The Southern Conference has seen a lot of changes in the last several months. Since the league last convened, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Elon all have left the conference. Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI have all joined.
Of course, Davidson is gone too.
That's the one that really hurts the conference. That's the one that leaves a mark.
The SoCon ranked 30th in RPI last year. Can the SoCon possibly get better without Davidson?
Reasonable people would say no. After all, teams like Davidson are not just replaced on the mid-major level. They have been consistently very good for the last decade.
However, it is interesting to note that it is Wofford that has actually won three of the last five SoCon championships, not Davidson. Chattanooga has a long basketball tradition and appears to be on their way back up.
Davidson got all the way to the Elite Eight in 2008 behind Stephen Curry, but have not advanced in the NCAA Tournament since. Mercer, the newest SoCon member, won a tournament game last year.
What about VMI and ETSU? VMI is better in basketball than when they left the conference over a decade ago. They play a fast style of basketball that leads to them always being among the nation leaders in scoring. ETSU has a solid basketball tradition that could lead this team back to the top of the SoCon.
But the problem is that no one knows exactly how good the new teams will be. Everyone will be feeling out how these teams will perform this year, particularly the rest of this month as the early season results start to roll in from big nonconference games.
So, can the SoCon possibly get better without Davidson?
The answer to that question will be determined by how the teams will perform out of conference. This week has plenty of opportunities. Furman hosts College of Charleston and ETSU goes to Valparaiso on Friday. Western Carolina gets their shot at Mississippi State on Friday night as well. Wofford will try to take down Stanford late Friday evening. VMI and The Citadel will take on either Air Force or Army on Saturday. Sunday, Mercer goes to Seton Hall. Those are the only games against mid-majors and the best chances for wins against majors.
This week will certainly start to define the narrative about the SoCon in this post-Davidson era.
THREE GAMES NOT TO MISS
The Citadel vs. VMI in West Point, NY (Friday, 5:30 p.m.)- The Bulldogs and the Keydets will hook up in the All Military Classic on Army's home court. This game is between two old time SoCon rivals but this will not count as a conference game. Of course, the two teams will hook up two more times later on this year in conference games. VMI's QJ Peterson should always put on a show. Ashton Moore is the player to watch on the Bulldogs side. Unfortunately, this game is not televised anywhere so we will not get to see this opening tip of the SoCon season.
Game of the Week- College of Charleston at Furman (Friday, 8 p.m., SoCon Digital Network)- This is the best game of the weekend for a SoCon school. Furman gets to play a team that left the SoCon two years ago. Stephen Croone is one of the very best players in the SoCon and will be trying to build on his spectacular sophomore year. Kendrec Ferrara really came on at the end of the year and is a critical part of this team. The Cougars Adjehi Baru always presents a challenge. Baru vs. Ferrara will be a good match-up to watch in this one.
ETSU at Valparaiso (Friday, 8:30 p.m., Horizon League TV)- The Bucs are hungry to prove that they belong in the SoCon. Going against one of the top teams in the Horizon League, this is a huge opportunity for a SoCon team to come up with a quality, road, nonconference game. Rashawn Rembert will need to shoot lights out for ETSU to come up with the win. The Crusaders were supposed to be rebuilding last year, but they wound up 9-7 in conference play. Alec Peters is looking to be the star for this group.