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Southern Conference Starting To Thrive After Turmoil

The Southern Conference was expected to shrivel up and die after Davidson left after the 2013-14 season ended. That is not the way the story has played out.

Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Sometimes funny things happen on the way to irrelevance.

The Southern Conference was well on the path back during 2013-14. That season, the conference ranked 30th out of 32 conferences in RPI. This was after College of Charleston left, but before Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon and, most importantly, Davidson completed the mass exodus.

The conference was left in ruins. Or so everyone said.

Last season, three new teams joined- Mercer, ETSU and VMI. Mercer had won an NCAA Tournament the previous year, so there was cautious optimism about the conference moving forward. The SoCon was 24th in RPI a year ago. Wofford was very good and won the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Chattanooga was a young team on the rise. Mercer was good as well and clearly a good addition to the league. No one else in the league finished over .500 in conference play. The conference was better, but there were still doubters around the league and around the country.

This year, the SoCon currently sits at 16th and is projected to finish 20th according to Live RPI. The conference has Mercer, who is 8-2. Samford is 7-3. Furman and The Citadel have winning records at the moment. ETSU has shown flashes with a new coach. Wofford has a 3-6 record, but has played a very difficult schedule. Western Carolina is just 2-6 against D1 competition, but they have played the 14th ranked schedule in the country.

Then there is Chattanooga. The Mocs are 8-2 with road wins over Georgia, Illinois and Dayton. They currently is ranked 19th in RPI in the country. There is a legitimate chance when you combine the conference RPI with the Mocs wins and their current RPI that they could possibly earn the SoCon's first at large bid to the NCAA Tournament if they were to need it.

The Mocs have been without Casey Jones the last couple of games and were without Justin Tuoyo before that. That is more than likely their two best players. If and when this team gets healthy, they could be even better than the team that won at Dayton (without Jones).

Much of the rest of the conference is young and inexperienced. With a little seasoning as the regular season rolls along, teams like Wofford, ETSU and Mercer should be better by the time the conference tournament rolls around and be real challenges to the Mocs in Asheville.

Throw on top of that teams like Furman (who made it to the championship game a year ago after finishing in last in the regular season and returns virtually intact), always dangerous in the tournament Western Carolina, and a good Samford club, and the tournament should be wild and unpredictable.

It also should have the best overall collection of teams that it has had in several years.

Given that the Southern Conference was left for dead on the college basketball super highway just two years ago, that's pretty impressive indeed.