As we head towards the tip off the new college basketball season, each day Scanning the SoCon participants will be previewing their team. Today, JohnMoc1 of MocsMania previews the Chattanooga Mocs.
Last season, the Mocs really struggled early in the season. Then, a midseason flourish pushed the Mocs all the way to the number two seed in the SoCon Tournament in Asheville. Then the Mocs lost in their first SoCon Tournament game and lost in the CIT opener. All in all, a bit of a mixed bag in Will Wade's first season.
Everyone saw the Mocs get better after SoCon play started and that excited Chattanooga fans in a way that they have not been excited in several years. All along, the word was that things would be even better when Coach Wade got his own players into the system.
Well- he'll get the chance this year to show that there was truth in that belief. Z Mason, the heart and soul of last year's team, graduated. Gee McGhee, who showed so much promise in Shulman's final season, left the program as did TJ Williams. Six new faces are on the roster.
Shaquille Preston, Chuck Ester and Duke Etheridge are the three big recruits that are brand new to the roster. Preston is a freshman, Ester a sophomore and Etheridge a junior. KJ Bates is a walk-on freshman. In the mean time, Justin Tuoyo is in the sophomore class, but was part of the team last year. He is a transfer from VCU that sat out last year. Also, Tre McLean will be a sophomore. He transferred from Queens College last year and has three years of eligibility remaining.
The most excitement centers around Tuoyo, who is a 6-10 defensive monster. He will need to continue developing his offensive game, but he is athletic and should be a tremendous asset around the rim on the defensive side of the ball. In the not particularly tall SoCon, this could be a major advantage for the Mocs.
McLean is also supposed to be very good. He has a long wingspan and is very athletic. While he did not transfer from a D1 school, there is chance that he is a starter right out of the gate for the Mocs and could be a key defensive presence.
Preston will likely be pressed into action to play guard at some point this year. He is very athletic and is expected to be a top notch defender. If Preston develops quickly, he could be a key player in the pressure defensive scheme.
Chuck Ester is a player that could be a very valuable player early in the year as well. He is 6-7 and is long and athletic. He will be a big presence on the court early in the season.
Duke Etheridge is also 6-6 and long and athletic. He was a Junior College All-American a year ago. There is a lot of buzz surrounding him, as he ripped a rim right off the basket when dunking earlier this summer. He is strong, and also quick. He is physically a lot like Mason, as he was also offered football scholarships.
The Mocs returning players center around names that people around the SoCon already know. Casey Jones made a name for himself last year, as the long athletic type that really seems to fit into Wade's system. He came on very strong late in the year and was one of the biggest reasons the Mocs made such a leap in conference play. His continued growth is critical to the Mocs chances this year.
Rico White and Greg Pryor split time at point guard last year, and they will probably do so again. Both are better when playing off the ball, but both learned a lot last year. White is a good shooter. Pryor is a athletic and good on the defensive side of the ball, and did a good job controlling the game a year ago. Both are excellent free throw shooters that you can trust them late in games.
Lance Stokes is 6-7 and played a lot of time at center a year ago. With Tuoyo possibly playing center, he could back up Tuoyo but also start at the 3 or 4 spot. He is long and a good defensive player. He will be an important part of this team.
Martynas Bareika and Eric Robertson both have the ability to come in and make threes. They are good shooters that can score, and if the Mocs need some instant offense, both can do that immediately.
That's eleven deep that the Mocs could go if they needed to. With Wade's system, they will want to play all of them some minutes. This team that went about seven or eight deep a year ago now goes this deep. That will be a huge difference.
The out of conference schedule is a good one. Wisconsin, Butler and Georgia are major conference teams on the schedule, with Georgia being in McKenzie Arena, one of the best home games in years for the Mocs. A quality SEC team coming to town? This should be good. Tennessee Tech, Lipscomb and Middle Tennessee are all on the schedule from the state of Tennessee, with Lipscomb the lone home game in the bunch. That makes the schedule feel more fun as well. Northern Kentucky returns the trip up there. Throw in the games against UAB and Kennesaw State, both teams close to Chattanooga, and the schedule is really area-friendly. Yes, their are non-D1 games against Hiwassee and Montreat, but this schedule is very solid.
Over Thanksgiving, the Mocs host three mid majors that are expected to finish in the top half of their conference. Robert Morris, Coastal Carolina and UL-Monroe come to Chattanooga for a four team tournament that should be excellent. It's too bad it's over a holiday when people may not show up. It should be a great tournament.
The schedule is not killer, but is a solid mid-major schedule. There are some games the Mocs should win, some real toss-ups and games they should lose of course.
This is Year Two of the Will Wade era- an era that I truly believe will take off to a huge level in Year Three. The Mocs are picked to finish second in the SoCon this year by the media and the coaches. I don't disagree. Don't forget- they beat Wofford twice last year. The Mocs can certainly win the conference this year. But with all the new faces learning to play together, I expect some frustrating early season losses. Hopefully, by January things will have come together, just like last year.
All in all, the Mocs contend for a title, but I am not sure this is the year to get all the way in Asheville. They may lose in the tournament, but there will be signs that the Mocs are moving in the right direction and they will make strides. A third place finish and an appearance in at least the semifinals of the conference tournament is the expectation, I'd say. A second place finish is not ridiculous by any stretch.