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October 17, 2011

League preview: Southern

We continue with our league breakdowns for the upcoming season; we'll work backward from league No. 32 to our top-ranked league.

The breakdowns will become more in-depth as the leagues get bigger.

16. SOUTHERN

Mike Young is entering his 10th season as Wofford coach and is coming off back-to-back Southern Conference titles and NCAA tournament berths.

But he's never faced a season quite the one he is about to embark on in 2011-12.

Wofford must replace four starters - including all-conference F Noah Dahlman and the league's top rebounder in F Tim Johnson - and each played a major role in the Terriers' 47-22 record the past two seasons.

A three-peat seems unlikely, but not impossible, for the Terriers. Senior G Brad Loesing returns; he has started 97 of 99 games in his career, and his leadership will be key. Senior G Kevin Giltner is a solid 3-point shooter, and F Drew Crowell is good around the rim. The Terriers also need sophomore F Domas Rinksalis, who sat out last season as a redshirt, and freshman F Jarell Byrd to make an immediate impact.

Still, that may not be enough to catch Davidson for the South Division title. Four starters return for the Wildcats, led by junior G J.P. Kuhlman and junior F Jake Cohen, and seven of the top eight scorers last season were either freshmen or sophomores. The Wildcats have gone only 34-30 in the two seasons since Stephen Curry graduated, but they could be ready to break out in 2011-12.

The College of Charleston, which had the best regular-season record in the league last season, can be a title contender even though all-league G Andrew Goudelock (a second-round NBA draft pick) is gone. That's if incoming freshman C Adjehi Baru, a four-star prospect and the No. 28 overall player in the 2011 recruiting class, is eligible; the Cougars still are waiting to hear from the NCAA. If Baru is eligible, he will be a force along with F Trent Wiedeman, who is coming off an impressive freshman season. If not, it will be another hit to the Cougars' frontcourt. Junior F Willis Hall tore the ACL in his left knee on Oct. 7 and will miss the season.

The North Division also looks like a three-team race: Chattanooga, Western Carolina and Appalachian State.

Chattanooga returns four starters, including all-league F Omar Wattad and Gs Keegan Bell and Ricky Taylor. Western Carolina lost all-league G Mike Williams, but expect G Trey Sumler to pick up more of the scoring load. Appalachian State can win the North title if C Isaac Butts, who sat out last season with a knee injury, can come back and have a big season. But there are doubts about whether he can stay healthy. There is no doubt about all-league G Omar Carter, who will be key to the Mountaineers' title hopes.

There also is no doubt Wofford won't give up the SoCon title without a fight.

ALL-SOUTHERN FIRST TEAM
F Jake Cohen, Davidson (6-10/235, Jr.)
F Omar Wattad, Chattanooga (6-5/216, Sr.)
G Keegan Bell, Chattanooga (6-1/185, Sr.)
G Omar Carter, Appalachian State (6-5/200, Sr.)
G J.P. Kuhlman, Davidson (6-4/195, Jr.)
ALL-SOUTHERN SECOND TEAM
F Adjehi Baru, Charleston (6-9/225, Fr.)
F Trent Wiedeman, Charleston (6-8/240, Soph.)
G Ben Drayton III, Georgia Southern (5-10/175, Sr.)
G Trey Sumler, Western Carolina (6-2/175, Soph.)
G Ricky Taylor, Chattanooga (6-5/180, Sr.)

PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Chattanooga F Omar Wattad
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR:
Charleston F Adjehi Baru

ORDER OF FINISH
North Division
1. Chattanooga
2. Western Carolina
3. Appalachian State
4. UNC Greensboro
5. Elon
6. Samford
South Division
1. Davidson
2. College of Charleston
3. Wofford
4. Georgia Southern
5. The Citadel
6. Furman


MAKING A LIST
Best frontcourt: Davidson
Best backcourt: Chattanooga
Coach on the rise: Appalachian State's Jason Capel
Coach on the hot seat: Furman's Jeff Jackson

FACTS AND FIGURES
New coach: None
Regular-season winner last season: College of Charleston
Tourney winner last season: Wofford
League RPI rank in each of past 3 seasons: 19th in 2010-11, 17th in 2009-10, 20th in 2008-09
Last NCAA tourney win by a league team: 2008, Davidson as a No. 10 seed reached the Elite Eight
2012 conference tournament: March 2-5, Asheville, N.C.

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Gary Mondello is an assistant editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at mondello@yahoo-inc.com, and you can follow him on Twitter.



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