting lineup in the Southern Conference, yet their star bench player cannot be overlooked. Sharp-shooting sophomore guard Tanner Sampson will spearhead the bench. With Hamilton sidelined for much of last season, the freshman guard was thrust into the starting lineup. Sampson started 15 games for the Phoenix, recording 7.1 points per contest. He connected on 60 treys and converted 20-of-22 free-throw attempts last season. The three-point shot is a critical part of the Phoenix game plan, which means Sampson will be counted on a nightly basis to provide a spark off the bench.
Schedule Analysis
Elon opens the regular season against Washington & Lee University on Nov. 8, before playing road games at Marist College (Nov. 10) and at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Nov.15).
The Phoenix will then travel to Rutgers University in New Jersey for the Preseason NIT 16-team invitational tournament. Elon will play Drexel University on Nov. 18 in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Notable matchups for the Phoenix include visits to Colorado University (Dec. 13), Georgetown University (Dec. 17), Duke University (Dec. 31) and a home contest against the University of Massachusetts (Jan.18). Conference play begins for the Phoenix at Western Carolina on January 4th, proceeded two days later by a So-Con contest at Alumni Gym versus Appalachian State.
Prediction: Phoenix Seize the Moment, Capture First-Ever NCAA Berth
Now in his fifth season as coach of the Phoenix, Matt Matheny believes his team has what it takes to advance to the big dance. Matheny, the former assistant coach at Davidson, has high hopes for the club he took over for in 2009.
"The Davidsons, the Butlers, the VCUs, the Gonzagas — we aspire to be a program like that,” Matheny said in an interview with USA Today Sports’ Scott Glesson. “When we get the Monday USA TODAY, we want Elon to be on the front of paper. Every player that comes in my office, every recruit, that's what we talk about. Every day we have to ask ourselves: What does it take to get there?"
Matheny has built the program to its highest point, being selected as the conference favorites by both the Southern Conference head coaches’ and the media poll for the upcoming season. The Phoenix has increased their win total in each season under Matheny, culminating in a SoCon North Division Title last year. The North and South division have now been eliminated with the departure of Charleston from the conference. Regardless, Elon’s 2013-2014 campaign will not be measured by regular season triumph. Instead, Elon’s last season in the Southern Confernce will be deemed a success if the program can win the Southern Conference tournament. With Matheny at the helm, the sky is the limit for Elon, who will be “dancing” to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history come March.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Georgia Southern Preview: Rebuilding Before the Sun Belt

By half-n-half
This time last year Georgia Southern basketball was full of high expectations and dreams of a conference championship. My how things have changed in the past 12 months. Coach Charlton “CY” Young was let go after a disappointing 14-19 season that saw a high of beating Davidson and Charleston back to back and a low of ending the season with 2 losses against Davidson by an average of 31 points. To replace Coach Young the Eagles looked to somebody the SoCon is familiar with and hired former Charleston assistant Mark Byington. Byington, who spent last season as an assistant at Virginia Tech, was the interim coach at Charleston two seasons ago when Coach Cremins had to retire mid season. Due to the change and the lack of good basketball seen in Statesboro in a while, most Georgia Southern fans are torn between 8 conference wins and “don’t have any” when asked what their expectations are for the 2013-2014 season. And it’s for good reason because there are far more questions than answers heading into the season.
Returning players
The Eagles return one of the best players in the conference this year in Eric Ferguson. Only problem is that he won’t be playing in any games this year. After offseason knee surgery Ferguson is taking a redshirt and preparing to join College of Charleston transfer Trent Weideman to form a frontcourt that could take the SunBelt by storm. But before that happens the Eagles will have one last farewell season in the SoCon and despite starting 4 underclassmen last year GSU will only return 2 starters. Guard CJ Reed (13 ppg, 4 apg) and forward Cam Baskerville (5.5 ppg, 4 rpg) graduated and promising freshman guard Cleon Roberts (8.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg) decided to transfer after Coach Young’s firing. That leaves the Eagles with only 22.7 ppg, 4.2 apg, and 14.3 rpg returning from last year.
The top returning player from last year is senior Tre Bussey (8.7 ppg, 3.4 rpg). Bussey mostly played the role of 6thman his first two years in Statesboro, but started 24 games last year and has close to 100 games of playing experience already. The only other players returning who saw significant minutes are senior guard Brian Holmes (4.2 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.7 apg), senior forward Marvin Baynham (5.1 ppg, 4.2 rpg) and junior center Kameron Dunnican (1.5 ppg, 2.0 rpg). I said in my preview last year that Dunnican, who was a 3 star recruit, was going to be a key piece to the 2012-2013 Eagles but for some reason he didn’t see the floor that much despite averaging 2 rpg and being 2nd on the team in blocks in only 10 minutes a game. For a team that struggled with blocking shots and rebounding this was a puzzling move. Eagle fans are hoping Coach Byington gives Dunnican more minutes this year. Baynham is a spark plug who is very good on the offensive boards and gives you everything he’s got night in and night out. Holmes spent most of the year coming off the bench, but was inserted into the starting lineup late in the season and looked very good running the point. Unfortunately he missed the last few games of the season with an ankle injury.
New faces
Obviously with only 4 returning players who saw significant minutes from last year’s team the Eagles are going to have a lot of new faces this year. The top new face will be one that Eagle fans will have to wait a year to see. Senior centerTrent Weideman comes to Statesboro after spending three very productive seasons in Charleston and his best two were with Byington on the coaching staff there. He will redshirt this year and have a year of eligibility left for the 2014-2015 season. GSU will get to welcome back a face that isn’t new to the team but was sorely missed last year. Junior guard Jelani Hewitt (10.5 ppg, 3.4 rpg in 2011-2012) returns to the lineup this year after being forced to sit out the 2012-2013 season due to academics. There aren’t many certainties about this years Eagles, but one of them is that Jelani Hewitt will be in the starting lineup and it’s expected that a lot of the offense will be expected to come from Hewitt.
Coach Byington didn’t have long to recruit, but he did go out and sign two JUCO’s and two high school seniors. 6’3 junior guard Curtis Diamond and 6’4 junior forward Angel Matias join the Eagles from the JUCO ranks while guard Torlorf Thomas and forward Kyle Doyle join the Eagles as freshmen. Coach Byington will look to Diamond, a 40% three point shooter last year, for some outside shooting while Matias could fill the small forward roll. GSU may have got one of the best late signees in the state of Georgia in Doyle who will most likely play the power forward position for the Eagles. The crown jewel of the class is thought to be Thomas though. He was considered to be a 3 star by multiple recruiting services and has a chance to start at the point guard position right away.
The out of conference schedule is set up with both winnable games at home and some challenges on the road. The highlight of the home slate is Kennesaw State coming to Hanner, while the Eagles have to go on the road to face tough opponents in Miami, West Virginia, and Georgia State. I think the Eagles get a break with the SoCon doing away with the early season conference games and also giving GSU their first three conference games at home. For a team that is going to need some time to come together this is a welcome site.
Best case/worst case
I think the best case scenario for Georgia Southern this year is finishing a couple games over .500 and winning a conference tournament game. With a new coaching staff and so many new faces it’s going to be tough to be a team that competes for the SoCon crown in the Eagles’ final season. On the flip side though, the worst case scenario is that a lot of teams send Georgia Southern out with lopsided wins. And that’s something that’s very possible. This team’s ceiling isn’t very high while the floor is potentially very low.
Most Georgia Southern fans are looking forward to seeing what Coach Byington has in store for the 2013-2014 season. While there aren’t many expectations as far as wins and losses most fans want to see the Eagles play an up tempo style of basketball on offense after watching an offense that averaged around 60 ppg the last 3 years. Fans are also hoping to see a more disciplined team on both the offensive and defensive end after seeing the Eagles struggle to do the little things that it takes to win basketball games in the SoCon over the past 3 years. If the team shows improvement from the first game to the last game then fans will be very happy with Coach Byington after his first season.
I honestly have no clue how this season is going to go for the Eagles. The two best players on the roster will be redshirting this year and the best player on the floor hasn’t played a game in 2 years. Most likely all 4 signess will see major minutes this year and outside of Dunnican at 6’8 nobody on the roster is over 6’7. Coach Byington is going to have to rely on Hewitt and Bussey to provide a lot of scoring from the guard position early in the season and hope that Dunnican and Baynham can polish their games as the season goes on and be an offensive threat come conference play. I think a safe prediction would be that the Eagles will flirt with a .500 record in conference play most of the year but finish a couple games below .500.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chattanooga Preview: Chaos Unleashed

For much of the last three years, Coach John Shulman's support eroded and many Moc fans clamored for a new coach. As a long time supporter of Coach Shulman, it was hard to stomach. But the last two years results also were hard to stomach too. It was time for some new blood in the coaching ranks, if for no other reason than to re-energize the fanbase.

Enter Coach Will Wade. Without a doubt, the new coaching staff has brought new energy to the Mocs fan base. Around the conference, the Mocs have been referred to as a sleeping giant. Based on early results in recruiting and the like, Wade appears to be awakening that giant.

Coach Will Wade was an assistant at VCU under Shaka Smart. Smart has Havoc. The Mocs have Chaos. They plan on implementing intense defensive pressure and shooting a high percentage of three pointers.

The goals are as follows:
1) Lead the SoCon in scoring.
2) Top 40 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. (This is a stat that I've been following for years on this blog. If you've been following this blog, you've been up on this game.)
3) Shoot 35% or better from three point range.
4) 67 or more possessions per game.
5) Top three in SoCon scoring defense.
6) Top 20 nationally in steals.
7) Top 20 nationally in turnovers faced.
8) 35 or more deflections per game.
9) 8 or more student-athletes with positive scores on effort chart per game.

That's the basics of what Wade is trying to implement. So, get ready.

The question is, are the Mocs capable of running this kind of system with their current talent?

Let's start by looking at last year's players and evaluating from there. Z Mason would fit into almost any system. He's just that kind of player. He is an athletic, physical presence. He will be one of the leaders in the SoCon in rebounding. He could be among the leaders in the scoring in the SoCon. He certainly has to be on the short list for the SoCon Player of the Year. He is on the All SoCon Preseason Team.

It is also my belief that Gee McGhee belongs on the short list for at least being on All SoCon teams in the preseason. Tim Williams (Samford) made it in the preseason, and I thought that he and McGhee were very close last year in the Freshman of the Year voting. I also spent much of last year wondering what McGhee would look like in a style more like VCU's. I think we are about to find out. McGhee has an athletic explosiveness that should play right into this system. He is not a great shooter (at this point), but has been working on his shot in the offseason. I expect him to shoot much better this year.

Casey Jones and Lance Stokes both are long and athletic- exactly the sort of players you need in this style. Jones really came on after he came back from injury last year, and really showed off what he could do. Reports from practice say that he has been one of the most impressive players in early practice. Stokes defensive efforts after he came back at midseason last year were an important part of last year's team.

The problem is that the team does not have a lot of height or a lot of true point guard play. Rico White played point guard a lot last year, but was not really in his proper position. He improved at it by the end of the year, though. He is one of the better natural shooters on the team, if he can get open looks while playing point, which is something he struggled with last year. He is a decent driver and free throw shooter.

Eric Robertson has also been playing some point guard in practice. He might be the best natural shooter on the team and he is not really a natural point guard. That being said, I am interested to see what he produces as a point guard this year.

Alex Bran is a walk on point guard. He may be able to produce some. He was a little bit of instant offense at times last year. Martynas Bareika also can play good offense, but sometimes seems a little slow.

There are three new guys who are not transfers and redshirting this year or a walk-on. TJ Williams is 6-8, which means he is an important piece to this team. He will need to be able to play some in the four or five spot. He was highly acclaimed coming out of high school, and will be a critical piece to this team's puzzle.

Anthanee Doyle and Greg Pryor are both point guards coming in. Doyle was committed to Queens before the coaching staff came to Chattanooga. Can he produce at this level? Pryor was a late commitment out of Memphis who was excellent defensively.

Can Pryor and Doyle be the answer at point, at least to help move Robertson and White off the ball during games? Can Williams start at the five spot and provide some much needed height to the lineup? Those answers could determine how far the Mocs will go.

The schedule features three non-D1s, which is unfortunate. Wade has said that the schedule will be much better in the future. With Covenant and Montreat in the first three games, and a trip to Radford and a home game against Kennesaw State all before the Las Vegas Invitational, there is a chance for a decent start. Radford and Kennesaw State both should be OK, but the Mocs have a chance to start 4-0 if things go well. There is a trip to Nevada and UCLA as part of the Las Vegas Invitational, which will be difficult. Morehead State, IUPUI and Gardner-Webb all wait in Vegas as part of a four team tournament. The Mocs could certainly win that four team tournament if things work out for them. Then again, in the past, they have blown games like that.

 A trip to Georgia follows. Hiwassee will be the final non-D1 on the schedule. Then there is a trip to Northern Kentucky and another one to UAB. The Dr Pepper Classic features Grand Canyon, Middle Tennessee and Maine. There is only one more non-conference game- a trip to Eastern Kentucky in February, which may be one of their tougher non-conference games of the year.

The conference schedule features just one game against league favorites, Davidson and Elon. It also features just one game against the bottom two in the preseason polls, Georgia Southern and The Citadel. So the conference schedule basically balances out. There are trips to Furman and The Citadel to open SoCon schedule, and home dates with Samford and Wofford. If everything works out, there is a chance for a really fast start in SoCon play.

Best case scenario is that the Mocs find a way to start 4-0, beat Northern Kentucky, Hiwassee, win in Vegas and the Dr Pepper Classic, and could steal one from Georgia, UAB, Nevada, UCLA, and Eastern Kentucky. That comes out to 11-4 in out of conference play. Let's say that they pull out a 12-4 in SoCon play. That would mean 23-8 heading into the SoCon Tournament. How would all that happen? Z Mason is the Player of the Year in the SoCon, and Gee McGhee and Casey Jones leave little doubt that they are among the Top Ten or Fifteen players in the SoCon. They get adequate point guard play without turning the ball over. Williams is Freshman of the Year in the SoCon and gives them much needed size inside. The Mocs Chaos takes the SoCon by storm, and the Mocs finish either in first or second in the SoCon. They make a run to the SoCon Championship Game, and I refuse to predict from there at this point.

Worst case scenario is that the Mocs lack of a true experienced point guard play and lack of size on the inside proves their undoing. They lose early a couple of games and lose confidence. There are a couple of injuries that derail any momentum. Every time the Mocs seem to take one step forward, they take two steps back. In the end, the Mocs wind up going 5-10 out of conference, and 4-12 in conference, for a 9-22 overall record. The Mocs defensive pressure just doesn't cut it.

Truthfully, the Mocs will be much closer to the best case scenario than the worst case scenario. I just don't think the Mocs could possibly be that bad. They have more talent than that. The new system should work well and be difficult for the SoCon to cover. Mount St. Mary's saw a big turnaround under a VCU assistant coach taking over in his first year. I think the Mocs could see similar things. I think a 10-6 SoCon record and 9-6 out of conference is a legitimate possibility. That would be a 19-12 record, and likely get them a three or four seed in the SoCon Tournament. That would be successful in Wade's first system.

What do I really want to see though? I just want to see the effort increase. I just want to see the players work hard. If this team can avoid quite as many blowouts and show that they are working hard, I will be pleased regardless of the record. I want to see the record improve, but if the Mocs show the effort, I'll believe better days are coming. The recruiting is picking up, and this team is about to go places.

I'm just looking for actual proof, rather than my optimistic opinion, to believe that now.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Citadel Preview: Ready or Not

By Sandlapper Spike

It's time for The Citadel's 2013-14 hoops season, ready or not
- The Citadel's 2012-13 record: 8-22, 5-13 in the SoCon (next-to-last)
- Chuck Driesell's record at The Citadel (three seasons): 24-68, 14-40 in the SoCon
- Biggest positive from the 2012-13 campaign: The Citadel swept Furman!
- Possibly related development: Furman hired a new basketball coach
- Negatives from 2012-13: Horrific defense, and an offensive turnover rate that was almost as bad
After a 6-24 season in 2011-12, there was a belief that The Citadel would substantially improve on the hardwood last year. That didn't happen.
While there was a modest two-game upswing in both The Citadel's overall and league records, that was largely due to a slightly softer out-of-conference schedule and a down year in hoops for the Southern Conference as a whole. Make no mistake, last season was a significant disappointment for the Bulldogs.

Note: the statistics in this section do not include the two games The Citadel played last season against non-D1 opponents.
The Bulldogs had enormous defensive problems. Per KenPom, The Citadel ranked 346th in adjusted defensive efficiency last year, ahead of only one other Division I team, Grambling State (which had a historically awful season).
The numbers on defense were bad across the board. The Bulldogs could not control the defensive glass (bottom 25 nationally), had no shotblocking presence (bottom 25 nationally), and weren't particularly good at forcing turnovers as a team, all of which led to an opponents' eFG of 55% (bottom 10 nationally).
Teams shot well against The Citadel from inside (53.6%) or outside (38.2%). Most of the damage, though, was done in the paint.
Not surprisingly, when the Bulldogs defended fairly well, they were much more likely to win. The Citadel's three best defensive performances against D-1 teams all resulted in victories. The Bulldogs only won once when they finished a game with well below-average defensive numbers (a ludicrous comeback victory at Furman).
The Citadel's offensive numbers weren't good, either, almost entirely because of an alarming tendency to throw the ball away. The cadets committed 436 turnovers last year in their 28 games against D-1 competition, averaging 15.6 per game, a particularly high number given the number of possessions involved (less than 65 per contest).
Almost one out of every four Bulldog possessions ended in a turnover. Only thirteen teams in the entire country had a worse turnover rate.
It wasn't just about the amount of turnovers, either. The types of turnovers committed hurt the Bulldogs too. The Citadel was victimized by steals at a rate higher than all but three other teams in Division I. That clearly had an impact on the defensive end, as teams were often able to convert those steals into easy transition baskets.
The Citadel will now begin a new season without its best player over the past two years, Mike Groselle. Someone (or multiple someones) will have to replace his offensive productivity (including an eFG of 57.4% while taking almost 28% of the team's shots).
The other senior on last year's squad was graduate student Stephen Elmore. In spot duty (13.7 minutes per game), Elmore provided a little muscle and some defensive rebounding.
The Bulldogs suffered a very tough blow with the loss of junior forward P.J. Horgan, a solid presence in the frontcourt whose basketball career has officially ended because of back problems. Horgan would have been a sure-fire starter if he had been healthy.
There is also a possibility that The Citadel will be without the services of 6'7" forward C.J. Bray, who missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury. Bray now has nerve damage in his arm.
If Bray is unable to recover, the Bulldogs would be essentially bereft of experienced frontcourt players. For a team that already struggled to defend the post, it could be a recipe for complete disaster.
That is what can happen when a program struggles with attrition issues. There are no seniors on the Bulldogs' roster this year (not counting Dylen Setzekorn, an academic senior who from a varsity athletics standpoint is a redshirt sophomore). Every recruit signed by Ed Conroy as part of his last recruiting class at The Citadel is gone.
Also no longer at The Citadel are two of the four post players signed by Chuck Driesell in his first class -- and of the two who stayed, one is no longer on the roster (Horgan) and the other is injured (Bray). Driesell did not sign a PF/C type for his second class.
Lawrence Miller (who had just completed his sophomore campaign) and Janeil Jenkins (a freshman last year) also left school after the 2012-13 season. Both of them were guards.
While they won't be missed as much as the frontcourt players, their absence will certainly not help. The Citadel only has eleven players on its roster this season (and that includes Bray).
As a result of those personnel losses, this year's freshmen will be expected to contribute right away. I think it's tough to ask true freshmen (particularly at The Citadel) to take on such a significant load, especially those who will have to match up against older, bigger players close to the basket. Driesell has no choice, however.
Let's take a look at the players who will actually suit up for the Bulldogs this season...
- Marshall Harris III returns as the starting point guard for the Bulldogs. Harris did a fine job distributing the basketball last season (a top 60 assist rate nationally) but committed too many turnovers, particularly for a pass-first PG (Harris had more assists than field goal attempts last season).
If he can cut down on the turnovers and elevate his shooting percentage (a woeful 29.9% last year), Harris could be a major plus for the Bulldogs. That possibility isn't out of the question, as his totals improved markedly from his freshman to sophomore seasons.
Harris averaged an assist every 7.8 minutes and a turnover every 9.2 minutes in 2011-12; in 2012-13, he picked up an assist every 5.8 minutes while committing a TO every 11.9 minutes. He also managed to get to the foul line on a regular basis, one of the few Bulldogs to do so.
- Raemond Robinson missed the first eleven games of his freshman season while recovering from a broken foot. That may have set him back a bit last year, but he still had his moments.
If The Citadel is going to outperform its projections this season, it will need surprising performances from several players, and Robinson is as good a breakout candidate as any. In limited action, he shot 43% from beyond the arc. The former Goose Creek High football/basketball star is a solid passer and is also capable of picking up a few steals here and there.
Like most of the Bulldogs, he needs to lower his turnover rate. I would also like to see a bit more boardwork from Robinson (and The Citadel's guards in general, as the backcourt players did not get their fair share of rebounds last year).
- Ashton Moore leads all returning Bulldogs in career points, with 394. Last season, he started exactly half of The Citadel's 30 games, and played just over half of the minutes available. Moore and Mike Groselle were the only rotation regulars to post respectable turnover rates.
Moore is more of a scorer than a shooter, and to be successful this season he needs to get to the foul line a lot more often than he did last year. Some observers believe that Moore would be at his best providing an offensive spark in a sixth-man role, a la Vinnie "The Microwave" Johnson or Jason Terry.
One somewhat curious factoid about Moore: he had fewer fouls per forty minutes than all but five players in the country last season. He only picked up three fouls in a game once. That happened at Furman, and it was arguably Moore's best game of the season.
- Quinton Marshall was a late signee for Chuck Driesell last year. The native of Raleigh showed off his athleticism at times during his freshman season. He's not afraid to dunk.
Marshall is a big guard with the ability to score inside. If he can develop a specialty, perhaps becoming a defensive stopper, Marshall could see more playing time (he appeared in 23 contests last season, averaging 11 minutes per game).
- Dylen Setzekorn redshirted during the 2011-12 season, but that doesn't mean he wasn't busy. In his freshman year at The Citadel, Setzekorn took 40 hours of classes over two semesters.
Forty hours as a knob is...a lot. Last year, Setzekorn took 46 hours -- and also played in 28 games for the Bulldogs, averaging 10 minutes per contest.
He's a slender 6'7" jump shooter who will light it up in a hurry if someone don't get a hand in his face (11 points in 13 minutes against Furman, 13 in 18 minutes versus Wofford). He's not an ideal one-on-one defender, but Setzekorn can help the Bulldogs in certain matchups, particularly if he can take advantage of his height and collect a few more rebounds.
- Warren Sledge is one of four freshmen on the Bulldogs' roster. A 6'3" guard, his bio on the school website states he was "known for his solid defensive presence" in high school. If true, he could break into the rotation sooner rather than later.
One thing Sledge has going for him is that he is a native of Keller, Texas. The Citadel has had a lot of luck with players from the Lone Star state in recent years. Among the Texans to have played for the Bulldogs: Cameron Wells, Zach Urbanus, and Mike Groselle.
- Matt Van Scyoc occasionally struggled last season, like a lot of freshmen. He would sometimes take bad shots. He had three games in which he committed 5+ turnovers.
When the dust cleared, though, Van Scyoc had put together an excellent first year, and was named to the SoCon's all-freshman team. He had an eFG of 53.7%, helped by shooting 37% from three-point land. The 6'6" swingman wasn't afraid to hit the boards, blocked a shot every now and then, and had just a bit of an edge to his game.
This year, Van Scyoc should be the main man for the Bulldogs. The better he is, the better off the team will be.Van Scyoc needs to shoot more free throws, avoid high-turnover games, and grab a few more offensive rebounds. There is a good chance he can, and will, do all those things and possibly more.
In the middle of last season, Van Scyoc was asked during an interview why he chose to attend The Citadel. His answer:
I really wanted to go someplace where I could make a difference. The Citadel is one of the few schools that has never been to the NCAA tournament. Winning hasn’t happened a lot here, and to be able to help them do that, that would be big for me.
I like that quote. I like it a lot.
- At this point, the status of C.J. Bray for this season is uncertain. It would be a big lift for the Bulldogs if he is able to contribute.
Two years ago, Bray started 18 games for The Citadel and was particularly effective on the defensive glass. He also showed flashes of a nice inside-outside game. Bray is athletic enough to have been offered a football scholarship by Arkansas.
- The Citadel's basketball team traveled to Canada in August and played three exhibition games against Canadian universities. Perhaps the most intriguing performer in those three contests for the Bulldogs was freshman forward Brian White.
White is only 6'6", 180 lbs., but early returns suggest he plays "bigger" than his size. As Van Scyoc noted, White "doesn’t look the part but he can get it in there and mix it up".
- Another freshman post player who will get a chance to show his stuff is 6'8" Dutchman Tom Koopman. I don't know anything about him, but Chuck Driesell says Koopman "enjoys playing defense", so he has that going for him, which is nice. Total consciousness for Koopman is sure to follow.
- Nate Bowser is a 6'9", 210 lb. forward/center from Fort Worth. I am not sure if the original plan was to redshirt him (or Koopman) for this season, but the loss of Horgan probably ended any chance of that happening.
Like Sledge, Bowser is from Texas, so there is decent karma potential for The Citadel. Also, "Nate Bowser" is a great name for a menacing power forward. To become truly menacing, however, he probably needs to gain some weight.
The Citadel's non-conference schedule includes road games against BCS opponents Nebraska, Tennessee, and Wake Forest, along with two in-season tournaments. The Bulldogs will again compete in the All-Military Classic, a non-exempt tournament featuring The Citadel, VMI, Army, and Air Force. This year, VMI is hosting that event.
Towson is hosting the "mainland" portion of the Battle 4 Atlantis. That tournament struggled to find D-1 opponents to play in the side event, which means the Bulldogs will play a neutral-site game against West Alabama, a Division II team.
Other teams of note that The Citadel will play out of conference: Navy and Radford (both on the road), and College of Charleston, Presbyterian, and Gardner-Webb (with those three schools coming to McAlister Field House).
West Alabama is one of four non-D1 squads that The Citadel has on its schedule, which is at least two non-D1s too many. It should be noted, however, that the military college is far from alone in filling out its home slate with such teams.
SoCon schools are playing a total of 32 non-D1 opponents in 2013-14, averaging just under three per school. Last season there were only 18 such matchups in the league (not including the CofC).
Clearly, the increase in non-D1 scheduling is partly about trying to fill out a home schedule as a low-major, with the reduction of the SoCon's league schedule to 16 games probably a factor. I do wonder, though, if the conference is trying to "game" the RPI to a certain extent.
The Citadel was picked to finish last in the Southern Conference by both the league's coaches and media members. It is hard to argue with that collective assessment.
The Bulldogs lost their top scorer and rebounder from a team that finished next-to-last in the league last season. There is a possibility that the Bulldogs' 4 and 5 spots will be manned almost exclusively by freshmen.
In addition, the defensive woes for last season weren't just a blip, but a pattern. The Citadel has been very poor on defense throughout Chuck Driesell's tenure at the school, ranking 314th, 294th, and 346th nationally in defensive efficiency (per KenPom) in those three seasons.
Best-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team's turnover rate recedes to the national average. Matt Van Scyoc becomes an elite SoCon player, and at least two of his teammates become major offensive forces as well. The freshmen prove to be tougher-than-expected interior defenders, and The Citadel's defensive eFG declines dramatically, falling to 48%.
A raucous crowd at McAlister Field House cheers on the cadets to victory after victory. Whenever Tom Koopman scores, the Bulldogs' radio play-by-play man Danny Reed yells, "Koop with the hoop!" as love-struck CofC co-eds throw tulips in the air to show their appreciation for the Dutch sensation.
Worst-case scenario for the Bulldogs: the team remains unable to stop opponents from scoring at will. C.J. Bray is unable to play. The Citadel struggles in and out of conference play, and its win total from last season is cut in half, from eight to four.
I think it's fair to say that The Citadel's fan base is skeptical that the best-case scenario outlined above will come to pass. That is completely understandable.
However, games aren't played on paper. The Bulldogs have an opportunity to prove a lot of people wrong.
Let's see what happens.