The SoCon hoops ‘naughty list’

The SoCon’s ‘naughty list’ has been a clear indicator of its rise to mid-major prominence over the past seven seasons, but apparently only Santa and not the NCAA is checking it twice.

Sure, it’s easy for the NCAA to run wiretaps on coaches doing shady things, while enforcing a no-sit out transfer rule during COVID-19…But I’m quite sure that everyone will behave…Nope, no reason to be alarmed… All the Big schools will behave and not come after the great players at smaller programs…right?

But that’s another story for another day and just one of many double-standards that exists when it comes to differentiating between mid-major and high-major college hoops.

This is the time of year we seem to favor “lists” over any other time of year. You know, grocery store lists for mom’s Christmas dinner, or when Santa decides who’s been naughty or nice via well you know—a list.

Much like those lists, which many hold as a rite of passage so to speak as part of our holiday festivities, the Southern Conference has made a kind of pre-Christmas/holidays list of its own over the past several seasons, and that has been magnified in recent years during the SoCon’s meteoric rise to become one of mid-major’s best conference’s in the land.

The irony is that the SoCon’s rise came on the heels of the exodus from program’s like the College of Charleston, Davidson, Elon, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern.

With the additions of Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI, the league has flourished over the past six years. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the league has made a routine of making a naughty list of power five schools that get a special reward from old St. Nick on Christmas morning.

The SoCon has 18 major wins prior to the New Year since the start of the 2014-15 season, with 16 of those victories coming against power conference opposition. I counted Furman’s win over Loyola-Chicago (2018) , and Chattanooga’s win over Dayton (2016) as other significant wins during the past six years.

With the additions of Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI, the league has flourished over the past six years. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the league has made a routine of making a naughty list of power five schools that get a special reward from old St. Nick on Christmas morning. The SoCon has 18 major wins prior to the New Year since the start of the 2014-15 season, with 16 of those victories coming against power conference opposition.

Of those 18 wins the SoCon has enjoyed before the flip of the calendar year during the past seven seasons (including the current one), the 2014-15 campaign produced just one major win over a power conference opponent. That means in the past seven seasons, the league has had a 29.5% increase in victories over major competitio That means also means the previous 14 seasons yielded just 42 big wins by comparison.

That lone win during the 2014-15 season came via the Wofford Terriers—the eventual Southern Conference regular-season and tournament champion—as the Terriers put the N.C. State Wolfpack on the SoCon’s “naughty list” as the Terriers claimed what was a 55-54 win. That would win inside the new Reynolds Coliseum would accelerate that tradition of big wins by the SoCon in the years to come.

The next season, Chattanooga would do its part by knocking off Georgia (92-90) and Illinois (81-77), while East Tennessee State’s buzzer-beating win over Georgia Tech courtesy of a Ge’Lawn Guyn triple would be the beginning of what would become a traditional place for the Yellow Jackets on the SoCon’s naughty list in the ensuing years. It would be part of four wins over major conference foes the SoCon would total during that particular season, as Samford would knock off Nebraska (69-58) to complete the SoCon’s 2015-16 war path against power-seven conference competition.

That 300% increase in number of wins over big-time programs in a seasons seems to coincide with several different factors that has led to the SoCon’s elevation and increased visibility, with coaching at the top program’s and recruiting at those schools initially being an easy indicator to pinpoint as a major disguising marker, which got major credibility during the 2018-19 season, which saw the top four in the SoCon—Wofford, UNC Greensboro, Furman and East Tennessee State—go 47-1 against the bottom six teams in the league that particular season, with the only team to lose to one of the bottom six teams in the Southern Conference that particular season being Furman, which was a 75-73 home loss to Samford.

The team that seems to be getting itself on the naughty list more often than not is Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets should probably reconsider the whole notion of playing a SoCon school, especially at this current moment in college basketball time. Since the start of the 2014-15 season, the Yellow Jackets have been victims of defeat to the Southern Conference on three occasions over the past six seasons. That’s just ahead of ACC rival North Carolina, which has two losses to SoCon schools in that same span.

While Josh Pastner might have been able to avoid the postseason tournament last March due to the fact that COVID-19 imposed a pandemic, the SoCon did not forget about Pastner’s recruiting mis-givings and mistakes, and it was Mercer’s law that handed down an 83-73 penalty, which was the latest helping of loss the SoCon handed out to a power five a day after Thanksgiving.

Last season, that team was LSU. Current Wake Forest head coach and former ETSU boss Steve Forbes didn’t forget that his former conference rival Will Wade had been naughty. Wade was of course at one time the coach at Chattanooga, which was during the first two years of five that Forbes spent in Johnson City.

If anyone knew what it was like to be wrongly placed on such a naughty list, it was Forbes, who had to serve a two-year show-cause penalty for the sins of his former boss Bruce Pearl, who continued to sale snake oil at ESPN prior to getting back into coaching—not exactly having to go back to the JUCO ranks eh?

But Wade likely should have been there. Really no secret why John Currie hired Forbes at Wake. When he was at Tennessee, he knew he had been unjustly dealt the two-year show-cause by the NCAA–Well that, and Forbes is one hell of a hoops coach!

In fact, the FBI never investigated Forbes. Show cause or no cause, Forbes and the Bucs delivered a beat down to LSU last December that FBI wire-tappers could only admire, as the ETSU downed the Bayou Bengals just before Christmas, 74-63. Will Wade was promptly on that naughty list just in time to receive coal in his stocking. Former LSU wideout Odell Beckham did his best to make LSU an equal revenue sport infractor following his antics of throwing money around like it was candy after the Tigers win over Clemson in the FBS national title game.

And if we go back to the 2018-19 season, we find that the SoCon was not only punishing the bad boys of recruiting in college hoops, but it even had a pension for seeking out the ones that normally hand out the punishments—of course I mean the catholic schools. Villanova may have been the defending national champions and had won two of the previous three titles, and Loyola-Chicago may have whipped the nation into a frenzy quicker than the Providence Friar ever has, but Furman handed out inquisitions to both, downing the Wildcats a 76-68 overtime loss just days after shocking Sister Jean’s Ramblers, 60-58, on a Clay Mounce thunder dunk.

Furman was so disappointing with the now perennial Missouri Valley Conference title contenders, that the Paladins were able to demolish Cameron Krutwig and the Ramblers a second-straight season, delivering an 87-63 beatdown at that fortress known as Timmons Arena. It was naughty, naughty for those programs in consecutive seasons, with Loyola receiving a double-dose of that Purple feeling.

Then there’s the curious story of North Carolina and Wofford. In its defense, the Tar Heels were willing to go to Wofford to open the 2018-19 season, and for that, at least for one year, Roy Williams landed on the nice list for a season, as the Tar Heels handed eventual 30-game winner one of only four regular-season losses, handing the Terriers a 78-67 setback.

A year earlier, Fletcher Magee, Cam Jackson and the Terriers delivered the kind of shock to the college basketball world that it wasn’t ready for, as the Terriers went to the Dean Dome and delivered the 10th-ranked Tar Heels with a 79-75 shocker. That win was also just in time to add Roy Williams and the Heels to the naughty list just before Santa and Rudolph boarded the sleigh somewhere due North. It was Wofford’s first-ever win over a ranked foe since it joined the Division I ranks.

Then there was last year, and North Carolina thought it would be neat to return to Christmas Past, or in this case, play a game at old Carmichael Auditorium for the first time since 1986. The Terriers weren’t in love with it, as Trevor ‘Stump-ed’ that idea in the ground, with 19 points to help the Terriers to the 68-64 win in Chapel Hill. You guessed it—Tar Heels and Naughty List were becoming a thing. A hot Christmas item, only you couldn’t really purchase it like you could an Elmo or one of those weird elves that looks at you and moves.


UNC Greensboro has also had its time handing out the bad boy notices, like when it evicted the N.C. State Wolfpack and its over-estimating fans back in Dec. 2018, allowing the Wolfpack fanbase to wax poetic, or four-letter words, nostalgically to the Herb Sendek era—poor Herb. But as we would quickly find out, Francis Alonso, Jordy Kuiper and a young Isaiah Miller were no joke, as the Spartans went on to claim the SoCon regular-season and tournament titles following their 81-76 win. Last season, the Spartans made Georgetown apart of that same naughty list by going to D.C .and stunning the Hoyas, 65-61.

Just a few nights later, Wofford added to Tobacco road’s embarrassment with one of the aforementioned wins at North Carolina, and Furman and ETSU could have well made Tennessee and Xavier a part of that list as well during that same week.

All kidding and lighthearted holiday fun aside, the point here is the SoCon should be getting noticed more. In a new era of COVID-19 protocols and schedules changing on a whim, with everyone forced to stay home, all we can do is watch. My question is this…If the nation is now all glued to some television or device to watch these games, and the NCAA is to, there are no longer these excuses of letting others in that always seem to get in the field, like that random 19-13 Rutgers team that finished 7-9 in Big Ten play over some mid-major that won 29 games and lost by one in the SoCon title game.

I was sure two years ago that it would be the year the SoCon got two teams. Two teams ranked from 41-52 (UNCG and Furman) in the newly devised NET ranking system, or Net Evaluation Tool, which was, according experts, supposed to benefit mid-majors, however, for the 79th-straight postseason classic, the SoCon had only one team going and that was the automatic qualifier and tournament champion Wofford.

That season was unlike any other in Southern Conference history. Two teams were ranked (Furman and Wofford), knocked off the defending national champion (Villanova) and a reigning Final Four participant (Loyola-Chicago). But someone had put the SoCon on the NCAA’s naughty list. Consider this, before the NCAA Tournament, there was a SoCon Tournament. That’s right, the league is celebrating season 100-101, and was the first conference to sponsor a postseason tournament, yet it is never gotten two bids. The conference has ranked No. 13 of 33 conferences in the RPI the last two seasons and has not gotten two bids—yes I realize there was no tournament last March but the SoCon wasn’t getting two.

No, the SoCon got two NIT bids two years ago. It’s like getting the cheap rip-off version of the real thing. Like the Tickle-Me-Elmo made by some off-shoot company called Lyco and make a similar toy called Tickle-Me-Mo or something weird like that, but you get the point. Now, the NIT is not a bad tournament at all, but all I am saying is don’t give that league NIT bids as consolation gifts to let in a Rutgers team with 19 wins and not even a winning conference record. The naughty worksheet could have even more names added to it as the 2020-21 season continues.

Though it is not from what folks refer to as a “power conference” Richmond came into Monday’s “schedule-by-pandemic” game with No. 19 Richmond, and the Terriers, despite being short-handed due to injury, nearly went on the road and pulled off the win. The Terriers even held a 70-65 lead inside the final four minutes, but couldn’t hold off the nationally ranked Spiders from the Atlantic 10, falling 77-72.

There are several more opportunities—we think—that even in a year like this, the SoCon will have chances to impress the NCAA selection committee. Furman will take on Cincinnati tomorrow night in what looks like a winnable game for head coach Bob Richey’s Paladins. The Paladins also face Alabama later this month, and may be still a chance to play nationally-ranked Richmond at some point this season.

UNCG would have had a prime opportunity at Louisville in that multi-team-event to start the year, however, that game had to be canceled due to COVID-19. There are early indications that the bottom portion of the league is much better, too, and teams like VMI, who have already frustrated Mike Young’s Hokies for 40 minutes before losing 64-57 to the Hokies. The Keydets play at Wake Forest later this month.

The SoCon has ranked 13th out of 32 NCAA Division I college basketball conferences in the latest RPI each of the past two seasons, which is the highest the league has ever ranked in RPI in its 100-year history.

All told, the conferece has won 61 games against significant opposition since the start of the 2000-01 campaign, with 60 coming against what would be best referred to as big or power conference opposition. I like to call this the SoCon’s version of the preseason ‘naughty list.’ Let’s do the right thing this winter, NCAA, and give a hard look at the SoCon.

After all, we could care less about the Rutgers vs. N.C. State No. 8 vs. No. 9 matchup. Absolutely no one would miss that game outside those two fanbases. Let’s do the right thing, NCAA. You ask all of us who work or play in sports to be fair and play by the rules, and now it’s time for you to follow suit.

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