Power Rankings- 12/10/17

Another week, another set of power rankings.

This week is a bit different though. It was really difficult to rank these teams this week. Why was it so much tougher than usual? The SoCon was really, really good this week.

Western Carolina beat Appalachian State at home. VMI beat Longwood relatively easily. The Citadel took care of James Madison dramatically. Chattanooga barely lost at Marshall and then cruised by Charlotte. Wofford beat Georgia Tech. Samford had Memphis dead to rights before finding a way to lose. Furman disposed of UNC-Asheville. ETSU got revenge on Northern Kentucky. UNCG destroyed Elon.

That leaves Mercer with only a performance that they did not exceed expectations this week. They only beat a horrid Florida A&M team by 18 points. It’s hardly like that was a disappointment.

The five losses the conference had this week were when Samford blew a last fifteen second four point lead at Memphis, Chattanooga had multiple opportunities to tie or win it in the final minute before losing at Marshall, VMI played Davidson close for a half before falling, Samford playing Clemson close for a half before falling, and Western Carolina getting beat at North Carolina.

There is not an embarrassing loss in the bunch (unless you count the nearly unbelievable way that Samford lost to Memphis.

It was a 12-5 week for SoCon teams. They went 10-5 against D1 teams. On top of that, many of those wins came easier than expected. It was a very good week for SoCon teams.

We haven’t even done more than mention that Wofford beat Georgia Tech.

The league struggled to find their footing in the first week or so of the season, but there has been gradual improvement from virtually every team. I would say that there are only two teams not meeting or exceeding expectations for the season- one is Samford, who is still not whole as a team, and the other is The Citadel, who is guaranteed to not be whole again this year since they are missing Preston Parks. Beyond that, I’d say everyone is basically meeting or exceeding expectations, especially if you start looking more recently.

Teams are improving. Some of them rapidly. This is going to be a really interesting conference season.

On to our most recent power rankings.

1) Furman
2) Mercer
5) Wofford
6) Chattanooga
7) Western Carolina
8) Samford
9) VMI
10) The Citadel

Looking at this week’s rankings, the top 3 are all very tightly bunched, with all of us having them in a different order. The bottom four are the same way- all mixed up in our various rankings. The middle three are pretty standard throughout, with minor variations here or there (ETSU climbs to third on one ballot, drops to fifth on another, for example).

The SoCon is getting more interesting by the week. With Monday and Tuesday off this week, we are hoping to get a lot more coverage out this week.


Memphis Escapes at Home … Twice

The Southern Conference has been searching for a big name program to scalp all season long as a signature win. The University of Memphis has been the most likely candidate … twice. The Tigers had back-to-back home games against Mercer and Samford and somehow managed to pick up two wins in games where it wasn’t the better team.

Mercer 81 – Memphis 83 (2OT)

Memphis thought it had caught a break to be playing Mercer without star player Ria’n Holland. Instead his replacement in the starting lineup, Ethan Stair, scored 13 points and Stephon Jelks added in 17 points for the Bears. Mercer controlled the game almost from the start and found itself up by double digits with 7 minutes to play. A quick 9-0 Memphis run made sure that the game was going to be a close affair to the end. Memphis hit a very long 3 point shot with 27 seconds left to tie up the game and Mercer was not able to get a good look on their last possession as the game went to overtime. In overtime, Jordan Strawberry took over for Mercer. He hit 2 big 3 pointers and made a 2 critical free throws with under 2 seconds left to send it to a second overtime. The second overtime was just as tight. But after 2 made free throws by Memphis, the Mercer was again unable to put together a good last possession and dropped the game 83-81.  It was a tough loss for the Bears, but Mercer will get a full week off the start getting healthy again. This was the third straight game they had played without Holland.

Samford 64 – Memphis 65

After a very disappointing start to their season, Samford found itself in a position to get to pick up a Southern Conference signature win on Tuesday night. Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, a local Memphis area player, poured in 17 points. His last basket staked the Bulldogs to a 64-60 lead with under 20 seconds left. However, Memphis rushed the ball up the court on the ensuing possession for a layup and then immediately forced a Samford turnover with 9 seconds left. On the final possession, Samford forced Memphis into taking a tough shot. Birmingham native Jamal Johnson collected the offensive rebound, and made the put back while getting fouled with 2.5 seconds left. His made free throw provided the final margin. As on Saturday, it was the Southern Conference team that controlled this contest almost throughout. However, Memphis was able to stay in the game by outrebounding Samford. So it was only fitting that the game came down to a critical offensive rebound. But for a Samford team that hasn’t had a lot go right for it early on this season, it’s the type of performance to build off of going forward.

Season Starting To Take Shape

In November, everything seems so exciting and new. The new season. New faces. New storylines.

By December, things start to seem a little older. We start to understand better and better who these teams are, and we start to see flashes of who these teams could be in March.

It’s easier and easier to see where things are going.

Except for it is still December. The bulk of the season still is ahead. It is easy to think that we know all of the answers. We know very little right now. Let’s look at a few things that we think we know with five more quick takes.

Western Carolina, VMI, Chattanooga are all better than expected.

Watching Western Carolina beat Appalachian State it was clear that this team is gradually improving. They beat Alabama A&M, played College of Charleston close, and then beat Appalachian State in their last three games. Mike Amius, who was a JC transfer that I was excited about in the preseason, has averaged 20.5 points and 7 rebounds in the last two games. He is starting to come on and he is providing the interior presence this team needs on the offensive end.

VMI has already beaten Presbyterian by 20 points. On top of that, the Keydets won at Charleston Southern. If you had told me preseason that those two things would both have happened, I would not have believed you. Bubba Parham, the 5-11 freshman, is leading the team in scoring with 13.4 points per game. This team is not going to contend in the SoCon, but they are going to be a thorn in teams side all year long.

Chattanooga was dismantled by UAB, but other than that, the Mocs have been a pretty solid team. Rodney Chatman, Makinde London, Makale Foreman and Nat Dixon are all playing well. They are helping the young Mocs develop and grow as a team. This young club has shown flashes of promise throughout the year. The close win over UT-Martin finally got the Mocs a close win, something they had not been able to do yet this year. That could be big down the road.

The Citadel and Samford are not.

That’s two sets of struggling Bulldogs. The Citadel no longer have Preston Parks on the team, and promptly lost to previously winless Marist and then were blown out by UMBC. This is a team that without Parks really does not look to be the sleeper that I was expecting them to be in the preseason. No Parks. Big problems.

Samford has the similar problems. Jacksonville State beat Samford by 31 points. That was just their most recent performance. Wyatt Walker is still missing in action, but is expected back soon. Without him, Samford is well below average. I’m beginning to think that this team has issues that will not be solved by Walker alone. They can not stop anyone on the defensive end of the floor. This team was expected to take a step this year after last year’s finish. They lost so many close games a year ago, I think we all just expected them to come up with more close wins this year and turn that corner. They just haven’t. We were wrong about Samford. I do not see this team as a serious contender in regular season play in the SoCon.

Two ugly losses from contenders prove that anything is possible.

UNCG lost by two at a really mediocre (at best) Presbyterian team. Remember Presbyterian? That team that lost by 20 to VMI? Yes- they beat UNCG. Not good. Furman got beat by Wintrop at home by 19. Winthrop is obviously a much better team than Presbyterian, but there’s no way that Furman should be losing by 19 points at home to a team like Winthrop. In most ways it wasn’t even that close. It was a 20 point game at halftime and it never felt like the Paladins were in the game.

These are two of the favorites in the SoCon. They deserve that attention and respect. However, these performances mean that there are probably more like it ahead. What does that mean? It means anything could happen once conference play starts. They could both lose any road game on the schedule. That will just make conference play that much more exciting.

Fletcher Magee is really good at college basketball.

The Terriers were in need of a “prove it” kind of win. They finally got it at Coastal Carolina. Fletcher Magee poured in 26 points with 7 assists. He made 10 of 14 from the floor and 5 of 5 from three point range. He played all forty minutes. It’s easy to forget how good Magee is, but he is making 54.8% of his three point shots. He hasn’t missed a free throw all year. He is shooting 63.3% from two point range. He’s averaging 22.5 points per game. He’s actually only averaging 20 points per game against non-D1 opponents, so he is doing better against D1 teams than against non-D1s. Wofford has another home opportunity against Georgia Tech on Wednesday. Magee probably goes off in that one too, because there is absolutely no reason to think he won’t.

Mercer misses a big opportunity.

Mercer was so close against Memphis. For so much of the game, it seemed like the Bears were going to get the job done, but in the end, they came up two points short in overtime. Jordan Strawberry had 11 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds. Stephon Jelks poured in 17 points. After the disappointing performance at Tennessee, that was a really great showing. The Bears are still the team to beat in the SoCon right now, but it would have been really nice to get a big time win like they could have had at Memphis.

BONUS- Don’t miss ETSU hosting Northern Kentucky on Wednesday!

The Bucs already lost at Northern Kentucky. The game on Wednesday is a huge opportunity for the Bucs to beat a quality mid-major at home. This is the sort of game the Bucs need to win. They beat IPFW, but I think this may just be their biggest game of the season to date. I think we’re going to learn a lot about this team in this contest.

2nd In Season Power Rankings

It’s time for a special second in season power rankings.

Things are changing quickly around the SoCon. Wyatt Walker is still out for Samford, which completely changes the Bulldogs. They just aren’t very good without their big man that both Brad and I thought was one of the best players in the conference.

Then, Preston Parks has been kicked off of The Citadel. Without him, the Bulldogs looked completely lost at home this weekend. Not a good look.

With so many valuable pieces suddenly missing from teams that were supposed to be at least players in the conference race (Samford was one of the favorites, and The Citadel was a favorite darkhorse), things are starting to really change.

Again, CatamountSportsForum and SoConJohn helped Brad and I with these power rankings.

1) Mercer
2) Furman
5) Wofford
6) Chattanooga
7) Samford
8) VMI
9) Western Carolina
10) The Citadel

Quick reactions and notes on the Power Rankings:

–If you had told me preseason that Chattanooga would spend even one week ahead of Samford in the power rankings, I would have told you that you were nuts. The Mocs should not be anywhere near the Bulldogs. I think the case could be made that the Bulldogs belong LOWER in these rankings based on how they’ve played so far.

–If you had told me preseason that The Citadel would fall behind VMI at any point this season, I would have thought that you were nuts as well. But when you lose your best player, and then get pummeled, it makes it easy. The Citadel can’t go any lower. VMI is showing some surprising ability early in the season.

–Lots of bad looks around the SoCon this week. That being said, I think the top four have separated themselves by a little bit. They’re the four best teams right now. Wofford and Chattanooga are kind of stuck where they’re at and the bottom four are in their own little division.

Look for several articles this week as we ramp up toward the holidays and then the beginning of conference play. The season is taking shape right before our eyes.

Holiday Recap

With everything going on around Thanksgiving, you probably didn’t get to watch every SoCon basketball game (we didn’t either). But here’s a quick recap a few things you might have missed.

Wake Forest 81 – UNCG 75

Francis Alonso (31 points on 7-10 from 3) went full on nuclear but couldn’t quite get UNCG over the hump in Winston-Salem. The Spartans had a chance at the end. Down just 2 points with 23 seconds remaining, a missed Wake layup landed in Malik Massey’s hands while his foot was on the baseline. Wake then made 4 free throws to seal the win and leave the SoCon still searching for a signature win. The Spartans shot great (13-26) from behind the arc, but looked awful at the charity stripe (12-22).

Furman 78 – New Hampshire 64

Furman 78 – Northeastern 67

Furman went 2-0 in their trip to Nashville for the PK80 Invitational.

A huge second half run allowed Furman to coast to a win over Hew Hampshire on Friday. The Paladins defense in the second half was amazing as it shut down New Hampshire’s best player (Leissner) and held him without a field goal. Devin Sibley finished 1 rebound shy of a double-double (20 points & 9 rebounds).

On Saturday, Sibley did tally a double-double (20 point & 10 rebounds) as the Paladins ran out to a double digit halftime lead and were never really threated again by Northeastern. Furman owned the boards (36-29) and shot almost 50% (31-63) from the field. Sibley is looking strong to win the SoCon POY award.

SE Louisiana 77 – Samford 71

No Josh Sharkey. No Wyatt Walker. No Alex Peters. Without those 3 players, Samford isn’t a very good team and showed it. SELA’s bench outscoring Samford’s 43-5 is the stat of the game. Demetrius Denzel-Dyson carried the Bulldogs (23 points) in this one, but a 16-10 Lions run over the last 3 and a half minutes sealed the loss for Samford.

ETSU 83 – Fort Wayne 73

Texas Southern graduate transfer Jalan McCloud filled up the stat sheet (25 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals) in a nice win in Johnson City. While Fort Wayne bombed away form the outside (12-37), it was the Bucs that repeatedly attacked the basket. The major stat line in this one was ETSU’s 28-33 at the free throw line compared to just 11-15 for the Mastodons. Desonta Bradford scored 16 for ETSU as well.

UNC Asheville 85 – Wofford 65

In a downright ugly loss, the Bulldogs shredded a normal reliable Wofford defense to the tune of a 26-2 run in the second half. Fletcher Magee and Nathan Hoover each had nice games, but UNCA went 8-9 from 3 to start the second half and the Terriers were done. It’s their second straight 20+ point loss.

In season Podcast

You know you want to listen to Southern Conference hoops podcast on Black Friday. It’s way better than what you were planning on doing.

In this podcast, we talk about the strength at the top of the conference, and how the conference might be a little deeper than we think, and how Samford doesn’t have it figured out yet. We also talk about some good games coming up soon.

Take a listen.


First In Season Power Rankings

Brad and I love to talk SoCon basketball. We love to think about it, debate about it, text about it.

But to do power rankings, we decided to ask for some extra help. For now, we’ve asked two additional “superfans” to help us with our power rankings. We asked SoCon John and Catamount Sports Forum to help us analyze the current standing of each SoCon team.

So we voted. We took into account the games through Tuesday night and here is the way the vote turned out:

1) Mercer
2) Furman
5) Wofford
6) Samford
7) Chattanooga
8) The Citadel
9) VMI
10) Western Carolina

The biggest drop from where Brad and I had the teams in the preseason is Samford, who is currently missing Wyatt Walker, and is also currently missing any kind of decent win.

The biggest jump (in some ways) is Mercer. They weren’t far behind the top teams at the start, but Brad and I thought they were fourth. However, with their performance, especially in advancing to the championship of the Paradise Jam, the Bears have propelled all the way to first.

Also, as Brad and I have talked, I think the other team we’ve been surprised by is Chattanooga. We really thought they were not good and would really struggle in Lamont Paris first year. They are not great, by any means, but they are showing flashes that I think has surprised both of us.

We will update these regularly. Probably the next update will be coming on December 3.

There will be another exciting week and a half of games to evaluate by then.