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SoCon Power Rankings: Furman and Mercer top the league as non-conference play wraps up

Chattanooga, Mercer and Wofford look like worthy challengers to SoCon favorite Furman.

NCAA Basketball: Furman at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

As we wind down non-conference play, here’s a look at where things stack up in the Southern Conference.

1. Furman (5-3): Furman continues to be the head of the class when it comes to the Southern Conference basketball power rankings. The Paladins are coming off a pair of losses to, albeit, really good teams. Furman continues to be led by the trio of Mike Bothwell, Clay Mounce and Noah Gurley, but still must continue to develop a bench as we inch closer to conference play.

2. Mercer (6-1): Mercer suffered its first loss of the 2020-21 season on Wednesday night, when it fell 88-81 on the road at Georgia State — a team it already defeated earlier this season. The Bears continue to get strong play out of point guard Neftali Alvarez, who has proven to be an outstanding addition, and had a buzzer-beating layup to help the Bears to a win over Georgia Southern over the weekend. Ross Cummings continues to do his thing, sizzling from beyond the arc, ranking fourth in the league in three-point field goal percentage, shooting 48% and averaging 15.4 PPG.

3. Wofford (3-2): Wofford has looked good against major competition this season, and had chances to defeat both South Florida and No. 19 Richmond. The Terriers have seen Storm Murphy get off to as good of a start as any point guard in mid-major basketball, ranking third in the SoCon in scoring 19.8 PPG and second in assists (4.8 APG). He’s also shooting 40.6% from three-point range. The Terriers have one more chance ahead to claim a power conference win, facing Texas A&M on Dec. 21.

4. Chattanooga (8-0): Despite the transfer of David Jean-Baptiste, which took the staff and fans by surprise last week, the Mocs weathered that storm by getting an outstanding home win against UNC Asheville, one of the top teams in the Big South Conference. Not only is it the best start in the Mocs’ Division I history, but they also learned that KC Hankton would be eligible to play against the Bulldogs. The Saint Louis transfer didn’t disappoint in his first outing for the Mocs, as he posted 16 points on 6-of-7 shots from the field and 3-for-4 from three-point range. The Mocs could enter their Southern Conference opener against title favorite Furman a perfect 9-0. The Mocs have an intriguing matchup ahead against UAB on Saturday. UAB, like Chattanooga, is off to its best start in school history and has already downed one SoCon member, with a 65-61 win at UTC’s SoCon rival East Tennessee State last week.

5. East Tennessee State (4-3): The Bucs are slowly but surely improving, and LeDarrius Brewer continues to show why he is the league’s best newcomer, averaging 16.2 PPG to rank ninth in the league. David Sloan has also been a solid addition and is starting to come into his own for the Bucs, including his performance against Gardner-Webb in which he helped the Bucs to a 65-60 win. Sloan posted a career-high 18 points in helping ETSU to its second win of the season. The Bucs then promptly blasted Columbia International, 96-54, on Thursday night and have a chance to move above .500 when the Bucs face Lee University on Saturday.

6. UNC Greensboro (4-3): Offense for the Spartans has been a painful experience at times so far this season, however, the Spartans have won three straight. UNCG has been tough defensively, per usual, and without Isaiah Miller on Tuesday night, the Spartans hosted winless USC Upstate at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Spartans were able to pick up what was a 65-57 win powered by the efforts of sophomore forward Khyre Thompson, who is one of the most improved players on the roster, as he posted 16 points. For Thompson, it looks as though he could be that player that steps up and provides scoring support, as he has scored in double figures in three-straight games.

7. Western Carolina (7-2): The Catamounts have played well out of the gate once again this season and look to be a team that could one again be in the mix for a top tier Southern Conference finish. The Catamounts have been led through the first eight games by the backcourt tandem of senior Mason Faulkner and Matt Halvorsen. Faulkner is averaging 16.8 PPG and ranks third in the conference in assists, dishing out 4.7 helpers per game. Halvorsen is averaging 16.0 PPG and is shooting 42.5% (31-of-73) from three-point range this season. Big man Xavier Cork is off to a solid start this season, leading the league in field goal percentage, connecting on 71.1% from the field.

8. Samford (3-3): Samford has been perhaps the hardest team to figure out in the Southern Conference thus far. The Bulldogs have losses to both Alabama A&M and Troy so far this season, but also have one of the best non-conference wins, defeating Belmont on the road, 96-83. The Bulldogs also played well on an SEC floor, losing 79-75 at Georgia. Guard Myron Gordon has proven to be one of the best players in the league through the first five games, winning the league’s Player of the Week accolade in consecutive weeks. Gordon currently ranks second in the SoCon in scoring, averaging 21.0 PPG, which trails only UNCG’s Isaiah Miller.

9. VMI (5-3): The Keydets haven’t exactly played the toughest schedule to this point in the season, however, VMI will be a headache for everyone when Southern Conference play gets underway. The Keydets do have a pair of Division I wins over both Hampton (W, 79-64) and Longwood (W, 84-71). The Keydets have three players averaging in double figures, led by senior guard Greg Parham, who’s averaging 15.6 PPG. Parham ranks second in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage, at 52.8%. The three-point happy Keydets rank third in the SoCon in three-point field goal percentage, connecting on 38% from long-range as a team so far this season. The Keydets have made more three-pointers than any other team in the SoCon (81). VMI rounds out non-conference play at George Mason (Dec. 21).

10. The Citadel (6-0): The Citadel is undefeated so how can they be No. 10? Well, the Bulldogs are better and there’s no debating that having a healthy team is going to benefit Duggar Baucom’s group. The Bulldogs have four of their six wins over non-Division I competition, so it’s hard to know just how improved they are. The Bulldogs lead the league in three-point field goal percentage (43.1%) and three-pointers made per game (15.6) this season.