4. East Tennessee St.
5. UNC Greensboro
7. Western Carolina
10. The Citadel
POY: Stephen Croone, Senior, Furman
Coach of the Year: Niko Medved, Furman
Newcomer of the Year: Quayson Williams, Freshman, The Citadel
G – Stephen Croone, Senior, Furman
G – Spencer Collins, Senior, Wofford
G – Tevon Saddler, Junior, UNC Greensboro
F – Casey Jones, Senior, Chattanooga
F – Justin Tuoyo, Junior, Chattanooga
G – Greg Pryor, Sophomore, Chattanooga
G – Eric Garcia, Junior, Wofford
G – Phillip Leonard, Senior, Mercer
G/F – Lester Wilson, Senior, East Tennessee St.
F – Kris Acox, Junior, Furman
G – Julian Eleby, Junior, VMI
G – Devin Sibley, Sophomore, Furman
G – Mike Brown, Senior, Western Carolina
G – AJ Merriweather, Junior, East Tennessee St.
F – RJ White, Junior, UNC Greensboro
C – Justin Tuoyo, 6’10, R-Junior
PF – Casey Jones, 6‘5, Senior
SF – Tre McLean, 6‘5, Junior
SG – Eric Robertson, 6‘4, Senior
PG – Greg Pryor, 6‘1, Junior
Reserves: Duke Etheridge, 6‘6, Sr.; Chuck Ester, 6‘7, Jr.; ZaQwuan Matthews, 6‘4, Fr.; Peyton Woods, 6‘4, Fr.; Trey Kalina, 7‘0, Fr.
Postseason Prediction: 14 seed
The Mocs have an interesting season ahead of them – they return a fantastic roster, including one of the best smaller conference frontcourts in the entire country, but the group will need to adapt to a new coach in former FIU and Florida assistant Matt McCall. He assisted under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan, so he has learned under very good mentors, but it will still be difficult to replace Will Wade. Chattanooga felt the domino effect from Shaka Smart’s departure to Texas, as Wade (his former assistant) was hired to be his successor at VCU. The pressure will be on McCall to quickly adapt to this talented roster and steer it in the right direction.
As mentioned, the Mocs have an outstanding frontcourt. Senior Casey Jones is a potential player of the year candidate, and redshirt junior Justin Tuoyo is a monster inside and the conference’s best rim protector. Jones is a unique combination of inside scoring, rebounding, and post defense, an excellent complement to Tuoyo in the paint. Though those two helped the Mocs to a strong offensive rebounding rate, the team’s ability to finish defensive possessions was a surprising weakness last year. Just box out guys!! Tuoyo struggled in that regard for a man his size, but it would not be surprising to see that change this year. Reserve big men Duke Etheridge and Chuck Ester are strong defensive rebounders, but improvement from the guards will also help solve their problem.
Speaking of the guards, junior Greg Pryor should take over at the point for the graduated Ronrico White. Pryor has had two very productive campaigns already, hitting threes and playing solid defense, but he will need to help keep everyone involved this time around. Wings Eric Robertson and Tre McLean should start, with Robertson providing superb outside shooting (46% on 127 three attempts) while McLean was more of a defender/rebounder at the small forward spot. Perimeter depth will be inexperienced, so the three starters will probably all play a lot of minutes.
The Mocs return a ton from a team that went 15-3 in conference last year; with Jones and Tuoyo continuing to intimidate in the paint, they should have a pretty high floor this year. How high the ceiling is, though, depends on McCall’s deployment of the talent and the way the roster takes to his style. Despite the coaching change, Chattanooga is the safest bet to take home the league title.
C – Kendric Ferrara, 6‘9, Senior
PF – Kris Acox, 6‘6, Junior
SF – Daniel Fowler, 6‘4, Sophomore
SG – Devin Sibley, 6‘2, Sophomore
PG – Stephen Croone, 6‘0, Senior
Reserves: Geoff Beans, 6‘7, So.; John Davis, 5’10, So.; Isaiah Watkins, 6‘7, R-So.; Larry Wideman, 6‘4, Sr.
It took a lot for me to not pick this team to win the conference – and for a team that went 8-21 (5-13) in the regular season last year, that’s a pretty bold statement. The Paladins have several reasons for optimism, however (and not just that “Paladins” is a phenomenal name – the SoCon actually has a lot of them with Mocs, Paladins, Terriers, Keydets, and Catamounts).
One of those reasons is the team’s strong finish in the conference tournament last year, riding their maturing young talent to upset wins over Chattanooga and Mercer before a heartbreaking championship loss to the regular season champ, Wofford. The second crucial reason is all of that talent – Furman returns nearly everyone of significance, including potential player of the year Stephen Croone and quality supporting players in junior Kris Acox and sophomores Daniel Fowler and Devin Sibley. The progression of these supporting players was the biggest key to Furman’s rise to respectability towards the end of last year.
Despite their increased contributions, though, the engine that makes this team go is Croone. An efficient scorer (gets to the free throw line a ton, adept at attacking the rim), Croone is equally comfortable handling the ball as he is playing on the wing and focusing on scoring. A big help for that scenario is the play of Fowler, a bigger wing who is also able to be the primary ball-handler at times. His turnovers should hopefully cut down a bit in his second year. Sibley, the other sophomore wing, showed a very versatile scoring game as a freshman, hitting some threes (37%) and getting to the line (though not as frequently as Croone). That perimeter triumvirate will be a problem for most opponents, and a third sophomore, 5’10 John Davis, gained valuable experience last year as well. Senior Larry Wideman offers added depth and occasional deep shooting, but his minutes could be threatened by freshman Jon Jean, a 5’11 guard from Florida.
Up front, Kris “The Ox” Acox is an Icelandic rebounding monster, ranking first in the conference in offensive rebounding rate (and 15th nationally) and third in defensive rate. He was also 8th in the SoCon in field goal percentage and 7th in free throw rate (Croone was 4th, Sibley was 8th). Acox will anchor the front line, while starting next to senior Kendrec Ferrara, an effective shot-blocker who ranked 6th in that category in the SoCon (147th nationally). He also provides a decent rebounding presence. Isaiah Watkins, a transfer from Duquesne, and sophomore Geoff Beans (lol Beans, remember him in Even Stevens?) are both 6’7 and offer solid depth.
Furman enters a promising new year after two disastrous ones under Niko Medved, and if the team can build on its promising conference tournament run, it truly could threaten for the conference title this year.
C – CJ Neumann, 6‘7, Senior
PF – Justin Gordon, 6‘6, Senior
G – Spencer Collins, 6‘4, Senior
SG – Jaylen Allen, 6‘3, Junior
PG – Eric Garcia, 5’11, Junior
Reserves: Derrick Brooks, 6‘2, So.; Cameron Jackson, 6‘7, So.; Larry McKnight, 6‘4, R-Fr.; Trevor Stumpe, 6‘5, Fr.; Fletcher Magee, 6‘4, Fr.
A moment of silence for Karl Cochran, please........................thank you. The 6‘1, 175-lb dynamo was a monster, running away with the conference player of the year award by putting up top-12 stats in the conference basically across the board (including defensive rebound rate and block rate, whaaat?). Like Wisconsin’s point guards (and many other teams who often drain the shot clock), Cochran was responsible for creating shots any time Wofford was in trouble, and replacing that dimension will be a tall task. As if losing Cochran isn’t enough, the Terriers lose a second four-year starter and all-conference honoree in forward Lee Skinner. Coach Mike Young brings back almost all of the complementary talent around those two stars and thus should continue to be very competitive in the conference, but winning it again without them will be difficult.
The backcourt will be a strength, led by wing Spencer Collins and point guard Eric Garcia. Collins will likely shoulder a large scoring load this year, and after putting up a 111.1 Ortg on 21.8% of possessions, he should be capable of taking it on. He doesn’t turn it over much and is a solid shooter. The 5’11 Garcia was nominally the PG last year, but the ball ended up in Cochran’s hands more often than not. Without him, Garcia will take on a larger leadership role and, given the team’s offense and the shorter shot clock, will be forced to use a much larger chunk of possessions. Even if he sacrifices some efficiency (115 Ortg), he should still be effective through solid deep shooting and a surprisingly strong ability to get to the line (astounding 83.6% FT Rate in conference). Jaylen Allen should slide into a starting role as a sophomore, and he’ll probably be the team’s best perimeter defender now. He also hit an impressive 40.4% of this threes – I would not be surprised to see Allen’s production bump up significantly in more minutes.
Role players stepping up is also a theme in the frontcourt, as Justin Gordon and CJ Neumann will be the featured guys this year. Gordon was a starter last year, and his strong offensive rebounding + finishing and defensive ability will be useful. Neumann is a similar player as a rebounding beast (coincidentally, Gordon and Neumann were #s 195 and 196 nationally in O-reb rate), though his defensive prowess is not quite as strong. The whole team will have to help out on the defensive glass, as Cochran and Skinner were both top-12 in the conference, helping Wofford to an elite rank of 27th nationally in that category.
The Terriers will remain in contention this year, and I wouldn’t put it past Coach Young to coax a leap out of Allen/Collins/Garcia and push the Terriers back on top of the league.
C – Peter Jurkin, 7‘0, R-Junior
PF – Isaac Banks, 6‘7, Sophomore
SF – Lester Wilson, 6‘4, Senior
SG – AJ Merriweather, 6‘2, Junior
PG – Petey McClain, 6‘0, Senior
Reserves: GeLawn Guyn, 6‘2, Sr.; Deuce Bello, 6‘4, R-Sr.; Desonta Bradford, 6‘4, So., Alex Bates, 6‘8, Jr.; Nigel Holley, 6‘8, Jr.; TJ Cromer, 6’3, Jr.; Shemar Johnson, 6’6, Fr.
East Tennessee State is an extremely interesting cauldron of returning pieces and wildcard newcomers, giving new coach Steve Forbes a plethora of options and some intriguing athleticism in a smaller conference. The Bucs lose the number one player in the country in terms of possessions used and % of shots taken, Jalen Riley (20.2ppg), along with second-leading scorer Rashawn Rembert (hit 83 threes), meaning a lot of shots will need to be re-distributed.
The newcomers start with three D1 transfers – Indiana big man Peter Jurkin, Cincinnati guard GeLawn Guyn, and Baylor-by-way-of-Mizzou wing Deuce Bello. Jurkin could give ETSU something very few SoCon teams have this year (or ever) – a large post scorer and rim protector who can, at 7’0, dominate the glass. Whether he hits that sky-high potential remains to be seen, though, as he has dealt with injuries and never really saw the floor for the Hoosiers. Guyn and Bello, on the other hand, have already shown absolutely elite defensive ability, and those two could be dominant as a wing defense combo in this conference (though neither is much of a scorer). With personal experience watching Bello at Mizzou, I know he can be frustrating, but if he finds himself a good fit here, he will be an asset for Forbes.
The other newcomers are of the JuCo and freshman variety – JC guys Nigel Holley, Abednego Lufile, and TJ Cromer and freshman Shemar Johnson. Cromer was a prolific scorer (19.9ppg) who could be a dynamo as a sixth man, instant offense type; Lufile is a strong guy who should help on the boards; and Holley should give the team some post defense and fit in nicely after being a role player for JC powerhouse Vincennes College. Johnson may find it tough to get on the court behind the team’s other wings, but he should have a bright future.
Among the returnees, the backcourt is the strength (similar to the newcomers). Seniors Petey McClain and Lester Wilson and junior AJ Merriweather all earned good minutes last year, though they will be pushed by Guyn/Bello/Cromer. Merriweather is the best of the bunch, a relatively efficient scorer who can help on the defensive glass and nab a few steals. He is a sure bet to start. McClain was solid in his role as a low-usage PG, flashing a fantastic assist rate (35%, 26th nationally) but also turning the ball over way too much (35.7%). Wilson also seems a sure bet to start, though it might be at the 4 rather than the 3 if the team goes small. Helped by the strong rebounding of Merriweather (and sophomore post Isaac Banks), Wilson can survive as a high volume stretch four (67/191 on threes). Banks is a strong 6’7 guy who doubles as a good rim protector; though the team likely hopes Jurkin can take over that role.
The three-point shot is huge for ETSU (13th highest 3PA/FGA in the country), but unfortunately, they let opponents feast out there as well (44.1%, 350th in the country). Letting teams fire away against their zone killed them; with more size on the squad, Forbes may look to play more man and limit the three. ETSU has a ton of new pieces to meld together, but if done properly, this team has a pretty high ceiling.
5. UNC Greensboro
C – RJ White, 6‘8, Senior
PF – Kayel Locke, 6‘5, Senior
SF – Tevon Saddler, 6‘6, Junior
SG – Clay Byrd, 6‘0, Junior
PG – Diante Baldwin, 6‘0, Junior
Reserves: Marvin Smith, 6‘6, Jr.; Asad Lamot, 6‘1, Sr.; Jordy Kuiper, 6‘9, Jr.; Francisco Alonso, 6‘3, Fr.; Lloyd Burgess, 6’11, R-Fr.; Demetrius Troy, 6‘0, Fr.
Ah, good old Wes Miller. The boring ass former Carolina point guard continues to be unremarkable (almost downright bland) during his tenure in charge of the Spartans. He has an impressive array of perimeter talent, but thus far has been unable to unlock it into an efficient offense and winning squad.
His biggest weapon is 6’6 junior Tevon Saddler, a multi-talented big wing who can pass the ball (an impressive #3 assist rate in the conference, #128 overall), play defense (#14 block rate, #18 steal rate in the SoCon), and score (13.4ppg) – though he was inefficient overall, shooting horribly from deep (9/47) and the free throw line (62%). Tidying up his shooting stroke (and cutting down turnovers a bit) would lead to a massive breakout season for him, especially given his usage rate (#40 in the entire country in possessions used).
Greensboro brings back three solid starters to place around Saddler, starting with big hunk of a post man RJ White (6’8, 280lbs.). White was very efficient inside, grabbed a colossal 26.1% of available defensive rebounds (tops in the conference, 19th nationally), and made his presence felt on the defensive end (3rd in block rate, 20th in steal rate in the SoCon). He attacks the offensive glass, too, with 34 of his 82 made shots at the rim resulting from put-backs (only 1 was unassisted/non-put-back – aka not an isolation scoring option). Upperclassmen Kayel Locke and Diante Baldwin also return, with Locke being a wide-body bully inside and Baldwin serving as the nominal point guard (though he trailed Saddler in assists per game). Joining them in the starting lineup should be junior Clay Byrd, a 6’0 shooter who will try to fill the large void of departed gunner Nicholas Poulos (81/189 last year, good for 43% and 85th in the entire country in accuracy).
The rest of the rotation has massive questions. Junior Jordy Kuiper was extremely efficient as a sophomore (115.2 Ortg), but as the team’s tallest rotation guy (6’9), he needs to be a better rebounder. Asad Lamot and Marvin Smith come back after playing spot minutes last year, but neither proved to be a terribly effective option. Miller would love to get some help from the newcomers (freshman guards Demetrius Troy and Francisco Alonso), along with redshirt freshman big man Lloyd Burgess, a 6’11 project who could be at least mildly useful this year.
Despite their talent, Greensboro needs to show a few more signs of being a well-coached team (fouled a ton, didn’t make free throws, gave up a fair amount of threes) before they can really rise up the standings. The athletic department extended Miller in the offseason despite a 47-81 (29-41 in conference) record so far, but he will need to reward their faith soon to avoid losing his job. Athletic department faith only gets you so far if the wins aren’t coming. Unfortunately, Miller is a snoozefest and doesn’t seem to have much in the way of creative strategy to offer the team; thus, I don’t see the Spartans being much better next year despite a pretty talented perimeter rotation.
C – Desmond Ringer, 6‘9, R-Sophomore
PF – Stephon Jelks, 6‘6, Sophomore
SF – Jibri Bryan, 6‘4, Senior
SG – Jordan Strawberry, 6‘1, Junior
PG – Phillip Leonard, 6‘2, Senior
Reserves: Jestin Lewis, 6‘1, Sr.; Lawrence Brown, 6‘5, R-Jr.; Jaylen Stowe, 6‘4, Fr.; Cory Kilby, 6‘7, Fr.; Ethan Stair, 6‘5, Fr.; Demetre Rivers, 6‘8, So.
Mercer faces an uphill battle after a disappointing end to the year last season – a huge reason for that is the transfer of Ike Nwamu to UNLV. Nwamu apparently couldn’t resist the lights of beautiful Vegas and has abandoned Macon; without him, the Bears will need to find a new go-to scorer and re-tool the lineup. All is not lost, though, with two senior leaders coming back in point guard Phillip Leonard and wing Jibri Bryan. Leonard was 32nd nationally and second in the conference in assist rate and succeeded at getting Nwamu and his other teammates involved. Without Ike, he will need to find a new target for his frequent assists. Leonard was also elite at getting to the stripe – second in the SoCon and 17th nationally. Getting the Bears easy points will be crucial this year without a bona fide scoring threat. Leonard’s distributing skills, though, should be effective enough to make his teammates better. Bryan is an unheralded wing who favors the defensive half of the game; his 3.8% steal rate in league play led the conference, and he gave surprising contributions on the glass with the 10th-best D-reb rate as well. His shooting must improve, however (29% overall on threes).
Along with Nwamu, skilled senior forward Darius Moten transferred, leaving the frontcourt minutes very open (big man TJ Hallice graduated as well). Sophomore Stephon Jelks is a massive breakout candidate after ultra-efficient numbers (119 O-rtg) in limited minutes; his time and usage should see bumps this year. Sophomore center Niklas Ney will also play more minutes, but his limited time last year didn’t offer many hints to future effectiveness. He should be a good shot-blocker in this league, but who knows how it will turn out.
Another sophomore, guard Jordan Strawberry, is another breakout candidate – he struggled as a freshman last year, but with more comfort in the team’s scheme, he will help replace Nwamu’s production. Finally, South Carolina transfer forward Desmond Ringer should be a force against the lesser competition in this league – he played some at SC in 2013-14, but he should take a leading role this year. His athleticism and rim protection should add another dimension for Coach Bob Hoffman and the Bears.
Mercer also brings in some promising freshman, most notably guard Jaylen Stowe. If the new class can make positive impacts (especially Stowe as a scorer to help replace Nwamu), Mercer will hopefully be able to claw towards the top of the league despite only being in their second year of SoCon competition.
All told, Mercer was a very solid squad last year. Although they lose a fair amount in Nwamu, Moten, and Hallice, the Bears still have enough around to be competitive. They will lean on Leonard’s slashing and passing and a breakout year from Jelks. Although I don’t forecast them near the top of the league, the Bears could be a threat to knock off the conference’s elite at any time.
7. Western Carolina
C – Torrion Brummitt, 6‘7, Senior
PF – Justin Browning, 6‘4, Senior
SF – Mike Brown, 6‘3, Senior
SG – Devin Peterson, 6‘1, Sophomore
PG – Rhett Harrellson, 5’10, Senior
Reserves: Deriece Parks, 6‘5, Jr.; Charlendez Brooks, 6‘9, R So.; Ashley Williams, 6‘5, So.; Aaron Williams, 6‘3, So.; Elijah Pughsley, 6‘1, Fr.; Haboubacar Mutombo, 6‘5, R-So.
The Catamounts had a very middling season last year, finishing a round 9-9 in conference (14-16 overall) with a blah offense (239th nationally) and blah defense (215th nationally). Coach Larry Hunter returns for his 11th season, though his presence offers few hints as to what Western Carolina will be good/bad at – they have been all over the board in his previous 10 years. The biggest patterns can be seen in free throw rate – the offense consistently struggles to get the line, and the defense has a massive problem with putting opponents on the line (bottom 15 in the country the last 3 years, bottom 50 all 10 years). The Catamounts traditionally play solid interior defense, but if the opponent is racking up points at the charity stripe, that can only be so helpful.
Both of the team’s returning post players, seniors Torrion Brummitt and Justin Browning (despite being 6’4), placed in the top 12 in the conference in block rate, and both were also in the top 21 in steal rate (Browning was actually 4th). Though undersized, they make a formidable defensive duo. Redshirt sophomore Charlendez Brooks offers even more shot-blocking, further reinforcing the team’s interior defense, but he (along with Browning and Brummitt) fouls quite frequently and gives the opponent a plethora of the aforementioned free points. Freshmen Marc Gosselin and Jesse Deloach (both 6’7) could offer more solid defensive options without the high risk/high reward of the returning players. Haboubacar Mutombo (redshirt sophomore, classic name) is also a great athlete who could make a difference with significant playing time.
The frontcourt may offer solid potential if they can avoid fouls, but Hunter’s team’s strength resides in the backcourt. Point guard Rhett Harrelson didn’t show a lot as a passer, but he is a very good shooter within the team’s scheme (82 threes hit at 37%), and wing Mike Brown is an all-conference candidate with a very solid O-rating (107.1) along with efficient shooting (22nd in conference in true shooting %). He also showed a surprising ability to rebound out of the backcourt (18th in conf in O-reb rate, 24th in D-reb rate). His versatility will be huge for the Catamounts this year. Rounding out the backcourt are sophomore Devin Peterson, JuCo transfer Deriece Parks, and twin sophomores Ashley and Aaron Williams. Peterson played the most out of the group last year, and Parks scored proficiently in junior college (15.9ppg), but the Williams twins offer the most potential. If they can be the first two guards off the bench, Coach Hunter will have a lot of toys to play with this year.
Last year’s team MVP, guard James Sinclair, is gone, but with the team’s returning and new pieces, they should be able to replace his production. The Catamounts most likely route to improvement is in their defense; if they can avoid constantly fouling and secure more defensive rebounds, they have a realistic shot to battle with the conference heavyweights. If not, they will continue to be in the bottom-half mess.
F – Phillip Anglade, 6‘5, Senior
F – Jordan Weethee, 6‘6, Senior
G – Tim Marshall, 6‘3, Senior
G – QJ Peterson, 6’0, Junior
PG – Julian Eleby, 6‘3, Junior
Reserves: Trey Chapman, 6‘6, Jr.; Fred Iruafemi, 6‘6, So.; Austin Vereen, 6‘4, Fr.; Adrian Rich, 6‘2, Fr.; D’Andre Mahaffey, 6‘6, Fr.; Armani Branch, 6‘6, So.; Tyrell Mason, 6‘3, Jr.;
PoorVMI fans. They go from one of the most entertaining coaches/systems in the country to watch, to a likely boring grind of a system led by Dan Earl, a former Ed DeChellis assistant. Bill Simmons always says “if you aren’t good, at least be entertaining,” and VMI always satisfied that axiom – they only finished above .500 in conference three times in Duggar Baucom’s ten years, but they went up and down the floor and took an obnoxious amount of threes (top 10 in 3PA% in 8 of the 10 years). On the contrary, Ed DeChellis-coached teams have almost always been plodding, methodical squads, and with Earl learning his trade under this system, it’s fair to expect VMI will flip from #1 in tempo to sub-300.
With a group of players recruited to fire away in Baucom’s scheme, I was pretty surprised no one from VMI transferred instead of trying to fit into the new coach’s system. This is taking a massive leap, but it suggests decent team chemistry within the locker room if no one wanted to GTFO (ok fine, it could be because it’s a military academy too). There is some offensive talent here, but will they be able to score as often without the benefit of constant transition opportunities? One thing DeChellis should get credit for is letting most of his team’s shoot – Julian Eleby and Tim Marshall will enjoy this, although neither put up a stellar percentage. VMI would love to have gunner QJ Peterson back, but it appears as though he will not return from a medical leave of absence. (EDIT: as of 10/7/2015, it appears Peterson will play for the Keydets this year. Though it’s not Baucom’s system anymore, he should be a crucial perimeter scoring piece. With his influence, VMI could definitely finish way above 8th).
With the slowed-down style, VMI should be able to play better defense – and that starts with an elite shotblocker in the middle, 6’5 forward Phillip Anglade. While not a traditional big man, Anglade’s 10.9% block rate was 23rd in the country. He also showed great rebounding ability (particularly offensive) in the last two years, though that number could come down as Earl focuses more on transition defense (mostly ignored in Baucom’s tenure). Jordan Weethee offers potential as a stretch 4, and wing Trey Chapman is a versatile, if inefficient, offensive option. Depth will come from bit players and freshmen, though in this system, the bench will be relied on significantly less. Likely options include sophomores Fred Iruafemi and Armani Branch and freshmen Austin Vereen, Will Weethee (Jordan’s younger brother), and D’Andre Mahaffey.
While maybe not as fascinating as the molasses-to-fastest transition that The Citadel well undertake, slowing all the way down from going a thousand miles an hour will be fascinating to watch in its own right. I’m curious to see if Earl adapts slightly to his players – if he is able to strike the right chord with this team and its pace, VMI could be competitive with the talent here.
C – Alex Peters, 6‘8, Sophomore
PF – Jamal Shabazz, 6‘6, Senior
SF – Iman Johnson, 6‘5, Senior
SG – Derius Jones-Gibson, 6‘1, Senior
PG – Chris Cunningham, 6‘2, Sophomore
Reserves: Marcus Johnson, 5’11, Sr.; Gerald Smith, 6’4, Fr.; Dakota Quinn, 6‘8, Fr.; Tanner Tapp, 6‘2, Fr.; Wyatt Walker, 6‘9, Fr.; Jarod Griffin, 6‘2, Fr.
I’ve been waiting for the day that NCAA coaches will be people that I remember watching in college, and Scott Padgett (along with Wes Miller at UNC Greensboro above, Jason Gardner at IUPUI, probably a few others) is one of the first to qualify. Samford is still struggling to find some roster continuity. Padgett has dealt with a lot of adversity so far, and as a result he will have a fairly young team this year. The roster has no eligible juniors that will play, and though there are four seniors, one is a grad transfer and the other three are all former junior college transfers – so not a ton of experience within the Samford program.
Despite three graduations and three transfers, the Bulldogs have a few bright spots – namely sophomore point guard Christian Cunningham. Cunningham had an impressive freshman season for multiple reasons – he played at least 25 minutes in every game against a D1 opponent, he got to the free throw line at a very impressive rate, and he flashed solid passing skills. He needs to add an outside shot and could do with cutting down turnovers a bit, but for a freshman anchor point guard, he had an outstanding year. Joining him in the backcourt should be three of those four aforementioned seniors – Derius Jones-Gibson was, all things considered, probably the team’s best player, maintaining a modicum of efficiency (103 Ortg) while using a major chunk of the team’s possessions (25.7%). Most of this efficiency comes from his incredible slashing ability and proclivity to draw fouls (12th in the country). He showed some sticky fingers on defense, too. The other candidates to start are 5’11 Marcus Johnson, who can also help at the point, and 6’5 Maryland-Eastern Shore grad transfer Iman Johnson, who was an okay role player that should be the team’s best (and longest) perimeter defender. This group should be the strength of the team.
The last senior, 6’6 Jamal Shabazz, seems a sure bet to start due to the team’s desperate need for size, and he rebounded and blocked shots at very solid rates last year. He will play a lot more minutes this year, and he needs to be a more effective offensive player as his role grows. Another sophomore, 6’8 post man Alex Peters, will be expected to step into a much larger role this year, but he had catastrophic turnover and foul rates of 40.5% and 10.6 per 40 minutes. To become playable, he will need to improve both of those drastically. Freshman posts Wyatt Walker (6’9), Dakota Quinn (6’9), and Matt Rose (6’7) will all be given a chance to earn playing time in the frontcourt as well.
The freshman the team seems highest on, though, is 6’4 guard Gerald Smith – he should add a degree of athleticism and scoring that Jones-Gibson and the two Johnson’s can’t quite offer. Getting him into the rotation early will be huge.
Samford will probably still struggle this year, but the young pieces – along with transfers Alex Thompson from Auburn and Demetrius Dyson from UMass – provide a very bright future for Coach Padgett and his program.
10. The Citadel
C – Brian White, 6‘8, Junior
PF – Quinton Marshall, 6‘5, Senior
SF – Derrick Henry, 6‘3, R-Senior
SG – Quayson Williams, 5’11, Freshman
PG – PJ Boutte, 5‘9, R-Senior
Reserves: Tom Koopman, 6‘8, Jr.; Warren Sledge, 6‘3, Jr.; Tim Broom, 6‘2, So.; Matt Frierson, 6‘2, Fr.; Qwandell Newton, 6‘6, Fr.
Man, I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen here. The Citadel was an outrageously slow team last year, finishing 344th in adjusted tempo. Most of the players on the team were recruited to play in that crawling offense. But now...who knows. With the hiring of frenetic madman Duggar Baucom from conference rival military school VMI, this offense is about to go 350 to top 5 real quick. Baucom’s tempo finishes over the last 10 years at VMI: 13, 1, 2, 1, 1, 2, 4, 9, 2, 1. This is like if Roy Williams or Dave Rose or someone of that ilk took over at Wisconsin or Virginia – just a complete stylistic overhaul. Shaka Smart taking over all of Rick Barnes’s big, slow guys is intriguing, but this is going to be a straight up lab experiment.
My hunch is that it’s going to take a lot of roster turnover for The Citadel to climb to respectability. Baucom’s VMI teams were always interesting, but they weren’t very good consistently. He’ll likely rely on his newcomers, particularly in the backcourt, as pretty much all of The Citadel’s shooting has moved on – and Baucom craves bombers. Two grad transfers, PJ Boutte from IUPUI and Derrick Henry from Winthrop, saw the minutes and shots available to them here and signed up quickly, and freshman Quayson Williams, a prolific high school scorer who initially committed to Baucom at VMI and followed him to The Citadel, will be encouraged to fire away from deep. I’m guessing these three will start and use a sizable amount of the myriad possessions. Returnees Warren Sledge and Tim Broom will provide depth, but they don’t have the shooting ability to really consume significant minutes for this squad.
Up front, the efficient, low-usage Brian White returns to man the middle, though it remains to be seen if he can keep up with the rapid pace. Fellow returnees Quinton Marshall and Tom Koopman will attempt to carve out roles, but Baucom recruits Qwandell Newton and Connor Schroeder will push for playing time.
Overall, it’s really hard for me to even discuss last year’s squad – this year’s edition will be so drastically different that it doesn’t even seem relevant. The biggest issues are getting the team to adapt to the new style and finding shooting – without either of those two things going smoothly, this year could be a disaster. For betting purposes, The Citadel always had a slight appeal as big underdogs due to limiting possessions. But with Duggar in charge, blowouts are far more likely (like at VMI).