Casual college basketball fans probably will not have heard of the Southern Conference, but the Southern Conference (SoCon) is incredibly strong this year. By that, I mean there are multiple teams I could see pulling an upset in the tournament if they can win the Southern Conference Tournament. Below is a look at the current SoCon standings:
|East Tennessee State||17||5||0.773||7||2||0.778|
The four teams that intrigue me are Wofford (17-4), UNC- Greensboro (19-3), ETSU (17-5) and Furman (16-5). I will briefly go into what makes each one of these teams a team that deserves attention.
Wofford has won 8 in a row and is currently in first place in the SoCon and has yet to lose a conference game. Their four losses are all against good competition too (#8 North Carolina, #2 Kansas, Oklahoma and #17 Mississippi State). Wofford averages 118.7 points per 100 possessions, which is the 4th best among all 347 Division 1 teams! The offense is led by senior guard Fletcher Magee, averaging 18.8 points per game. The Terriers’ are also 7th in the country in total rebounding percentage. Forwards Cameron Jackson and Keve Aluma are both top 10 in the conference in rebounding and have also been key to Wofford’s success. Dominating teams on offense and on the glass is the reason Wofford is on top of this list.
UNC- Greensboro (19-3)
The Spartans have the best overall win percentage out of all the teams in this conference. Their only losses are to #23 LSU, #10 Kentucky and Wofford. The Wofford loss sticks out to me because it wasn’t even close (72-43). UNC- Greensboro is 47th in points per possession and have the 30th best turnover percentage in college basketball. They are also the 54th best defensive team in the country (points per possession). Francis Alonso and Isaiah Miller lead the Spartans offensive charge with 17.3 and 14.5 points per game respectively. They don’t really have a big out of conference win, but have beaten Furman and ETSU in conference. Greensboro also won the conference tournament last year and gave Gonzaga a battle in the tournament, losing 68-64.
East Tennessee State (17-5)
The Buccaneers have the highest total rebound percentage in all of Division 1 (59.4%)! That’s right, they win the rebounding battle by more than any other team. That’s why they jump off the page at you. ETSU’s success on the boards can be largely attributed to Junior forward Jeromy Rodriguez. At only 6’7”, Rodriguez averages 11.6 rebounds per game (6th in the country) to go along with his 11.7 points per game. In addition, ETSU has the fourth leading rebounder in the conference in 6’10” sophomore Mladen Armus. They also have the 32nd best offense (points per possession). This combination gives them similar strengths to Wofford, however ETSU dropped their previous match-up with Wofford by 17 points. ETSU’s other losses have come to Georgia State, Creighton, Illinois and UNC- Greensboro.
Furman was the first team from the SoCon to grab my attention this season. That was on November 9th when they went on the road and beat defending Final Four team, Loyola-Chicago, on a game-winning dunk (video below). Furman then went on to beat #8 Villanova on their way to a 12-0 start. After that they were even ranked (#24) for a little bit until back-to-back losses to LSU and ETSU. They are led by 6’8″ forward Matt Rafferty, who averages 17.7 points per game and leads the conference in both field goal percentage (63%) and steals (2.8 per game). The senior is also third in the conference in rebounding at 9.1 rebounds per game. Alongside Rafferty, Jordan Lyons is the seventh leading scorer in the conference and helps create a balanced offensive attack for Furman. They’ve struggled recently, losing three of their last four (to Wofford, UNC-Greensboro and Samford), but the Paladins definitely have some potential and could be dangerous if they figure things out.
While the media will cover bigger conferences with the big name teams, the SoCon will have a great race going on. The SoCon tournament will have some exciting games with a lot on the line. Whoever comes out of the SoCon with an NCAA Tournament bid is going to be playing well and will give some team a heck of a game come March. I’m looking at the SoCon for an upset, especially if Wofford keeps up their dominance. I could easily see a Sweet Sixteen run coming from the SoCon champion. So when you’re filling out your bracket in March, don’t forget about the team from the Southern Conference.