SoCon Basketball Notebook: A look back at the first month of the season in SoCon hoops (part 2)

In part two of looking back at the first month of Southern Conference basketball, I take a look at teams projected No. 6-10 in the Southern Conference preseason coaches’ poll, as I take a look at how things have gone over the first month of the season and take a look at the non-conference matchups that remain as we quickly approach the start of league play at the end of the month.

No. 6 East Tennessee State (4-5, 0-0 SoCon)–East Tennessee State is currently trending in the wrong direction, as we wind down non-conference play towards beginning league play in-earnest at the end of the month.

There is still a little time for second-year head coach Desmond Oliver and staff to get things in order before the Bucs’ league opener at Wofford on Dec. 29.

This past Saturday’s 63-61 loss to 2022 NCAA Tournament participant Jacksonville State came despite holding a somewhat comfortable seven-point lead midway through the second half. The Gamecocks hit what would be the go-ahead three-pointer with just under a minute remaining, giving JSU the lead for good, as it went on to claim the two-point road win in what was the first-ever matchup on the hardwood between the two foes.

The three-pointer, which ultimately allowed the Gamecocks to escape Freedom Hall with the two-point win, was JSU’s 12th of the contest. The Gamecocks finished the contest shooting a blistering 46.2% (12-of-26) from three-point range in the win.

The loss to Jacksonville State at Freedom Hall marked one of two setbacks in the non-conference slate at a place, which has proven to be one of the best homecourt venues in mid-major basketball since the start of the 2015-16 season. The Bucs have gone 88-24 on the home floor since the start of the 2015-16 season.

The other home non-conference loss came to a former Southern Conference rival, as the Bucs were a 74-70 loser on the home floor to Appalachian State in what was a tough, physical affair. Brock Jancek went down with an injury late in the contest of what was a physical contest and hasn’t played in the past couple of games against Mars Hill (W, 84-56) and Jacksonville State. No word on the timetable for Jancek’s return has been established.

The injury to Jancek might not seem that important on the surface, however, when you consider what head coach Des Oliver had to deal with in his first season as the head coach, you might think about the injury from that perspective.

The Bucs lost some significant front court pieces in the non-conference slate last season, with the most notable being the departure of Nigerian-born Silas Adheke, who had to return to Nigeria to help his family’s financial situation. That would end up being just the tip of the iceberg for ETSU, which would also go on to lose Vonnie Patterson and Charlie Weber before the end of the season, which severely affected the Bucs’ size and depth in the paint.

While the loss of Jancek isn’t cause for alarm yet, one glance at the final stats from last Saturday’s game against the Gamecocks shows that ETSU only played eight players that entire night against Jacksonville State.

The good news for Bucs fans this season is that it appears front court depth will not be an issue, as the additions of Virginia Tech transfer Jalen Haynes (14.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG) and University of Georgia transfer Josh Taylor (8.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG).

The additional size added by Oliver from the transfer portal for the Bucs has changed ETSU from being a team that was +0.1 in rebounding margin at the end of the 2021-22 season to a team that currently ranks fourth in the league in rebound margin, at +5.7.

Haynes has put up numbers worthy of all-conference consideration in the first month of the season. He has led ETSU in scoring in five out of the nine games the Bucs have played so far this season. Haynes’ 64.5% field goal percentage this season currently ranks him third in the SoCon in that particular category.

Taylor on the other hand, has been a key factor on the backboards for ETSU this season. His 6.9 rebounds-per-game ranks him tied for third in the league in rebounding with Furman’s Jalen Slawson.

But Taylor and Haynes are only part of the story for ETSU, as the additions of DeAnthony Tipler (13.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG) and Justice Smith (6.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG) have also been key in helping the Bucs look like a completely different team than the one that bowed out of the Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville with a (15-17) loss to The Citadel in the opening round and game of the 2022 tournament.

That team was talented, but guard-oriented, and by the end of the 2021-22 season, the Bucs were only playing seven or eight players regularly, with the aforementioned injuries and departures morphing ETSU into a completely different team by season’s end than it was at the start.

The Bucs actually got off to a 7-3 start through the first 10 games last season, which included winning the Naples Invitational with wins over Murray State (W, 66-58), Missouri State (W, 77-76), and Kent State (W, 57-51).

It was a Dec. 14, 2021, 69-67, setback to North Carolina A&T at Freedom Hall, in which things seemingly started to go awry for ETSU.

Tipler is probably a more athletic guard than David Sloan was, and to this point, has been a better shooter from three-point range, connecting on 42.5% (17-of-40) through the first nine games this season. Tipler’s liability has been on the defensive end, where he is not quite in the same class defensively as Sloan was last season for the Bucs.

And while Tipler is shooting the ball well from three, as a team, the Bucs are not. The Bucs rank dead last in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage through the first nine games this season, connecting 29.7% (57-of-192) from three-point land this season, and that ranks dead last in the SoCon and 309th overall in the nation in terms of three-point field goal percentage.

Despite the struggles from three this season, the Bucs have managed to keep the streak of consecutive games with at least one three-pointer made intact, as it has now reached 1,102 games through the first nine games this season. The current leader in consecutive games with at least one three-pointer made is UNLV, which has made at least one three-pointer in each of its past 1,168 games. ETSU’s current streak of consecutive made three-pointers dates all the way back to Feb. 16, 1987, as the Bucs went 0-for-8 in what was a 75-66 home loss to Davidson.

The streak was in jeopardy in the Bucs’ Nov. 27 trip to Athens, GA., to face off against the Georgia Bulldogs (L, 47-62), as ETSU connected on just 2-of-16 from three-point range in a game, which saw the Bucs connect on just 39.2% of its shots from the field.

In comparison to last season, which saw the Bucs shot a school record 802 three-pointers, making 281 of them, which was good enough to rank fourth in program history, the Bucs are shooting about four less three-pointers per game in Oliver’s second season in charge as opposed to last season’s single-season record setting season for attempts.

With that said and despite the struggles shooting from the perimeter this season, the Bucs have unequivocally one of the best pure shooters in the Southern Conference, in junior guard Jordan King (13.9 PPG, 4.4 RPG). King, who finished the 2021-22 season finishing with a team-best 97 triples and connected at a 42.9% clip (97-of-226), has not gotten off to a good start shooting the ball from long range this season, connecting on just 23.7% (18-of-76) through the first nine games from beyond the arch.

The good news for Bucs fans is that King really didn’t start shooting the ball well from downtown until conference play rolled around last season. King was a preseason all-conference player for a reason, and despite the additions of those players from the portal, the fact remains that he’s the one player that ETSU that can change a game in an instant with his ability to score points in bunches when he finds his shooting rhythm.

One of the real surprises for ETSU through the first nine games has been the play of redshirt freshman guard Allen Strothers (5.7 PPG, 2.4 RPG), as he has been one of the best rookie guards in the backcourt in the small sample size of games so far in the 2022-23 season. Strothers has started all nine games to this point in the season for the Bucs.

The Bucs still have one of the most athletically gifted wings in the Southern Conference, in Jaden Seymour (8.5 PPG, 7.3 RPG), who is in his second season after transferring into ETSU from Wichita State. Seymour’s 7.3 RPG currently

The Bucs looked good in an early-season MTE played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, taking on both Elon and Sun Belt favorite Louisiana in the championship game. The Bucs got a solid 77-64 win over their former Southern Conference competition, while dropping a hard-fought 81-77 contest against the Ragin’ Cajuns in the championship game.

ETSU also has wins over Little Rock (W, 84-76) and Emory & Henry (W, 88-66). In addition to the losses to Georgia, Jacksonville State, Louisiana and App State, the Bucs also dropped on the road at Tennessee Tech (L, 62-69) to account for the five losses this season.

The Bucs close out the non-conference slate with four pretty good challenges, as the Bucs will go on the road this coming Sunday to face Morehead State before returning to Freedom Hall to host a pair of games on Dec. 14 and 17, respectively, against both Atlantic Sun newcomer Queens University and perennial Big South title contender UNC Asheville.

The Bucs will close out non-conference play on Dec. 21, as the Bucs travel to face off against Matt McMahon’s LSU Tigers.

ETSU will commence Southern Conference play on Dec. 29 in Spartanburg against the Wofford Terriers, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium. The Bucs will be in Lexington, VA., on New Year’s Eve, with a 1 p.m. contest with VMI.

It’s tough to really get a good gauge on ETSU yet, however, there is talent on this roster. I can tell you they are far deeper than they were last year, however, the Bucs appear to be still finding their way under their second-year head coach.

7. Mercer (5-5, 0-0 SoCon)–Another team that has been the picture of inconsistency in the Southern Conference this season has been Greg Gary’s Mercer Bears, who currently sit at exactly .500 through the first 10 games of the season. The Bears have had both big wins and head-scratching defeats so far in their non-conference slate.

The Bears were most recently in action this past Tuesday, with an odd 11 am game against Middle Georgia State College in a game in which the Bears were able to claim what was a 100-62 win in the middle of the day.

The Bears posted their best win of the season against Winthrop, posting a 77-68 win over the Eagles in Macon. Head coach Greg Gary has nearly flipped the entire roster, adding several potential difference makers he hopes will help the Bears’ trajectory upward into the SoCon’s upper tier this season. The Bears have struggled to gain continuity this season with so many new faces, as well as the injury bug.

Gary and the Bears have been without one of their top players for the entirety of the season so far, as all-conference wing James Glisson III has missed the first month of the season with a hand injury. He is expected to return sometime in December.

Two newcomers have figured prominently into Greg Gary’s plans this season have been both forwards Jalyn McCreary (12.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG) and Luis Hurtado Jr. (10.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG). McCreary came to Mercer via the transfer portal and South Florida, and he has been a definite impact performer, and like both ETSU and UNCG, one of those newcomers just also happens to be the Bears’ leading scorers this season.

The other newcomer that has gotten off to a strong start in his Luis Hurtado Jr., who came to Mercer from Bryant in the transfer portal. He threatened a triple-double in Mercer’s win over Winthrop earlier this season, as he posted 10 points, dished out a team-high 10 assists, and had eight rebounds in one of the Bears’ key wins of the non-conference slate. He ranks as the Bears’ fourth-leading scorer through the first 10 games this season.

The other main newcomer via the portal is Fordham transfer guard Jalen Cobb (4.8 PPG, 1.0 RPG), who has seen action in only four games this season, due to battling an injury early in his career with the Bears.

Other impact players for the Bears this season include 7-2 freshman center David Craig (9.5 PPG, 6.8 RPG), who is from Australia and has given the Bears an extra rim protector on the defensive end of the floor this season. Craig is leading the team in rebounding this season, while having also posted a team-high five blocks through the first 10 games this season.

Craig has totaled three double-doubles in his first 10 games as a Bear, posting those performances against Winthrop (15 pts, 10 rebs), Fairfield (18 pts, 11 rebs), and Florida State (10 pts, 12 rebs). He is the biggest player in the Southern Conference in the 2022-23 season.

The Bears also added a sharp-shooting guard, in freshman Michael Zanoni (8.9 PPG, 2.8 RPG), and he’s coming off the bench, averaging 24.3 minutes-per-game. Zanoni has connected on 41.9% (18-of-43) from three-point range this season. His 18 triples this season are tied for the team lead in total three-pointers made, and his three-point field goal percentage ranks third on the team behind both Kamar Robertson (46,2%) and Shawn Walker Jr. (43.3%).

The Bears have gotten major contributions by two of the three returnees, who most thought coming into the season, might compete for all-league honors by season’s end.

Leading the way this season has been 6-0 point guard Kamar Robertson (12.8 PPG, 3.1 RPG), and he’s been shooting the ball at an extremely high clip from long range this season, having connected on a team-best 46.2% (18-of-39) from three-point range this season.

Robertson did not play in the game last time out against Middle Georgia State College but has started in all nine games he has appeared in this season. He has scored in double figures in seven out of the nine games he’s seen action in so far, including a season-high 23-point effort in Mercer’s win over Winthrop last month. His 12.8 PPG is tied for the team lead in scoring along with McCreary.

Shawn Walker Jr. (10.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG) ranks fourth on the team in scoring, and is one of four players averaging in double figures through the first 10 games. He has started 39 out of 42 games in two seasons as a Bears guard.

In terms of the SoCon statistical data, the Bears have been exceptional offensively this season, ranking fifth in the league in scoring offense (78.0 PPG), second in team field goal percentage (49.5%), and third in team three-point shooting percentage (38%/73-of-192) this season.

The Bears also rank fifth in scoring defense (69.7 PPG) and fifth in field goal percentage defense (42.6%).

Despite some pretty good numbers and contributions from both newcomers and returnees, there have been some head-scratching results through the first 10 games of the season, including and most glaringly in the season opener at East Carolina, blowing as big as a 16-point first-half lead against East Carolina only to fall 77-75.

While the other games aren’t necessarily bad losses, they did come in heartbreaking fashion. The Bears dropped hard-fought games against Georgia State (L, 83-85 OT) and Kennesaw State (L, 61-63), while playing well for the most part of 40 minutes before eventually falling by nine at perennial ACC power Florida State (L, 72-81).

The Bears will begin the final stretch of non-conference this Saturday (Dec. 10) with a test against a former conference rival, in Florida Gulf Coast and will have a week off before hosting Morehead State (Dec. 17). The Bears close out non-conference play on Dec. 21, with a trip to Alabama to battle the Troy Trojans.

The Bears will open up Southern Conference play on Dec. 28, with a trip to Samford to play the first Southern Conference game of the season with tip-off set for 7 p.m. That game on the 28th will also be a nationally televised contest, with ESPNU set to broadcast the SoCon curtain-raiser contest.

The Bears will play their SoCon home opener on New Year’s Eve, hosting Chattanooga in a game slated to tip-off at 2 p.m. at Hawkins Arena.

Like ETSU, it’s hard to know what to make of the Bears so far, and with so many new pieces and the team not being fully healthy, we likely won’t know too much before we get into league play at the end of the month.

8. Western Carolina (4-6, 0-0 SoCon)–The Catamounts have been the exact definition of a bipolar basketball team through the first month of the season. The Catamounts, who are in the middle of a four-game losing streak, at one time had a four-game winning streak after opening the season with consecutive losses at Georgia (L, 55-68) and at Maryland (L, 51-71). Confused yet?

The Catamounts are another team undergoing a roster re-vamp, and with that, there’s always going to be inconsistencies. With that being said, I think the Catamounts are a team to watch out for when league play gets underway later this month. The talent is there for second-year head coach Justin Gray, and now it’s about finding the right mix.

Like Mercer, the Catamounts have had a mix of some really good wins and some head-scratching setbacks along the way. The Catamounts haven’t fared particularly well against Big South foes especially. The Catamounts have dropped non-conference games against USC Upstate (L, 64-79), Gardner-Webb (L, 55-71), and UNC Asheville (L, 61-73).

The good news is the Catamounts should be able to break that streak on Saturday when they host the Brevard Tornadoes in a 4 p.m. contest at the Ramsey Center. The Citadel’s most recent setback came against former Southern Conference foe Davidson–a team that played its last Southern Conference game ever with a 99-97 loss to the Catamounts in the 2014 SoCon Tournament semifinals–got a measure of revenge with a 72-64 win over the Catamounts Wednesday night at Belk Arena.

Western Carolina also has wins over Brescia (W, 112-45), Lamar (w, 98-91 OT), Lindenwood (W, 90-88 OT), and McNeese State (W, 88-69). Three of Western Carolina’s wins came as a part of the McNeese State Invitational.

The Catamounts, who have virtually an entirely new roster, as one might expect have been led by two of those additions made through the transfer portal, as both Tre Jackson from Iowa State and Tyzhaun Claude from Morehead State have been among the league’s top newcomers this season.

Jackson currently leads the Catamounts in scoring this season, as he is averaging 15.4 PPG and 3.8 RPG, while Claude enters Saturday’s home battle with Brevard averaging 14.6 PPG and 8.7 RPG. Both have had some great individual efforts through non-conference play.

After Claude opened the season with an 18-point, seven rebound performance in a loss to Georgia, he saved his best performance of non-league action in maybe Western Carolina’s most-complete team performance so far this season-an 88-69 thumping of McNeese State in their home gym. Claude finished by scoring 19 points and 11 rebounds in the 19-point win, completing the double-double effort. It was one of four double-double performances so far in non-conference play.

Jackson has performed well so far, too, with some outstanding performances through the duration of non-conference play. He enjoyed his best performances of the season against both Davidson and McNeese State, posting 21 points in both of those games. He went 7-of-10 from the field in the win over McNeese State, while connecting on just 7-of-18 in the Catamounts’ most-recent loss to Davidson back on Wednesday night. Jackson is shooting an impressive 44.0%, having knocked down 33-of-75 from long range this season.

The third Catamounts’ third player averaging in double figures this season is one of the few returnees from last year’s team, in Vonterius Woolbright, who is averaging 11.0 PPG and 6.1 RPG this season. Woolbright is also dishing out 3.8 helpers-per-game.

As a team this season, the purple and gold rank seventh in the SoCon in scoring offense, averaging 73.8 PPG, while ranking ninth in the league in scoring defense, surrendering 72.7 PPG this season.

In terms of shooting the basketball, the Catamounts come into this weekend’s clash with Brevard ranking ninth in field goal percentage offense (46.0%) and ranked ninth in field goal percentage defense (). It’s hard to tell much about Justin Gray’s Catamounts at the moment, however, we will know more soon enough with the start of Southern Conference play.

In addition to Saturday’s contest against Brevard, the Catamounts will be on the road at Tennessee Tech on Dec. 17 and will close out non-conference action by hosting Toccoa Falls on Dec. 20.

The Catamounts commence Southern Conference play on Dec. 29 hosting UNCG in a 2 p.m. contest at the Ramsey Center, while hosting Furman in a 4 p.m. contest on New Year’s Eve.

9. The Citadel (5-4, 0-0 SoCon) —Despite coming off a 79-57 loss to cross-town rival and mid-major power College of Charleston, it’s so far so good for Ed Conroy and The Citadel Bulldogs in his second stint as head coach in Charleston.

The Bulldogs were 6-3 last season with a win over Pittsburgh to open the season before things started to go wrong for Duggar Baucom’s Bulldogs. One of the major reasons things began to go wrong so rapidly for The Citadel is that the Bulldogs dedication on the defensive end of the floor wasn’t what it needed to be. In fact, it really wasn’t at any point during the Baucom era, due primarily to the style of play.

The Bulldogs did defend pretty well, ranking fourth in the league in field goal percentage defense (43.1%), and second in three-point field goal percentage defense (32.3%), but due to the pace of play in which Baucom’s Bulldogs played with and the 9th ranked scoring defense in the contest, allowing 76.8 PPG.

The Bulldogs have had a re-dedication to defending folks this season and have done better in all phases. The Bulldogs once again rank second in three-point field goal percentage defense (30.5%), and rank even better as a whole defensively. The Bulldogs currently rank tops in the league in field goal percentage defense (39.9%) this season and ranks a full two places better in scoring defense this season than it was ranked last season.

The Bulldogs are allowing 70.8 PPG to rank seventh in the league. Perhaps major problems early on in the Ed Conroy era have nothing to do with the defensive end of the floor, and everything the Bulldogs have struggled to do offensively through the first nine games of the season.

The Bulldogs currently rank ninth in the league in scoring offense (71.1 PPG), while ranking eighth out in the 10-team SoCon in both field goal percentage shooting (42.9%) and three-point field goal percentage (31.7%).

The Bulldogs have one of the best individual defensive players in the SoCon this season, in rim protector Stephen Clark. Clark is putting up All-SoCon worthy numbers once again this season, leading the Bulldogs in scoring average (16.3 PPG), while ranking second in the league in blocks-per-game (1.7 BPG), and is currently 13th in the league in field goal percentage (53.0%).

Newcomers Austin Ash (15.1 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 1.3 APG), Elijah Morgan (9.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG), and Madison Durr (8.4 PPG, 4.3 PPG, 3.6 APG) have provided Clark with a nice supporting cast at guard.

The Bulldogs opened the 2022-23 season with an 80-69 loss at Clemson, playing well on the road in the loss to the Tigers. The Bulldogs actually outscored Clemson, 38-35, in the second half of the season opener at Littlejohn Coliseum. The Bulldogs were an impressive 11-of-25 from three-point range in the season-openinhg road loss.

The Bulldogs would pick up their first win of the second stint with Ed Conroy as head coach, when The Citadel welcomed Big South member Presbyterian to McAlister Field House and were able to come away with a 70-58 win over the Blue Hose in a game that saw the Bulldogs a majority of the grunt work on the defensive end of the floor, especially in the second half by holding the Blue Hose to just 28.1% (9-of-32) shooting from the field.

After a blowout win over Morris College (W, 109-66) and a blowout loss to Butler (L, 42-89), the Bulldogs went to take part in the Big Easy Classic in New Orleans. The Bulldogs went 2-1 in the tournament, defeating the University of New Orleans (W, 72-65) and IUPUI (W, 74-53), while dropping a contest to University of Denver (L, 71-74).

The Bulldogs are coming off back-to-back clashes with backyard battles, defeating Big South member Charleston Southern (76-73) on the road before suffering the 23-point home loss to College of Charleston last week. The Bulldogs will have a full 10-day break by the time they take the court again on Tuesday night, when The Citadel battles North Carolina at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill. Interestingly enough, the Bulldogs fought valiantly hard with a game at Duke last season, hitting 18 triples before eventually falling 107-81 at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Tip-off for Tuesday night’s contest with UNC in Chapel Hill is set for 7 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN2.

The rest of the non-conference slate includes a game vs. Big South Conference favorite Longwood (Dec. 17) at McAlister Field House before closing out non-conference play in Durham against North Carolina on Dec. 20.

The Bulldogs will face Chattanooga in the friendly confines of McAlister Field House on Dec. 29, with tip-off set for 7 p.m. The second game in a 48-hour span sees the Bulldogs welcome Samford into the friendly confines on New Year’s Eve, with tip time set for 1 p.m. EST.

10. VMI (4-6, 0-0 SoCon)--VMI has a new Sherriff in town, with Andrew Wilson having taken charge of a Keydets basketball program, which is coming off a breakthrough season, which saw VMI finish with a 16-16 record last season.

Nearly all that roster was gone when Wilson arrived, including Jake Stephens, who had found his to the Scenic City of Chattanooga, TN, by the time Wilson had the keys to the program in his hand.

Not only did Wilson have to do with the losses of four starters coming in (Honor Huff, Jake Stephens, Trey Bonham, and Kamdyn Curfman) to the transfer portal, the only starter he did return to the fold for the Keydets–Sean Conway–was out due to injury to start the season. He was one of several injuries either the Keydets already had, or that happened during preseason camp.

Wilson has managed all of that turmoil well, and the 4-6 mark to start out his VMI career is almost remarkable with all things considered that he has had to endure early on in his coaching career.

This might not be the same VMI team that connected on 400 three-pointers last season, however, as VMI has proven through its first 10 games this season it can still shoot the basketball pretty well. The Keydets currently rank second in the league in both three-pointers made (119) and three-point field goal percentage (38.9%) through the first 10 games of the season.

The good news is Sean Conway has returned to the lineup for the Keydets, and has shown why he is indeed an all-conference talent this season. Conway currently leads the Keydets and ranks seventh on the Keydets team in points per game average, posting 15.4 PPG, and is also shooting a blistering 48.4% (31-of-64) from three-point range through the first 10 games this season.

Conway is one of the few holdovers still around, and he is joined by others that are holdovers from the Dan Earl era like Tanners Mans, Louis Tang, DJ Nussbaum, KC Etienne, Sam Wolfe, Cooper Sisco, and Devin Butler to return.

Most of those players either are injured or have yet to play a minute so far this season for the Keydets. The only ones who have are Butler, Nussbaum and Wolfe. The two seeing the most significant floor time off the bench are both Wolfe and Butler.

Wolfe is a 6-8 senior forward, who has logged action in nine games, averaging 2.2 PPG and 2.1 RPG, while Butler, who is a 6-2 junior guard, has seen action in all 10 games, averaging 10.6 PPG and 3.3 RPG. Butler has ended up being the most significant contributor other than Conway, of course, of those who remain from the Earl era.

The newcomers that have shined for VMI this season include 6-9 center Tyler Houser (11.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG), 6-3 guard Asher Woods (14.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG), and 5-10 guard Tony Felder Jr (10.8 PPG, 2.8 RPG), as all three players are averaging in double figures this season.

All three would end up on the SoCon’s All-Freshman team if the season were to end today. Houser is a 6-9 center that has a game much like Stephens, in that he can step out and shoot the ball with some proficiency from three-point land. He currently leads VMI in three-point shooting just behind Stephens in three-point field goal percentage in seventh place statistically in the league this season, firing at a 48.8% from three-point land this season, as he has knocked down 20-of-41 shots from long-range this season.

Wilson is a self-described defensive specialist, and that’s how the Keydets are going to find success this season. The Keydets have seen a big drop-off on the defensive end, due in large part to not having Stephens and Honor Huff, who were a big reason why the Keydets finished the season leading the league in field goal percentage defense (41.5%) and ranked fourth in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage defense (33.7%) last season. The Keydets didn’t rank all that great in scoring defense a year ago, finishing the season ranked eighth in the league in points allowed (74.2 PPG).

This season, the Keydets are last in the league in scoring defense (74.7 PPG) and eighth in field goal percentage defense (45.0%), while ranking fifth in three-point field goal percentage defense (32.8%).

The Keydets begin the final stretch of non-conference play Saturday with a 1 p.m. against Radford at Cameron Hall. The Keydets also have non-conference games remaining on the road at both American (Dec. 13) and Fordham (Dec. 22) before beginning Southern Conference play on Dec. 29 in Greenville against SoCon favorite Furman on Dec. 29. Two days later, VMI will be back in the friendly confines of Cameron Hall to take on East Tennessee State on New Year’s Eve.

Stay tuned for more updates to come as non-conference play winds down.

Saturday’s Slate:

Winthrop at Furman, 4 p.m. EST

Radford at VMI, 1 p.m. EST

Johnson University at Chattanooga, 12 pm.

Brevard at Western Carolina, 4 p.m.

Mercer at Florida Gulf Coast, 7 p.m.

Wofford at Georgia Southern, 3 p.m.

Samford at Louisiana, 8 p.m. EST

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.

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