ShootAround: It's Curry's world, the rest of the SoCon's just living in it
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Davidson and who?
By Kyle Whelliston
It was so exciting to see what they did last year, I was cheering for them. I'm just disappointed that we only get to play them once this year.
--Houston Fancher, Appalachian State coach
Five Things To Watch in '08-09
By Kyle Whelliston
With an Elite Eight run that was only a missed Jason Richards 3-pointer from lasting another week, Davidson earned the entire nation's respect last season. Stephen Curry became a poster boy for the SoCon, mid-major college basketball and impeccable shooting mechanics. The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be scored 128 points in four NCAA games, shooting 46.7 percent from the floor. Richards, the nation's leader in assists last season, ended his collegiate career at Detroit's Ford Field with that 59-57 loss against Kansas, then signed a contract with the Miami Heat. So now comes a move that's been anticipated for the past two years. Curry, who played the point throughout high school at Charlotte Christian, will evolve out of the shooting guard position he has occupied during his first two years at Davidson to play minutes at the point. Curry has spent the summer consulting with NBA point guards and polishing his court sense at elite camps. "I think he's really progressed in his overall game," Davidson head coach Bob McKillop said of his star's summer. "The most important thing for us is that he gets better. He has a mindset that he wants to become a more well-rounded player, and he's worked at it very, very hard." • Hello, Samford
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Jimmy Tillette will bring the Princeton-style offense to the SoCon with newest member Samford.
Samford is familiar with 20-game schedules, as the 11-member OVC played a full home-and-home round-robin last season. But that league hasn't won an NCAA game since 1989 and has a much different set of issues than the SoCon. Even though the Bulldogs give this league an even dozen now, the league will maintain its supersized slate. For a conference chasing two-bid status, having 20 of the 28 allowable schedule slots filled with league games severely limits the number of nonconference opportunities, especially for teams looking to build at-large résumés. For example, Davidson will play West Virginia, North Carolina State, Duke, Oklahoma and Purdue as well as two BracketBusters games (a return with Winthrop and a TBA opponent in February). With little room to work with, McKillop had to turn down a number of TV opportunities. The league's coaches (even the ones who haven't been to the Elite Eight) aren't happy with the giant schedule, which made its debut last season. But in the end, other interests won the day. "Our coaches wanted to go back down to 16, that was a unanimous vote in our league," Appalachian State head coach Houston Fancher explained. "But it was shot down by the people above us. The athletic directors were split on it, but the presidents were pretty adamant about keeping things the way they are. It gives them those 10 guaranteed home games." • Is there a spoiler in the house?
Teams at this level find it virtually impossible to get home games against power-conference opponents. Despite Davidson's second-consecutive slate full of BCS foes, none dare set foot in 6,000-seat Belk Arena. The Duke game is at Cameron Indoor, the Wildcats will play Purdue and West Virginia on neutral courts, and the NC State game will be another "semi-home" affair at Charlotte's Bobcats Arena. Another way to even the playing field is the exempt tournament. Two seasons ago, Appalachian State gained notoriety for beating Virginia, Vanderbilt and Central Florida at the San Juan Shootout on the way to a 25-win season. This year's Chattanooga team also will head down to the islands hoping to make a splash, entering a Puerto Rico Shootout field that includes Xavier, Southern California and Memphis. And with ESPN's help, College of Charleston has beefed up the field in the inaugural Charleston Classic at its new Carolina First Center. Clemson and Temple will be there too, both 2008 NCAA teams. • Freshman orientation
At The Citadel, freshmen must shave their heads bald, in part so that upperclassmen can easily single them out for harsh treatment. In the culture of the South Carolina military school, first-year students are derisively referred to as "knobs." "Knob year" took on a whole new meaning on the basketball court during the 2007-08 season. The Bulldogs suited up 11 freshmen, a number that school and SoCon officials believe to be unprecedented in NCAA history. Not surprisingly, the school also lost an unprecedented 19 conference games against a single win (Western Carolina on Feb. 14) and collected just six victories all year (four against lower-division opponents). If there's any good news at The Citadel, it's that things can't possibly get any worse than that. In the fall, most of these freshmen will return as seasoned sophomores. And this time, they'll have hair.
2008-09 Team Capsules
By Kyle Whelliston
Last season's Mountaineers featured a vaunted senior frontcourt, but the conference's best shot-blocking team (4.68 bpg) returns only one player taller than 6-foot-5. App. State's primary strength will be its guards, as was the case during the 25-win season in 2006-07. Donald Sims was a revelation as a freshman because of his cocky willingness to take any shot (and he made a lot of them, for 11.5 ppg). Be on the lookout for newcomer Quinche Dowdell, a 6-5 wing out of Oak Ridge, Tenn., who has polished finishing skills. Charleston
A 16-17 record (9-11 SoCon) marked the Cougars' first losing season since they joined the league in 1998. It certainly wasn't a fitting way to close John Kresse Arena, but all five starters will return hoping to make the Carolina First Center's inaugural season one to remember. Bobby Cremins' squad is highlighted by a pair of emerging backcourt talents, sophomore Andrew Goudelock and junior Tony White Jr.. Both scored 13.2 ppg last season. If they can cut down on turnovers and force more on the defensive end, the Cougs should improve. Chattanooga
After a 15-18 crash two seasons ago, John Shulman's Mocs staged a three-win, six-seed improvement before they were knocked out in the quarterfinals last season. The 2008-09 version will feature a potent inside-outside senior combo in 6-7 Nicchaeus Doaks (14.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg) and 5-11 shooter Stephen McDowell (14.3 ppg). Jasper Williams, a highly touted newcomer from Progressive Christian Academy in Maryland, very well could end up developing into the solid point guard that Chatty has lacked for several seasons. Citadel
Though the Bulldogs lost an NCAA-record 19 conference games, they were second in the SoCon in 3-point field-goal percentage, converting 38.2 percent of their attempts. Granted, it was because the young and undersized squad had just one player in its regular rotation taller than 6-5 and spent most of its time camped out on the perimeter. In all, The Citadel launched 704 3-point attempts, or 24.7 per game. Because the Bulldogs rarely ventured inside, they also were second in the conference in ball control, averaging just 12.4 turnovers per game. Davidson
It's a tough school to get into. Just ask Greek SF Alex Vouyoukas, who attended the same Blair Academy as Chicago Bull Luol Deng but failed to meet Davidson's strict academic requirements. So Bob McKillop turned to long and wiry 7-footer Frank Ben-Eze, a former Harvard recruit. Once Ben-Eze recovers from an ACL injury sustained in February, he'll grab some of the rebounds that were left behind when big men Thomas Sander and Boris Meno (combined 10.2 rpg) graduated. Elon
Don't forget that it was the surprising Phoenix that acted as the final gatekeeper between Davidson and the 2008 NCAA tournament. A conference-tourney No. 7 seed, Elon held No. 10 Furman to just 37 points, shocked No. 2 Chattanooga 60-57 in the quarters, then beat No. 6 Charleston by 14. The Phoenix hung around in the first half before the Wildcats ended their dreams with a 16-point pull-away. Older and wiser for the experience, 6-5 Brett James (12.4 ppg) and 6-8 Chicagoan Ola Atoyebi (12.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg) will return as seniors. Furman
Only one senior left a team that finished 7-23 last season and opened the season with 11 straight losses. In most cases, a record like that signals new blood is necessary, but there were small but subtle positive signs in the Paladins' worst season since 1997-98. Such as the steadily improving play of 6-10 Aussie Alex Opacic, who notched three double-doubles and led the team with a modest 10.5 ppg. And sophomore guard Justin Dehm, who scored 10.4 ppg in his rookie season, could develop into something special if he develops a consistent outside shot. Georgia Southern
The Eagles jumped out to an 8-2 record before Christmas, then hung around in the race for much of the regular season to finish 13-7 in the SoCon with 20 overall wins. But three of the top four scorers have moved on, including Louis Graham (16.8 ppg), who led GSU in scoring 19 times. Shooting guard Willie Powers (11.5 ppg) is a keeper, making a positive impression during his freshman year with his poise and straight shot. UNC Greensboro
The folks in Greensboro loved outgoing senior Kyle Hines so much that they retired his No. 42 jersey while he was still wearing it. And it's true, they'll miss the 2,187 points and 1,047 rebounds he contributed in four years as a Spartan. Don't expect too much of a drop-off from a 19-12 record, as a three-man junior core (Mikko Koivisto, Ben Stywall and Kendall Toney) will emerge to collaboratively write the next chapter of UNCG hoops. Koivisto is a high-flying Finn who converted 45.5 percent of his 3-point attempts and 90 percent of his free throws. Samford
The Bulldogs don't have a lot of history, and even less success, against their newfound conference rivals. Overall, Samford is 0-4 against SoCon teams in the past decade. In a seven-game historical series with Charleston, the Bulldogs are 0-7. They haven't played current conference kings Davidson for a decade and a half; that was a 78-51 loss back in 1993. Thanks to the largest and longest conference schedule in Division I, Samford will have 20 chances to get to know its new leaguemates. Western Carolina
A promising season in Cullowhee, N.C., was derailed abruptly when Nick Aldridge, a 2007 All-SoCon selection, quit the team five games in and transferred to Cincinnati. The wide-bodied forward was averaging 18.8 ppg at the time. Although 6-6 Brandon Giles stepped in and nearly tripled his scoring load to make up the slack, Western's offense often struggled to manage 40 percent shooting. Giles (15.3 ppg in 2007-08) will return as a junior, and juco point guard Joey Parker will attempt to organize a coherent attack. Wofford
First, the Terriers defeated Purdue on the road (69-66 on Dec. 19) and acted so composed afterward, you'd have sworn they'd beaten hundreds of Big Ten teams before. Then Wofford netted a .500 overall record, something the school has done only once before in its 13-year Division I era. So seventh-year head coach Mike Young definitely has the program moving in the right direction. The next challenge is overcoming the graduations of key backcourt cogs Shane Nichols and Drew Gibson, whose departures mean a combined loss of 25.6 ppg.
If I were the SoCon commishBy Andy Katz
ESPN.com I would do what I could to get the bottom of the league to improve. Davidson is the class of the league, a team that should be able to stay at or near the top as long as Bob McKillop is the head coach. But Davidson is hurt by the power rating of the bottom of the league. The Citadel, Western Carolina, Elon and Furman need to improve. Going to 20 games was a good scheduling move because of how difficult it is to get nonconference games. It also allows for a true round-robin and a real champion. But to offset playing more games against fellow SoCon teams, the rest of the league must do a better job of nonconference scheduling.
2007-08 Southern Standings
|Overall record||SoCon record|
#Samford was in the Ohio Valley last season and finished 14-16 (10-10).
For all the SoCon news and notes, check out the league page.
Top Returning Scorers
|Stephen Curry, Davidson, Jr.||25.9|
|Brandon Giles, WCU, Jr.||15.3|
|Cameron Wells, Citadel, Soph.||14.4|
|Stephen McDowell, Chattanooga, Sr.||14.3|
|Nicchaeus Doaks, Chattanooga, Sr.||14.1|
Top Returning Rebounders
|Jermaine Johnson, Charleston, Sr.||8.5|
|Nicchaeus Doaks, Chattanooga, Sr.||7.1|
|Dustin Scott, Charleston, Sr.||6.7|
|Noah Dahlman, Wofford, Soph.||6.3|
|Ola Atoyebi, Elon, Sr.||6.3|