In four of the past six years, the Southern Conference basketball scene has been dominated by the Wofford Terriers, and though the Terriers lose some key pieced off of last season's team, they will still be a real contender to complete the feat as champions for a third-straight season.
Over the past couple of seasons, the Terriers have won 48 games, and have posted an overall mark of 48-20 record, and has been gold standard of Southern Conference basketball. The Terriers are coming off the best season in program history, having posted a memorable season, which included a non-conference win over fellow NCAA Tournament selection NC State.
The Terriers have had a tough off-season, however, as even after the celebrations of a second-straight Southern Conference title continued, the Terriers were beset by tragedy, when rising junior and reserve guard Jermiah Tate drowned while serving as a YMCA camp counselor at Camp Thunderbird in mid-June.
The loss has left heartbreak for the reigning champions in the heart of the college basketball off-season. The Terriers will also have to overcome on-the-court challenges in 2015-16, as Wofford will be without two vital pieces from last season's title run, as both Karl Cochran (14.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG) and Lee Skinner (9.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG) have both graduated--both were largely responsible for the past couple of title runs for the Terriers.
The 2014-15 season truly was a magic carpet ride for Mike Young's Terriers, who won a school-record 28 games to make a second-straight NCAA Tournament and fourth appearance in the past six seasons. However, the Terriers could not clear the first hurdle once again, although the 2014-15 season proved to be the closest the Terriers have come to pulling the big NCAA Tournament upset.
The Terriers would enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 12 seed, and would face No. 5 seed Arkanasas in a west region second-round clash, and it would the Razorbacks who stole the win in heartbreaking fashion, handing the Terriers the 56-53 opening-round setback.
With the loss, the standout careers of Cochran and Skinner came to an end. Cochran finished his career as the program's sixth all-time leading scorer, with 1,894 points, while Skinner was voted the Southern Conference Tournament MVP after leading the Terriers all the way to a second-straight memorable title, as the Terriers upended Furman 67-64 in the SoCon finale before an electric atmosphere at the U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville.
Cochran would also finish out his career as the program's all-time three-point field goals leader, having connected on 312-career treys. In Skinner and Collins, the Terriers graduated a pair of players that combined to score 3,136 career points between the two of them.
The Terriers have found much of their league success under Young by getting it done on the defensive end of the floor, finishing the 2014-15 season ranking 19th in the NCAA in scoring defense, as the Terriers allowed just 59.7 PPG last season.
The scoring and leadership roles for the Terriers will now fall to rising senior and Upstate, S.C. native Spencer Collins (11.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.4 APG), who enters his final season as a Terrier ranking 24th with 1,223 points entering his final season. Collins will be the guy the Terriers will center their focus on as being a leader for the club this upcoming season.
Collins is a player that will be looked to as a leader for the Terriers, and he not only offers a proficient perimeter threat for the Terriers, but has improved his overall game and is a complete performer on both ends of the floor.
In a late-season game against Mercer last season, things all came together for Collins, as he posted his best offensive game as a Terrier, posting a career-high 26 points in a victory over the Bears on Feb. 26, which helped the Terriers clinch the regular-season Southern Conference crown. The opening round of the SoCon Tournament, saw Collins post a 21-point scoring performance in a victory over UNCG, and will enter the 2015-16 season with a streak of four-straight double-figure games headng into the 2015-16 season.
Collins finished the campaign with 25 games in which he posted double figure scoring performances, while posting 43 triples last season, which was second on the team behind only Cochran. Look for the Third-Team All-SoCon pick to step up his game even more this season, as he becomes the focal part of the Terrier offense with Cochran having graduated. Collins was one of five players on the Terrier squad with 20 or more steals last season, posting 23 thefts last season. Collins was an impressive 38.4% from three-point land last season.
Joining Collins in the backcourt will be Johnson City, Tenn native Jaylen Allen (6.3 PPG, 1.7 RPG) as well as Aurora, Colorado product Eric Garcia (7.7 PPG, ).
Both Allen and Garcia are excellent perimeter shooters in their own right, with Allen having canned 40 triples last season, including knocking down an impressive 40 and 32 triples last season. Allen shot a blistering team-best 42.1% (40-of-95) from three-point range last season.
Allen enters his junior season likely to be the third starter in Mike Young's three-guard offense. Over the years, Young has developed backcourt talent, which fits into Wofford's system as well as any coach in mid-major college basketball. He has taken the likes of names from the past, such as Eric Marshall, Lee Nixon, Colin Largent and the Chadwick brothers (Seth and Ian), taking them from average players coming in, and developed into signifcant contributors and even all-conference talent.
I think Allen is that kind of player for the Terriers, as well as Garcia. But I really think this is going to be the breakout season for Allen in the Terrier backcourt. The Christ School product saw some solid action off the bench in all 35 games last season, scoring a season-high 12 points on a pair of occasions, including in the season-ending loss to Arkansas. In fact, Allen bookended the season with 12-point scoring performances, as he opened the 2014-15 season with 12 points in a hard-fought road loss at Stanford.
There are also some significant pieces slated to step in as contributors right away in the Wofford backcourt once again this season, including Trevor Stumpe and Fletcher Magee are two talented players slated to contribute right away this season.
The frontcourt for Wofford seems a little more of a question mark entering the season, and that's not to say that the loss of Cochran in the backcourt wasn't significant, however, there were times last season that felt as if Lee Skinner could take over a game and put a team on his shoulders if the Terriers needed a tough, gritty basket, Skinner was that guy that came up with the all-important plays seemingly time and time again last season.
In Wofford's four title seasons over the past six years, that has been the case. Noah Dahlman and Tim Johnson were much less about flash and much more about physicality and just doing the things needed to win a basketball games, oftentimes providing those non-record hustle stat plays to give the Wofford the edge they needed. If anything, that seemed to personify the Wofford run to the title game in the SoCon title game.
The good news is, the Terriers do have two experienced veterans returning to the fold in the front court for the upcoming season, with Justin Gordon (7.5 PPG, 4.0 RPG) and C.J. Neuman (4.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG) back and likely to be the two starters underneath when the Terriers open the season at a nine-win Missouri squad from a year ago. Gordon is one of the most explosive leapers in the SoCon, and last season, he enjoyed Neuman does the things needed to win basketball games, and though not the scorer Skinner was, he's every bit the scrapper. He provided key rebounds down the stretch in that dramatic win over Furman last season.
Cameron Jackson (2.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG) will see a significant impact as a reserve in the frontcourt, while plenty are excited about the arrival of 6-10 center Matthew Pegram. Just because two of the top players in the league have departed, doesn't mean the Terriers aren't more than capable of taking home a fifth title in seven seasons.