Furman Without Croone
With no Stephen Croone, it figured to be a tough opening night for the Furman Paladins...and it was. Croone, suffering from concussions symptoms, sat out Friday night against the College of Charleston and the Cougars rolled to a 75-40 win.
We all know that Furman is still rebuilding under Niko Medved, but Croone is a special player. He was expected to contend for SoCon Player of the Year. Without him in the lineup, this game became next to impossible to win.
Croone is being re-examined to determine his status for Wednesday's game against another old SoCon foe, Appalachian State. The Paladins need Croone to play.
Some Furman fans are already calling for Medved to lose his job. This is only his second season and when two starters (Aaron O'Neill was also out with a concussion) are missing from the lineup, including your potential All-SoCon performer, and your team only won six games the year before he got there, it is hard to know what Furman fans could be expecting from Medved.
Furman looks to be getting better to this writer's eye, even if Friday night did not show it. Let's wait to see how Furman looks when it has a full roster of players. Even then, it will be important to compare to how the team performs against its conference counterparts. There is certainly more time needed for Medved. To be fair, it is only a handful of fans calling for him to be fired.
SoCon Winless in D1 Nonconference Games
The SoCon is winless against D1 nonconference competition so far this season. Yes, that is disappointing, but the reality is that the SoCon was expected to lose every game they have played so far. The most likely win was probably VMI against Army on Saturday in the All Military Classic Championship Game. The game was at Army, though.
The only home game for a SoCon team against D1 competition was Furman's home date with College of Charleston. Given Croone's concussion, that was not a good game to evaluate either.
Tuesday the SoCon gets two home games. Wednesday the SoCon gets three more. If the SoCon is still sitting winless against D1 competition after Wednesday, then it will be time to start panicking. Truthfully, the conference can legitimately hope for a 3-2 record or better on those two days. If the SoCon does that, then the conference will be fine. If it is worse than that, it could be another year with the SoCon ranking in the 30s in the RPI.
Exempt Tournament Intrigue This Week
UNC Greensboro, Wofford and Samford all play exempt tournaments this week. UNCG (EMU Showcase) and Wofford (Coaches vs. Cancer) both play three games in three days that will go a long way to defining the teams early in the year. Samford (Maui on the Mainland) will play two games in two days. These teams will be looking to deliver what this conference needs: wins against other mid-major competition in bunches. No team is completely outmatched in any of these contests, so these tournaments should produce a handful of SoCon victories.
At a minimum, it makes for a very interesting Friday through Sunday for people keeping up with the SoCon action.
This is the busiest week of the year for the SoCon, with 25 games going on involving a team from the conference.
Player of the Week
There were several good candidates for Player of the Week this week, but I'm going with Ike Nwamu. Against Piedmont and Seton Hall, Nwamu averaged 21 points per game, 3.5 rebounds per contest and had one block per game. He made 44 percent of this 3-pointers, shot 60 percent from the floor and made 73 percent of his free throws.
Nwamu is the most experienced Bear coming back from last year, when he played almost 19 minutes per game and averaged 8.3 points per game. He was clearly the best Bear on the floor in Sunday's loss to Seton Hall. Nwamu will need to keep on playing at this level for the Bears to rise up in the SoCon.
Some of this is based on results so far, some is based on preseason expectations. It is so hard to judge early season results when teams are playing non-D1s or strong teams.
Should Furman have dropped to last? Probably not because they did not have Croone, but no team had a worse loss than Furman in the first batch of games, a 35-point home loss. If this team performs better with Croone, they will jump up rapidly.
Why did Mercer rise so much? They played relatively well against Seton Hall today and dominated Piedmont in the opener. Why did losing a close one to Pitt not help Samford the same way? For one, they started way more off the pace than Mercer. Second, they were beaten down by Purdue with a 40-point loss in the opener.
Again, these are very fluid at this point in the season. Change will happen rapidly.
THREE GAMES TO WATCH THIS WEEK
SoCon Game of the Week- Iona at Wofford (Tuesday, 7 a.m., ESPN2)- So, would you get up to go to a game at 7 a.m. that is nationally televised? Good question. I would absolutely love to do this and would have loved it even more as a college student. Iona is the favorite to win the MAAC and the Terriers are the favorite to win the SoCon. This game could have an impact on seeding come NCAA Tournament time if both teams really do get a bid. The Terriers will be hoping that Karl Cochran is a morning person. The Gaels will be looking to get big things out of Isaiah Williams, a 6-7 junior who can be a major mismatch problem for any mid-major they go against.
UNCG at Eastern Michigan (Saturday, 7)- The Spartans will be looking to start establishing what kind of team they are going to be. RJ White and Tevon Saddler looked pretty good in the opener for the Spartans, but the team as a whole did not play all that well against Chowan. Eastern Michigan didn't look great against St. Francis of Illinois either, but they came up with the win. Karrington Ward is the best scorer for the Eagles. In the middle game of the EMU Showcase for the Spartans, this is a chance to come up with a road win. The Spartans, if White, Saddler and a host of others, perform well in Ypsilanti, could come up with a dynamic performance in this tournament and come up with a couple of really big wins. This game would be the biggest one to come up with against a team expected to be a middle of the pack team in the MAC.
Mercer at Colorado State (Sunday, 6, CBS Sports Network)- The Rams are picked to finish 5th in the Mountain West this year, and this is a really interesting test for the new look Bears on their way to the Great Alaska Shootout. Ike Nwamu will need to step up big for the Bears. Stanton Kidd is probably the Rams best player. He is a 6-7 senior. Going on the road to take on a Mountain West team is not easy, but it is a game that Mercer could come up with a win in. Again, the next week they are in the Great Alaska Shootout, so this is great preparation for them.
Western Carolina at Alabama, 9 (SEC Network) (CBE Hall of Fame Classic)
Iona at Wofford, 7 a.m. (ESPN2)
UNC-Wilmington at UNCG, 7 (SoCon Digital Network)
Johnson C. Smith at VMI, 7 (SoCon Digital Network)
Virginia Wise at ETSU, 7 (SoCon Digital Network)
Chattanooga at Butler, 9 (FoxSports2) (Battle 4 Atlantis)
Toccoa Falls at The Citadel, 6 (SoCon Digital Network)
Appalachian State at Furman, 7 (SoCon Digital Network)
Kennesaw State at Mercer, 7 (ESPN3)
Austin Peay at Samford, 8 (SoCon Digital Network)
Longwood vs. UNCG in Ypsilanti, Michigan, 4:30 (EMU Showcase)
Hiwassee at Western Carolina, 7 (SoCon Digital Network)
Wofford at Fairfield, 7 (Coaches vs. Cancer)
Cal State-Northridge vs. Samford in Little Rock, Arkansas, 2 (Maui on the Mainland)
South Dakota vs. Wofford in Fairfield, Connecticut, 5 (Coaches vs. Cancer)
Bob Jones at The Citadel, 6 (SoCon Digital Network)
UNCG at Eastern Michigan, 7 (EMU Showcase)
UNC-Wilmington at VMI, 7 (SoCon Digital Network)
UNC-Asheville at ETSU, 7 (SoCon Digital Network)
Chattanooga at Tennessee Tech, 7
UC-Davis at Furman, 7:30 (SoCon Digital Network)
TBA vs. Samford in Litte Rock, Arkansas, TBA (Maui on the Mainland)
Youngstown State vs. UNCG in Ypsilanti, Michigan, noon
Sam Houston State vs. Wofford in Fairfield, Connecticut, noon (Coaches vs. Cancer)
Mercer at Colorado State, 6 (CBS Sports Network)