Karl Cochran

Karl Cochran (Getty Images)

Southern Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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Karl Cochran (Getty Images)

The SoCon looks quite a bit different than it has in past seasons, as Davidson and the College of Charleston are no longer in the league while new additions like Mercer and East Tennessee State have made an immediate impact. And while there has been some turnover in the membership, the league’s power still ended up being Wofford, as many predicted prior to the season. The Terriers are a veteran-laden group, but they split their two games with Chattanooga, who finished in second in the conference, this season.

READ MORE: NBC Sports’ latest Bracketology | The updated top 25

The Bracket


When: March 6-9

Where: U.S. Cellular Center, Asheville, N.C.

Final: Monday, March 9 7:00 p.m. ESPN2

READ MORE: NBCSports.com’s 2015 Conference Tournament Previews

Favorite: Wofford

The Terriers returned essentially their entire roster from last season’s NCAA tournament team, and it showed during the season. After notching a number of quality non-conference wins — Iona, Charleston Southern, N.C. State — Wofford ended up winning the outright SoCon title. Wofford is led by league Player of the Year. Karl Cochran.

And if they lose?: Chattanooga

Shaka Smart protégé Will Wade has turned the Mocs into one of the most promising mid-major programs in the country. The goal is to eventually run ‘Chaos’, which is the mid-major version of VCU’s ‘Havoc’, and while they aren’t completely chaotic just yet, this is still a team that has won quite a few games in the past two years. The addition of VCU transfer Justin Tuoyo this season was huge.


  • Mercer: Last season, the Bears won the Atlantic Sun to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, where they upset Duke in the opening round. They lost seven seniors off that team, but they also changed leagues and, led by a powerfully athletic guard like Ike Nwamu, finished in third in the always-tough SoCon.
  • Western Carolina: The Catamounts are led by the SoCon’s most dynamic guard, James Sinclair, and while they finished just 9-9 in league play, they were one of just three teams that were actually able to notch a win over either Wofford or Chattanooga.

Player of the Year: Karl Cochran, Wofford

A 6-foot-1 guard, Cochran was the spark for Wofford’s offense this season. He averaged 15.0 points, 5.8 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.8 steals on the season while shooting 37.5 percent from three as the team’s only real perimeter threat.

Coach of the Year: Mike Young, Wofford

Young is the easy pick here, as he was able to back up the preseason projections and win the league’s regular season title. His job was made easier by the fact that he had a veteran team coming off of a league tournament championship from last season.

All-Southern Conference Team:

  • Cochran
  • Jalen Riley, ETSU – Riley finished the season averaging a league-best 20.7 points.
  • Ike Nwamu, Mercer – Nwamu led the Bears in their first season in the SoCon, leading them to a third place finish in the league.
  • Casey Jones, Chattanooga – Jones was the leading scorer and the best player for the Mocs, the clear-cut second-best team in the conference.
  • James Sinclair, Western Carolina – Sinclair was the most dynamic player in the conference, averaging 19.1 points, 5.7 boards and 3.1 assists, which included the 40 points he had against VMI.

CBT PREDICTION: Wofford returns to the tournament by beating Mercer in the finals.

Second half surge gives Wofford an early morning win over Iona

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On Monday, Wofford announced plans for a new arena, a gift provided by alum and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. The 92,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open in September 2017. For now, the Benjamin Johnson Arena will do work just fine, as evident by the packed crowd on hand for the Terriers’ 7 a.m. tip with MAAC favorite Iona on Tuesday morning.

Wofford, the reigning Southern Conference champion, and favorite to retain that title, outdueled the Gaels, 86-73, in an offensive shootout to pick up its first win of the season.

The Terriers shot 54 percent from the field, including a 6-of-9 shooting from three in the second half (9-of-17 in the game) to turn a three-point halftime deficit into a 13-point victory.

Iona and Wofford traded the lead three times to begin the game before the Terriers began to attack the offensive glass, using second-chance points to spark a lengthy run to extend the lead to double-digits. Wofford led 60-56 when a Justin Gordon putback slam livened the 3,500 in attendance. A minute later Lee Skinner (15 points, nine rebounds) attacked the glass again leading to another second-chance bucket.

Wofford turned 11 offensive rebounds into 17 second-chance points.

Iona’s first half shooting as the morning coffee in Spartanburg, South Carolina: hot, converting on 56 percent its shots while connecting on 7-of-12 from beyond the arc. Although in the second half, a David Laury triple would account for the Gaels’ only deep ball (1-of-5). Laury and A.J. English made eight trips each to the line, converting on 13-of-16 attempts. Unfortunately, for almost seven minutes in the second half, that was the only source of offense for Tim Cluess’ program. In that span, Wofford turned a four-point lead into an 82-66 advantage.

Laury led all scorers with 23 points. English followed with 22 points, four rebounds and three assists. Karl Cochran (20 points) was one of four Terriers in double figures along with Skinner (15), Justin Gordon (13) and Jaylen Allen (11).

Wofford’s first win comes days after an opening night loss to Stanford. The Terriers travel to Fairfield on Friday night to take on another MAAC opponent. Iona, coming off a five-point win against Cleveland State, has a road meeting with Danny Manning and Wake Forest on Friday.

Not even Wofford’s coach saw them becoming the Southern Conference’s best program

Wofford guard Karl Cochran (Getty Images)
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Wofford guard Karl Cochran (Getty Images)

For years, the Southern Conference has been considered one of the strongest mid-major conferences in the country.

The reason for that, more than anything, was the presence of Davidson at the top of the conference. Regardless of how good the Wildcats have been, ever since Steph Curry burst onto the scene, first leading Davidson to within a 3-pointer of the Final Four and then playing his way into the top 10 of the NBA Draft, the Wildcats have been a default pick as one of the nation’s best mid-major teams.

That’s no longer the case, however, as Davidson has made the move to the Atlantic 10 for this season. Elon, Appalachian State and Georgia Southern followed the Wildcats out the door, which mattered less for the basketball side of things than last season’s departure of the College of Charleston.

The news isn’t all bad for the league. VMI won 24 games last season and will be rejoining the conference after spending time in the Big South. East Tennessee State and Mercer, two quality basketball programs that are well-funded and well-supported, join the conference as well. And that’s before mentioning that Will Wade has turned Chattanooga into the epicenter of ‘Chaos’. Perhaps the best news for the SoCon is that the Wofford Terriers are currently the best program in the conference, which, for those of you that aren’t fluent in South Carolina basketball, is quite surprising.

That’s not me being mean, either.

Wofford’s head coach Mike Young will tell you the same thing, and he would know. He’s been with the program since 1989. He’s been the head coach since 2002. He knows the program better than anyone else in the entire world.

“Not a chance in hell,” Young said when I asked him if he ever thought the Terriers would be in this spot, and he wasn’t done driving the point home, either. “Nope. Not. A chance. In hell.”

And there’s a reason for that.

You see, when Young first joined the Wofford staff, he was joining a program that was making the transition from the NAIA to the NCAA. Division II, that is. It was almost a decade until the Terriers would move up to the highest level of college sports, but it would still take another 13 seasons before Wofford would make their first NCAA tournament.

That was in 2010.

And here we are in 2014, and the Terriers have won three of the last five automatic bids, own a pair of regular season titles during that stretch and will enter this season as the favorite to make the Big Dance once again.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that was attainable,” Young said. “But here we are. We’ve done it and we’ve it the right way and continue to do it the right way, and that’s a special feeling.”

The example that Young gives when he talks about doing things “the right way” is Aerris Smith, a senior on last year’s NCAA tournament team that just so happened to be the only holdover from the group that made the 2011 tournament. That didn’t mean he played much, however, as Smith had the kind of knee issues that would have forced him to sit out if his future was in professional basketball. He needed microfracture surgery, the procedure that helped turn Amare Stoudamire and Greg Oden into a shell of themselves.

But Smith couldn’t do anymore damage to himself by playing and putting off the surgery, so he put off the surgery, swam six mornings a week at the Y to stay in shape, sat out every single practice of his senior season and gave Young the seven or eight minutes a night off the bench that he knew the team needed to help them win.

By the time the regular season was over, Smith knew that he had had enough. He would play out the SoCon tournament and then get the surgery, regardless of how the Terriers did.

“He came into my office and, very matter of factly, no emotion, said, ‘Coach, I can’t do it anymore. I’m having trouble sleeping now. I’ve got to get this thing taken care of,'” Young said, pausing to keep compose himself. “I get emotional thinking about it.”

You know the rest of the story. Wofford won the automatic bid, and Smith announced that his career was over in a powerful, emotional postgame interview.

Smith is gone, coaching high school ball back in his native Charlotte, but everyone else on the Terrier roster is back this season. That includes nine of the 10 players on the Wofford roster that started at least five games last year.

Karl Cochran, who averaged 15.7 points and 3.0 assists, will likely enter the season as the SoCon Player of the Year even though he may not be the most valuable player on the roster. That title goes to Les Skinner, Young says, an undersized power forward that averaged 11.1 points and 8.5 boards through sheer determination.

“He’s the straw that stirs our drink,” Young says. “He doesn’t get the notoriety and accolades that some others may get, but we’re not nearly as good without him.”

Skinner and Cochran are both seniors, which means that, regardless of how this season plays out, Wofford will have some pieces to replace next season. But Spencer Collins, a 6-foot-4 guard that was the team’s second-leading scorer last year, has started every game in his first two seasons on campus. And according to Young, the team’s two most improved players — sophomore Jaylen Allen and junior Justin Gordon — both have a long time left in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

Wofford is a basketball power right now.

No one, quite literally, saw that coming.

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

Wofford guard Karl Cochran (Getty Images)
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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.


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


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.


  • 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.



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

NCAA Tournament Primer: Wofford Terriers

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Get to know all of the NCAA Tournament’s automatic bids here.

Conference: Southern Conference

Coach: Mike Young

Record: 20-12 (11-5 Southern Conference)

Rankings and Ratings:

– Kenpom: 183
– RPI: 164
– AP/USA Today: Not ranked

Seeding?: In Dave Ommen’s most recent bracket, Wofford, which had earned the third seed in the conference tournament, was afforded the Southern’s auto bid. However, per Ommen, the bid could result in a trip to Dayton as one of the field’s last four teams.

Names you need to know: Karl Cochran (15.4 ppg, 38.9% 3FG%); Lee Skinner (11.2 ppg, 8.6 rpg)

Stats you need to know: Wofford posted the conference’s second stingiest defense, and the Terriers are known to excel at forcing turnovers and hauling in defensive boards. While Young’s squad doesn’t take many threes, they convert their limited attempts, and the offense has been boosted by the emergence of freshman Eric Garcia: over the past seven games, Garcia has used 303 possessions and dished out 24 assists.

Tendencies: Wofford has a very deliberate offense. While the team only uses 62 or so possessions per Southern contest, the squad isn’t a grind-it-out team; rather, they are opportunistic, working their halfcourt set until roughly 15 seconds remain in the shot clock — an approach makes the Terriers a difficult team to defend.

Big wins, bad losses: Wofford interestingly doesn’t have many bad losses — non-conference defeats to Iona, William & Mary, Georgia, VCU, and Saint Louis aren’t worth chiding — and four of their five conference losses were to either Chattanooga or Davidson, the top two seeds in the conference tourney. With that context, though, Wofford doesn’t have many big wins either.

How’d they get here?: By allowing other Southern teams to knock out the favorites. After an easy opening round thrashing of the Citadel, Wofford faced off against No. 7 seed Georgia Southern, which had defeated Chattanooga for the second time in 2014. Western Carolina overcame a second half double-digit deficit and knocked out tourney favorite Davidson, and while Monday’s night final was emotionally exhausting and thrilling to watch — the second half was filled with a bevy of threes — Wofford’s path back to the field of 68 was paved.

Outlook: The team certainly doesn’t lack for experience and postseason poise: this is the third time in five seasons the Terriers have earned the conference’s auto bid.

How do I know you?: The longtime coach at the Spartanburg-based school, Young has been a member of Wofford’s coaching staff since the program was at the Division II level. Sadly for those who pick their bracket based on the presence of colorful player names, Indiana Faithfull, a guard with arguably the best name in college hoops, left the team in mid-February.