Southern Conference Tournament Preview and Awards

6 Mar

When: 3/6-3/9

Where: Asheville, NC

Bracket

Who should win: Top seeded and defending champion Wofford is still the team to beat in the SoCon. Besides a head scratching loss at The Citadel, their only SoCon loss was at home to Chattanooga (a team that can give them fits, but more on that in a bit). Under Mike Young, the Terriers are going to slow the game down offensively, and pressure you in the half court and push up on the three point line, and you’re not going to beat them in transition. Offensively, they rely heavily on Karl Cochran, and that can be a detriment if he’s having an off shooting night, but that’s rarely the case (do yourself a favor and try to find video of his second half at UTC, best offensive performance of the year). In short, the Terriers are a ball control team that shuts you down in the halfcourt, but they are vulnerable to bigger guards who can exploit their lack of height across the board. Wofford’s path to the finals is fairly easy, as they dominated the teams in their bracket.

If not them then…: Chattanooga is certainly capable of taking home the SoCon title in Will Wade’s second season at the helm. The Mocs can be a dangerous team because they have a lot athletic, interchangeable parts 1-4, and they run a lot of motion action meant to attack gaps and get to the FT line. They’re not a great outside shooting team, but the emergence of Robertson a reliable high volume safety outlet has been a key development for the offense. With the length and athleticism 1-4, the Mocs really chase teams off the three point line, and they can gamble in passing lanes and take some risks knowing that the best big man in the conference in Justin Tuoyo is behind them. The Mocs had a lot of close wins, no matter who the SoCon competition was, and that’s a little scary, but their three losses were close too, and they would have swept top seed Wofford were it not for Cochran’s “Klay Thompson” performance. The Mocs could just as easily have six SoCon losses as they could be undefeated. Their overall team height posed a major issues for Wofford, but they have a much tougher path to the final with a Mercer zone lurking that can in theory take away the Mocs’ strengths offensively.

Sleepers: Third seeded Mercer isn’t the same senior laden group that won the ASun last year and then of course beat Duke, but this is still a well coached Bob Hoffman team that gelled quickly. The problem with the Bears is that they’re an offense predicated on attacking the rim off motion sets, but they don’t have any shooters to keep teams from collapsing on penetration and zoning them to death. Additionally, their own zone defensively was often exploited in a generally good outside shooting league. They’re going to have their hands full vs a VMI team that can of course fill it up offensively is constantly looking to shoot the three on every possession. Mercer hasn’t played them in over two months, and a lot has changed for VMI since then. They no longer have QJ Peterson, but they’ve regrouped and reloaded, and are playing some of their best basketball (disregard the season ending loss to Samford, the Keydets were on the third game of the week after back to back 2OT games). If the shots are falling and the Bears are struggling with the press, VMI can absolutely advance.

Deep sleepers: Western Carolina and East Tennessee State square off in the 4/5 matchup, but neither team has much of a shot of beating Wofford. ETSU’s high pressure zone defense isn’t going to rattle a disciplined, ball control team like Wofford, and the Terriers were up by 20+ in both meetings before winning each game by double digits. The same sentence is exactly true for WCU as well, as it’s the same exact scenario. As for how WCU and ETSU matchup against each other, ETSU swept the series, but with two high pressure zones squaring off and Rembert, Riley, Harrelson, and Sinclair all on the same court, you saw a lot of threes and a lot of turnovers with possessions in the mid 70s. The winner likely tires themselves out before they even face Wofford, but WCU will have the homecourt advantage, and that was a big factor in last year’s run to the SoCon title game.

The rest: The winner of UNC Greensboro and Samford isn’t likely to give Wofford much trouble, and I think this is one UNCG should thrive in. The Spartans have done a much better job in terms of limiting turnovers as the season has progressed, and that was the difference between their first and second meeting with Samford, as UNCG drastically reduced their 23% TO rate vs Samford’s pressure heavy defense and were able to exploit Samford around the rim (RJ White was 10-13). Additionally, UNCG is the best defensive rebounding team in the SoCon, and they tend to go under screens and let teams shoot from outside in deference to crashing the glass and getting in transition. Samford is the worst transition defense I’ve seen in the SoCon (excluding VMI of course, but much of that is tied into their style), and that’s an area the Spartans are going to exploit. Christian Cunningham and the young Samford Bulldogs are a team you’ll be hearing from next year though. In the other play in game, Furman and The Citadel play a rubber match, and I’m not going to pretend to think I know how to read the Paladins game by game. Furman swings wildly from being competitive against SoCon elite (3 point losses to Mercer and UTC and a 2 point loss to Wofford without Croone on Saturday, although the Terriers weren’t playing for anything) and 30+ point losses to VMI and UNCG. Croone is likely back, and that means the Paladins are fully healthy for the first time in a long time with Beans also back from a concussion. The Citadel plays close to the slowest pace in the country. They’re going to zone you and make you work the ball on the perimeter until you inevitably settle for a three, but then they essentially do the same thing offensively as well. Furman probably should have won the second meeting despite going 8-28 from 3 (Sibley 0-8), but fell in OT. The Paladins wisely pressured The Citadel ballhandlers in the second meeting, something Medved doesn’t really do often, and I expect to see it a little more tomorrow.

Predictions: UNC Greensboro over Samford (UNCG -1), Furman over The Citadel (Furman -1.5)

Quarterfinals: Wofford over UNCG, WCU over ETSU, Chattanooga over Furman, VMI over Mercer

Semifinals: Wofford over WCU, Chattanooga over VMI

Finals: Wofford over Chattanooga

WES REYNOLDS ALL SOCON PICKS AND PREDICTIONS:

Coach of the Year: Mike Young – Wofford.
Close call between Young and Will Wade of Chattanooga, but I give the nod to the Wofford top gun. Wofford has the conference’s second-most efficient offense and the conference’s #1 defense. 16-2 in the league and had impressive non-conference wins over Iona, Sam Houston State and at NC State.

Player of the Year: Karl Cochran – Wofford
Cochran  finished the regular season fifth in the SoCon in scoring (15.0 ppg) and was 11th in rebounds (5.8 rpg). The senior was second in the league in steals per game (1.8 spg) and ranked 12th in assists (2.8 apg).

First Team:
Karl Cochran (6-1,175, Sr) – Wofford

Lee Skinner (6-6, 220, Jr) – Wofford
Casey Jones (6-5, 200, Jr) – Chattanooga
Jalen Riley (6-0, 150, Sr) – East Tennessee State
James Sinclair (6-3, 180, Sr) – Western Carolina

All-Freshmen:
Devin Sibley (6-2, 175) – Furman (Freshman of the Year)
Daniel Fowler (6-4, 195) – Furman
Jake Wright (6-4, 195) – The Citadel
Christian Cunningham (6-2, 185) – Samford
Stephon Jelks (6-6, 225) – Mercer

So Con Pick: 1 Wofford over 2 Chattanooga

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