This year is certainly an end of an era for the Southern Conference. Davidson, Elon, Georgia Southern, and Appalachian State will all go on their separate ways on July 1 and the conference will welcome back East Tennessee State and VMI, as well as add Mercer to the fray.
The Southern Conference is a league that embraces it's heritage and has been around since 1921 when Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Washington & Lee roamed the conference. We thought this year would give us one last trip down memory road as Davidson would battle Elon for the conference title, but the SoCon season has unfolded a lot different than the masses thought.
While Elon (10-8,3-1) got a leg up Thursday night with an 87-85 overtime win over Davidson (7-11,3-1) on Thursday night, it's teams away from that contest that have impressed this year. Sure, the Wildcats and Phoenix are squarely in the SoCon race, but unbeaten squads Chattanooga (11-8,5-0) and Western Carolina (10-8,3-0) are leading the fray with UNC Greensboro (10-9,3-1) right behind them.
First year head coach Will Wade, a former VCU assistant, may have the greatest story in installing his "CHAOS" system at Chattanooga. The Mocs have seven straight and are off to a 5-0 start in conference. Sure the Mocs haven't been challenged by the conference's top schools yet, but 5-0 is 5-0 and they have a decent 70-69 win over Wofford.
Z Mason has certainly helped bolster Wade in his first year and is a legitimate candidate for Conference Player of the Year. Through the Mocs first five conference games Mason is averaging 21 points and 11.2 rebound per game. We'll find out a lot more about Wade's squad over their next four games where they'll face conference opponents with a combined 11-5 mark in the SoCon. To put that into perspective, Chattanooga's previous five games were against teams that combine for a 3-18 conference record.
Another player turning heads and in the lead for SoCon Player of the Year, in my opinion, is Western Carolina's Trey Sumler. Sumler has dropped 40 and 35 points in a game this year, and is third in the SoCon in scoring with 19.2 points per game. Add in his 4.4 assists and 4.4 rebounds, and he may just be the most well-rounded guard in the conference.
Sumler has Larry Hunter's Catamounts at 3-0 in conference play thus far and has handed UNC Greensboro and Elon their only conference loss. With a resume like that, you can put a little more stock in what's going on in Cullowhee.
While Chattanooga's success certainly stands out, UNC Greensboro's start may be the most surprising. I thought the Spartans would be abysmal after losing Trevis Simpson and Derrell Armstrong, but Wes Miller's squad has persevered and is up towards the top of the SoCon. Kyle Cain, Kayel Locke, and Tevon Saddler have replaced the scoring duo with a trio putting up over 40 points per game.
UNCG is a lot like Chattanooga in that they have prayed off the bottom feeders of the SoCon thus far. A challenge lays ahead for Wes Miller's squad this weekend though when they host Davidson on Saturday evening.
There is no fooling anyone, Davidson and Elon are still the frontrunners for the SoCon title. With that being said, don't be surprised to see either of these three teams to continue to make noise and cause some trouble in Asheville this year.
- Mid-Major Basketball Weekend Viewing Guide: Big Time Upsets Brewing?
- UCSB vs. Long Beach State Game Recap: Gauchos Dominate 49ers
- WCC Thursday Night Recap 1/16/14
- Gonzaga vs. Pepperdine Game Recap: Zags Rout Waves 70-53 in Malibu
- San Francisco vs. BYU Game Recap: Dons Fade, Fall To BYU At Home, 83-76