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2015-16 Preview: Southern Conference Predictions

Who is the team to beat in the Southern Conference after the Karl Cochran era at Wofford?

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

2015-16 SoCon Basketball Predictions

1. Chattanooga
2. Furman
3. Wofford
4. Mercer
5. UNCG
6. East Tennessee State
7. Western Carolina
8. Samford
9. VMI
10. The Citadel

2015-16 SoCon All-SoCon Teams

First Team:

G-Stephen Croone--Furman
G-Spencer Collins--Wofford
G/F--Casey Jones--Chattanooga
G--Devin Sibley--Furman
C--Justin Tuoyo--Chattanooga

Player of the Year: Stephen Croone

Second Team:

G-Tevon Saddler--UNC Greensboro
G-QJ Peterson--VMI
G-A.J. Merriweather--ETSU
G-Mike Brown--Western Carolina
C-R.J. White--UNCG

COACH OF THE YEAR:
Matt McCall--Chattanooga

Third Team:
G-Darius Jones-Gibson--Samford PLAYER OF THE YEAR
G-Eric Garcia--Wofford G-Stephen Croone-Furman
G-Christen Cunningham--Samford
F-Kayel Locke--UNCG

F-Torrion Brummitt--Western Carolina

NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR-Deuce Bello--East Tennessee State

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR:
G-Jonathan Jean--Furman

Team Previews

1. Chattanooga Mocs --It would be especially hard to pick against Matt McCall's Chattanooga Mocs, as he inherits a great situation in the Scenic City after coming over from the University of Florida after serving as Billy Donovan's top assistant. He assumes the role as the head man for Will Wade, who spent only two seasons at UTC before moving on to replace Shaka Smart at VCU. The Mocs have some of the SoCon's top talent returning, including SoCon Player of the Year candidate Casey Jones at one wing, while center Justin Tuoyo returns after posting an outstanding season on the defensive end of the floor, maintaining the Mocs' tradition of great shot blockers. The Mocs also return Duke Etheridge and

2. Furman Paladins --With all five starters returning, including what figures to be the top backcourt in the SoCon, with the return of Stephen Croone and last season's league rookie of the Year, Devin Sibley, an the Paladins become one of the most versatile teams in the SoCon without even a mention of the front court. A big key for the Paladins is getting Geoff Beans to be less of a perimeter presence and more a presence on the block this season. The best news might be the return of the SoCon's top rebounder in Kris Acox, while several newcomers will contribute in the front court alongside Kendrick Ferrara and Larry Wideman, as Matt Rafferty and Jalen Williams figure to be adequate threats to see plenty of action off the bench for the Paladins this season. It wouldn't be a shock for Furman to double its win total this season, with 22 victories.

3. Wofford Terriers -Wofford is the two-time defending Southern Conference champions, and the Terriers have won four of the past six SoCon Hoops titles. Can the Terriers make it a three-peat? Well, if the Terriers accomplish such a feat, it will be directly due to the coaching job done by head coach Mike Young. Even though Young won't have his leaders from a year ago, in Karl Cochran and Lee Skinner, he will have talent returning to the fold for the 2015-16, led by Specer Collins. The Easley, S.C. native has a real chance to become one of the top players in the league this fall, and it was Collins that really started to come into his own down the stretch last season. Wofford's biggest question mark will be finding a consistent scorer underneath the basket, as the loss of Lee Skinner might be a harder player to replace than the loss of all-everything guard Karl Cochran. Eric Garcia will be back to man the point, and the one player that will be expected to step up and provide buckets underneath will be Justin Gordon, who will be one of the most athletic big men in the SoCon once again this coming season. Young always stresses team defense, and that, if anything, will make the Terriers a series threat in the SoCon once again in 2015-16.

4. Mercer Bears -It won't be easy, but Mercer, like Wofford, should be competing for a league title once again this season under head coach Bob Hoffman. The Bears barely resemble the program that took down mighty Duke two years ago in the NCAA Tournament, however, the Bears, like Wofford, have won games with their play on the defensive end of the floor, and while there aren't many household names still around in Macon, a couple of veterans meshed with some talented newcomers should be enough to sustain Mercer in the upper echelon of the SoCon in its second season as a league member. The Bears were dealt their biggest blow when Ike Nwamu decided to transfer to UNLV in early April. The key returning leaders for the Bears this season will be point guard Phillip Leonard and Jibri Bryan will be the instrumental leaders in the backcourt for the Bears. Leonard has a chance to be one of the most versatile guards in the league in his second season as the starter. He is one of the best on-the-ball defensive guards in the SoCon. Jestin Lewis and Jordan Strawberry are also back to help bolster the backcourt. The real questions for the Bears begin in the frontcourt for the Bears, but keep an eye on 6-7 Cory Kilby, who could be an instant factor underneath for the Bears this coming season.

5. UNCG Spartans --If you're looking for a darkhorse in the Southern Conference race for the upcoming season, then look no further than the UNCG Spartans, which returns all five starters, including one of the best guards in the league, as well as arguably the SoCon's top frontcourt. Tevon Saddler is finally injury-free and ready to have a big season, while forwards R.J. White and Kayel Locke will be the workforce underneath, helping the Spartans boast maybe the SoCon's top frontcourt this coming season. The Spartans also have plenty of talented newcomers to introduce to the fold, as head coach Wes Miller brought in one of the league's top recruiting classes, which includes guard Demetrius Troy, who could be one of the league's top newcomers this season. It wouldn't be a shock to see the Spartans challenging near the top of the league's power structure coming late February.

6. East Tennessee State Buccaneers -- Is East Tennessee State becoming transfer U? That is apparently how new head coach Steve Forbes plans on getting the Bucs back to the top of the league quickly. Murry Bartow's mediocre 16-14 season a year ago after there were such high expectations in Johnson City were enough to get Bartow canned after 12 years at the helm. Forbes, who served under Gregg Marshall at Winthrop, brings in two of the league's most high-profile transfers, in Baylor transfer guard Deuce Bello and Ge'Lawn Guyn from Cincinnati, who also gives a boost to a backcourt that graduated two of the league's top five scorers, in Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley. The good news is the Bucs have three starters back, including speedy Petey McClain to run the point, while Lester Wilson and A.J. Merriweather also return at forward and guard, respectively. The Bucs could very well have enough to play spoiler this season.

7. Western Carolina Catamounts -- Four starters return for Western Carolina, but the most important of those starters will be missing when the Catamounts take the floor for the first time in November. That missing piece was one of the best players in the Southern Conference last season, in James Sinclair. Though Sinclair has graduated, four players with proven experience return, including an all-conference caliber scorer in the backcourt, with the return of athletic guard Mike Brown, who was one of the top rebounding guards in the SoCon last season. Also returning for the Catamounts this coming season are forwards Torrion Brummitt and Justin Browning, while the sharp-shooting Rhett Harrelson joins Brown in the Catamount backcourt.

8. Samford Bulldogs --Year two of the Scott Padgett era is upon us, and he has some major re-structuring to do in the frontcourt, with the graduation of both Tyler Hood and Michael Bradley. However, the "Talladega" style of basketball which was cleverly named by Padgett enters year two, and he has two of the quickest and most elusive guards in the SoCon returning to lead the backcourt, with all-conference talents Darius Jones-Gibson and Christen Cunningham both back in the fold this season for the Bulldogs. Cunningham was a SoCon All-Freshman pick last season, while Jones-Gibson was able to garner Second-Team All-SoCon honors last season. Cunningham's 4.5 APG last season were among the league's leaders. With Hood and Bradley gone underneath, Padgett went out and brought in a solid recruiting class, highlighted by 6-7 Matt Rose, who was the runner-up for Mr. Basketball in the state of Kentucky as a senior in high school.

9. VMI Keydets - Four starters return for the VMI Keydets, including QJ Peterson, who was the league's leading scorer prior to having to leave the team with an illness. He was averaging a little over 19 PPG at the time, and his return to the fold will be key in VMI's hopes to compete in what will be new head coach Dan Earl's first season at the helm. The Keydets also welcome back Tim Marshall, who had some solid outings last season, but is a bit undersized underneath the basket, as well as Julian Eleby, who scored a SoCon season-high and school record 43 points in an overtime win at Western Carolina last season. The biggest challege for Earl will be getting his team to defend, after letting teams shoot nearly 48% from the field per game last season. Still, the Keydets should be competitive, but it probably is going to be a tough first season for the new head coach.

10. The Citadel Bulldogs - Over the years, certainly the most challenging job in the Southern Conference has been The Citadel. But many believe if new head coach Duggar Baucom can turn around a similar type program at VMI, he should be able to do the same type thing in the Low Country of South Carolina. The Bulldogs have much to replace, including one of the top players in the Southern Conference, with the graduation of Ashton Moore. Moore averaged 18 PPG as a senior last season, and return just two starters this season, with forward Brian White and Quinton Marshall returning to the fold for the Bulldogs. Getting the Bulldogs to double-digit victories this season will be considered a victory for Baucom, and with the addition of some transfers next season, the Bulldogs have a chance to be successful than some would expect. His biggest challenge will be something no other coach has ever acheieved in the history of Bulldog basketball--getting The Citadel to the NCAA Tournament.