There is no question that the 2006-07 season from the team based at 3,333 feet in the rarified air of Boone, N.C., was magical. App State notched a BracketBusters win at Wichita State, collected a school-record 25 victories and mounted a strong candidacy for the first true at-large NCAA invite in SoCon history. Three key seniors are gone from that team, including 5-8 mighty mite D.J. Thompson
, but a junior frontcourt trio of Jeremy Clayton
, Davis Bowne
and Doug McLaughlin-Williams
received significant PT last season and should step up to complement Donte Minter
. Whether coach Houston Fancher's squad can push Davidson for the title again will depend heavily on its ability to find good guard play.
There is a brand-new yellow-centric identity in the Scenic City: Gone is the mockingbird, as the school has choo-choo-chosen to play up the train imagery. Chattanooga will host Tennessee on Dec. 4 at its Roundhouse. The Mocs also will participate in the Anaheim Classic, an eight-team tournament in which each team advanced to at least the semifinals of their postseason conference tournaments last year. And leading rebounder Nicchaeus Doaks
(5.8 rpg) returns, one of the finest blood-and-guts guys in mid-majorland. So there's plenty of excitement Moc fans can get on board for, but a turnover-prone backcourt (SoCon-worst 23.2 percent turnover rate in 2006-07) was thinned by three key graduations, which might temper enthusiasm a bit as the season progresses.
College of Charleston
Bobby Cremins was a late hire last summer, arriving in July, but he wasted no time installing what would become the toughest and smartest defense in the SoCon. The Cougars, made up primarily of former coach Tom Herrion's recruits, won 22 times and gave NCAA-bound Davidson everything it wanted in the title game. Now here comes Cremins' first real recruiting class, highlighted by the highly regarded Antwaine Wiggins
, a dynamic 6-7, 180-pounder who plays like a guard. There's frontcourt beef on the way in juco transfer Dustin Scott
and Georgian prep PF Jeremy Simmons
The Wildcats are back for their run at history with five returning starters and an intact supporting cast, but two roster spots opened up thanks to little-used outgoing seniors. So in comes Aaron Bond
, a 6-5 Virginia product who was a McDonald's All-America nominee. Bob McKillop also will add son Brendan
to the squad, but this is no case of blind nepotism: Brendan turned down overtures from NC State and Virginia Tech to play for his dad. Brendan averaged 26 points and five assists as a senior at Charlotte Catholic.
A phoenix is, of course, a mythical bird that flames out in a fiery death, then triumphantly rises from its own ashes. So a pair of 23-loss seasons in 2004-05 and 2006-07, broken up by a North Division championship in 2005-06, might suggest that the Elon Phoenix have taken to repeating the embers-to-rebirth pattern in even-numbered years. But that's highly unlikely to continue. Two of Elon's top three scorers are gone, and most of the season should be spent finding roles for an underclassman core. Brett James
, a 6-5 junior guard with a sweet jumper, will have to have a great follow-up to his 12.2 ppg season if the Phoenix are to regenerate in 2007-08.
Davidson had the Paladins' number last season, administering three solid beatings. But to the rest of the league, Jeff Jackson's squad was a tough, grinding team that developed a reputation for luring SoCon opponents into tight contests and leaving them with bruises afterward. The personality of the 2007-08 version is anybody's guess. The top four scorers from a 15-16 (8-10 SoCon) year have moved into the next chapters of their lives, and the roster will be stocked with untested sophomores and comeback redshirts. No returning player averaged more than 20.5 minutes per game last season.
Guard Donte Gennie
, the conference's fourth leading scorer last season at 16.2 ppg, is off ripping up Germany's second division. But the league's ninth leading scorer returns: Louis Graham
is a 6-8 senior who tallied 14.2 ppg and finished second in SoCon rebounding with 8.2 rpg. After an underachieving 15-16 season that bottomed out with nine losses in 11 games during conference play, Graham will lead an Eagles team with definite room from improvement. Georgia Southern finished dead-last in the league in free-throw shooting and turnovers.
The Spartans have more than a certain Mr. Hines in their campaign to unseat Appalachian State at the top of the North Division. Last season served as an incubation period for a trio of talented freshmen: 6-5 forward Ben Stywall
and versatile guards Kendall Toney
and Mikko Koivisto
. Stywall hit the double-digit mark in rebounds in six games. Toney led last season's squad with a 43.5 percent 3-point rate. And Kovisto proved to be a reliable free-throw shooter, hitting 80 percent of his attempts.
"The losing teams of the world disband without fanfare or any sense of regret," wrote former Citadel PG and accomplished author Pat Conroy in his basketball memoir, "My Losing Season." That means cousin Ed Conroy's initial season as "The Great Santini" at The Citadel likely won't be remembered at all, unless outgoing point Kevin Hammack
(team-leading 13.0 ppg, 3.3 apg) has a little author in him. Will Conroy's squad make any "Beach Music" in 2007-08? With only 27.5 points of returning scoring from a 7-23 squad (nine ppg belonging to 6-8 senior Demetrius Nelson
), the water is wide.
is a bullet-headed, barrel-chested 6-8 forward who loves to absorb abuse under the basket; the Catamounts scored a real coup last summer when he opted out of a verbal commitment to Cincinnati to come to remote Cullowhee, N.C. All he did as a freshman was average 18.3 points with seven rebounds per contest and lead WCU to its first SoCon tourney victory in six years. With three other freshmen who logged big minutes in 2006-07, this is a program on the rise.
The 2006-07 Terriers used up every last bit of stored karma in a 91-90 shocker in Cincinnati. Then they lost the instigator of that upset, Eric Marshall
, halfway through the season to a career-ending knee injury and dropped all their SoCon road games against non-Citadel teams. Is there a glimmer of future hope after a 20-loss season? A decent senior backcourt of Shane Nichols
and Drew Gibson
(28.4 combined ppg), and SoCon-leading ball control (12.0 turnovers per contest) say yes.