Casey Jones

2014-15 Southern Conference Preview: Wofford, Chattanooga favored in Davidson’s absence

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Wofford guard Karl Cochran (Getty Images)

Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

MORE: 2014-2015 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

No league underwent as much of a makeover during this offseason as the Southern Conference. Four of the league’s 11 teams departed to different leagues this offseason, with Elon, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State departing for football purposes. The biggest hit, however, was the loss of Davidson, the league’s marquee program, to the Atlantic 10. That hurt, but the good news is that the three programs joining the conference this season — Mercer, East Tennessee State and VMI — all have quality basketball programs. Losing Steph Curry’s alma mater is tough to overcome, but the league may actually be tougher in the future with the new additions.

Everyone should be aware of Mercer. The Bears beat out Florida-Gulf Coast for the Atlantic Sun’s automatic bid last season, and they made the most of their NCAA tournament trip by knocking off No. 3 seed Duke in the opening round. But the Bears lose seven seniors and five starters from last year’s team, meaning that their first year in the SoCon will be spent in regrouping mode. VMI loses two of their three leading scorers, who averaged a combined 39.0 points, but they bring back sophomore Q.J. Peterson and bring back a roster that should allow them to be a factor in the league title race. The third new addition is East Tennessee State, who returns back court stars Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley, who should start this season, but will have to find a way to replace their front court.

The favorite in the SoCon this season will be Wofford, who played their way into the NCAA tournament a season ago by winning the league’s automatic bid despite finishing third in the regular season. Mike Young’s club returns essentially their enter roster from a season ago, a year that saw Young start ten different players at least five times during the regular season. It took Wofford awhile to find their rhythm last year, part of the reason that Young used so many different lineups, but once he found up that worked, the Terriers finished the season strong. Karl Cochran and Spencer Collins will anchor the back court, while Lee Skinner will be their biggest interior presence.

It won’t be easy for the Terriers, however, as Will Wade’s Chattanooga program will enter their second season playing ‘Chaos’. Wade is a member of Shaka Smart’s coaching tree, meaning that his goal is to eventually get the Mocs playing the full-court, all-out pressing style that has allowed VCU to be so successful. Wade is starting to get his players into the program, and while last season saw Chattanooga forced into more zone and half-court defense than Wade would have liked, this season will bring much more pressure and … chaos. Casey Jones and Rico White are the two players that will anchor the back court, but the guy to keep an eye on is Justin Tuoyo, a 6-foot-10 transfer that followed Wade from Richmond.

One team to keep an eye on is Furman. The Palladins were just 3-13 in the league last season, but they have a young and promising back court, headlined by Stephen Croome. Keep an eye on William Gates, the son of the star of the movie ‘Hoop Dreams’, who had a promising freshman season despite battling knee issues much of the year.

REALIGNMENT MOVES

In: Mercer, East Tennessee State, VMI
Out: Davidson, Georgia Southern, Appalachian State, Elon

PRESEASON SOCON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Karl Cochran, Wofford

Cochran averaged 15.7 points and 5.0 boards as a junior, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that he’s just a 6-foot-1 guard. The leading scorer and best player on the Terriers, Cochran only started 22 of Wofford’s 33 games a season ago.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM:

  • Q.J. Peterson, VMI, So.: VMI’s system allows players to put up huge numbers, but Peterson averaged 19.0 points as a freshman.
  • Stephen Croome, Furman, Jr.: The 6-foot-0 guard averaged 19.1 points and 3.7 assists while helping change the culture of the Palladin program.
  • Lee Skinner, Wofford, Sr.: An undersized power forward, Skinner is the heart and soul of this year’s Wofford team.
  • Casey Jones, Chattanooga, Jr.: The leading returning scorer for the Mocs, Jones is a 6-foot-5 forward that should fit well into the ‘Chaos’ system Will Wade runs.

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PREDICTED FINISH

1. Wofford
2. Chattanooga
3. East Tennessee State
4. VMI
5. Furman
6. Mercer
7. Western Carolina
8. UNC Greensboro
9. The Citadel
10. Samford