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State of the Southern Conference: East Tennessee State is the favorite, but who could play spoiler?

History says the Bucs should be careful.

NCAA Basketball: Furman at Duke Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

In one-bid leagues like the Southern Conference, some say the only thing that matters is three days in March. But I am of the opinion that a regular-season title still means something.

Flawless Bucs:

Just as it did in a one-point win at Furman a little less than two weeks ago, East Tennessee State dug deep and found something extra to come up with a road win over The Citadel Monday night at McAlister Field House.

That secured a 10-0 start in Southern Conference play for head coach Steve Forbes’ Bucs, and coupled with UNC Greensboro’s double-overtime loss at Chattanooga, it gave ETSU a full two-game lead in the league standings.

ETSU is looking to become the first team to complete regular season and conference tournament play unbeaten since former league member and Stephen Curry-led Davidson did so in 2007-08.

Despite having four new starters, the Bucs’ pedigree, experience and tradition have shown through in the first half of SoCon play. They are now one win away from another 20-win season.

Davidson should tell ETSU to take heed:

The 1996 Southern Conference Tournament Bracket
John Hooper

In 1995-96, Davidson put one of the best teams in Southern Conference history on the court each night only to see their title hopes go up in smoke with a loss to upstart Western Carolina in the Southern Conference title game.

For head coach Bob McKillop and a senior-laden lineup, the loss was heartbreaking. The Wildcats were relegated to the NIT that season, and despite dominating the conference, the Wildcats did not go dancing.

In 2004-05, it was heartbreak again. The Wildcats went unbeaten during the league’s regular season only to once again come up short. This time, the upset came in the semifinal round, against rival UNC Greensboro.

Contenders in the Second Half:

So who could play the role of spoiler?

The usual suspects will all be challengers, with Furman, UNC Greensboro and Wofford offering staunch competition, while Mercer cannot be overlooked.

The reason that ETSU should especially take heed is because while this Bucs team is talented, it isn’t as much as a prohibitive favorite as those aforementioned Davidson to take the auto bid in March. It should be one heck of a tournament in Asheville.

What To Watch Thursday Night :

All 10 league teams will be in action Thursday night. Furman at Mercer has upset potential, but the Paladins are coming off one of their best performances of the season in a 100-66 win over Western Carolina, while Mercer is coming off a 76-74 forgettable home loss to The Citadel — the first loss to the Bulldogs since 1927...Ouch! Expect Bob Hoffman’s Bears to be ready for Furman at Hawkins Arena.

Standings as of Jan. 30 Results:

1. East Tennessee State (19-4, 10-0 SoCon)
2. Furman (15-7, 6-3 SoCon)
T-2. Wofford (16-6, 7-2 SoCon)
T-2 UNC Greensboro (16-6, 7-2 SoCon)
5. Western Carolina (9-13, 4-5 SoCon)
6. Samford (8-12, 4-6 SoCon)
7. Mercer (10-12, 3-6 SoCon)
8. The Citadel (7-14, 2-7 SoCon)
9. Chattanooga (8-15, 2-8 SoCon)
10. VMI (7-14, 2-8 SoCon)

First Half All-SoCon Team: (10 players, just like the league does it in preseason and postseason)

G Desonta Bradford (ETSU)
G Devin Sibley (Furman)
G Fletcher Magee (Wofford)
G Francis Alonso (UNCG)
G Ria’n Holland (Mercer)
C Zane Najdawi (The Citadel)
G Justin Coleman (Samford)
G Jalan McCloud (ETSU)
F Cameron Jackson (Wofford)
F James Dickey (UNCG)

First Half Honorable Mention: (10 Players)

G Daniel Fowler (Furman)
G Marvin Smith Jr (UNCG)
G John Davis III (Furman)
G Rodney Chatman (Chattanooga)
F/C Makinde London (Chattanooga)
F Mike Amius (Western Carolina)
F Stephon Jelks (Mercer)
F Matt Rafferty (Furman)
C Peter Jurkin (ETSU)
G Nat Dixon (Chattanooga)

First Half All-Freshman Team: (Just six)

F Bo Hodges (ETSU)
G Tariq Simmons (The Citadel)
G Matt Halvorsen (Western Carolina)
G Marcus Cohen (Mercer)
F James Lewis, Jr. (Chattanooga)
G Isaiah Miller (UNCG)

First Half Freshman of the Year:

Bubba Parham (VMI)

First Half Coach of the Year:

Steve Forbes (ETSU)’

First Half Sixth Man of the Year:

Devontavius Payne (ETSU)

First Half Player of the Year:

Fletcher Magee (Wofford)

First Half Defensive Player of the Year:

Cam Jackson (Wofford)