Monday , Oct , 31 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

College Basketball Preview – Southern Conference

*** College Basketball Preview – Southern Conference ***

The Sports Network

By Pat Taggart, College Basketball Staff Writer

OUTLOOK: Last season, Davidson finished 23-9 overall and a perfect 16-0 in
league play. The Wildcats did not take care of business in the Southern
Conference Tournament, however, and were relegated to the NIT. Chattanooga
represented the league in the NCAA Tournament and lost to Wake Forest in the
first round. This season, Davidson is being billed as the team to beat,
although this will be far from a one-horse race. Georgia Southern will be
tough, and UNC-Greensboro is another team that can win it all. Four schools
finished with at least 10 conference victories a year ago, and three others
went 9-7. The parity figures to continue in 2005-06, and there are also a few
clubs who could sneak up the ranks and surprise some people. For players such
as Davidson’s Brendan Winters, Georgia Southern’s Elton Nesbitt and Western
Carolina’s David Berghoefer, this is their final season as collegiate athletes
and they will look to shine.

CONFERENCE CHAMPION: Davidson

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: NORTH DIVISION: 1. UNC-Greensboro; 2. Chattanooga;
3. Appalachian State; 4. Elon; 5. Western Carolina; SOUTH DIVISION: 1.
Davidson; 2. Georgia Southern; 3. Furman; 4. Wofford; 5. College of
Charleston; 6. The Citadel

TEAM BY TEAM ANALYSIS:

NORTH DIVISION:

UNC-GREENSBORO: The Spartans welcome back Mike Dement, who has returned to
coach the team again after a 10-year hiatus. Dement doesn’t exactly have a
rebuilding project on his hands, as his team has the potential to challenge
for the SoCon title this year. The guard combo of Ricky Hickman and Kyle Hines
could be the best in the league. Hickman scored 14.5 ppg a year ago and
figures to be at least as productive as a senior. As for Hines, he is a 6-6
forward who scored 13.6 ppg as a rookie to go along with 8.6 rpg and 3.4 bpg.
The fact that Hines posted those extremely impressive numbers and shot 62
percent from the floor is a bit surprising considering that he only has the
size of a small forward. The hope for Dement is that 6-11 juco transfer Bart
Tooms and fellow frontcourt performer Danny McClenny can deflect some pressure
from Hines. If so, the Spartans will be a tough out.

CHATTANOOGA: The Mocs won the 2005 SoCon Tournament championship in front of
their home fans last season, so confidence should not be a problem as this new
year begins. Alphonso Pugh may be the best of the returnees, as the 6-6 senior
forward brings back 11.3 ppg to the lineup. The hope is that he can help with
the rapid development of freshman forward Khalil Hartwell, who will be counted
on to make a considerable contribution from day one. Junior point guard Casey
Long, fellow junior Ricky Hood and senior Steve Cherry will patrol the
backcourt, and while none of those individuals has big-time offensive numbers
to speak off, it is unfair to call the guard position one of weakness. John
Shulman went 20-11 in his first season as the leader of the program, and that
success has expectations extremely high. The Mocs will be strong, but another
title is questionable.

APPALACHIAN STATE: In five years at the helm, coach Houston Fancher has a
lackluster 67-81 record. Fortunately, he was able to lead the Mountaineers to
an 18-12 overall mark in 2004-05, including a 9-7 ledger in league play. They
leaned on a high-paced attacking offense predicated on the three-point shot,
and the results were impressive. Expect more of the same this year, as D.J.
Thompson and company will push the tempo. Thompson, a 5-8 junior guard, makes
up for a lack of size with tremendous quickness and an accurate shooting
touch. He tallied 11.2 ppg a year ago on 40.7 percent accuracy from behind the
arc, and there is no reason to expect a drop-off this season. Nathan Cranford
and Douglass McLaughlin-Williams are also back after starting a year ago, and
while neither put up big offensive numbers, both will get added touches this
season.

ELON: The Phoenix haven’t won a regular season conference championship since
1971 when Elon was a member of the Carolinas Conference. The program has never
reached the NCAA Tournament, so expectations are perennially muted. Although
there is no reason to expect the team to rise to the top of the conference
standings this season, there are a couple of players capable of willing the
club to wins. Most notable, of course, is forward Jackson Atoyebi, who is
coming off shoulder surgery. The 6-6 senior is a big-time scorer who brings a
degree of tenacity to the court, and he will line up alongside 6-8 junior
Chris Chalko. As for the backcourt, 6-4 senior guard Scottie Rice returns 10.5
ppg to the lineup. If Atoyebi is able to prove healthy, and there is no reason
to doubt that at this point, Elon should be competitive. Still, don’t expect
the team to contend for a division title.

WESTERN CAROLIONA: Clearly, Western Carolina is a team in need of a new
identity, as the Catamounts haven’t won a regular-season title since 1996 and
haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 1966. With that in mind, the program
hired Larry Hunter this offseason to be the new head coach. With over 200
Division I-A victories, Hunter brings a strong resume’ and some much-needed
legitimacy to the program. While the lineup isn’t loaded with talent, Hunter
knows that he has at least one strong performer in David Berghoefer, a 6-10
senior center who averaged 14.6 ppg and 8.0 rpg last season while shooting
better than 50 percent from the floor. It will be the job of Trey Hopkins to
get the ball to Berghoefer, and the sophomore is more than capable of doing
just that. If Hunter can find a legitimate second scoring option to take some
pressure off of his star center, the team will benefit tremendously.

SOUTH DIVISION:

DAVIDSON: The Wildcats have won at least a share of four consecutive division
titles, and it is hard to bet against the team as we enter a new season. Coach
Bob McKillop has always gotten the most out of his roster, and there is some
serious talent in place. Brendan Winters may be the best player in the SoCon,
as the 6-5 senior was a force against league opponents last season as well as
against clubs such as Duke and Missouri. He averaged 16.7 ppg and 5.1 rpg as a
junior, and his 43.4 percent shooting from behind the arc is deadly. Kenny
Grant dished out 5.6 apg a year ago, and the team will certainly benefit if he
can score consistently. Up front, Ian Johnson is the team’s top scoring
option, as the 6-9 senior can step away from the basket and knock down shots
out to the three-point line. The fact that Davidson can give the ball to its
star in the final minute of close games and let him operate is an advantage
not enjoyed by most teams.

GEORGIA SOUTHERN: Anyone who has closely followed college basketball knows
that Georgia Southern can score points in bunches. The Eagles love to push the
tempo, and they may be the team most capable of preventing Davidson from
reaching the NCAA Tournament this season. Elton Nesbitt is only 5-8, but the
senior guard scored 20.2 ppg a year and is never bashful with the ball in his
hands. It may be difficult to maintain those numbers this season because the
club lost a pair of all-conference performers from a year ago who took a great
deal of attention away from Nesbitt. The hope is that Donte Jennie can prove
to be a legitimate second scoring option, as both he and Louis Graham are
capable of being double-digit performers. Not since 1992 has Georgia Southern
reached the NCAA Tournament, but the club clearly has a shot this season.

FURMAN: The Paladins have to feel good about finishing two games above the
.500 mark in conference play a year ago, and the fact that four of the top
five scorers are back from that squad is reason for fans of the program to be
excited. The most notable returnee for the club is 6-8 junior forward Moussa
Diagne who is clearly one of the league’s top post performers. He netted 12.3
ppg and pulled down 5.3 rpg a year ago, and he is expected to improve those
numbers with another year of experience under his belt. Eric Webb contributed
10.8 ppg and 3.7 apg last season, and it will be his job to feed Diagne in the
post. Robby Bostain is a 6-6 swingman who netted 10.7 ppg a year ago, and he
can create mismatches because of his versatility. Ben Earle is a dangerous
three-point shooter, and the same can be said of Tony Carter. Furman has a
chance to make some serious noise this season.

WOFFORD: The Terriers have only a few players in the lineup who are proven
performers, but those individuals are certainly capable of putting up some
strong numbers. Forward Howard Wilkerson should be a force once again after
posting 13.8 ppg and 7.8 rpg a couple of seasons ago. He is back from injury
and eager to prove that he is still an impact performer. He will be joined up
from by center Tyler Berg, a fellow senior who netted 10.4 ppg and 6.0 rpg a
year ago. Those two form one of the top frontcourt duos in the Southern
Conference, but their effectiveness will be hindered if the backcourt proves
unproductive. The team’s top guard figures to be Eric Marshall, who tallied
10.3 ppg a year and will now be asked to take more shots. Coach Mike Young is
entering his fourth season as the leader of the program, and although
expectations are low, things could certainly be worse.

COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON: The Cougars have developed a national reputation as a
legitimate threat in non-league play, but they have not been to the NCAA
Tournament since the turn of the century. Pressure is building among the loyal
fan base, and Tom Herrion may not have the horses in place to make a run in
2005-06. Sure, the backcourt appears to be strong with the duo of Drew Hall
and Dante Draper, but the frontcourt remains a major question mark. Hall is a
6-2 senior who dished out 5.1 apg a year ago, and Draper is a 5-11 junior who
tallied 12.0 ppg as a sophomore. The duo lacks size and may struggle against
some of the teams with bigger guards. The fact that the starting lineup may be
completed by a pair of juco transfers and an untested transfer from Virginia
Tech is concerning. The SoCon Tournament is in Charleston this season, but
expect the Cougars to watch the championship game in the stands with their
fans.

THE CITADEL: Sure, fans of the Bulldogs will have fun watching the McLendon
brothers, Donny and Warren, who both scored in double figures a year ago.
Unfortunately, those two players are surrounded by subpar talent at best, and
a finish in the basement of the South Division is likely once again. The
Citadel won just four league games in 16 attempts a year ago, and it is hard
to imagine the club improving on that win total. Point guard Kevin Hammack is
a solid assist man who must become more consistent as a scorer, and J’mel
Everhart must become more active at the offensive end from his forward
position. It is tough to recruit at The Citadel, explaining why coach Pat
Dennis is 64 games under .500 in his 13 years at the helm.