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SoCon has November to remember to open 2021-22 season

SoCon teams took down four Power-Six foes in the opening month of the 2020-21 season.

NCAA Basketball: Furman at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Four wins over Power-Six conference foes and a top-nine ranking among the NCAA’s 32 Division I men’s college basketball conferences are two of several notables to emerge for the rapid rise of the SoCon following the opening month of the 2021-22 college basketball season.

It was truly a November to remember for SoCon hoops fans.

With the perfect evening by the league, the SoCon finished the opening month of the college basketball season with a 48-24 overall record.

Furman (5-2), which was picked to finish second behind only Chattanooga by the league’s media and coaches, had the league’s top win (an 80-72 overtime victory at Louisville).

Senior point guard Alex Hunter, who returned for a fifth year, made the most of the opening month and ranks fifth in the league in scoring (16.6), sixth in total field goal percentage (48.8), tied for fourth in total assists (4.3), fourth in 3-pt field goal percentage (48.3), first in 3-pters made per game (4.1), first in assists-to-turnover ratio (5.0) and first in minutes played (35.9).

Meanwhile, backcourt mate Mike Bothwell (17.0 PPG, 4.7 RPG) went for 30 in helping the Paladins snap Louisville 59-game winning streak at home in the month of November.

League favorite Chattanooga (6-1) ended the month with the best record. The Mocs lone loss in the opening month of the season came on its home floor against perennial CAA power College of Charleston, who posted a 68-66 victory Saturday afternoon at the McKenzie Arena.

The Mocs have two of the most impressive wins through the opening month of the season, having gone on the road to defeat both West Coast Conference member Loyola Marymount (W, 85-74) to open the season, while also posting a win in one of the toughest venues in all of mid-major basketball with an impressive 56-54 victory at VCU’s Siegel Center.

Preseason all-conference guards David Jean-Baptiste (15.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG) and Malachi Smith (15.9 PPG, 5.1 RPG) have been as good as advertised through the early portion of the 2021-22 season, while Kansas grad transfer Silvio De Sousa (12.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG) has made the expected impact underneath so far.

Matching Chattanooga with the league’s top overall mark through the first month of the season is Samford (6-1).

The Bulldogs, under the direction of second-year head coach Bucky McMillan, won 78-77 at reigning Elite Eight qualifier and Pac-12 champion Oregon State in the second week of the season.

Florida transfer guard Ques Glover finished off the first month of the season as the league’s leading scorer, averaging 18.3 PPG.

From the Bulldogs off Birmingham we switch to the Bulldogs of The Citadel (4-2). The Citadel didn’t just open the season with a bang, they crashed the entire party for the opening night of the season, trouncing ACC foe Pittsburgh, 78-63, at the Petersen Events Center. Super freshman Jason Roche poured in 27 points and knocked down eight triples in the first game of his Bulldog career.

Preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year Hayden Brown (17.2 PPG, 8.3 RPG) added 19 points and seven boards in The Citadel’s first win over a Power-Six opponent since 1989 when it topped South Carolina 88-87.

The next time out against another ACC foe, The Citadel traveled to at No. 5 Duke in the first-ever meeting between the two programs. The Bulldogs suffered a bit of a scare, as head coach Duggar Baucom collapsed prior to the first media timeout.

The veteran coach did not return to the game, but got a clean bill of health and returned to the sidelines the following week. The Blue Devils prevailed 107-81.

The Desmond Oliver era at East Tennessee State (5-2) got off to an 0-2 start with losses to a pair of NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago, in Sun Belt champion Appalachian State (69-67) and No. 18 Tennessee (94-62).

However, Oliver’s Bucs turned that tough start into a distant memory now, as ETSU has won five straight, including winning the Naples Invitational, posting impressive wins over Murray State (66-58), Missouri State (77-76) and Kent State (57-51).

David Sloan has played up to his preseason All-SoCon status thus far, averaging 13.9 PPG to lead ETSU, while Siena-transfer Jordan King, who ranks second on the team in scoring at 11.4 PPG, has emerged as one of the league’s top three-point shooters.

Wofford (5-2) was the final of the four SoCon teams to upset one of the big boys, as the Terriers notched the SoCon’s first win over an SEC team this season, with a 68-65 victory over the Georgia Bulldogs this past Sunday.

The Terriers’ win over the Bulldogs marked the second victory in its proud basketball history over Georgia and first since Nov. 17, 2009. The Terriers went on to their first of five Southern Conference Tournament crowns in a 10-year span that season.

Max Klesmit (16.4 PPG, 2.3 RPG) has been Wofford’s top performer through the opening month of the season, and his 17 points went a long way in helping the Terriers notch a win over head coach Jay McAuley’s alma mater.

Two teams that have been hard to gauge through the early portion of the season are the two teams who met for the SoCon Tournament title game last March: Mercer (3-4) and UNCG (7-2). They have both shown the ability to deliver the goods at times this season.

Mercer had a double-digit halftime lead on No. 18 Arkansas before falling 74-61 to the Razorbacks. The next time out against Big South favorite Winthrop, the Bears faltered again after holding a double-digit halftime lead, dropping an 88-85 overtime decision to the Eagles, despite a 41-point effort from Felipe Haase.

Most figured the Spartans would miss Isaiah Miller and Wes Miller. They have, however, not as much as some might have thought, as the defending champs are off to a 7-2 start to the campaign. First-year head coach Mike Jones brought in some good talent that meshed well with Miller’s holdovers, including guard Kobe Langley (7.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG), who is arguably the most improved player in the SoCon.

The Spartans’ most impressive wins through the early portion of the season came against America East power Vermont (54-51) and at perennial Horizon League power Northern Kentucky (70-69 in OT).