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SoCon Power Rankings: A new team holds down the top spot

And Samford is starting to look like a contender.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-UNCG vs Gonzaga Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports


1. UNC Greensboro (13-2, 2-0 SoCon)

With their home win over Chattanooga, the Spartans not only claimed their 17th-straight home SoCon win and second league win of the season, but also moved to the top spot in our Southern Conference power rankings. Not only that, the Spartans’ 13-2 record is the best start in program history. Francis Alonso and Isaiah Miller continue to lead the Spartans in the absence of big man and defensive enforcer James Dickey. Miller led the way with 21 points on Saturday night, while Alonso added 13 points in the win.

2. Wofford (10-4, 2-0 SoCon)

Wofford’s steady play continues, and the Terriers improved to 2-0 in league play with a 74-54 win over Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon. The Terriers got double-figure scoring performances from a trio of seniors Saturday, including 20 points from Cameron Jackson, while Matthew Pegram and Fletcher Magee chipped in 15 and 14 points, respectively. Magee, the preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year, contributed three three-pointers, which now puts him in a tie for No. 13 all-time in SoCon history for career three-point field goals. The Terriers return to the SoCon hardwood Thursday night, hosting The Citadel at the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

3. East Tennessee State (11-4, 1-1 SoCon)

No team made a bigger statement Saturday night than East Tennessee State, as the Bucs walloped Furman, 79-56, before a crowd of 5,439 fans at Freedom Hall. The Bucs now have another weapon underneath in Oklahoma State transfer Lucas N’Guessan. The Netherlands native saw his first meaningful action in a big game this season since gaining eligibility, and he certainly didn’t disappoint; the seven-footer added 13 points, five rebounds and three blocks for the Bucs. Redshirt junior forward Jeromy Rodriguez added his league-leading seventh double-double of the season, as he posted 19 points and 13 boards in the win. The Bucs held the Paladins to just 37% (20-of-54) shooting for the game.

4. Samford (11-4, 1-1 SoCon)

Samford claimed its first Southern Conference win of the season with a 96-68 win over VMI. South Florida transfer Ruben Guerrero at center continues to lead the Bulldogs, and last night was no exception. Guerrero was nearly unstoppable for the Bulldogs, nearly missing out on a double-double with 23 points and nine rebounds. He connected on 8-of-11 shots from the field, and was 7-for-8 from the stripe. Head coach Scott Padgett’s Bulldogs have an absolutely huge game Thursday night, as they travel to meet East Tennessee State in a big early-season SoCon clash.

5. Furman (12-2, 1-1 SoCon)

Furman has some soul-searching to do following its unraveling at the hands of East Tennessee State on Saturday night. The only good news is the Paladins get to return to Timmons Arena for two games this weekend. Furman has nearly been unbeatable in the facility over the past three-plus seasons, sporting a 25-3 record against SoCon foes since the start of the 2015-16 season.

The Paladins, who were ranked in the AP Poll just a little over a week ago, have shown some glaring weaknesses in the paint over the past two games. In the two losses to LSU and ETSU, Furman has been out-scored in the paint, 92-52, and has been been out-rebounded 73-45 by both the Bucs and Tigers. At least Matt Rafferty got back to his great play underneath for Bob Richey’s Paladins. He finished with 19 points, five assists, five steals and a block in the road loss to the Bucs. The loss marked Furman’s worst SoCon loss since Feb. 22, 2015 when the Paladins fell 84-49 to UNC Greensboro.

6. The Citadel (9-3, 1-0 SoCon)

Duggar Baucom’s Citadel Bulldogs suffered one of the more disappointing results for the SoCon this past Saturday in a 110-94 setback to Longwood on their home floor. The loss by the Bulldogs snapped the SoCon’s longest winning streak at seven games. The Bulldogs, who came into the contest averaging a nation-best 99.4 PPG, surrendered 110 points to the Lancers, which is the most points that program has scored in a game since 2011. Senior All-SoCon center Zane Najdawi recorded a double-double in the loss, posting 17 points and 14 boards, while also swatting away three shots. He moved from No. 10 to No. 8 on the school’s all-time scoring list and now has 1,371 points in his Citadel career. The Bulldogs got a team-high 23 points from Lew Stallworth in the loss.

7. Chattanooga (6-9, 1-1 SoCon)

Chattanooga is starting to show some glimpses of at least being a tough out in league play this season, and could be a team that no one wants to play come March. The Mocs were 85-72 losers on the road to preseason SoCon favorites UNCG Saturday night, but fought hard in the road loss. Arizona State transfer Ramon Vila was strong all night — getting him the ball in the low-post was evident without the threat of UNCG’s Dickey in the lineup. Vila finished with career-high 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field. Don’t look now, but Lamont Paris’ team is starting to figure things out.

8. Mercer (5-8, 0-1 SoCon)

The Mercer Bears were in Atlanta on Saturday to face Ivy League member Harvard in an intriguing non-conference matchup, but suffered a 71-67 setback to the Crimson. The loss was yet another signal of the struggles 10th-year head coach Bob Hoffman has encountered with the graduation of all five starters from a year ago. One of the bright spots in the loss was the resilience of the young Bears, who trailed by as many as 18 points in the first half and 17 in the second half, yet made it a game down the stretch. Mercer junior guard Ross Cummings led all scorers with 21 points in the loss.

9. VMI (6-8, 0-2 SoCon)

VMI struggles continued in the Keydets’ latest 96-68 loss to an upstart Samford team. The Keydets have had injuries impact them; after such a promising start, the Keydets have now lost six of their last seven. Sophomore guard Bubba Parham continues to do it all for the Keydets, leading the league in scoring at 22.2 PPG.

10. Western Carolina (3-11, 0-2 SoCon)

Mark Prosser’s Western Carolina Catamounts dropped their fourth-straight game Saturday with a 74-54 loss to Prosser’s mentor Mike Young and the Wofford Terriers. Part of the problem has been teams doubling down on top post player Carlos Dotson, and adding even more issues has been the Catamounts’ inability to make opponents pay by knocking down long-range shots. The Catamounts currently rank No. 8 in the 10-team league, knocking down 34.6% from long range so far this season, including going just 6-for-23 from downtown in yesterday’s loss to Wofford.