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Ranking the top 15 players in the Southern Conference

Players from six of the league’s 10 schools make the cut.

NCAA Basketball: NC-Greensboro at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

As the college basketball season inches closer, here are the top 15 players to keep an eye in the SoCon this season — ranging from electrifying freshmen guards, to potential NBA prospects and near-NCAA record-setters.

15. Kameron Gibson, Western Carolina

Gibson is coming off a sensational freshman season in which he led the Catamounts with 13.6 PPG — including 40.4% shooting from three — while adding 2.1 RPG. He scored a career-high 34 points against SMU in non-conference play and scored 20 or more points six times. Of course, Gibson was a SoCon All-Freshman selection in 2018-19.

14. Clay Mounce, Furman

With Furman senior Matt Rafferty’s graduating, Mounce will be asked to do even more this season for Bob Richey’s Paladins. Mounce was one of Furman’s top perimeter threats last season, shooting 41.7% (53-of-127) from three-point range last season. He ended the season averaging 10.7 PPG and 5.6 RPG, all while shooting 51.7% (134-of-259) from the field. Folks around Greenville won’t forget Mounce’s clutch play in Furman’s upset road win over Villanova, in which he posted 15 points, three rebounds and three steals.

13. Brandon Austin, Samford

Brandon Austin might be the most underrated guard in the Southern Conference. The Alabama transfer is athletic, long and a nuisance on both ends of the floor. The 6-5 guard finished the season averaging 12.9 PPG and 4.7 RPG, with his best game of his career coming with a 31-point performance in Samford’s near-upset of Wofford. He shot a blistering 42.8% (80-of-187) from three-point range last season and finished tied for 13th in the SoCon in steals with 36.

12. Daivien Williamson, ETSU

East Tennessee State had one of the best young point guards in the SoCon last season in Daivien Williamson. The onetime UNCG, Wofford and Furman prospect is coming off a freshman season in which he averaged 9.5 PPG and 2.0 RPG while also notching an 81:44 assist-to-turnover ratio.

11. Noah Gurley, Furman

Noah Gurley is perhaps the most talented player on Furman’s roster this season. At 6’8, Gurley is versatile with good ball-handling skills, but he’s added some weight and muscle during the offseason and tends to play the four or the five for head coach Bob Richey.

Gurley averaged 8.8 PPG and 3.6 PPG last season, while shooting 45.8% (103-of-225) from the field and 31.5% (34-of-108) from three-point range. Look for his shooting percentages to improve this season, especially from three-point range.

10. James Dickey, UNCG

There is not a better rim protector in the SoCon than James Dickey. Despite battling injuries early last season, Dickey heads into this season with the third-most blocked shots in program history (170) and is a two-time SoCon Defensive Player of the Year. He also enters the season ranking fifth all-time in UNCG history with 763 career rebounds while averaging 7.5 PPG lat season.

9. Storm Murphy, Wofford

There probably wasn’t a more important glue guy for the Wofford Terriers during last year’s magical 30-5 season than Storm Murphy. The rising junior point guard from Middleton, Wisconsin started 33 of 34 games he played last year while averaging 8.0 PPG, 1.8 RPG and 3.3 APG. Murphy also connected on 50% from the field and shot a blistering 47.2% (92-of-196) from three last season, including clutch shots against both Samford and Furman in back-to-back games.

8. Ross Cummings, Mercer

Probably the most overlooked, underrated players in the Southern Conference, Cummings will be the guy that new head coach Greg Gary will look to as the Bears’ leader this season. Cummings is a 6’3 senior shooting guard coming off an outstanding junior season, as ranked sixth in the SoCon in scoring by averaging 17.4 PPG — including a 19.9 PPG average in league play. Cummings is a career 40% three-point shooter.

7. Bo Hodges, ETSU

Hodges has been asked to play at least three different positions for East Tennessee State and has excelled at all three. In fact, the only thing that limited the rising junior last season was an injury that sidelined him from five of ETSU’s first eight games.

The 6’4 junior guard can do it on both ends of the floor, as he is not only a reliable scorer, but also one of the Bucs’ best defenders. Hodges comes off a 2018-19 season, which saw him average 10.3 PPG and 4.4 RPG last season, garnering third-team All-SoCon honors. Hodges is probably ETSU’s most reliable player when ETSU needs a bucket.

6. Josh Sharkey, Samford

The senior from Philadelphia is one of the quickest point guards in all of mid-major basketball. He finished the 2018-19 season averaging 7.2 assists per game (good for fourth nationally) and 2.61 steals-per-game, which ranked 10th in Division I hoops last season. Along with those statistics, Sharkey also ranked seventh in the SoCon in scoring last season with 16.2 PPG. Sharkey will look to shoot the ball at a better clip from three-point range in 2019-20, as he only connected on 30.9% of his threes last season. If he improves, then he will be a near-unstoppable scorer in this league.

5. Carlos Dotson, Western Carolina

One of the players that took the SoCon by storm in his first season for head coach Mark Prosser’s Catamounts, Dotson has the game to be one of the best big men in mid-major hoops in 2019-2020. He ranked in the top 50 nationally in field goal percentage (25th), offensive rebounds per game (32nd), and total rebounds (45th). He finished the season with 23 double-figure scoring performances, 15 games in double figures in rebounds, and 13 double-doubles.

4. Jordan Lyons, Furman

Lyons is Furman’s top returning scorer and is coming off a season in which he set not only the Paladins’ single-season record for three-pointers made (105), but tied the NCAA record by making 15 threes against North Greenville. The senior guard from Peachtree City, Georgia averaged 16.2 PPG and 2.2 RPG last season while shooting 34.7% from long range (105-of-303). He is one of four returning starters for Bob Richey’s club, and helped the Paladins to a school-record 25 wins and an NIT appearance a year ago.

3. Nathan Hoover, Wofford

With Fletcher Magee gone, senior shooting guard Nathan Hoover heads into the season as the go-to-scorer for first-year head coach Jay McAuley and the Wofford Terriers.

Hoover was that guy that had to be accounted for when Magee was focused on by opposing defenders, and Hoover shined brightest in the Southern Conference Tournament last March. His 20 second-half points against UNCG in the tournament title game were indicative of the type of scorer he can be, and he’ll be asked to do that more often this season with the graduation of the top two scorers from a year ago.

Hoover averaged 13.6 PPG and 2.5 RPG last season, shot a blistering 46.9% (92-of-196) from three-point range and was 90% (77-of-85) from the charity stripe — all while starting all 35 games for a 30-5 team that recorded the SoCon’s first NCAA Tournament win since 2008.

2. Jeromy Rodriguez, ETSU

Earlier this spring, the East Tennessee State basketball nation nearly had a collective meltdown when 6’7 forward Jeromy Rodriguez announced he would forego his final season and turn pro. Hopes of potentially returning to the AP Top 25 poll and entering the season as the preseason SoCon title favorites seemed out of a reach without Rodriguez.

However, three weeks later, all seemed right with the world when Rodriguez announced his return. Rodriguez will be vital for Steve Forbes’ team this season. Last year, he finished the season 12th nationally in total rebounds (362), 13th in offensive rebounds (3.42), 18th in defensive rebounds (7.52), 23rd in double-doubles (15), and eighth in rebounding average (10.9 RPG). He also averaged 11.2 PPG and finished the season with a 56% (152-of-274) field goal percentage.

1. Isaiah Miller, UNCG

The 6’2 junior guard heads into this year as the Spartans’ leading returning scorer, averaging 15.1 PPG and 4.5 RPG last season. Last season he also set the Southern Conference single-season record with 104 steals. Miller is one of the more electrifying players in mid-major college basketball, and if he can improve on his 29.7% shooting clip from long range, he has the potential to be one of the most versatile guards in all college basketball.

First Five Out:

16. Myles Lewis, VMI
17. Robert Allen, Samford
18. Tray Boyd III, ETSU
19. Alex Hunter, Furman
20. Onno Steger, Western Carolina