Southern Conference Tournament: Preview

    
March 6th, 2009

 

This is one in a series of conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, give a brief statistical review and present the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:

 

 

Southern Conference

The SoCon Tournament is in Chattanooga, TN, and uses a divisional system, with the top 4 teams getting first round byes.

 

#

Team

QF

SF

F

W

N1

Chattanooga

100.00%

65.87%

29.27%

5.08%

S1

Davidson

100.00%

94.62%

85.70%

74.62%

N2

Western Carolina

100.00%

35.38%

2.77%

0.82%

S2

The Citadel

100.00%

72.60%

47.43%

11.19%

N3

Samford

87.80%

26.70%

12.18%

1.64%

S3

College of Charleston

88.06%

61.74%

9.30%

4.57%

N4

Appalachian St.

77.37%

4.94%

2.07%

0.68%

S4

Wofford

76.38%

30.16%

10.46%

1.34%

N5

Elon

23.62%

3.97%

0.58%

0.03%

S5

Georgia Southern

22.63%

0.44%

0.08%

0.01%

N6

NC Greensboro

11.94%

2.88%

0.09%

0.01%

S6

Furman

12.20%

0.70%

0.08%

0.00%

Between Davidson, Charleston and The Citadel, the South division should dominate the tournament, with the hosts Chattanooga a having a decent shot to make the final, but not looking good against the dominant favorites.

 

North #1 – Chattanooga Mocs (15-16, 11-9) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.028

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2005 (1st Round)

 

The Mocs may be North Division champions, but that’s more about the strength of the South than a ringing endorsement of their play, as Chattanooga has just barely been better than a .500 team. They put up a lot of threes, but make a fairly poor percentage, and are excellent at getting to the free throw line, where they shoot just 65%, adding up to a lot of wasted chances. Chattanooga has struggled to stop the three-point shot, allowing opponents to hit 38% of attempts, and their defensive style means more than 45% of opponents’ shots come from behind the arc, more than any other team in the country. It doesn’t take much statistics knowledge to realize how damaging that is. The saving grace for the Mocs’ defense is that they force turnovers and do well on the defensive glass, but they are still only an average team at best.

 

Players to watch:

5-11 SR Stephen McDowell, 18.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 58.9 eFG% - McDowell is the conference’s top scorer not named Curry, powered by his 42% three-point shooting on nearly 300 attempts. He doesn’t tend to do much else besides score, but when you’re this good a scorer, that’s more than enough.

 

6-7 SR Nicchaeus Doaks, 14.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 53.6 eFG% - Doaks leads the conference in rebounds, and is a 57% shooter from inside the arc. He’s excellent at getting to the free throw line, but shoots just 63% there.

 

 

South #1 – Davidson Wildcats (25-6, 18-2) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.232

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (Elite Eight)

 

While the Wildcats’ hopes for an NCAA at-large bid basically disappeared with a two-week period that saw them drop three games, including both their conference losses, they are still heavy favorites to win the conference tournament, and clearly the SoCon’s dominant team. While the Davidson offense gets a lot of focus because of Stephen Curry, the team’s major asset is its defense, the best in the conference by a wide, wide margin. It holds opponents under 40% from the field, and forces a lot of turnovers, in the top 25 in the nation in both areas. If it has a defensive weakness, it’s a tendency to commit a few too many fouls. Offensively, the Wildcats’ shooting percentages aren’t particularly good, but their turnover rate is one of the country’s lowest.

 

Players to watch:

6-3 JR Stephen Curry, 28.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.6 SPG, 55.1 eFG% - You might have heard of this Curry fellow, as he only happens to be the nation’s leading scorer. He also leads the conference in both assists and steals, and is among the national elite in both of those categories. The amazing thing about Curry is how he manages to stay so efficient when he gets so many possessions; a lot of players have shot as well as he has, percentage-wise, but only Curry can maintain that level over nearly 40% of his team’s shots. He may not get enough credit as a ball distributor, as he has a great assist rate with very few turnovers.

  

6-8 SR Andrew Lovedale, 12.5 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 51.4 eFG% - Lovedale is a quality defensive player, and important to Davidson’s strong play at that end of the floor; he leads the team in rebounding and shot-blocks, and is an important influence inside. He’s not a huge scorer, but he doesn’t need to be: he takes his chances pretty well when he gets them.

 

 

North #2 – Western Carolina Catamounts (16-14, 11-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.012

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1996 (1st Round)

 

I promise to stop harping on it, but it’s a little unfair to the South division that the North #2 is has actually been outscored in conference play, yet still earns a first round bye. The Catamounts have allowed the highest opponent FG% in the conference, including 53% on two-point attempts, and commit more than 21 fouls a game, but actually have a league average defense. This is due to good rebounding and the best rate of forcing turnovers in the SoCon. Western Carolina is also an average shooting team, but thanks to its ability on the offensive glass, gets a lot of second-chance opportunities.

 

Players to watch:

6-4 FR Harouna Mutombo, 14.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.9 SPG, 51.3 eFG% - A talented freshman out of Pickering HS, not too far from where I call home, Mutombo has led the Catamounts in rebounding and scoring, and has put up a very good shooting percentage, well over 50% from two-point range.

 

6-2 JR Brigham Waginger, 8.6 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 3.4 APG, 2.5 SPG, 50.2 eFG% - Waginger isn’t much of a scorer, but shoots the ball pretty well, with most of his attempts coming from three, and has one of the nation’s best steal rates.

 

 

South #2 – The Citadel Bulldogs (20-11, 15-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.094

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None

 

While much of the talk about the SoCon has focused solely on Davidson, one of the great stories in college basketball this season managed to gain some well-deserved attention when the Citadel beat Davidson in mid-February. This was the highlight of a run that saw the Bulldogs go 11-1 over the last month or so of the season, and the first time that the team had reached 20 wins in thirty years. If any team has a chance of stopping the Curry show from making a stop at the NCAA tournament, this looks like it. The Citadel has depended on a dynamite defense, the only non-Davidson unit to hold opponents below a point per possession on the year. It managed this with tough perimeter defending, allowing just 39% on opponent three-point attempts, and good defensive rebounding. The Citadel’s offense is only at the league average, but it’s a solid shooting team that doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, good enough to carry them through a defensively deficient league.

 

Players to watch:

6-8 SR Demetrius Nelson, 16.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 59.3 eFG% - The team’s leader in both points and rebounds, Nelson has been one of the best players in the conference this year, hitting nearly 60% of his shots and getting to the free-throw line quite often, where he makes 76% of attempts.

 

6-1 SO Cameron Wells, 15.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 49.0 eFG% - Wells is nowhere as efficient a player as Nelson, but he’s a good scorer who leads the team in assists and steals.

 

 

North #3 – Samford Bulldogs (14-15, 9-11) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.024

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2000 (1st Round)

 

Samford’s overall record is a little misleading, they’ve been an .500 team in efficiency margin, though they don’t have the wins to show for it. The Bulldogs run one of the country’s slowest offenses, and take 50% of their field goal attempts from behind the arc. This has helped their inside play somewhat, as they are among the best two-point shooting teams in the country, but they’ve struggled with offensive rebounding and turnovers. Samford is also poor at defensive rebounding, and is vulnerable to opponents inside, but forces a lot of turnovers, rarely fouls and gets teams it plays to shoot a lot of threes.

 

Players to watch:

6-4 JR Trey Montgomery, 11.2 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.4 SPG, 57.3 eFG% - Montgomery is a do-everything player who leads the team in four separate categories, including rebounds and assists. A lot of this is due to the fact that Samford has tended to spread out its possessions and playing time, as his rates aren’t great, but he plays a lot. He’s a good shooter who scores mostly inside, and has a good complimentary long-distance shot.

 

6-4 FR Josh Davis, 10.0 PPG, 3.0 RPG, 61.9 eFG% - Davis is a three-point specialist, and he does an awfully good job of it, hitting 40% of his attempts and leading the conference in eFG%. He’s averaged 15 points a game in his last eight contests.

 

 

South #3 – College of Charleston Cougars (23-7, 15-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.067

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1999 (1st Round)

 

The Cougars are the fourth favorite for the tournament title, and twice fought Davidson down to the final possession, including causing the Wildcats’ first conference loss in early February. They feature the conference’s best offense, hitting shots well inside and outside, and rarely giving up the ball. Charleston’s defense has only been average, and its weak spot has been rebounding, as opponents have managed to get back a lot of their own misses. With the Cougars forcing few turnovers, this has meant a lot of chances for opposing teams to score.

 

Players to watch:

6-1 SO Andrew Goudelock, 16.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 56.3 eFG% - Goudelock is the conference’s best free throw shooter at 89%, and is also pretty good from behind the arc, where he earns a lot of points.

 

6-8 SR Dustin Scott, 9.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 55.5 eFG% - Scott’s best contributions come on the defensive end, where he leads the Cougars in both steals and blocks. He’s a very good percentage shooter, but doesn’t take a lot of shots, and he’s faced a lot of foul trouble in recent games, fouling out in 4 of his last 8.

 

 

North #4 – Appalachian St. Mountaineers (12-17, 9-11) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.002

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2000 (1st Round)

 

The Mountaineers just barely finished with a positive efficiency margin, and featured a pretty solid conference offense. They are the best pure shooters in the SoCon, leading the league in free throw and three-point percentage, and get back a lot of the shots they do miss. They need to maximize these chances, as they generally lose out in the turnover battle by a wide margin, the worst in the conference in both forcing and committing them.  The problem that Appalachian St. has had is that its opponents make a lot of shots, and while it is  as good on the defensive glass as the offensive glass, it doesn’t force enough misses to really take advantage.

 

Players to watch:

6-1 JR Kellen Brand, 15.0 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 57.7 eFG% - Brand is one of a pair of quality long-distance threats, shooting over 40% from behind the arc, but his contributions in the other parts of the boxscore are fairly limited.

 

6-10 SO Issac Butts, 8.7 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 58.9 eFG% - Butts doesn’t have a huge role in the offense, but he’s pretty much what you want out of a big guy, a high percentage scorer who dominates the boards. He hasn’t played that much in recent weeks, but has had some big games, including 12-and-10 against Chattanooga.

 

 

South #4 – Wofford Terriers (16-13, 12-8) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.019

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None

 

Wofford is the last of the teams in the top 8 of the conference; after it, there is a large drop-off to the teams in the league basement. It’s had a pretty good offensive showing, making a fair number of its threes, avoiding turnovers, and doing well on the offensive glass. The Terriers’ problem has been defensive, especially from behind the arc, where opponents have shot 39%.

 

Players to watch:

6-6 SO Noah Dahlman, 17.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 61.1 eFG% - Dahlman is one of the SoCon’s most efficient players, as he does a lot of things really well, an over 60% shooter who is an excellent offensive rebounder and has committed just 37 turnovers all season.

 

6-2 JR Junior Salters, 15.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 54.4 eFG% - Salters is a good three-point shooter who has seen his scoring numbers drop over the month of February, and will need to find some form if Wofford is to make any noise in the tourney.

 

 

 

North #5 – Elon Phoenix (10-19, 7-13) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.083

Last NCAA Tournament bid: None

 

All of the teams from here and below have averaged less than a point-per-possession offensively, and all are underdogs in their opening round games. Elon is the best of these teams, as it has an above-average defense, holding opponents to a fairly low percentage from behind the arc and forcing a lot of turnovers. The Phoenix have needed this defense to be good, as they’ve had the conference’s second worst offense, shooting just 43% from the field and not being able to get their misses back very often, resulting in a lot of one-and-done possessions.

 

Players to watch:

6-8 SR Ola Atoyebi, 14.0 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 57.3 eFG% - Atoyebi leads the Phoenix in both points and rebounds, and is an is an excellent shooter who takes a large role in the offense.

 

6-5 SR Brett James, 13.1 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 1.5 SPG, 1.5 BPG, 46.4 eFG% - James is an impressive defensive player, leading the team in both blocks and steals, but his relatively poor shooting, including just 30% on three-pointers, holds back his offensive game.

 

 

South #5 – Georgia Southern Eagles (8-21, 5-15) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.108

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1992 (1st Round)

 

Georgia Southern seemed to be going pretty well when it was 5-4 in conference in the final week of January, but totally lost its way from then on, losing 11 straight games to finish just one game out of a tie for last place. The Eagles have fallen this far because of their conference-worst defense, which has been one of the country’s worst in several areas, allowing opponents to shoot 38% on threes and 52% on twos, and getting very few defensive rebounds. Their offense has been better, but still not particularly good, below average in pretty much every statistical category.

 

Players to watch:

5-10 FR Ben Drayton, 11.7 PPG, 2.2 RPG, 57.0 eFG% - Drayton has been an excellent three-point shooter, over 50% from behind the arc, and while he hasn’t taken a huge number of them, he’s made enough to raise his efficiency. Drayton’s scoring average is somewhat dampened by his start, in which he played little; in the last month he’s averaged more than 17 points a game.

 

6-2 JR Antonio Hanson, 11.9 PPG, 1.6 RPG, 53.2 eFG% -  Hanson hasn’t shot as good a percentage as Drayson, but he’s taken more threes than anyone else on the team, and made nearly 40% of them. His only real contribution is with his shot, so when he can’t get it to fall, he’s pretty much invisible statistically.

 

 

North #6 – NC Greensboro Spartans (5-24, 4-16) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.114

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2001 (1st Round)

Only Georgia Southern has defended worse than the Spartans in the SoCon this year, despite the fact that Greensboro has been better than average at defending shots. The problem for Greensboro has been limiting the number of chances its opponents get; it rarely gets opponents to turn the ball over, and picks up relatively few of its opponents’ misses. The Spartans have also struggled on the offensive side of the ball, sitting second to last in the conference in shooting on both three-pointers  and two-pointers.

 

Players to watch:

6-5 JR Ben Stywall, 11.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 52.5 eFG% - Stywall is one of the SoCon’s better rebounders, and is pretty efficient on the offensive end, shooting 52% from the field and getting to the free throw line a lot. His 59% shooting at the stripe is a drop-off from previous seasons and an area he needs to improve.

 

6-4 JR Mikko Koivisto, 12.5 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, 50.5 eFG% - The Vantaa, Finland native  is the only major three-point shooting threat on the Spartans, and the team’s leading scorer, though he tends to be inconsistent.

 

 

South #6 – Furman Paladins (6-23, 4-16) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.146

Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1980 (1st Round)

 

Furman is the weakest team in the Southern Conference, with two of its six wins on the season coming against non-D1 opponents. It is the conference’s worst shooting team, barely managing to crack 40% from the field, and is one of the SoCon’s worst teams at committing turnovers. Defensively, they’ve been pretty weak inside, and while they’ve done a decent job of forcing turnovers, they just haven’t been good enough to cover for their offensive woes.

 

Players to watch:

6-2 SO Jordan Miller, 13.7 PPG, 3.1 RPG, 1.4 SPG, 42.0 eFG% - Miller takes a lot of the Paladins’ shots, and is the team’s leading scorer, but his percentages are weak, especially his sub-40% two-point shooting.

 

6-5 SO Bryson Barnes, 8.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.1 BPG, 48.5 eFG% -  Barnes has only started 10 games, but leads the team in both rebounding and shot-blocks, and is a decent inside scorer. He’s increased his role in recent games, averaging 12 points in his last six games.

 

 

My statistical all-Southern team:

Davidson JR G Stephen Curry, 28.4 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 5.8 APG, 2.6 SPG, 55.1 eFG%

Chattanooga SR G Stephen McDowell, 18.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 58.9 eFG%

The Citadel SO G Cameron Wells, 15.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, 49.0 eFG%

Wofford SO F Noah Dahlman, 17.8 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 61.1 eFG%

The Citadel SR F/C Demetrius Nelson, 16.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 59.3 eFG%