There are just over two weeks remaining in the Southern Conference schedule and the top four are all within two games of each other. Furman currently leads the pack at 9-2 followed by Chattanooga and East Tennessee State at 8-3 and UNC-Greensboro at 8-4. Adding to the uncertainty in the SoCon is that the four teams each have multiple games left against each other starting tonight with Furman hosting Chattanooga.
At 16-8 and 9-2 in the conference tonight’s tilt with Chattanooga is critical for the Furman Paladins having already lost to the Mocs once. After back-to-back losses at Chattanooga and Wofford the Paladins have rattled off six straight victories. For a team that averages 75 points per game Furman is 42nd in both scoring defense (65.7) and scoring margin (9.5) as well as 10th in three-point defense (30.1%). Offensively the Paladins have three players averaging double figures led by junior guard Devin Sibley’s 17.7 a game.
Pre-season favorite Chattanooga is a game behind Furman but they have a chance to pull even with the Paladins with a win tonight completing the season sweep of the SoCon’s top team. They also have a chance to earn a season split with the team they are tied with, ETSU on 2/18. The senior-laden and preseason favorite Mocs returned nearly everyone that won 29 games and earned the conference’s automatic bid last season. The team top five scorers are all seniors and four of the five (Tre’ McLean, Justin Tuoyo, Greg Pryor and Casey Jones) average double figures, while the fifth Johnathan Burroughs-Cook is right on their heels at 9.6.
The other team that is 8-3 the Buccaneers of ETSU are a scoring machine that as well as being highly rated in rebound margin and their ability to get to the free throw line. The Bucs average over 80 points per game but have only two, T.J. Cromer at 18.4 and Desonta Bradford with 10.7 in double figures, but there are five others that average at least seven per game. They also rank 30th in scoring margin at 10.9 and they shoot the ball at a 49% clip good enough for 17th in the country. Despite grabbing just 37.5 rebounds per game they rank 38th in rebound margin (5.6) as well as 20th in steals (8.3) and 21st in free throws taken with 611 but they are just 231st in free throw percentage at 68%. The Bucs have as good of a chance as any of the top four teams to make hay before season’s end with games against Chattanooga, Furman and a season-ending match up with UNC-Greensboro.
The final team in this front foursome is the Spartans of UNC-Greensboro. There aren’t a lot numbers that stick out when looking at the Spartans but if there’s a team of these four that could have a say in how the top four finish it is UNCG. They have already split with Chattanooga and have a chance to do the same with frontrunner Furman on 2/18 and a chance for a season sweep of ETSU on the season’s last day. Offensively they are led by sophomore Francis Alonso’s 13.7 points while seniors Diante Bladwin and R.J. White combine for 25.3 points per game.
With the end of the regular season now in sight for a large number of the non-power conferences there will be a lot of jockeying before tournament time comes, but the Southern Conference will be a wild ride we should keep an eye on.