Our conference preview series continues with the Southern Conference. Here's a look at the projected standings, three must-see games and the conference's three most intriguing storylines entering the new season.
Can Wofford contend for an at-large NCAA berth?
Maybe the most exciting part of Wofford's historic 26-win season last year is that the Terriers return the majority of the players who produced it. Four starters including SoCon player of the year Noah Dahlman are back from the team that captured the regular season and conference tournament championships and put a major scare into Wisconsin in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The centerpiece of Wofford's team is certainly Dahlman, a hard-working 6-foot-6 forward who scored the majority of his 16.6 points per game on layups in the paint or from the free throw line. The Terriers complement Dahlman with rebounder extraordinaire Tim Johnson, sweet-shooting Cameron Rundles and defensive-minded guard Jamar Diggs.
A harbinger for Wofford's success last season were early non-league victories over Georgia and South Carolina and a narrow season-opening loss to Big East power Pittsburgh. If the Terriers can spring a couple early road upsets this season against the likes of Minnesota, Clemson or Xavier, an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament isn't totally out of the question.
Who will challenge Wofford for the league title?
It's easy to pencil in defending champion Wofford as the Southern Conference favorite because of its returning talent, but there are at least a couple league foes capable of overtaking the Terriers if they falter. The two most likely are College of Charleston and Appalachian State, a pair of programs who both finished near the top of the league last season as well.
A College of Charleston team accustomed to annually contending for the SoCon crown might have its best chance to win the conference tournament under former Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins this season. All but two key players from last season's 22-win team return including conference player of the year candidate guard Andrew Goudelock and fellow senior Jeremy Simmons.
The other team with a realistic chance of winning the conference is Appalachian State, which won 24 games last season, ousted College of Charleston in the Southern Conference semifinals and lost in the title game to Wofford. Thirty-year-old first-year coach Jason Capel inherits a high-scoring team led by guard Donald Sims, who scored 20.4 points a game last season, hit 42.7 percent of his threes and made a ridiculous 95.1 percent of his free throws.
Will Davidson bounce back in year two without Curry?
In the three years Stephen Curry spent at Davidson, the Wildcats won 55 of 58 SoCon games, made a memorable Elite Eight run in 2008 and became one of the nation's most beloved teams. Thus, it's not a huge surprise that year one of the post-Curry era at Davidson felt like such a major letdown.
A 16-15 overall record and an 11-7 finish in league weren't brutal last season, but the Wildcats certainly didn't strike fear in any opponents' hearts the way they had in previous years. This season's team won't be that formidable either, though there's reason to believe Davidson could make significant strides toward the top of the league.
The foundation for the future of the program are talented sophomores J.P. Kuhlman and Jake Cohen, who averaged 12.6 points and 3.5 boards and 13.3 points and 5.1 boards respectively. Add in senior point guard Brendan McKillopp and intriguing big men Ben Allison and Frank Ben-Eze, and you can see why a 20-win season is a realistic goal for Davidson.