SoCon Basketball 2022-23 Preview and Media Day Recap

For the second-straight season, the Southern Conference basketball season began in the venue in which its NCAA automatic qualifier will be determined. All 10 head coaches were on-hand, while student-athletes from none of the league’s 10 programs were in Asheville at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center to answer questions for the media.

The keynote speakers for the event were college basketball analysts Seth Greenberg and Debbie Antonelli, who spoke mostly directly to student-athletes on topics ranging from NIL to what you do and don’t do on social media and how that can shape your future in a positive, but more often negative direction if you don’t use it correctly.

Just eight months ago on that very same floor, the league witnessed one of the best league championship games in its proud 102-year history, as David Jean-Baptiste’s 36-foot prayer at the buzzer ended up being answered, with his shot swishing through the hoop as time expired, sending Mocs fans into ecstasy and wild celebration, while the Paladins fell to the floor in heartbreak and disbelief for a program trying to breakthrough and end a 42-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Just like last season, there was a consensus favorite to take the crown, as Furman favored in both the media and coaches’ poll, which are listed below the article, to claim the 2022-23 Southern Conference title.

The Paladins have now established themselves as a perennial mid-major basketball power, winning 20 or more games in five of the past seven campaigns, and have posted a total of 153 wins over that span.

Under former head coach Niko Medved and now current head coach Bob Richey, Furman’s program has experienced unprecedented success in its rich history.

For Richey, who has won 111 of those 153 games in just five seasons, the fun is the challenge, and the challenge is indeed, the fun. In other words, keeping perspective on the game and its role in a bigger picture frame are all part of his uniqueness as a head basketball coach.

When the Paladins headed to Asheville in 2022 to take part in the Southern Conference Tournament as the No. 2 overall seed, the focus was less on basketball on more on how not to feel the weight of the pressure basketball can sometimes be allowed to invade a team’s psyche at seemingly innocent moments.

Small changes in approach ended up seeing the Paladins suffer no first-game jitters like it previously had over the past six trips to Asheville during this period of uncharted success for the Paladin basketball program. A few minor tweaks later, and the Paladins were in the championship game against the league and tournament favorite Mocs, and it was Furman that was applying the pressure and not feeling the pressure of the moment.

However, in championship games, there is usually one championship moment, and in 2022, that belonged to sixth-year senior David Jean-Baptiste and Chattanooga and not Mike Bothwell (15.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG) or Jalen Slawson (14.4 PPG, 7.4 RPG).

Even though both had informed coach Richey of their likely return prior to the tournament, Jean-Baptiste’s buzzer-beating shot all but signed, sealed and delivered that assurance for 2022-23.

While the Paladins will be noted for those two players, it’s often the sum of the other parts that surround a team’s best players that end up determining the ultimate fate of a team, or as former Chattanooga coach and current South Carolina coach referred to it as “non option A guys” in answering a question about Furman’s loss in mid-January in the Scenic City, which ironically came on a missed layup at the buzzer. Paris was talking championship steps aren’t taken by your most talented players, but rather determined by guys that aren’t on the front of the media guide.

For Furman, that’s guys like forward Garrett Hien (5.2 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and combo guard Marcus Foster (8.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG), that’s the type of barometer for Asheville’s success that that can predict what might or might not happen in the season-ending test in the Sky City with an NCAA Tournament on the line come March.

Both Foster and Hien are set to take major steps forward for Richey and the Paladins this season, which is much like players like Grant Ledford, AJ Caldwell, Darius Banks and Josh Ayeni were able to provide for both Jean-Baptiste and league player of the year Malachi Smith last season.

I expect Foster to be a major difference for the ‘Dins, and he’s one of those players that didn’t end up on anyone’s preseason all-league team but will end up on one at the conclusion of the 2022-23 campaign in my estimation.

Slawson comes off a season in which he was the SoCon’s Defensive Player of the Year, but he was so much more valuable last season in other ways he could affect the game.

Slawson was quite simply a stat stuffer last season. He finished ranking second in the SoCon in steals (1.7 SPG), third in blocks (1.7 BPG), sixth in assists (3.7 APG), fifth in field goal percentage (48.4%), fourth in rebound average (7.4 RPG), 13th in scoring average (14.4 PPG) and eighth in free throw percentage (79.5%).

The biggest question of several in the preseason favorites is not about who will perform this season, but what performers were lost from last and how the team will adapt. And it’s almost becoming a comical question that we asked every year dating back to the days of losing guys like Stephen Croone and Devin Sibley early on in this turnaround story.

However, the Paladins almost seem to relish the question that loves to be asked, as year after year the response is done emphatically by one player or another, whether it be Matt Rafferty, Jordan Lyons, Mike Bothwell or Jalen Slawson. Now, it’s time for a new one.

The fact is Furman lost two outstanding perimeter shooters, in Conley Garrison and Alex Hunter–a player that has been a part of the program in every game since Bob Richey became the head coach of the Paladins prior to the 2017-18 season.

Alex Hunter and Conley Garrison, who were a big reason why the Paladins set the Southern Conference record with 401 made three-point field goals last season, as the duo combined to knock down 186 of the team’s 401 triples last season, which is nearly half (48.6%) of the team’s trifectas from a year ago.

The duo also combined to dish out 190 of the team’s 593 assists last season. No doubt Hunter and Garrison will be missed, but the good news for Furman fans is there is more than capable depth and talent in the backcourt both returning, as well as incoming talent from the recruiting process, as well as the transfer portal.

There is a silver lining with next Richey and staff have to answer, as it is more of a luxury rather a detriment. The question is who to start at point guard.

Richey has options and depth. Joe Anderson (4.7 PPG, 1.1 RPG), Wake Forest transfer Carter Whitt, and JP Pegues (3.8 PPG, 1.4 RPG) are all capable of filling that important role left following Alex Hunter’s departure. Hunter, who won more games than any other player in his Paladin career, left quite legacy and standard to be upheld at the position.

Whitt, a former Top 100 recruit prior to choosing to spend his first two seasons at Wake Forest, will add skill and a brash ball-handling and passing skill to the offense, however, will be less of a scorer in the backcourt than Hunter or Garrison were.

Pegues is a player many around the program feel like can make a Mike Bothwell-type jump in offensive production from year one to year two.

Alongside the likes of Hien and Slawson underneath, keep an eye on the midwestern sophomore duo of Tyrese Hughey (3.3 PPG, 1.4 RPG) and Alex Williams (3.4 PPG, 0.6 RPG), while 6-10 sharp-shooting forward Jonny Lawrence returns after missing the entire 2021-22 season with a back injury. Hughey could be a game-changer, as he showed in the semifinal win over Samford, with his steal and dunk late in the first half of the Paladins’ semifinal win.

Big 6-10 Texan James Repass (0.7 PPG, 0.5 RPG) continues to develop at the five and gives the Paladins the option to big at times underneath with Slawson and Hughey. Ben impact and is a freshman that could make an immediate impact and has even drawn some comparisons to a young Matt Rafferty.

The Paladins also made some additions to their coaching staff during the off-season, bringing in both Chad Warner and Darren Angell. Warner, a former head coach at Division II power Flagler University in Florida, will replace Jimmie Williams on the sidelines after Williams took over as the head coach at Anderson University this past April.

Angell comes to Furman from Indiana State, where he will replace Daniel Fowler, after he decided to enter the business world. He will be the special assistant to head coach Bob Richey, while Tyler Eckstein replaces Jon DeAngelo, who returned to Kanas to pursue basketball coaching opportunity at Sunrise Christian Academy.

All joining the staff during the off-season as a first-year assistant is former legendary three-point marksmen Jordan Lyons, who tied an NCAA record for threes made in a single game as a junior with 15. He will give the Paladins a notable boost on the sidelines as a coach that is not all that far removed from having played in this league seems to resonate more with players in this day and age. Furman has two of those guys, with Lyons joining former Wofford legend Tim Johnson, who is a walking rebound.

Furman received six of 10 possible votes in the league’s preseason coaching poll, while getting 18 of a possible 29 first-place votes in the media poll. Furman’s prognostication by the league’s media and coaches marks the first time since being picked to win the league by either the coaches or media since being picked to win the SoCon’s South Division in 2003-04.

The Paladins play an outstanding non-conference slate, which sees them play Belmont (Nov. 11) in one of the most exciting non-conference games in mid-major basketball. Furman will also take part in the Shriner’s Charleston Classic from Nov. 17-20, taking on Penn State to open the tournament. Furman also has a game against power five foe North Carolina State on Dec. 13 in Raleigh and will face perennial mid-major power Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 17) near the end of non-conference play in the Greenville Winter Invitational at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.

The Paladins will open SoCon play on Dec. 29 facing VMI at Timmons Arena before traveling to take on Western Carolina in Cullowhee on New Year’s Eve.

Click the audio clip below to hear what Furman head coach Bob Richey had to say about the upcoming season and being the consensus league title favorite.

Furman head coach Bob Richey
Samford point guard Ques Glover (photo courtesy of Samford athletics)

As far as the team expected to challenge the Paladins in the Paladins in the Southern Conference in the league race this coming season, both the media and coaches differ on just exactly who that team will be. The media voted Chattanooga as the No. 2 team in the Southern Conference, while the coaches had the Samford Bulldogs as the No. 2 team in the league.

Samford is the team most expect to be the team that folks think will be challenging for the Paladins for the league crown if you look from a national perspective. The Bulldogs, who are under the direction of third-year head coach Bucky McMillan return all five starters from a team that finished with 21 wins last season.

Three of those starters and one newcomer found themselves as members of the preseason All-Southern Conference team heading into the 2022-23 campaign, with point guard Ques Glover (19.2 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 129 asts, 35 steals), and forwards Logan Dye (12.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG) and Jermaine Marshall (13.0 PPG, 8.2 RPG) both complimenting Glover as a strong returning trio on the preseason all-league scroll.

The one newcomer on the list will be a player recognizable to Southern Conference hoops fans, with the return of Bubba Parham to the league. Parham spent two seasons as a scoring fixture at VMI before transferring to power five Georgia Tech following the 2018-19 campaign.

Parham could immediately give the Bulldogs one of the top scoring backcourts in the SoCon upon his arrival. At Georgia Tech and VMI, Parham has scored 1,452 points and has knocked down 231 three-pointers.

While at VMI in the 2018-19 season, Parham led the SoCon in scoring at 21.4 points per game. He then spent two seasons at Georgia Tech, where he averaged 5.2 points in his first season as a Yellow Jacket and 6.7 points in year two.

As far as a supporting cast in concerned for the Bulldogs, look for Jaden Campbell (10.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG) and Cooper Kaifes (8.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG) to be part of maybe the deepest talent reserves in the backcourt among league members heading into the 2022-23 campaign.

Campbell acquitted himself as an outstanding shooter for the Bulldogs last season off the bench, connecting on a solid 38.8% (59-of-152) from three-point range last season. Kaifes, a transfer from Loyola Chicago, connected on 49 threes at a 33.8% (49-of-145) clip in his first season playing for the Bulldogs in 2021-22.

The Bulldogs don’t exactly light the world on fire with their non-conference schedule in 2022-23, as the Bulldogs play just two mediocre power six conference programs, with a solid chance to win both. The Bulldogs will face DePaul (Nov. 30) and Central Florida (Dec. 4) during non-conference play.

The Bulldogs will open Southern Conference play on Dec. 28 in an ESPNU matchup at the Pete Hanna Center against Mercer. Three days later, the Bulldogs will ring in the New Year in a kennel far, far away, taking on The Citadel Bulldogs at McAlister Field House on Dec. 31.

I spoke to Samford head coach Bucky McMillan in late July about the upcoming 2022-23 season. The 2021-22 Southern Conference Coach of the Year didn’t mince words and talked of his excitement level for Samford before the team headed off to the Dominican Republic as a part one of the basketball tours allowed by the NCAA every four years.

With a core group of veterans back, McMillan has seen his team’s growth play out in elevating its level of play on the floor during the off-season.

“One thing I think is I’ve seen our play get a little bit cleaner and a little bit tighter to where we aren’t making so many mistakes, and guys are seemingly understanding their roles more when the lights come on now that they have had a full year to play with one another…As we play more games together, we get more and more comfortable in the way we play,” Samford head coach Bucky McMillan said in late July.

For more on Samford’s prospects heading into the 2022-23 season, check out my article at mid-major madness by clicking the link provided below.

The 2022 SoCon title game between Furman and Chattanooga was an instant classic, rivaling the 1984 clash between the Mocs and former member Marshall in the very same venue

Chattanooga has plenty of new faces combined with the same old expectations. The Mocs victory train will have a new engineer this season, while also having a new player on the floor to act as a conductor that should have fans in the Scenic City flocking to McKenzie Arena once again this season.

The Mocs lost a total of four starters: G-Malachi Smith (19.9 PPG, 6.7 RPG), G-David Jean-Baptiste (14.3 PPG), C-Silvio De Sousa (11.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG) and Darius Banks (8.4 PPG, 4.9 RPG) to either graduation or transfer. The Mocs also graduated the oldest player in college basketball, in Josh Ayeni (4.2 PPG, 2.5 RPG), who was invaluable in last season’s championship run.

Chattanooga also saw its head coach of the previous five seasons take on a new challenge, as Lamont Paris became the new head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks just a couple of days after the heartbreaking 54-53 loss to Illinois in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Dan Earl is the new head coach, while Jake Stephens–the SoCon’s Preseason Player of the Year–is back for one more season in the SoCon in a different locale. Both Earl and Stephens are ready to get started on one last train ride together with the knowledge of what goes along with it. After all, the Mocs are the gold standard when it comes to Southern Conference basketball, having won a league standard 12 conference tournament crowns, with the latest of those having come last March, with

“I think having a guy like Jake [Stephens] here with me helps a lot in terms of him conveying to the others about grasping some of our stuff offensively because it’s a little different than what the previous staff went about scoring the ball, and he’s been a tremendous help for me and also it’s obviously special for me as a head coach to have him around for one more season and being able to coach him one more year is really special,” head coach Dan Earl said of Stephens at media day.

Stephens is enough to put the Mocs in the mix. Another huge boon is having veteran Jamal Walker (4.4 PPG, 1.7 RPG) return in the backcourt after missing most of the 2021-22 season with a blood clot in his leg. Earl has also gone into unfamiliar territory to help supplement the likes of Hankton, Brady, A.J. Caldwell, Grant Ledford, Walker and Tada Stricklen, who return from that championship team.

That unfamiliar territory for Earl is what most refer to as the transfer portal, which was an unknown for Earl, at least in seeking out players, during his seven seasons in Lexington.

Along with adding Stephens to the fold for the Mocs, Stephens’ teammate from VMI—Honor Huff—also joins the Mocs basketball program. All Huff did was garner SoCon All-Freshman honors last season. Huff will sit out this season per Southern Conference rules on in-conference transfer rules and will be eligible to play in 2023-24.

Another important piece brought in via the transfer portal is former USC Upstate guard Dalvin White. Like Johnson and Stephens, White brings a wealth of experience to the Scenic City and will have one year of eligibility remaining after having spent the past four seasons in the Hub City of Spartanburg. In 31 games during the 2021-22 season, White averaged 8.7 PPG, 2.0 RPG, and added 3.9 APG.

White was a big part of a USC Upstate team that advanced all the way to the Big South semifinals before being knocked off by eventual champion Longwood. The three most recent signees brought in by Chattanooga’s new head coach in charge include Houston Baptist transfer point guard Khristion Courseault, JUCO transfer and 6-9 forward Demetrius Davis, and forward/ center Samuel Alexis.

As far as Stephens is concerned though, he’s just a big kid in a new city looking to enjoy and savor his final year of college basketball. At the heart of it all, there’s something really neat and innocent about all that in a world that exists outside the shenanigans of power conference basketball.

“I love it in Chattanooga…The people are great, and I’ve learned I have to just try and slow everything and enjoy this last season of college basketball. I think that’s something you learn as a player along the way,” Stephens said at SoCon media day.

Chattanooga faces tough tests early on in non-conference play, beginning the season in the Port City of Charleston to face the Cougars at TD Arena on Nov. 7. The Mocs will be looking to snap a four-game skid against the Cougars, which includes a 68-66 setback at the Roundhouse last season.

While the Mocs were picked second in the media poll, UTC was picked fourth in the coaches’ poll behind both Samford and UNC Greensboro.

UNCG graduate senior Mohammad Abdulsalaam

UNCG might be the true sleeper on the SoCon hardwood heading into Mike Jones’ second season at the helm in the Gate City.

Jones took the reins last April following UNCG’s NCAA Tournament exit after a narrow loss to Florida, replacing Wes Miller, who became the new head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats.

One thing Jones didn’t have to do is motivate his team to do what must other teams treat as a chore rather than an exercise of enjoyment, which is of course is sitting down and guarding people. No one in the Southern Conference has done that better over the past four or five seasons than UNCG in the SoCon, and few have nationwide.

I caught up with Mike Jones just after Labor Day, while I was able to speak with veteran and leading guard Keyshaun Langley at SoCon media day and click the link below to hear what he had to say about the culture being cultivated along Tobacco Road. Some really nice things continue to happen for UNCG’s basketball program, which has carried over from what Wes Miller was able to ignite during his 10 seasons as head basketball coach of UNCG.

One of the things that has made Jones’ brand unique at UNCG is his “Juice” program, which is focused on the team’s camaraderie on, but especially off the court.

The fact that this team, or any team for that matter, gets along off the court is vital to on-court success. You absolutely can’t have one without the other.

Like Furman, UNCG is a program that has had no shortage of wins since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, as the Spartans enter the 2022-23 season with six-straight winning seasons and have won 157 games over that span.

The 29-win team in 2018-19, which is also a single-season school record for victories, probably saw one of the bigger NCAA Tournament snubs in the history of the tournament, with the Spartans being the last team left out from a conference that ranked inside the top half of college basketball in that particular season, according to the NET rankings.

That success is the kind that eventually gets your coach a new job at a bigger school, which was exactly the case for Wes Miller, who left UNCG for Cincinnati, after the head coach just shy of 40 years old left the Gate City for the Queen City following leading the Spartans to their second NCAA Tournament berth within a six-year span.

The 2021-22 season was always going to be a bit of a rebuilding one with the loss of Wes Miller, along with SoCon three-time Defensive Player of the Year and arguably one of the best players in the history of the program, in Isaiah Miller, however, UNCG went out and made an outstanding hire, bringing in Radford head coach Mike Jones, who led that program to unprecedented heights.

It was never going to be a tough act to follow for Jones, who turned a Radford program around after it had been on probation prior to his arrival. Given the facilities and the challenges that go with that job. Jones probably relished the opportunity to follow an accomplished young up-and-comer like Miller, as he took the reins of the UNCG program looking to elevate it to an even greater product from what Miller almost had to build from scratch over the better part of the previous decade.

“When I got here, there were already plenty of expectations in place…Our guys were used to winning…expected to win…the fans…the administration…everybody,” said UNCG head basketball coach Mike Jones in a phone interview we had in late August.

“There was some understanding of course when I got here that there were some challenges…a new group…a new staff that the players had to get used to and stuff like that and I was overly pleased with how our team competed throughout the season and I am sure there were people out there that would have said they expected us to win another championship and I think that was a little unrealistic last year and so for us to compete the way we did and beat some of the teams that we beat…I was really proud of our team,” Jones added.

The teams UNCG beat three teams ranked inside the Top 75 of the KenPom rankings last season, winning on the road at Furman (W, 58-56), at Chattanooga (W, 73-70) and had a home win over America East champion Vermont (W, 54-51).

Jones had to some veteran holdovers that he could rely on last season, such as the Kobe and Keyshaun Langley, Kaleb Hunter (8.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG), and Mohammed Abdulsalam (6.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG), and also added a couple of talented grad transfers that provided an immediate impact, in De’Monte Buckingham (12.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and Dante Treacy (6.8 PPG, 2.2 RPG). All but Buckingham and Hunter return for the 2022-23 season.

Bas Leyte (9.5 PPG, 6.0 RPG), who might have been one of the most improved players in the league last season, hitting some big free throws down the stretch in key road wins at Furman and at Chattanooga, and he could be in for a breakout season. Don’t sleep on Leyte. He’s the type of player that could end up being on the all-conference team at season’s end.

The Spartans would complete the season with a 17-15 record, making a postseason tournament appearance, as the Spartans competed in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), losing in the opening round to Boston University, 71-68, at Daytona Beach.

That came on the heels of a quarterfinal round, 66-64, loss to No. 3 Samford in the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville, in a game, which nearly saw the Spartans make a near miraculous comeback after trailing by 22 points at the break.

Jones is also especially excited about the talent he has procured from the transfer portal this time around, bringing in talented former UMBC guard Keondre Kennedy (14.8 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 2.2 APG) from the Retrievers program, as well as ultra-athletic Mikeal Brown-Jones (4.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG) from VCU. The true basketball junkie will remember that the Rams were one of the top defensive teams in the country last season, so by default, adding him to an already strong defensive unit for the Spartans will only making them stronger on that end of the floor this season.

Jones also added Akrum Ahemed, who is a 6-5, 200-lb guard that has good size and passing ability, and a player that Jones expects to be an immediate impact player, as he comes to Greensboro after spending a couple of seasons at Canisius.

Another player that Jones procured via the portal from the state of New York is 6-3 guard Joryam Saizounou, who like Leyte, hails from the Netherlands.

Finally, Donovan Atwell might be the best freshman player brought in as a recruit to the league this season. The star from Providence Day School is a 6-5 combo guard that figures to immediately challenge for major minutes this season. Atwell chose UNCG over a pair of elite mid-major programs, in East Tennessee State and Murray State.

The Spartans were picked to finish third in the coaches’ poll, while the media had the Spartans fourth, with one first-place vote. Check out the interview from media day with Keyshawn Langley below.

Wofford’s BJ Mack guard UTC’s Avery Diggs in the low post in last year’s SoCon Semifinal clash in Asheville

Fifth place in both the media and coaches poll belonged to the Wofford Terriers. There’s reason to believe the Terriers, like UNCG, are one of those teams that could be a sleeper when March rolls around. The Terriers finished off the 2021-22 season with a 19-13 record and a 10-8 league ledger, which saw them finish tied for third in the final regular-season standings.

Since the start of the 2015-16 season, Wofford has been as sound as team in the SoCon. Under Young and now McAuley, the Terriers have produced a 135-90 overall mark in that span.

The Terriers and McAuley will encounter perhaps their most adversity entering a season since he took the job three years ago, as Wofford must replace seven key performers from last season.

Among those significant departures in the portal included standout All-SoCon guard Max Klesmit (14.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG), who transferred to the University of Wisconsin, where he is in line to potentially start in the Badgers backcourt this coming season.

Ryan Larson (8.9 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 40 assists) –a veteran point guard–had already told McAuley he was leaving prior to the end of the 2021-22 season and will play one year for Pat Kelsey at CofC while pursuing his post-graduate degree in the Lowcountry.

However, the good news is two all-conference performers return in the front court, in B.J. Mack and Messiah Jones in the front court.

McAuley has proven to be a good hire thus far, and while he has yet to win 20 games as of yet, he is an impressive 53-38 as the head coach.

He knows what he has in Mack, who is legitimately one of the top five players in the league, and it showed last season, especially over the second half of the season when he had to when he became the go-to-guy in the paint with Jones out and Sam Godwin struggling to remain healthy. It finally wore on the Terriers down the stretch of the season, as evidenced by a 23-point setback to Chattanooga in the SoCon semifinals.

With Jones now back from injury to help shoulder some of the burden, things are looking much better underneath for Wofford in 2022-23.

Reinforcements are on the way via the portal, however.

Six-foot-six wing guard Jackson Sivillis highlights the four signees brought in by the Terriers, as he comes to Spartanburg from Murray State, and was an original target coming out of high school three years ago.

Sivillis will help off-set the loss of some talented wings for the Terriers to the portal, namely being Morgan Safford and Isaiah Bigelow. Sivillis saw action in 15 games for the Ohio Valley Conference champion Murray State Racers last season and garnered action in 14 games as a true freshman two years ago.

During his senior season as a prep at McCracken County High School in Louisville, KY, Sivillis averaged an impressive 21.4 PPG and 7.9 RPG and was named first-team all-state, as well as being selected to the prestigious Kentucky-Indiana all-star series and was a finalist for Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball back in 2019-20.

He will address an immediate need and should have an immediate chance to earn his way into the starting lineup in the 2022-23 season for the Terriers. Another guard brought in to add some support on the wing is 6-3 wing Tauris Watson out of Gulf Coast State College.

Watson started all 26 games for Gulf Coast State College last season, finishing the campaign by posting 472 points and led the Panhandle State Conference in scoring, averaging 18.2 PPG, shooting 47.8% from the floor. Watson was named as one of the top JUCO players in the nation by, and like Sivillis, will have an immediate opportunity to garner a starting job for Wofford.

Carson McCorkle comes to Wofford from the University of Virginia after having seen action in 24 games for the Cavaliers over the past couple of seasons.

Prior to making his way to Charlottesville, McCorkle, a 6-3 point guard, starred at Greensboro Day School, where he was a three-star recruit as a prep. McCorkle logged action in 16 games last season for the Cavaliers, and averaged 16.1 PPG and shot an impressive 63% from the field, including an astounding 55% clip from three-point range. McCorkle will have a chance to address that immediate need at the point guard position for the 2022-23 season for Wofford.

Rounding out the newcomers via the portal is 6-9 and Canadian born Kyler Filewich, who makes his way to Spartanburg from Southern Illinois, where he has played in 57 games over the past couple of seasons and was named to the Missouri Valley Conference All-Freshman team a couple of years ago. The 6-9 center out of Winnipeg saw action in 31 games last season as a sophomore, while logging action in 26 contests as a freshman back in the 2020-21 season.

As a freshman a couple of years ago, Filewich averaged 6.8 PPG on 51.7% shooting from the field, while pulling down 5.7 RPG. Filewich is a highly skilled big man, and is also an adept passer, which will fit in well in what Wofford does offensively. Filewich, like the aforementioned trio, will have a chance to garner major court time for the Terriers in the 2022-23 season, if not start.

Whatever the case, with Filewich, Jones and Mack in the paint, the Terriers have talent and depth as good as any in mid-major basketball heading into the 2022-23 campaign.

The two additions made by McCauley and staff as potential four-year players at Wofford are a pair of guards, in Amarri Tice and Chase Martin. Martin and Time will add some depth at the wing positions, with the 6-5 Martin coming to Spartanburg from Jenks, Oklahoma, where he was a three-time All-Frontier Conference honoree during his time at Jenks High School and helped lead the program to 71 victories over the past two seasons. As senior during the 2021-22 season, Martin averaged 15.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 4.0 APG.

I am told by multiple sources, including coach McAuley, that the player to keep an eye this season is Corey Tripp (1.5 PPG, 0.8 RPG), who was another Terrier bitten by the injury bug a year ago.

The 2022-23 season offers a lot of unknowns for the Terriers, with potentially their most question marks at guard in over a decade entering a season. I fully expect Wofford to let that get in the way of them being competitive in the SoCon title race so far this season and being right in the mix as one of the SoCon’s top six teams in the pecking order heading to Asheville.

I caught up with coach McAuley at SoCon media day and the audio from that interview can be heard by clicking on the link below.

Furman tabbed as the consensus SoCon title favorite in 2022-23
East Tennessee State head coach Desmond Oliver/Photo courtesy of ETSU athletic

Wofford wasn’t the only team to feel the full measure of adversity wrought by injury and transfer and various other reasons for Bucs players, with some of those departures occurring in-season.

It forced head coach Desmond Oliver, who was in his first season as the head coach of a proud basketball program that has won an incredible 158 games since the start of the 2015-16 campaign, with only perennial mid-major power Belmont having more wins over that same span. In the audio below, you’ll hear how coach Oliver was able to adjust on the fly.

Oliver was thrown just about every curve ball you can imagine for a first-year head coach, and he handled them by learning on the job and allowing the adversity to teach him rather than be upset by it. It bears plenty of similarities to that of current head football coach George Quarles in his first season as the ETSU football coach.

The 2021-22 season featured what was a five-game losing streak, which marked the longest losing skid the program has endured since the Bucs re-entered the Southern Conference as an official member in 2014-15, and it marked the longest skid for a Buccaneer basketball team since a nine-game losing streak during the 2012-13 season.

ETSU was in those games, however, as the five losses were by a combined 15 points from Jan. 22-Feb. 5. That proved to be a decisive stretch for the Bucs, as ETSU stumbled to a 7-11 mark in Southern Conference play. The Bucs have now posted a 15-18 mark in Southern Conference play over the past two seasons.

ETSU did finish off the streak in strong fashion, however, as the Bucs found their shooting touch just in time for perennial league title contender and SoCon rival Furman to arrive in Johnson City in early February, as the Bucs dispatched the Paladins 75-71 in Johnson City to post one of their best wins of the season.

The other impressive wins came in a non-conference tournament in the Sunshine State against Murray State (W, 66-58), which ETSU won. The Bucs would take down power five Georgia (W, 86-84) in December, and so there was little questioning the talent of the team in Oliver’s first season as head coach.

The Murray State win was easily the most impressive of the season, as the Racers finished with just three losses all season, posting a 31-3 mark after bowing out in the round of 32 of the NCAA Tournament against the Cinderella Story of the tournament, in Saint Peter’s.

The Buc­­­s finished the season with 281 three-point field goals made, shooting them at a 35.0% clip (281-of-802) for the season.

The 281 triples made by the Bucs last season were the most since Forbes’ first season as the head coach in 2015-16, when the Bucs connected 295 triples, shooting an impressive 37.9% (295-of-779) from three-point land. The 802 launched three-point bombs were the most in program history.

Now the real challenges begin, and the grace period is over for Oliver, and he appears to have addressed each need the Bucs have moving forward. Now it’s about it is synching together before January rolls around and league play starts in-earnest.

Like Wofford, there were mass departures following the season. In fact, over the past two campaigns, the Bucs have had to deal with some pretty significant departures from the program.

Oliver was able to manage to talk LeDarrius and Ty Brewer into sticking around an additional year in Johnson City, after the brothers had initially planned on transferring following Jason Shay’s sudden resignation.

Life without the Brewers began last spring after both transferred to mid-major power UAB to play for Andy Kennedy, as Oliver began to put together the moving parts in what he and Bucs nation will be another elite product in the coming 2022-23 campaign.

With David Sloan (12.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG) having exercised all of his eligibility, and with Charlie Weber (7.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG) having his career cut short due to health concerns as a result of concussions.

The good news is there is talent to build around, and two of the major bright spots from this past season were Wichita State transfer Jaden Seymour (4.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG), as well as Jordan King (14.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG/97 triples), with the two really starting to come into their own as players for the Bucs over the latter half of the season.

The duo gives Oliver something to build around. Oliver had to deal with losing both Adheke and Patterson during the regular-season, due to personal reasons and for family reasons.

ETSU ended up finishing out the March-May run for the portal by coming away with power five transfers from Virginia Tech, Georgia and Tennessee, and one other from a fellow mid-major program via a circuitous route.

None of the three from a power five program saw much playing time at their previous three institutions, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have the opportunity to equate at ETSU.

The Bucs also added one transfer from the Division II ranks, as well as one from the first of two from the SEC, in University of Georgia transfer Josh Taylor, and the 6-5 forward logged just 3.9 minutes-per-game last season for the Bulldogs.

According to 247Sports, Taylor was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, and was recruited by the likes of Texas Tech, LSU, TCU and St. John’s to name a few. During his freshman season a couple of years ago, Taylor saw action in seven games, averaging 0.3 PPG and 1.6 PPG in 2.7 minutes-per-game. Including his COVID-19 year provided by the NCAA, which is allowed due to the pandemic, Taylor will have a total of three years of eligibility remaining as an ETSU Buccaneer.

The Bucs and Bulldogs faced each other on the college basketball hardwood last season, with ETSU going to Stegman Coliseum just prior to SoCon play and picking up an 86-84 win.

ETSU’s second SEC transfer via the transfer portal comes from the University of Tennessee, adding 6-8 big man Brock Jancek, who was a walk-on for the Vols during his time in Knoxville, and is the son of University of Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek.

In four seasons in Knoxville, Jancek played in 18 games in Knoxville, where he played in 18 games and scored a total of seven points, while adding six boards. Jancek will have one year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic when he arrives in Johnson City. The final power five transfer slated to make his new home in the tri-cities in the 2022-23 season will be former Virginia Tech Hokies big man Jalen Haynes.

During the 2021-22 campaign, Haynes saw a total of 25 minutes of action spanning two games, as he totaled seven points. Haynes has a good upside but couldn’t stay out of head coach Mike Young’s doghouse during his time in Blacksburg, due mostly to academic violations, as well as not being compliant with team rules at times. Haynes was highly recruited coming out of high school, having chosen Virginia Tech over Boston College, Mississippi State, and UCF during the recruiting process.

Haynes will have three years of eligibility remaining when he arrives in Johnson City for the 2022-23 season. ETSU’s one mid-major addition from the portal is 5–10-point guard DeAnthony Tipler, who comes to ETSU from Coastal Carolina, where he last logged court time for the Chanticleers back during the 2020-21 season.

Prior to that, Tipler spent two seasons at Northeast Mississippi Community College before transferring to the Sun Belt member institution. Tipler has seen the most meaningful floor action at the NCAA Division I level of any of the incoming transfers for ETSU, however, he didn’t log any action during the 2021-22 season for the Chanticleers.

In one season at Coastal Carolina, Tipler saw action in 20 games, averaging 13.4 PPG, 2.5 RPG and dished out 1.7 APG. The final addition via the transfer portal comes from the Division II ranks, as 6-6 shooting guard Justice Smith comes to the Tri-Cities from Mansfield University, averaging 20.6 PPG last season for the Mounties. He was second all-time in points scored in a single-season at Mansfield, having posted an impressive 578 points in a single-season.

The Lyons, N.Y., native posted a school-record 56 points in a game against Bloomsburg last season. Smith was just a redshirt freshman last season and will have three years of eligibility remaining at ETSU. The 6-6 guard is athletic and can score from virtually any spot on the floor, according to sources. With Smith and Tipler being a potential backcourt tandem, the Bucs are putting together a nice mix of scorers at guard heading into the 2022-23 campaign. Oliver has managed to sign a trio of talented high school talents in the month of May, securing commitments from 6-10 center Braden Illic, 6-6 guard Kristian Shaw, and 6-7 forward Jeromy Gregory.

You can hear what coach Desmond Oliver had to say about the upcoming season by clicking the link provided below.

Mercer senior guard Kamar Robertson

Mercer was picked to finish seventh by both the coaches and media at last week’s Southern Conference media day, as head coach Greg Gary gets ready to lead potentially his best team, he has coached in any of his previous three seasons in Macon. Mercer actually got a first place in the media poll. There’s always that one media member it seems that wants to be a hero…haha.

Gary has posted 51-43 record in three seasons at the helm of the Bears basketball program. Going back to the start of the 2015-16 overall, the Bears have posted a 115-110 overall record.

Essentially, since joining the SoCon a year prior, the Bears have almost been a break-even team. All told since joining the SoCon as an official member, the Bears have won 134 games and lost 126 contests. So, they have been more than competitive in the league and have held their own but have yet to have a 20-win season. Last year, the Bears were a game below .500, finishing the campaign with a 16-17 overall mark, which included an 8-10 record in Southern Conference play, which was good enough for a seventh-place finish.

Like East Tennessee State, the Bears nearly turned over their entire roster from a year ago, but still have a core group of eight players–five of which saw the bulk of the meaningful minutes–for the Bears last season.

Gone are the top two scorers, however, as both Felipe Haase and Jalen Johnson have moved on, as has Neftali Alvarez, who had a heck of a two years in Macon just trying to stay healthy. With that said, the positive to come from all of it was the experience Kamar Robertson was able to get as a part of the unfortunate set of health circumstances faced by Alvarez during his two-year stint in Macon.

With that said, Robertson has been able to mold himself into maybe the most underrated player in the Southern Conference, and he quietly shined down the stretch for the Bears last season. For his size, Robertson is tenacious on both ends of the floor, and while Samford’s Ques Glover grabs most of the headlines in this league for his quickness and the difficulty of guarding him off the dribble, I would add don’t sleep on Robertson.

Add to that the fact that he rebounds the basketball as well as any guard at this level for his size and you have the makings of an all-conference guard by season’s end.

None of Mercer’s three returning starters ended up on the preseason All-SoCon team, however, it’s a trio that might see at least two of its returnees end up there by season’s end.

Joining Robertson as returning starters for Gary’s Bears include wings James Glisson III (10.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG) and Shawn Walker Jr. (5.9 PPG, 2.6 RPG). Glisson is one of only eight double-figure scorers returning to the league this season, giving you an idea of just how much the transfer portal is affecting the league, but not really the overall product. What goes out has adequately addressed by what comes in. The other returnee that logged significant minutes is 6-10 center Shannon Grant (5.7 PPG, 3.0 RPG).

When I spoke to Gary following their 80-66 Southern Conference Tournament quarterfinal loss to Furman, he made it clear that his first stop would be the portal, and boy, was he not kidding.

The Bears added four players from the portal that will have an immediate impact in my estimation.

Six-foot-one point guard Jalen Cobb (Fordham), 6-6 guard Nana Akenten (Southeast Missouri), 6-8 small forward Jalyn McCreary (South Florida), and 6-8 power forward Luis Hurtado Jr. (Bryant) are the impactful additions via the portal brought in by Gary as part of his recruiting haul during the off-season.

Nana Akenten comes to Macon from Southeast Missouri State where he spent his last two seasons as a collegiate basketball player. Prior to that, Akenten actually started his career in Lincoln, Nebraska as a member of the Cornhuskers basketball program.

Over the past two seasons at SEMO, Akenten has seen action in 56 games, including 29 games this past season where he logged three starts for the Redhawks. He averaged 7.1 PPG and 4.4 RPG, while dishing out 17 assists, averaging about 19 minutes per game.

During the 2020-21 season, Akenten logged action in 27 games, which included making 24 starts, averaging 9.3 PPG and 5.8 RPG, while dishing out 26 assists, averaging 27.0 minutes-per-game, ranking third on the team in minutes as well as scoring.

The addition of Akenten show that Gary still possesses a vast knowledge of players from the Midwest that have talent, and the portal has now made getting at least some of those guys who might not be happy about coming to Macon, where they can get the same type of coaching, they would get at said midwestern program in the southeast. That was only probably a pipedream some three years ago upon Gary’s arrival in Macon.

In his lone season with the Cornhuskers in the 2018-19 season, he saw action in 28 games, averaging 4.3 PPG and 2.5 RPG. Akenten will give the Bears good size and athleticism at the point guard position and will have one year of eligibility remaining.

Jalen Cobb is another point guard brought in by Gary from the northeast, similar to Neftali Alvarez, who originally came to Mercer from Fairfield. Cobb is a 6-1-point guard and spent three seasons with the Rams before transferring out following the 2021-22 campaign. Cobb sat out the entire 2021-22 campaign with an injury before opting to spend his final season of eligibility at Mercer. He was a three-year starter for the Rams before suffering an injury and transferring out.

During his career with the Rams, Cobb started 61 games over three seasons and in his final season, averaged 10.1 PPG and 2.8 RPG, while dishing out 71 assists.

Both McCreary and Hurtado will have a chance to make an impact right away in the front court in the 2022-23. Hurtado, who comes to Mercer from Bryant, who made the NCAA Tournament last season, was a composite 3.5-star recruit coming out of high school, including being ranked as a four-star recruit by ESPN coming out as a prep.

Prior to heading for Bryant, Hurtado spent three seasons at UAB, playing each of the past two. He has one year of eligibility remaining.

The 6-8 power forward from Merida, Venezuela, played in all 32 games for the Bulldogs, logging 28 starts last season, averaging 4.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG and dished out 3.7 APG last season.

All told, Hurtado started 44 of 54 career games during his time at Bryant, averaging 4.8 PPG in two seasons at Bryant.

McCreary played in 44 games at South Carolina, averaging 4.5 PPG and 2.6 RPG. In his one season at South Florida, McCreary logged action in 16 games, with a pair of starts, averaging 5.1 PPG and 3.0 RPG in the action he was able to see with the Bulls.

The five newcomers for the Bears that will have a chance to carve out playing time in the 2022-23 season include: point guard Braden Sparks (John McEachern High School/Powder Springs, GA), point guard Jah Quinones (Lake Highland Preparatory School/Orlando, FL), small forward T.J. Grant (Veterans High School/Kathleen, GA), small forward Michael Zanoni (Greensboro Day School/Charlotte, N.C.), point guard Anthony Bernard (Grosse Point South High School/Grosse Point, Mi) and 7-1 center David Craig (McCallie School/ Johannesburg, South Africa) to round out what was an extensive recruiting haul by Gary and staff.

The Bears have put together a nice non-conference schedule, which includes a Nov. 19 game at Hawkins Arena against Winthrop. That was the game last season, in which Haase scored a SoCon season-high 41 points in what was an 88-85 overtime loss in Rock Hill. The Bears also have appealing non-conference games at Florida State (Nov. 21) and will take part in the Hostilo Hoops Community Classic in nearby Savannah, GA, in which the Bears will face off against Robert Morris (Nov. 25), Fairfield (Nov. 26), and Towson (Nov. 27).

Mercer opens SoCon play with a couple of tough tests in a 72-hour span, traveling to Samford (Dec. 28) before closing out the 2022 calendar year in the friendly confines of Hawkins Arena against defending league champion Chattanooga (Dec. 31).

Listed below is the link to Greg Gary’s media day audio.

Western Carolina point guard Cam Bacote looks to find a way past 2022 SoCon Defensive Player of the Year Jalen Slawson of Furman

It might not look like it to casual SoCon basketball fans at the moment, but head coach Justin Gray is building his program from the inside-out in Cullowhee and slowly, but surely, a basketball culture based on the right things is beginning to take shape at Western Carolina.

To the outside observer, it looks like your typical team that struggled in the new head coach’s first season, stumbling to a last-place finish in the league standings in a season which Gray inherited a low expectation assignment. However, if you took the factual approach and a last place finish as so many choose to do, you’d miss what was actually going on in Cullowhee and the relationships being formed.

I will point a finger at myself of being guilty of assuming that there wasn’t anything going on other than Gray running into a mess left to him by the previous staff. But it’s the mess that Gray was cleaning up and that most always miss because they are focused on only the basketball of it.

I am disappointed not to have been able to ask Gray about his approach in culture at media day because simply missed getting around to interview he and The Citadel’s Ed Conroy due to time constraints.

With that said, I’ll make it a point to catch up with each during the regular season. One thing that also strikes me about Gray is that he’s always happy and smiling. That kind of joy will pay dividends in the long run.

I began to learn more about the culture change taking shape at the post-game press conference following WCU’s opening night, 81-53, loss at the 2022 Southern Conference Tournament to Mercer in a game in which the Catamounts just never seemed to be totally locked in as their opposition indeed were.

It wasn’t a talent issue, as the Catamounts had knocked off the Bears, 69-65, just a couple of weeks earlier at the Ramsey Center. It was more the inconsistency you might expect to see from a program trying to cultivate a winning culture under a new coaching regime. And that’s okay.

It’s usually not the case when a coach, faced with so much adversity of players leaving the program when he takes the job, albeit the first one he’s ever been the head guy, that he is able to turn the program on a dime overnight. Especially at one that sports just one Southern Conference Tournament title two decades after joining the league in 1996.

None of that lack of prior success matters now, and Gray knows it. It’s why he brought in Nick Robinson last year. Robinson was a great player, but Gray didn’t bring that him in all the way from Valpo for his grad transfer season to score points, but he brought him in to create the right culture. Robinson, who was an All-SoCon performer for the Catamounts is now gone, however, his impact in just one season in terms of showing how to lead can’t be measured. That’s what Gray was going for.

Gray might have been in his first year, but he showed a wisdom wise beyond his coaching years. Perhaps that’s from spending something like a 12-year span in his professional career in a different country and culture each passing season. You kind of learn to adapt after a while and your culture travels with you and not the other way around.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to chat with Gray because I simply ran out of time at media day to get all 10 head coaches, but if I had to guess, he’d likely agree with my assessment of how he’s approaching the basketball job in the mountains of western North Carolina.

Gray had to hit the ground sprinting when he got the job in Cullowhee with a roster hemorrhaging transfers out, or just plain leaving all together. If I remember correctly the number got to 11 before WCU announced the hire of Gray and it would have been worse, had Gray not convinced Trayvion McCray to stick around and be a part of a foundation that had a chance to be something special. However, McCray chose to not be there by the end of the season.

There is also a downside sometimes to building culture, and that is the tough decisions you have to make for the future while hearing about those life decisions in the immediate–sometimes unfortunately by us in the media when we think we know but actually we don’t, and I suppose that’s probably true for most head coaches who’ve ever built something special. You already know the flack you’re going to catch when you make a hard decision for the betterment of your program’s culture.

Gray did his best in putting together a talented group in a short time after taking over the head coaching job, procuring such transfer talents like Vonterius Woolbright, Cam Bacote, Joe Petrakis, and the talented Robinson to help try and hold things together. Other than McCray, the only ones that stuck around to play for Gray from the previous regime were Josh Massey, Tyler Harris and Brad Halvorsen.

Only Harris remains. Harris has truly shown his loyalty to the Catamount basketball program, and he’s coming off a 2021-22 season, which saw him average 7.2 PPG and 4.1 RPG. A ground of 12 newcomers will be looking to Harris to now lead like Robinson did in his final season of college basketball.

However, for the most part during Gray’s first season on the job at WCU, the Catamounts had to live and die by the three, and more often than not, they died by it. Gray’s Catamounts would spring a surprise or two along the way, like the early-conference win over eventual conference regular-season and tournament champion, Chattanooga (W, 70-59).

The Catamounts did connect on 320 three-point field goals for the season, however, connected on just 31.9% from long range, which included shooting 1,002 shots for the season. The Catamounts finished just 11-21 overall and 5-13 in Southern Conference action, which was good enough for a last-place finish in the league. The Catamounts are on their third different coach since the start of the 2015-16 season, having posted a () record during that period.

Joining Harris as returnees from a year ago include point guard Vonterius Woolbright (9.7 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 104 assists), who is another of the league’s underrated, but talented guards, as well as point guard Cam Bacote (8.1 PPG, 2.2 RPG) and ultra-athletic forward Marlow Gilmore (5.6 PPG, 4.8 RPG), who was raw when Gray arrived, and a much more refined talent by season’s end.

Gray addressed the nine players going out of the program by bringing 12 in. The best of the glut of newcomers added to the fold come from Winthrop, Iowa State and Morehead State, respectively. Speedy guard Russell Jones Jr. (4.6 PPG, 1.8 RPG in 32 games at Winthrop in 2021-22) joins childhood friend and now teammate Tre Jackson (3.7 PPG in 12 gms at ISU in 2021-22), as Jones joins the program from Winthrop, while Jackson joins the program after playing 72 games over three seasons at Iowa State.

Six-foot-eight forward and 240-lb Tyzhawn Claude (3.4 PPG, 1.8 RPG, 48% at Morehead State last season) is Gray’s top pick up from the portal for the simple fact that Claude gives the Catamounts a physical presence they lacked last season with 6-10 perimeter-oriented Joe Petrakis. Claude gives Gray that classic workhorse in the paint and will make the Catamounts much less one-dimensional offensively.

Forward and Ohio University transfer Colin Granger (1.4 PPG, 1.2 RPG in 2021-22 at Ohio), wing Cinque Lemon (Liberty Heights Athletic Institute/Spring Lake, N.C.), and guard Miles McClure (Franklin HS/Franklin, N.C.) are another trio that look to all figure to be in competition for a spot in the starting five.

Granger is a 6-9 forward that logged action in 24 games over the past couple of seasons with the Bobcats, tallying a career-best six points in a game against Cleveland State and had a career-high four rebounds in a game against Ball State.

Lemon is a 6-7 wing guard that is rangy and athletic, and averaged 9.4 PPG and 5.6 RPG during his senior season at Liberty Heights Athletic Institute, shooting 56% from the field and 37% from beyond the arc.

McClure is a 6-5 guard, who also a native of the Tar Heel State, and comes from nearby Franklin, N.C., and gives the Catamounts some more depth and size on the wing.

The two incoming high school recruits that have signed to play for the Purple and Gold in 2022-23 are both forward Marcus Kell and guard DJ Campbell were the two recruits brought in by Gray during the early signing period last November.

Kell comes to Western Carolina from Fort Mill, S.C., where he averaged 14.3 PPG, 6.9 RPG and 2.1 APG in his time playing for Legion Collegiate Academy. Lucas Kroft (Independence CC), sophomore forward Bernard Pelote (Catawba College) and 6-6 guard Rasheed Jones (Marion HS/Marion, Ind) and 6-4 freshman guard Jalen Higgins (Freedom Christian Academy/Raeford, N.C.). round out the significant additions made by Gray during the signing period.

As far as the 2022-23 schedule is concerned, the Catamounts hit the ground running in the upcoming season, as it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire for Gray’s Catamounts, facing Georgia (Nov. 7) and Maryland (Nov. 10). The Purple and Gold will take on Blue Ridge Mountain rival UNC Asheville at Kimmel Arena on Nov. 26 and travel to former Southern Conference rival Davidson on Dec. 7.

Southern Conference play for Gray and the Catamounts starts against a pair of teams picked to finish in the top four, as the Catamounts will host UNC Greensboro on Dec. 29, while entertaining SoCon favorite Furman on New Year’s Eve.

The Citadel’s small, but hearty basketball fanbase did their best to “Embrace the Pace” as long as possible, however, The Citadel’s administration was apparently out of breath following the 2021-22 season and the quarterfinal exit in Asheville.

The Citadel head coach Ed Conroy returns to Charleston and his career is full circle/photo courtesy of the Southern Conference

Certainly, there was a different fervor and support for Baucom and his new brand of basketball in the early going than there was in the end from the higher ups in the athletic department. That part was noticeable. All you had to do was stream one of the games on ESPN+ to see the sea of blue seats vacant inside of McAlister Field House.

While Baucom was at the helm, he coached The Citadel to 77 victories over his seven seasons in charge, which included seeing his top player—Hayden Brown—heading into his final season as head coach chosen as the SoCon preseason Player of the Year. In 2021-22 and in 2016-17, Baucom also had the SoCon’s Freshman of the Year, in Preston Parks and Jason Roche. All told, Baucom led the Bulldogs to a 77-136 record as the Bulldogs’ head coach in seven seasons as the head coach of the Bulldogs.

For The Citadel, it’s not about re-inventing the wheel like Duggar Baucom tried, and after that era came to a close last March in the SoCon quarterfinal loss to eventual champion Chattanooga, it was about re-inviting an old friend to try and get the program back on track.

That man–Ed Conroy–who you might have already heard has deep ties to the Lowcountry. Conroy has been on a coaching odyssey the past 11 years, which has taken him to New Orleans, Minneapolis and Nashville and now he’s back to his home Port City once again.

Even before he was hired by then Director of Athletics Les Robinson to head the rebuilding project in 2006, Conroy had cut his teeth as an assistant coach in the league under former VMI and Furman head coach Joe Cantafio. At that time, Cantafio was at Furman, and from 1994-97, Conroy served as Cantafio’s right-hand man. Conroy is one of two current SoCon head coaches to have once served as an assistant at Furman, as UNCG’s Mike Jones also served on Larry Davis’ staff directly following Conroy.

If you just included New Orleans, Nashville and Charleston, some folks might think it was some kind of Old South Haunted Tour with a lot of tree moss, however, what’s more haunting for every coach since Conroy in Charleston has been consistently winning basketball games.

But Conroy has, in fact, won games. He won 20 of them back in 2009-10, helping the Bulldogs make their first-ever postseason basketball tournament appearance, taking part in the Tournament in 2010.

The 20 wins were the most in three decades for the Bulldogs basketball program, while the 15 SoCon wins remain a program record. Conroy has hit the ground running, filling out his staff, while also trying to piece together a recruiting class at the same time.

The veteran coach previously served as the head coach of his alma mater in Charleston from 2006-10, and his 15 SoCon wins, which he led the Bulldogs to during the 2008-09 campaign, remain a program record. Conroy helped develop players like big man Demetrius Nelson, as well as one of the premier guards in program history, in Cameron Wells.

Both Nelson and Wells were first-team All-SoCon selections under Conroy’s watchful eye, with Wells garnering all-league honors three times. Conroy was selected as the SoCon’s Coach of the Year following the 2008-09 season, which included one of the few times Stephen Curry ever suffered a Southern Conference loss during his time at Davidson, with the Bulldogs claiming a 64-46 win at John Belk Arena in Davidson, N.C. From 2008-10, Conroy helped the Bulldogs post a 36-29 overall record, which included a 24-14 record in Southern Conference play. After posting a 16-16 overall record, which included a 9-9 mark and a fourth-place finish in the SoCon’s South Division.

From 2006-08, Conroy’s Bulldogs won a total of 13 games. After those two ultra-successful seasons, Conroy bolted for the head coach opening at Tulane. All told, during his first stint as the head coach of the Bulldogs’ basketball program, Conroy posted a 49-76 record in four seasons.

The Citadel has a good base of players returning, which obviously won’t include its top three scorers from a year ago, highlighted by SoCon Freshman of the Year Jason Roche (13.2 PPG/110 three-point FGs) or the 2021-22 preseason league player of the year Hayden Brown (18.8 PPG, 9.5 RPG), but was does return is one of the SoCon’s top shot-blockers, in 6-9 center Stephen Clark (9.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 75 blks), as well as sharp-shooting guard David Maynard (6.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG), who was an impact player last season after transferring in from Colgate prior to the 2021-22 campaign.

Other key returnees that Conroy will have at his disposal this season include speedy point guard Rudy Fitzgibbons III (7.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG), 6-8 sophomore forward Jackson Price (1.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG), 6-5 junior guard Dylan Engler (3.3 PPG, 2.0 RPG), and 6-9 senior forward Brady Spence (2.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG). Maynard is the best returning shooter from long-range for the Bulldogs, having connected on 39.1% (36-of-92) from three-point range last season.

Conroy jumped right in to his new challenge at The Citadel, putting together a solid recruiting class-never an easy assignment at a military school.

The Bulldogs will be young, as Conroy’s first signing class back in the Port City is largely freshman-centric, with three significant Division I transfers added to the program, giving The Citadel some added leadership and scoring talent.

Guards Elijah Morgan (Notre Dame) and John-Michael Hughes (High Point) were late additions during the recruiting process for Conroy.

Morgan, a native of New Orleans, spent three seasons at Notre Dame, where he logged action in 28-career games during his time with Fighting Irish. He was part of a 2021-22 Notre Dame team that won 24 games and reached the NCAA Tournament second round.

Hughes spent three years at High Point playing for former Panthers head coach and college basketball legendary head coach Tubby Smith. He saw action in only five games last season for the Panthers.

The final addition via the portal comes from Iowa’s basketball program, in 6-3 grad transfer Austin Ash. He will be an immediate impact player in the SoCon, and it’s a player that Conroy became familiar with during his time coaching at Minnesota from 2016-21.

Ash, a 6-3 shooting guard, saw action in a total of 44 games for the Hawkeyes from 2018-21, and is part of an Iowa basketball program, which is led by former SoCon and UNCG head coach Fran McCaffery, which won a total of 65 games during his time with the program.

As far as the freshmen coming into the program, one to keep an eye on is combo guard A.J. Smith. The 6-5, athletic guard comes to The Citadel from Charlotte, N.C. from Combine Academy, where he scored over 2,500 points in his prep career and was a two-time all-state performer. Smith picked The Citadel over offers from Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Appalachian State, Charlotte, Rice, Tulsa, and William & Mary.

The Bulldogs also signed a pair of similar type players, in 6-4 guard Madison Durr, as well as 6-5 guard Colby McAllister. Conroy’s first signee in his second stint as The Citadel’s head coach was Durr, who comes to Charleston from Hargrave Military Academy via Pace Academy in Atlanta, GA. Durr averaged 11.1 PPG, 6.8 RPG and 7.8 APG last sea

Durr can score in a number of different ways, according to his new head coach, and is also a proficient three-point shooter, having connected on 37% of his long-range efforts at Hargrave this past season.

During the recruiting process, Durr also drew interest from Elon, Florida Gulf Coast, North Alabama, Richmond, and Siena during the recruiting process.

The Citadel secured a pair of big commitments during last November’s signing period, bringing in both guard Colby McAllister, as well as forward Tony Carpio. McAllister comes to The Citadel from Spanish Fort and committed back in November when Baucom was still the head coach.

He helped Spanish Fort to the title game, and as a junior a couple of years ago, McAllister averaged 16.2 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 2.2 RPG.

Carpio rounds out the potential immediate impact newcomers, and like McAllister, signed with The Citadel prior to his senior season as a prep. The 6-8 power forward Carpio figures to add size and strength underneath for The Citadel, averaging 16.4 PPG, 9.3 RPG and 1.6 blocks-per-game for Providence Christian School during his junior season.

The Bulldogs under Baucom routinely played one of the weakest non-conference slates, and one thing that Conroy has done from the outset of his coaching tenure is put together a solid non-conference slate, which includes a season-opener at at ACC member Clemson (Nov. 7), while all Bulldog fans in unison circled Dec. 3 on their respective calendars, as CofC has refused to play its cross-town and former SoCon rival since 2016.

The Bulldogs will open the 2022-23 conference slate with a pair of tough challenges, hosting The Citadel on Dec. 29, before turning around and facing one of the league’s preseason title contenders Samford less than 48 hours later.

VMI first-year head coach Andrew Wilson/photo courtesy of the Southern Conference

While VMI was picked last by the coaches and media, I feel as I kind of am saving the best for last, as in the best I got out of the 2022 SoCon media day was my conversation with new VMI head coach Andrew Wilson. You can hear a tidbit of that by clicking the link below.

While VMI certainly might be the most challenging job in the league and in all of the nation, it appears, at least on the surface, it has hired a coach, in Wilson that seems to have an outstanding plan in place. It’s not going to happen overnight, and he knows that.

But you have to consider where Wilson was before he came to VMI–Georgia Southern and James Madison–spending time as Mark Byington’s top assistant. He was also at College of Charleston with Byington.

Byington, who was given an opportunity to lead the CofC program following Hall-of-Fame head coach Bobby Cremins’ sudden departure in Jan of 2012, which it was later discovered to be a classy way of giving the opportunity to his top assistant and friend, Byington. Byington, who I personally believe is one of the top young head coaches in mid-major hoops, was not retained as head coach. CofC went with Doug Wojcik and I don’t need remind folks how that ended.

In glancing through Wilson’s staff–something I do routinely to see how new coaches in this league think–I notice that Wilson has hired Dave Davis as his top assistant and Associate Head Coach.

That name immediately sent me back to my one season as the as Erskine basketball SID in 2006-07 in my recall of Davis, who during that time was plying his trade at Pfeiffer as the head coach in the once referred to Carolina-Virginia Athetic Conference (now Conference Carolinas) and I recall routinely his teams put out triple digit point totals, leading Division II in scoring average.

All that to say this. Wilson’s teams will play fast, and Davis will dictate that, giving the former Florida State guard to home in on the defensive principles passed along from Byington and Leonard Hamilton. A pretty shrewd move. But enough about my trip down memory lane and more on the season ahead.

Wilson will have quite the rebuilding job ahead of him in Lexington, VA., as he will have to replace the top four scorers off a team that finished the season with a 16-16 overall record last season, with all four leading scorers transferring out to different locales, with two of those players—all-conference center Jake Stephens and all-freshman team honoree Honor Huff both making their new home in the Scenic City to play for Earl’s Mocs—while Kamdyn Curfman transferred to Marshall and Trey Bonham will make his new home at the University of Florida.

The 16 wins by the Keydets were enough to ensure the Keydets a trip to the college basketball postseason, as they were a part of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) last season before eventually getting knocked out of the tournament by with a 93-78 setback to UNC Wilmington. UNCW went on to win the CBI of course.

Maintaining the program, it took Dan Earl the better part of seven seasons to build won’t be easy for Wilson, who comes to VMI after having been an assistant at James Madison each of the past two seasons.

Wilson was instrumental in helping turn around the Dukes’ program over the past couple of seasons. Wilson helped the Dukes a CAA regular-season title in his first season as an assistant for the Dukes. In his first season in Harrisonburg, helped oversee the Dukes forge a major turnaround, especially considering James Madison had posted just a 9-21 record in the season prior to his arrival.

Wilson spent two seasons as an assistant under JMU head coach Mark Byington (2020-22). In Wilson’s second season as a top assistant at JMU, he was part of a staff that helped the Dukes to a 15-14 overall record, which was highlighted by a 52-49 win at the Atlantic Union Bank Center in Harrisonburg over 2019 national champion Virginia in December of last year.

Shortly thereafter, the Dukes were shut down due to COVID and were unceremoniously dispatched by the CAA league office for a decision to change conferences to the Sun Belt, rendering all JMU’s sponsored sports ineligible for conference tournaments across the board. An outlandish decision for a conference to make against one school.

All that adversity was filed in the memory bank by Wilson for a coaching job that had plenty of problems to solve in the immediate future, and that program would choose him to solve them. One of those problems from the outset is figuring out how to overcome four significant injuries in his short time on the job. The Keydets will now surely have if not the youngest team in college basketball, they should no question rank in the Top 5.

The new head coach for the Keydets was responsible for coordinating the Dukes’ defensive efforts, and prior to his brief stint in Harrisonburg, spent the previous seven campaigns under Byington at Georgia Southern, including serving as the Associate Head Coach in his final season in Statesboro.

During his time at Georgia Southern under the direction of Byington, Wilson was on board for one of the most successful periods of Eagle basketball, as he was part of 131 wins during a seven-year span, which included a trip to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) in 2017.

The only player the Keydets and the new head coach will have returning to the fold to build around this coming season will be Sean Conway, who is the lone returning starter and the leading returning scorer having averaged 7.5 PPG and 5.6 RPG last season.

Conway will be joined by guard Tanner Mans, guard Louis Tang, center D.J. Nussbaum, walk-on center K.C. Etienne, walk-on forward Sam Wolfe, rising sophomore guard Brennan Watkins, rising sophomore point guard Devin Butler, and rising sophomore guard Cooper Sisco. Mans is one of those not immediately available due to injury.

Other than Conway and Mans, the Keydets have virtually no experience returning aside from those two returnees, with Tang having logged 9.5 MPG as the next most minutes-per-game. Wilson’s first signee as head coach in Lexington, include is 6-3 guard Asher Woods.

The 6-3 combo guard out of Parkview High School in Atlanta certainly brings some impressive statistical numbers to the Shenandoah Valley region of Virginia, as he led region 7A Region 4 in scoring, averaging an impressive 25 PPG.

During his senior season, Woods was also a force on the defensive end of the floor, garnering first-team All-Defensive team honors, as well as taking home first-team All-Region honors. He was a member of the Gwinnett County “Super Six” list that distinguishes him as a McDonalds All-America honoree.

Woods has a chance to be an immediate impact player. In the early signing period last November while Dan Earl was still at the helm, 6-9 center Tyler Houser and 6-4 guard Chance Thacker—ended up signing with the Keydets and have has remained strong in their respective verbal commitments to VMI.

Thacker is a two-star recruit out of Providence Christian Academy, where he starred as a prolific perimeter shooter. Houser helped address the needs at center, especially with the departure of Stephens.

Houser should also have a chance to contribute immediately in the paint, competing with guys like D.J. Nussbaum and K.C. Etienne. Three of the more acquisitions in recruiting include point guard Rickey Bradley Jr. (Phoenix Prep, Phoenix, AZ), small forward Taeshaud Jackson Jr. (Southern California Academy) and guard Tony Felder Jr. (Malden Catholic High School/Malden MA).

Bradley Jr. is the second signee brought in by Wilson, and he makes the cross-country trip to Lexington, VA., from Phoenix Prep, where he helped his team to a 32-13 record and averaged 14.3 PPG, shooting 49% from the field and 35% from long range. During his time at Phoenix Prep, Bradley Jr. showed himself to be a point guard in the truest sense and all-around basketball player in general, averaging 7.5 RPG and dishing out 9.1 assists-per-game.

Like Bradley Jr, Jackson also spent time in prep school in San Fernando, CA, where he played for Southern California Academy. Prior to his stint at prep school, Southern California Academy, Bradley Jr. played his high school basketball in Littleton, CO, at Dakota Ridge High School.

Wilson will be a guy that builds his program, or will at least try, on player development.

In terms of style of play, I am interested to see what changes and what stays the same. Wilson indicated they would be similar offensively, but different defensively than Earl’s teams were during his seven seasons.

In Earl’s seven seasons, his VMI teams made 2,088 three-point field goals and attempted 5,934 shots from long range. That computes to a solid 35.1% from long-range over his career in Lexington.

The 400 triples made this past season were a school record and just one behind SoCon record-setting Furman, who connected on 401 triples during the 2021-22 season.

In closing, Wilson has put together a solid 2022-23 schedule, taking on both Richmond (Nov. 7) and former SoCon rival Davidson (Nov. 13) in the non-conference.

The league slate offers a tough couple of games to start out with, as the Keydets open in Greenville against preseason favorite Furman on Dec. 29 before hosting perennial league power East Tennessee State two nights later.

Check out the link below for a clip of my media day interview with Wilson.

2022-23 Southern Conference Preseason Coaches’ Poll

Team (1st-place votes)Total
1. Furman (6)78
2. Samford (4)74
3. UNCG63
4. Chattanooga60
5. Wofford41
6. ETSU40
7. Mercer39
8. Western Carolina29
9. The Citadel17
10. VMI9

2022-23 Preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year
Jake Stephens, Gr., C, Chattanooga

2022-23 Preseason All-Southern Conference team
Jordan King, Jr., G, ETSU
Mike Bothwell, 5th, G, Furman
Jalen Slawson, 5th, F, Furman
Logan Dye, Sr., F, Samford
Ques Glover, Jr., G, Samford
Jermaine Marshall, Jr., F, Samford
Bubba Parham, Sr., G, Samford
Jake Stephens, Gr., C, Chattanooga
Messiah Jones, Sr., F, Wofford
B.J. Mack, Sr., F/C, Wofford

2022-23 Southern Conference Preseason Media Poll

Team (1st-place votes)Total
1. Furman (18)263
2. Chattanooga (3)231
3. Samford (5)223
4. UNCG (1)201
5. Wofford168
6. ETSU138
7. Mercer (1)137
8. Western Carolina79
9. The Citadel57
10. VMI43

My Southern Conference preseason prognostications:

  1. Furman–Paladins have more depth than they ever have
  2. Samford–Adding Bubba Parham puts the Bulldogs as Furman’s top challenger
  3. UNCG–Spartans will defend at an elite level once again this season
  4. Chattanooga–The Mocs added a couple of talented transfers, in Jake Stephens and Jamal Johnson, which keep them fighting for a conference title
  5. Wofford–Terriers added some pieces that should see them factor into the league title race this season
  6. East Tennessee State-The Bucs added a trio of power five transfers that focus on what the Bucs last season–size.
  7. Mercer-I think this is a season Mercer could put things together, but until they can mesh as a team and stay healthy, I have to keep them in the lower four seeds.
  8. Western Carolina–For me, the Catamounts are the sleeper team this year. On paper, what Gray has brought in more than offsets what he lost. If eighth seems low, it probably is because I actually think the talent says they could actually creep towards the top four.
  9. The Citadel–Head coach Ed Conroy did a nice job of getting some high-profile transfers to help with his rebuilding project in Charleston.
  10. VMI–New head coach Andrew Wilson will have one of the youngest teams in college basketball this season.

My Preseason Superlatives and All-League Teams:

Player of the Year: Jake Stephens (Chattanooga)

Freshman of the Year: Donovan Atwell (UNCG)

Newcomer of the Year that is not a freshman: Tyzhawn Claude (Western Carolina)/Jamal Johnson (Chattanooga)

Defensive Player of the Year: Jalen Slawson (Furman)

Most Improved Player: Marcus Foster/J.P. Pegues (Furman)

Best Dunker: Marlow Gilmore (Western Carolina)

Most undervalued player: Kamar Robertson (Mercer)

Best rim protector: Stephen Clark (The Citadel)/Jalen Slawson (Furman)

Most Versatile Scorer: Jermaine Marshall (Samford)

Best Pure Shooter: Jordan King (ETSU)

Best guard off the dribble: Ques Glover

Most efficient paint scorer: B.J. Mack (Wofford)

Toughest Matchup to Guard: Ques Glover (Samford)

Other Bold Predictions:

–ETSU will beat LSU and Georgia

–Furman will beat NC State

–Wofford will beat Drake

–Jalen Slawson will record a second-career triple double for Furman against the same opponent (Winthrop)

–The SoCon will have multiple games in which a player reaches 40 pts.

–Samford will beat Depaul and lose to Texas Southern

–Furman will win a game in the NCAA Tournament before falling in the round of 32

–Bob Richey becomes the new head coach at Clemson after taking Furman back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1980.

–Samford will get an at-large invitation to the NIT

–Furman will defeat UNCG in another classic SoCon Tournament championship game on Monday night, 66-63, in another thrilling finish.

SoCon John’s First Team All-SoCon

  1. Jake Stephens (Chattanooga)
  2. Mike Bothwell (Furman)
  3. Ques Glover (Samford)
  4. Jalen Slawson (Furman)
  5. BJ Mack (Wofford)

2nd Team

6. Jermaine Marshall (Samford)

7. Jordan King (East Tennessee State)

8. Keondre Kennedy (UNCG)

9. Kamar Robertson (Mercer)

10. Keyshawn Langley (UNCG)

3rd Team

11. Messiah Jones (Wofford)

12. Marcus Foster (Furman)

13. Bubba Parham (Samford)

14. Logan Dye (Samford)

15. James Glisson III (Mercer)

Furman and Belmont meet in an early-season clash of mid-major titans (photo courtesy of Belmont University Athletics/Mary Kate Drews)

Some Top Non-Conference Matchups to circle on the calendar (The numbers don’t indicate the rank of the matchup, but rather are just a list to keep in your day planner.

  1. Belmont at Furman (Nov. 11, 2022/Timmons Arena)–Furman has been nearly unbeatable at home over the past seven seasons, and they will test that homecourt advantage when the Bruins visit Timmons Arena in the second week of November. The Paladins have posted an impressive 84-14 also since the start of the 2015-16 season. The Paladins have also posted a 49-10 record against SoCon foes, while also amassing a 35-7 mark against non-conference foes. Furman dropped a heartbreaking 95-89 overtime contest at Belmont last season. Furman’s meeting with Belmont will mark just the fourth all-time clash between the two, with the Bruins holding the narrow 2-1 edge as a result of last season’s win in Nashville.

  • Samford at Belmont (Dec. 21, 2022/Curb Events Center)—Samford is one of the contenders for the Southern Conference title this season, and head coach Bucky McMillan’s Bulldogs are one of the favorites to take home the Southern Conference. The two will meet in one of the more intriguing non-conference battles, as the Bulldogs and Bruins will be meeting for the fifth-straight season, with the Bruins having won three of the previous four meetings between the two. Samford’s lone win in the series against the Bruins came just two years ago in what was Bucky McMillan’s first season at the helm of the Samford basketball program. The Bruins will be playing in a new conference in the 2022-23 campaign, as the Bruins have now left the Ohio Valley Conference and will be playing as an official member of the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bruins, who have a string of 12-straight 20-win seasons, will only add to the prestige of the Missouri Valley, which already recognized as one of the top mid-major basketball leagues in the country.

  • UNCG at Miami (Nov. 11, 2022/)—UNCG and Miami will be meeting on the college basketball hardwood for just the third time this coming season, with the Hurricanes holding a 2-0 lead in the all-time series between the two. Big things are expected out of Jim Larranaga’s Hurricanes once again this season, as Miami enters the 2022-23 season coming off what was a trip to the Sweet Sixteen last season.

  • Furman vs. Penn State (Nov. 17, 2022/Charleston Classic/TD Arena)The first game of the 2022 Charleston Classic, which is played on the home floor of the College of Charleston could be a doozie, as Furman squares off against Penn State in a major “opportunity” game for the SoCon and for Furman basketball. In recent seasons, Furman has been a giant killer, having knocked off Louisville (W, 80-72, OT) last season in overtime, as the Paladins handed the Cardinals their first November loss at the KFC Yum Center in facility history. Furman was also a 76-68 victor over reigning national champion Villanova in head coach Bob Richey’s second season as the head coach, handing the eighth-ranked Wildcats a 76-68 setback on their home floor for the first of what would be several signature wins on his watch.

  • East Tennessee State vs. Elon (Nov. 21, 2022/ Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville, N.C.)—ETSU will participate in one of several non-conference tournaments this coming season, with one of those being the opening game of the tournament, as the Bucs will do battle in an MTE against former SoCon member Elon. The Bucs and Phoenix were only conference rivals for a short time, however, with the two squaring off on the college basketball hardwood on just four times previously, with the Bucs having won three out of the four meetings between the two.

  • Western Carolina at Davidson (Dec. 7, 2022)—While Western Carolina opens the season against two power five programs, in SEC member Georgia and Big Ten foe Maryland, it’s the game against former Southern Conference member and current Atlantic 10 member Davidson that will provide a better measuring stick for the progression of the Catamount basketball program in year two under the direction of Justin Gray. Davidson’s final game as a Southern Conference member came back in semifinals of the 2014 SoCon Tournament, as the Catamounts sent the Wildcats to the A-10 without a final SoCon title, posting the 99-97 overtime, upset win. The most notable meetings between the two programs have come in the SoCon championship game, with the Catamounts, of course, capturing their only SoCon Tournament title and subsequent NCAA Tournament bid with a 69-60 win over the Catamounts in the 1996 tournament championship game in Greensboro, N.C. The Catamounts, who did knock off eventual SoCon regular-season and tournament champion Chattanooga early in conference play, offered one of the few bright spots in Gray’s first season as the head coach.

  • Belmont at Chattanooga (Dec. 18, 2022/McKenzie Arena)–For a third time in the non-conference, the Bruins will take a SoCon heavyweight, including for the second time going on the road. Kudos to Casey Alexander for challenging his club. The Mocs and Bruins will be meeting for the ninth time, with UTC holding the 5-3 all-time series edge. That didn’t include a 76-69 win by the Bruins last season.

  • Wofford at Drake (Nov. 14, 2022/The Knapp Center)—A sneaky good mid-major matchup will occur early on in the 2022-23 season, as Wofford travels to Des Moines, IA, to take on one of the real solid and emerging mid-major programs over the past few years, in Missouri Valley Conference member Drake. It will mark the first-ever meeting between the Terriers and Bulldogs. Drake, who is led by one one of the top coaches in mid-major basketball, Darian DeVries, are the preseason pick to win the traditional mid-major power conference The Missouri Valley.

  • Mercer at Florida State (Nov. 21, 2022/Tucker Center)—Mercer heads into ACC country on Nov. 21, as it will face off against perennial ACC title contender Florida State on Nov. 21. The Bears and Seminoles will be facing off against one another on the college basketball hardwood for the 26th time, with the Seminoles holding the 16-9 all-time series edge. It will mark the first meeting between the two since the 2012-13 season, when the Bears were able to pick up what was a 61-56 win over the Seminoles on Dec. 2, 2012.

Monday Night SoCon Hoops Capsules (to be continued Monday)

Monday night’s meeting between The Citadel and Clemson will mark the first meeting between the two since Nov. 6, 2018

The Citadel (0-0) at Clemson (0-0)

Coaches: Clemson-Brad Brownell (218-166/13th yr at Clemson)/The Citadel Ed Conroy (49-76/5th at The Citadel)

All Time Series: Clemson leads 62-22

Venue: Littlejohn Coliseum (9,000)

Time: 7 p.m./ACC Network

Brief Preview: The second stint in the Ed Conroy era at The Citadel gets underway Monday night in what will be a Palmetto State clash, as The Citadel heads to Clemson to take on the Tigers in Littlejohn Coliseum. It will mark the first meeting between the Tigers and Bulldogs since almost four years to the day, as the Bulldogs traveled to the Upstate and came away with a 100-80 loss on Nov. 6, 2018, in Tiger Town. The Bulldogs will be young but expect early on this season for Conroy to rely on veterans like shot-blocker Stephen Clark (9.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG) and returning sharp-shooting guard David Maynard (6.5 PPG, 2.2 RPG), and maybe the quickest guard on the entire roster, in Rudy Fitzgibbons (7.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG). Freshman faces like Iowa transfer guard Austin Ash, Notre Dame transfer guard Elijah Morgan, South Carolina grad transfer guard Mike Green and High Point grad transfer guard John-Michael Hughes to also add some additional leadership to some of the younger players like 6-4 guard Madison Durr, as well as fellow freshman 6-4 guard A.J. Smith. Both Clark and returning post Brady Spence (1.9 PPG, 0.8 RPG) took pride in playing defense for the Bulldogs last year. Both will have to Monday night if the Bulldogs hope to keep in close. The Bulldogs won’t be able to rely on their three-point shooting against a power five program like they have so many times before in situations like these. It served as a major factor in why the Bulldogs were able to go to Pittsburgh and open the 2021-22 season by shocking Pittsburgh, 81-66, last season at the Petersen Events Center. The Tigers head into the 2022-23 season with head coach Brad Brownell now entering his 13th season as the head coach. Many around the Tigers’ program think this is a season that Brownell has to exceed expectations, or he could be looking for new employment very soon, with second-year Director of Athletics Graham Neff already having alleviated baseball coach Monte Lee of his duties this past summer after a subpar season. With that said, it won’t be easy for Brownell, who must start the season without big man P.J. Hall (15.5 PPG, 5.8 RPG). The All-ACC post player had to have off-season knee surgery following a knee injury he suffered late last spring. In Hall’s absence, 6-8 Hunter Tyson (10.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG) will be the do-everything player in the paint for Clemson, and it will be up to Clark and company to figure out the assignment against another potential all-conference player for Brownell underneath. I think the Bulldogs keep it a decent game for a while, however, overall Clemson out-classes the Bulldogs at guard, with both Chase Hunter (6.7 PPG, 2.7 RPG) and Boston College grad transfer Brevin Galloway (8.3 PPG, 1.5 RPG) figuring to make life tough with their athleticism and quickness against what is a young Bulldogs backcourt. I’ll say the Bulldogs keep it respectable.

Final Score Prediction: Clemson 78, The Citadel 63

Emory & Henry (0-0) at East Tennessee State (0-0)

Coaches: East Tennessee State-Desmond Oliver (15-17/2nd yr)/Emory and Henry Ben Thompson (25-36/4th year)

All-Time Series: 49th meeting/Emory & Henry leads 25-23

Venue: Freedom Hall (6,177)

Time: 7 p.m. EST

Brief Preview: East Tennessee State opens the second year of the Desmond Oliver era against a program the Bucs haven’t faced since 1998 and first played back in 1922. Those were far different times, however. Emory and Henry have at least one link to the Southern Conference, as it is the alma mater of former Wofford legendary head coach and current Virginia Tech boss Mike Young. For ETSU’s Oliver, it will offer the second opportunity to see his new trio of power five transfers, in Brock Jancek (Tennessee), Josh Haynes (Virginia Tech) and Josh Taylor (Georgia) a chance to show what they can do, albeit against an overmatched front court from its opposition. Still, the Bucs will be noticeably bigger in the paint this season. It’s an area that Oliver and staff approached with some determination during the signing period. Oliver knows what he has in sharp-shooting guard Jordan King (14.6 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 97 triples ), who canned 97 triples last season, as well as sophomore Jaden Seymour (4.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG), who was an all-freshman pick a year ago, returns underneath for year two with more muscle and a determination to build off a strong freshman campaign. Keep an eye on Mansfield transfer guard Justice Smith–a 6-6 wing who can score points in bunches. The same can be said for DeAnthony Tipler, who transferred in from Coastal Carolina. Tipler could very well end up on a postseason all-league team if he can improve as an on-ball defender. The Bucs win it going away in a rout and improve to 86-22 inside the friendly confines of Freedom Hall since the start of the 2015-15 season.

Final Score-ETSU 99, Emory & Henry 68

North Greenville (0-0) at Furman (0-0)

Coaches: Furman-Bob Richey (111-47/6th year at Furman)/North Greenville Chad Lister (21st season at NGU)

All-Time Series: Furman leads 3-0

Venue: Timmons Arena (2,500)

Time: 7 p.m. EST

Brief Preview: Just like last season Furman opens its campaign on its home floor Timmons Arena against North Greenville. The preseason SoCon favorites opened with a barrage of threes and breakaway dunks en route to 118-66 win over the Crusaders, who made the 13-mile trek almost exactly a year ago. The Paladins, in fact, tied a school record with 22 triples and set a new mark for assists with 35. It would lead to a season which saw the Paladins set a Southern Conference record with 401 triples for the season. Furman is picked to win the Southern Conference for the first time since 2003-04, when the Paladins were selected to win the league’s South Division. In case you were wondering, Furman did not end up living up to those expectations some 19 years ago, actually finishing fourth in the six-team division. Furman’s Mike Bothwell (15.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and Jalen Slawson (14.4 PPG, 7.4 5RPG) look to turn those salty March tears into some salty on-the-floor revenge this season, as the Paladins embark on a quest to try and return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980. One neat twist is current Furman walk-on Rett Lister, who is now entering senior season at Furman, is the son of North Greenville head coach. Chad Lister also calls Furman home, having graduated from Furman in 1995 and served as Bob Richey’s basketball coach at North Greenville from 2003-06. Furman’s 84-14 record on its home floor since the start of the 2015-16 season account for 35% of the total 234 victories in the previous 24 seasons. That’s almost outrageous. Furman wins big in the opener.

Final Score Prediction: Furman 104, North Greenville 58

Published by soconjohn

I am a lover of all things SoCon, and I have had a passion to write about, follow and tell the world about this great conference for pretty much my entire life. While I do love the SoCon, and live in the SoCon city, which is home to the Furman Paladins, have a passion for sports in general, with college football and college hoops topping the list.

2 thoughts on “SoCon Basketball 2022-23 Preview and Media Day Recap

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