Southern Conference Preview: Chattanooga and East Tennessee State face off

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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Southern Conference.

The rivalry between Chattanooga and East Tennessee State should be in full force this season as the two intra-state enemies should once again find themselves sitting atop the SoCon standings.

Chattanooga has to be considered the favorites entering the season. The Mocs went 29-6 last season. They won at Georgia, at Illinois and at Dayton. They won the SoCon regular season title at 15-3. They won the SoCon tournament title, beating ETSU in the process. They not only return four starters from last year’s team – including Tre’ McLean and Justin Tuoyo, who were all-league players last year – as well as Casey Jones, who was the 2015 SoCon Player of the Year and the 2016 Preseason SoCon Player of the Year before a dislocated ankle ended his season in December.

Think about that for a second. The Mocs did their majority of their damage last season without the guy the coaches thought would be the best player in the conference. And now he’s back, along with basically everyone else. Matt McCall will likely start his coaching career with two straight league titles.

But Steve Forbes and East Tennessee State won’t roll over easily, you can be sure of that. It wasn’t the least bit surprising that he was able to churn out a 24-12 season and a second-place finish in the league in his first year as head coach, mainly because he was able to stock the roster with high-major talent. This year, he adds former Indiana big man Hanner Mosquera-Perea and former Wichita State big man Tevin Glass to another former Hoosier, 7-footer Peter Jurkin. Throw in the return of all-SoCon guard T.J. Cromer and the addition of a handful of JuCon guards, including two JuCo all-americans, and the Bucs will be loaded as well.

Furman lost league Player of the Year Stephen Croome, but the Palladins return four starters from a team that won 11 league games. Niko Medved’s team should be in the mix to finish top four. Mercer lost a trio of starters from a team that finished 8-10 and dealt with the murder of a player in the middle of the season. It isn’t wise to bet against Bob Hoffman, especially when he adds the kind of JuCo talent he’s bringing in this year, but the death of a teammate is not easy to overcome.

Mike Young is one of the best coaches at the mid-major level, but after consecutive years of losing strong senior classes, it’s caught up to hi at Wofford. Fletcher MaGee is the Terrier to keep an eye on. Wes Miller has continually lost talented transfers, but this seems to be the year where UNC Greensboro has some stability. They bring back four starters from a team that won 10 games in the league.

Samford is the team to keep an eye on in the league. Christen Cunningham returns to provide a veteran scoring presence while Scott Padgett adds quite a bit of high-major talent: three high-major transfers will be eligible to play this year. Throw in a talented freshman class, and the Bulldogs have some potential.

Western Carolina graduated a four-man senior class that averaged a combined 52 points last season. The Citadel scores a ton of points but allowed an average of 92.6 points per game last season. Butler put 144 points on them. VMI struggled to adjust to new head coach Dan Earl, who replaced Duggar Baucom (who took over at The Citadel), but Q.J. Peterson might be the best scorer in the league.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

 

PRESEASON SOCON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: T.J. Cromer, East Tennessee State

Chattanooga has three players on their roster capable of winning the SoCon Player of the Year award. So assuming they cancel each other out, we’re going to go with Cromer, who should be the best player on an ETSU team that can push for the SoCon title.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-SOCON TEAM:

  • Justin Tuoyo, Chattanooga: He’s the best defensive presence around the rim in the league.
  • Casey Jones, Chattanooga: The 2015 SoCon Player of the Year. Is he healthy?
  • Tre’ McClean, Chattanooga: He was the best player for the Mocs last season.
  • Q.J. Peterson, VMI: VMI should be better. Peterson will probably still average 20 point.s

PREDICTED FINISH

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