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Southern Conference exam grades: From Mercer to The Citadel

Who has impressed and who has underwhelmed so far in the SoCon

NCAA Basketball: Citadel at Florida State
2017 SoCon Freshman of the Year Preston Parks was dismissed from The Citadel basketball program last week
Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter December, teams around the Southern Conference will start to get more of an idea of where they fall in the league’s hierarchy. All 10 teams are beginning to wind down their respective non-conference slates, with some interesting results around the league over the past week.

Catamounts continued improvement

Western Carolina continued its improvement on Monday night with a 72-71 upset win over Appalachian State at the Ramsey Center.

Mike Amius’s dunk with a little over seven seconds remaining helped the Catamounts notch the narrow win. Amius, a 6’7 junior transfer from North Platte Community College, finished with 19 points and was one of three Catamounts in double figures.

Deriece Parks led the way with 20 points, including six threes, while freshman Matt Halvorsen chipped in with 14.

The Catamounts improved to 3-6 with the win, and will head to the Dean Smith Center Wednesday night to face North Carolina.

Mercer hangs tough in the Volunteer State

Mercer continued to show its early strength, posting an outstanding performance on the road at Memphis, before falling 83-81 in double overtime. That loss came on the heels of the Bears’ lone blowout loss of the season, which was an 84-60 setback at Tennessee.

In the loss to the Tigers, 6’6 senior forward Stephon Jelks led four Bears in double figures with 17 points, and proved he was one of the best inside-outside threats in the SoCon, going 4-for-6 from three.

Senior guard Jordan Strawberry probably turned in the best all-around performance for the Bears, posting 11 points, six assists, and five rebounds. Mercer actually held a 10-point lead (56-46) with just under seven minutes remaining, however, Memphis promptly responded with a 9-0 run.

In the 24-point loss to Tennessee, the Bears fell behind by double-digits early and never recovered, shooting only 38 percent from the floor, while the Volunteers shot 56 percent. Strawberry had a season-high 20 to lead the Bears.

Preston Parks no longer at The Citadel

Head coach Duggar Baucom dismissed 2016-17 SoCon Freshman of the Year Preston Parks from The Citadel’s basketball program last week.

Parks told the Charleston Post and Courier that he had not been happy for some time, and finally decided it was time to move on. Parks was averaging 13.8 points and 2.3 steals per game to lead the Bulldogs.

The Citadel, coming off a 98-72 loss to UMBC, is just 3-5 and will host James Madison Tuesday night at McAlister Field House.

What’s wrong with Samford?

The Bulldogs were picked by some as the team to beat in the SoCon this season, however. Scott Padgett’s team has fallen on hard times.

The 2-6 Bulldogs will be in action on Tuesday night with a trip to face Memphis in another key non-conference battle, but will once again be without All-SoCon center Wyatt Walker. Walker has only played in two games this season, and the reason for his absence — injury or suspension — has not been disclosed.

Whatever the reason, the Bulldogs have missed their main man in the middle this season, ranking 9th of 10 teams in the SoCon in scoring defense (85.0 ppg) and eighth overall in rebounding margin (-4.9). One of the bright spots for Padgett’s Bulldogs has been the play of Alabama transfer guard Justin Coleman, who comes into Tuesday night’s game averaging 13.4 ppg and currently leads the league in assists per game (4.8).

November Exams

For this week’s power rankings, I thought I might give out some first quarter exam grades. After all, ‘tis the season.

  1. Mercer (5-4): Recorded an impressive 77-73 win over Troy and recently took Memphis to two overtimes. GRADE: A
  2. Furman (5-3): Faces UNC Asheville Tuesday night in hopes of a second-straight win. The Paladins recorded one of the SoCon’s best mid-major wins over Elon. GRADE: A-
  3. UNC Greensboro (5-3): The Spartans appear to primed for another run at a regular-season SoCon title after the first month, with only one minor hiccup in a buzzer-beating loss at Presbyterian. The Spartans rebounded with a triple overtime win at Liberty, thanks to 36 points from Francisco Alonso. GRADE: A-
  4. East Tennessee State (4-3): The Bucs will battle Horizon League reigning champion Northern Kentucky Wednesday night looking to avenge what was an 81-63 setback to open the season. GRADE: B+
  5. Chattanooga (4-4): The Mocs have continued to improve under first-year head coach Lamont Paris and should be primed for a significant run in conference play. The Mocs are coming off a narrow win over UT Martin Saturday night and on Tuesday will visit former SoCon rival Marshall. GRADE: B+
  6. Wofford (4-4: A 20-point loss at UNC Asheville wasn’t a good look for the Terriers, however Mike Young’s team rebounded with a nice road win at Coastal Carolina. The Terriers will host Georgia Tech on Wednesday. GRADE: B
  7. VMI (3-4): VMI has been the team of the first month of the season, boasting wins over Presbyterian and Charleston Southern. VMI will be on the road to face Davidson Tuesday night. GRADE: A-
  8. Western Carolina (3-6): The Catamounts easily got their biggest win of the season last time out against Appalachian State. Western Carolina will take the floor next on Wednesday night when it travels to North Carolina. GRADE: B
  9. Samford (2-6): The major disappointment to this point has been Samford, but in the Bulldogs’ defense, they have missed Wyatt Walker. The Bulldogs lost on the road to Jacksonville State, and it gets no easier from here, with trips to Memphis and Clemson looming. GRADE: D
  10. The Citadel (3-5): The Citadel was dealt some devastating news this past week, with Parks leaving the program. The Bulldogs have dropped three straight heading into Tuesday night’s clash with James Madison. GRADE: D