Chattanooga was the conensus favorite favorite to win the 2015-16 Southern Conference men's basketball title, according to the league's coaches and media. Included at the end of the article are both the coaches and media poll, as well the coaches all-conference team.
Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own team, and the Mocs received seven of the possible nine votes for the top spot, with two-time defending champion Wofford getting a pair of first-place votes, and Mercer receiving one first-place vote.
The Mocs, who will be under the direction of new head coach and former Florida assistant Matt McCall, returns all five starters from a team that went 22-10 last season, led by preseason all-conference honorees Casey Jones and Justin Tuouyo. With the seven first-place votes earned by the Mocs, they totaled 78 points. The Mocs went an impressive 15-3 in the Southern Conference regular-season in 2014-15, finishing second in the league standings.
Jones, a two-time all-conference selection, is coming off a strong performance in the 2014-15 season, and was selected as the preseason SoCon Player of the Year by the league's head coaches. He will be joined on the first team by senior center Justin Tuoyo, who was spectacular last season, ranking second nationally in blocked shots.
Despite losing its two top players from a year ago to graduation, Mike Young's Wofford Terriers were picked second in the league by the head coaches. The Terriers return three starters, including Easley, S.C., native and second-leading scorer Spencer Collins, as well as point guard Eric Garcia and small forward Justin Gordon.
Mercer posted 19 wins in its first go around in the Southern Conference, which was good enough for a fourth-straight appearance in a postseason college basketball tournament. Though the Bears saw leading scorer Ike Nwamu transfer out of the program to UNLV, a solid core of players returns, as head coach Bob Hoffman's Bears received one first-place vote and were selected third, amassing 59 points.
Like Wofford, the Bears welcome back three starters, led by point guard Phillip Leonard, as well as veteran forward Jibri Bryan, who are among the standout returnees back. Jordan Strawberry and Jestin Lewis highlight a couple of players that could have breakout seasons for the Bears.
Steve Forbes is making waves and he hasn't even taken the floor yet as a head coach for East Tennessee State. The Bucs have a good combination of high-profile transfers, which includes Baylor guard Deuce Bello and Cincinnati guard Ge'Lawn Guyn highlighting the newcomers, while veterans like guard preseason all-league selection guard A.J. Merriweather and forward Lester Wilson return off a team that finished 16-14 in the Bucs' first season back in the SoCon since the 2004-05 campaign.
Forbes took the reins of the program from Wichita State last April, succeeding Murry Bartow after Bartow's contract was not renewed following the season. The Bucs amassed 55 points in the preseason poll.
At fifth spot, the coaches selected the Furman Paladins, who finished with 51 points in the preseason poll. After finishing the regular-season with just eight wins and ranking as the No. 10 seed entering the Southern Conference Tournament, Niko Medved's Paladins caught fire winning three games in the tournament and playing valiantly in the title against Wofford, only to drop a three-point game (67-64) to Wofford in the title game. All five starters are back, including all five starters, with preseason all-league performer Stephen Croone highlighting those returnees, as he is the league's leading returning scorer after having averaged 17.3 PPG last season. The Paladins also return 2015 SoCon Freshman of the Year Devin Sibley in the backcourt, as well as 2015 all-freshman team selections, Geoff Beans and Daniel Fowler.
UNCG was another upstart team over the final portion of the 2014-15 season, and Wes Miller has a talented group returning from a squad that finished eighth in the league standings last season with R.J. White and Kayel Locke giving the Spartans one of the top frontcourts in the SoCon, while Tevon Saddler returns in the backcourt. Both Saddler and Locke were preseason All-SoCon picks, and join Chattanooga in the distinction of having two players selected to the coaches preseason all-conference team. The Spartans amassed 42 points in the preseason coaches poll.
Scott Padgett heads into his second season as the head coach of Samford, leading the Bulldogs to a respectable 13-19 overall record in his first season on the job after taking over Bennie Seltzer, who was fired in June of 2014. Padgett will rely on a strong backcourt, led by all-freshman guard Christen Cunningham, while leading scorer Darius Jones-Gibson returns after garnering Second Team All-SoCon honors last season. He was also chosen as a 2015-16 preseason All-SoCon selection. Samford finished with 34 points.
Other than Wofford's Young, Western Carolina's Larry Hunter is the longest-tenured coach in the SoCon, and though the Catamounts lose top scorer James Sinclair has departed, four starters return from a club that once again found itself among the SoCon's Final Four for the third time in the past four seasons in 2014-15. Leading the charge is preseason All-SoCon selection Mike Brown, who will be asked to step up and provide the scoring among the four returnees with Sinclair having graduated. The Catamounts finished with 36 points.
The No. 9 and 10 spots were occupied by the league's two military schools, with one coach hopping from one to the other, as Duggar Baucom moves from VMI to The Citadel, looking to turn things around in Charleston like he did in Lexington.
In VMI's first year back in the SoCon, the Keydets finished the season with 11 wins and were the league's highest scoring team, which was to no one's surprise.
The Keydets struggled after the loss of Q.J. Peterson, who led the conference at better than 19 PPG before seeing his season end early due to medical hardship. Baucom's job will now fall to former Army assistant Dan Earl. Earl starred as a guard in the mid-1990s at Penn State, where he was a strong outside shooting threat, and was one of the most beloved players in Happy Valley.
Baucom has his work cut out for him in the Low Country, and infusing his stlye of high-octane basketball to the Low Country might just be the thing that gets the turnstyles going at McAlister Field House this season. The Bulldogs, who were selected 10th, amassed points in the preseason poll.
Listed below are the preseason coaches selections for order of finish, as well as the preseason all-conference team.
Stay tuned for the mid-major madness preseason all-conference teams, as well as the projected order of finish coming up early next week.
Coaches Predicted Order of Finish
Predicted Order of Finish
Team (1st-Place Votes) Total
1. Chattanooga (7) 78
2. Wofford (2) 74
3. Mercer (1) 59
4. ETSU 55
5. Furman 51
6. UNCG 42
7. Samford 34
8. Western Carolina 27
9. The Citadel 16
10. VMI 14
2015-16 Preseason All-Conference Team
A.J. Merriweather, ETSU
Stephen Croone, Furman
Kayel Locke, UNCG
Tevon Saddler, UNCG
Darius Jones-Gibson, Samford
Casey Jones, Chattanooga
Justin Tuoyo, Chattanooga
Q.J. Peterson, VMI
Mike Brown, Western Carolina
Spencer Collins, Wofford
Coaches 2015-16 Preseason Player of the Year
Casey Jones, Chattanooga
SoCon Men's Basketball Predicted Order of Finish - Media Poll
Team (1st-Place Votes) Total
1. Chattanooga (18) 266
2. Wofford (9) 250
3. Mercer 194
4. ETSU 186
5. Furman (1) 167
6. Western Carolina 157
7. Samford 114
8. UNCG 98
9. The Citadel 56
10. VMI 54