Monday, December 23, 2013

Scanning the SoCon- Week Eight: The Questions

Yesterday, the Scanning the SoCon crew looked at midseason awards. Today, they answer the questions looking backwards at the best and worst of the season so far, and look ahead to the teams that will improve the most and play in the championship game in March.

Why did you vote the way you did for Player of the Year?

Appalachian State- Croone's constantly been at the top of Player of the Week voting and looking at the stats, he is carrying Furman to a respectable showing so far this year.

Chattanooga- I’ll go with Stephen Croone from Furman. Every time I have watched Croone play, I have been impressed with how well he is getting into the lane. He is the leader in scoring for the SoCon at 21.2 points per game, and is second in the conference in steals with 2.1. With his driving ability, it is important that he shoot free throws well and he is, at 78.9%. Croone is also tenth in the league in assists. The thing that scared me away from voting for him (even though I did) is that I have not been overly impressed with Furman.

Davidson- I voted for Troutman as POY. Elon was a popular pick to win the league and Troutman leads them in scoring in rebounding. He's scoring 16.2/game (2nd in the conference), getting 5.4 rebounds/game (11th), and is second in both FG% and blocked shots. The Southern is a terrible league for big guys. Troutman will post great numbers in league games.

Elon- Western Carolina’s Trey Sumler deserves Player of the Year honors through the first eight weeks of the season because he leads the Southern Conference in assists per game (4.4) and is fifth in scoring (18.1). Sumler is also third in the league in free throw percentage (83.9) and, most importantly, he has led the Catamounts to a respectable 6-8 start to the season. Sumler gives the Catamounts a realistic chance to win the Southern Conference tournament.

Furman- Mason ranks in top five in scoring, rebounding and field goal percentage.

Georgia Southern- I felt there are 4 candidates for player of the year right now. Z Mason, Stephen Croone, Jelani Hewitt, and Trey Sumler. Obviously all 4 are great scorers as they are in the top 5 in scoring in the SoCon, but that's not all they can do. Sumler leads the league in assists with Croone and Hewitt also in the top15, Hewitt leads the league in steals with Croone second and Sumler 14th, and Mason leads the league in blocks. But for right now I feel that Mason would deserve the player of the year award. He's 3rd in scoring, 3rd in rebounding, and 1st in blocked shots. And what sets him apart from the other guys is that he's playing on average about 10 minutes less a game than those other 3 candidates.

Samford- Z Mason or Lucas Troutman. Mason because he's been his typical productive self even in the midst of changing systems. Troutman because he's been the glue that held Elon together (even with his broken nose) while the rest of the roster gets healthy. I've been in the tank for Troutman for a while now. He's very productive.

The Citadel- I'm not voting for any player of the year, coach of the year, or freshman of the year at this time, because no player/coach deserves such consideration in the league at this time. The league hasn't had any standout performance, which may explain why the league isn't very good.

UNCG- I really had a tough time picking the Player of the Year at this point. I thought Troutman, Croone, Cain, Mason and Sumler all have a case to be picked at this point. Since the best player for Daidson hasn't been available for the last few weeks, I decided to go with Troutman instead. But I think there are many other candidates and I think De'Mon Brooks will be involved in the conversation by the end.

Western Carolina- At this point, I'm strongly looking at Z. Mason of Chattanooga. Certainly the Mocs leader on the floor. He's currently third in scoring, third in rebounding and first in blocked shots. I'd like to have Trey Sumler in that spot, however I just havn't seen the offensive consistency up to this point.

Which team has been the most pleasant surprise?

Appalachian State- Georgia Southern. Going from lifeless last season to full of life this one. Byington has tapped into the raw talent that team possesses with Hewitt, Bussey, Mathias and company. Everyone knew they had talent after they were the only SoCon team to beat (and dominate) Davidson last year. They had the near-hit at Miami and despite some bumps in the road, are improving their record gradually. They will be a tough out for any SoCon team.

Chattanooga- Hold on while I flip my coin between Georgia Southern and UNCG. I didn’t think either of them would be good, and they are both 6-7 now. Right before the season began, I started being a bit of a UNCG believer, which makes me think that Georgia Southern has the slight edge in this category. They have lost two overtime games to Miami and Campbell, while losing to Oral Roberts by two. If they had won two of those three games, suddenly they would be 8-5, which would have them with the best record in the SoCon at this point. Never saw that coming. Jelani Hewitt should be on a short list for Player of the Year.

Davidson- Georgia Southern. I expected Byington to do well at GSU. I didn't expect him to do this well this soon. Jelani Hewitt is playing some excellent ball right now. GSU looks like a team that can make some noise in a few years.

Elon- I would say Furman has been the pleasant surprise of the Southern Conference this season. I read an ESPN Insider article that ranked the Paladins 347th out of 351 Division I teams. Furman is clearly better than that egregious ranking. A 5-6 start to the year is something to build on for a Furman club selected to finish 10th in the Southern Conference in the preseason poll.

Furman- Furman has already won five games under new head coach Niko Medved, while only winning seven all of last season, including just six in regular season.

Georgia Southern- For me it's definitely been Georgia Southern. This team was picked to finish 9th in the SoCon but I don't think (barring injury) this team will be a bottom feeder in the SoCon. Coach Byington is using a completely different style than his predecessor and it's been refreshing to see.

Samford- None, but I guess GaSou would get the vote by exceeding their low expectations.

The Citadel- No team has been a pleasant surprise.

UNCG- I'm going to be biased here and pick my own UNCG Spartans as the biggest surprise. This team is so young and lost almost every single contributor. Yet they sit at 6-7 at this point with 3 wins versus D1 opponents. I really had low expectations for this team in the preseason and they have so far been a bit on the surprising side for me.

Western Carolina- Sorry, but I don't think ANY SoCon teams have played surprisingly well, all have been surprisingly bad.

Which team has been the biggest disappointment?

Appalachian State-  App State, easy. With the suspension of Canty (who should be back any game now), the team has regressed from a squad that took Davidson to the limit last March in Asheville. No D1 wins, a fanbase that is openly discussing new coaches , embarrassing performances against the likes of Charlotte and Cincy plus bad losses to Campbell, Presbyterian and Winthrop has fans wanting Capel out now. Not in March, NOW!

Chattanooga- I’m going with Samford. They have been awful. They beat Austin Peay and Jacksonsville, so may be turning it around. But for a team that was a darkhorse in the preseason, and I could see joining Elon, Western Carolina and Davidson as the clear favorites, they are nowhere near there at this point, looking more like they deserve to be one of the mess of teams competing for the last two byes, and maybe being an underdog in that match-up.

Davidson-  Appalachian State. Coach on the hot seat. Still looking for a D1 win. Pathetic.

Elon- Appalachian State is the biggest disappointment to date because they have yet to win a game against a Division I opponent all season.

Furman- Appalachian State- After returning three starters (four with Canty) from a team that finished second in the North Division and came the closest to beating mighty Davidson, the Mountaineers have only three wins and have yet to defeat a Division I foe.

Georgia Southern- So far I'd say it's Samford. I felt that they had the balance needed to be a very good team this year and so far that hasn't happened.

Samford- Can we give it to the entire league? There have been injuries, suspensions, and other extenuating circumstances, but man the league is not very good so far.

The Citadel- Appalachian State has actually been worse than anticipated.

UNCG- Easily, the most disappointing team for me is Samford. I thought with Rajon Kelly and Tim Williams that this team could be one of the top 3 teams in the conference. At this point, it's hard not to put them in the bottom 3 in the conference ranking. Luckily for the Bulldogs, the real basketball season doesn't start until January. Wins at that point, will eliminate all of the disappointment from the out of conference portion of their schedule.

Western Carolina- Western Carolina - Inconsistent play in both offense and defense from a team loaded with senior experience, leadership, and talent.

Outside of Davidson, Elon and Western Carolina, who is most likely to improve the most between now and March?

Appalachian State- By where they are now you have to go with App State. The SoCon is a bad basketball league. App State has a good bit of talent. The Mountaineers will win games and contend for a first-round bye. The same type of thing happened last year. Mike Neal was out early due to grades, many people voted them the worst team in the SoCon through December and then they got better through January and hit their groove late February into March.

Chattanooga- I’ll go with Samford here too. They have more talent than any of the rest of the schools. I also think Chattanooga and Appalachian State have a chance to improve. Appalachian State will be getting Jay Canty back (we think). Chattanooga, if they have a fully healthy Z Mason, should be getting more into rhythm with Will Wade’s new system and should be figuring it out during the second half of the season.

Davidson- Wofford. Excellent coaching staff. Some very talented players. I don't think that they can finish in the top 3, but they are capable of winning any game in the conference season.

Elon- Outside of Davidson, Elon and Western Carolina, I’d say UNC Greensboro has the best chance to improve between now and March. The Spartans showed in their narrow loss to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (10-2) on Saturday that they can compete with just about any team in the country.

Furman- Appalachian State--When and if the Mountaineers get Jay Canty back, they should be a team to be reckoned with.

Georgia Southern- I'm going to go with my most disappointing team here in Samford. Their individual pieces are better than the sum of the parts has been and I could see the Bulldogs improving between now and March to the point that they are legit conference title contenders.

Samford- Wofford. They're currently 3-7, but their talent is not that bad (and mostly young). Mike Young is a competent coach who has proven he can win in this league. If the rest of the SoCon continues to look less than impressive, the Wofford Terriers are going to run game on the bottom feeders. Furman has an outside shot once they get Reddick and Early healthy.

The Citadel- Samford is my first choice for improvement, because I think it is playing below its talent level right now but has the horses to keep up with the three mentioned teams . My second choice in this category is actually The Citadel, which is also playing below its talent level, but has the capability of moving past a bunch of the lower-echelon squads.

UNCG- I think outside of those three teams, the best coach left is Mike Young at Wofford. So, I will pick the Terriers as the most likely to improve.

Western Carolina- UNCG. The Spartans seem to be improving weekly, I think it will continue as the team jells, I believe they have the most potential of the remaining teams.

If you had to pick right now, which two teams do you think would make the SoCon Championship Game and who would win?

Appalachian State- Just by the coaches, personnel and game management, you have to pick the two best teams in Davidson and Elon. However March is  a long time away and there's so many questions about the other teams, Will App State get it going once Canty returns? Will Chaos work in the SoCon? Will Byington get GSU some swagger? Does Samford ride Tim Williams to the promise land? Can Croone shoot the Paladins into contention? Will Bussey lead Western to glory? Can the Gee's raw talent turn into results? Does Wofford sneak in? Will El Citadel finally make a run? If Davidson and Elon slip up, there's a muddied second tier that can make Asheville a gambler's nightmare.

Chattanooga- This feels like a year that Davidson gets upset early in Asheville. I’m going to say that Davidson loses in an upset in the semis. Since I think they will win the regular season title and Elon will play Western Carolina in the other semi, which I think Western Carolina will win behind all of their seniors. I’m going to guess that Davidson loses to Samford, a team with Tim Williams inside, which will give them trouble. Western Carolina then beats Samford in the championship game. Am I overthinking this? Probably. In reality, it’s probably Davidson crushing whatever foe they face in the championship game.

Davidson- I'd pick Davidson and Elon to make the finals and Davidson to win. Davidson doesn't have many wins right now, but they've incorporated 3 freshmen and a transfer into the rotation. They've had injuries to Brooks, Czerapowicz, Droney, Gibbs, and Belford. If they get fully healthy, I think that this is the best roster in the conference. And they are back-to-back defending champions with an excellent coaching staff.

Elon- I will stick with my preseason pick and say that Elon and Davidson meet in the Southern Conference championship game. Elon writhed out of their gates but overall they have played the best of any team in the conference. Davidson has had their share of struggles, but showed their potential in a hard-fought overtime loss at the University of North Carolina. I still like Elon to win their first ever Southern Conference championship because of their continuity among the starting lineup.

Furman- Davidson and Western Carolina...Davidson would win because they are continuing to get better, and now with Brooks back fully healthy and having played four ranked foes by the time they enter SoCon play, it will prepare the Wildcats to make a third-straight title run.

Georgia Southern- Right now I think it would be Western Carolina and Davidson. I think Davidson is a team that will continue to improve and their preseason schedule will more than have them ready for SoCon play. Western is an athletic team and has a senior leader in Sumler and he's the type of player that can take over a weekend in March and have his team dancing. But in the end I think Davidson would cut down the nets and represent the SoCon in the NCAA tournament.

Samford- Elon and TBD. Before the season, I had Elon pegged as the best team in the league. No one has done anything to make me change my opinion in that regard. I'm still not sure who the second-best team is though. Elon likely will rep the SoCon during the NCAA Tournament before leaving for the CAA, but at this rate, they will do so as a 15-16 seed.

The Citadel- I suppose Elon-Davidson. I would still take Davidson...marginally.

UNCG- Kind of tough not to go with the 2 teams that I think are the best in the league at this point. So, I'll pick Davidson & Western Carolina. However, I think this league is as close as it has been in a long time from top to bottom.

Western Carolina- The same two that have been #1 and #2 all season, Davidson and Elon. The only two teams that can win out of conference, D1 games.

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