Furman, Wofford picked among SoCon top three

College Basketball (NCAAM)

ASHEVILLE, N.C. – The Chattanooga Mocs are the preseason favorites to win the 2021-22 men’s basketball title in polling of the league’s 10 head coaches and media. Graduate student forward Hayden Brown of The Citadel is the coaches’ selection as the preseason player of the year.

The coaches, who also picked a 10-member preseason all-conference team, were not allowed to vote for their own teams or student-athletes as part of the balloting. Six different programs were represented on the preseason All-SoCon squad.

Chattanooga picked up 77 total points and seven first-place votes from the coaches and 254 total points and 18 first-place votes from the media. The Mocs return four starters from last season’s 18-8 squad, including leading scorers sophomore guard Malachi Smith (16.8 points per game) and graduate guard David Jean-Baptiste (16.1 ppg), who earned spots on the preseason all-conference team after All-SoCon performances last season. UTC is led by fifth-year head coach Lamont Paris, who last season was a finalist for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award and the Ben Jobe Award, which honors the top Division I minority coach. He led the Mocs to a fourth-place league finish at 9-7 in SoCon play.

Chattanooga will be vying for its first SoCon title since 2015-16, when it swept the regular-season and tournament championships. The Mocs are the preseason favorites for the first time since 2016-17, when they topped both polls.

The Citadel’s Brown was second in the SoCon in scoring at 18.8 points per game last season and led the league in rebounding at 10.5 per contest. A consensus first-team All-SoCon performer and a first-team NABC All-District 21 selection, the Greer, South Carolina, native was the only SoCon player to average a double-double for the season. His career-best 37-point effort in a win over Chattanooga to open SoCon play was the highwater mark for a league player last season. Brown helped the Bulldogs to an 8-0 start to the season, their best since opening the 1919-20 season 11-0.

Furman was the runner-up to Chattanooga in both preseason polls, grabbing two first-place votes from the coaches and three from the media. The Paladins return three starters from last season’s squad, which went 16-9 overall and 10-5 in league play to finish third. Senior guard Mike Bothwell, who led Furman in scoring at 15.6 points per game, and fifth-year point guard Alex Hunter, who paced the SoCon in assist-to-turnover ratio at 2.68, are preseason All-SoCon picks.

ETSU, Mercer and Wofford followed Chattanooga and Furman in the coaches’ poll, with the Bears claiming the final first-place vote, while Wofford, Mercer and ETSU were 3-5 in the media poll. Defending SoCon regular-season and tournament champion UNCG was sixth in both polls and was followed by VMI in seventh in both polls. Samford, The Citadel and Western Carolina rounded out the coaches’ poll in that order, while Samford and The Citadel flipped places in the media poll. Wofford (one), Mercer (two) and UNCG (three) all picked up first-place votes from the league’s media.

Redshirt junior guard Ledarrius Brewer and senior guard David Sloan represent ETSU on the preseason All-SoCon squad. Along with The Citadel’s Brown, Brewer is one of just two returning SoCon players to earn first-team all-conference honors from both the coaches and media last season. Brewer led ETSU in scoring (16.2 ppg) and steals (1.5 per contest), while Sloan was third in the league in assists per game (4.29).

Mercer, which reached the title game of the 2021 Ingles SoCon Men’s Basketball Championship presented by General Shale Brick from the 7 seed, put redshirt junior guard Neftali Alvarez and redshirt senior forward Felipe Haase on the preseason All-SoCon team. Alvarez was fourth in the SoCon in assists last season at 4.19 per game, while Haase ranked fourth in rebounding at 7.6 per contest.

VMI senior center Jake Stephens completes the preseason all-conference team. An All-SoCon selection last season, Stephens was third in the league in rebounding (7.8 per game) and blocked shots (1.64 per game) in addition to scoring 14.9 points per game.

Three SoCon squads are under new leadership this season, with Desmond Oliver taking the reins at ETSU, Mike Jones entering his first season at UNCG and Justin Gray making his debut at Western Carolina.

The SoCon Basketball Media Day presented by Ingles will take place in Asheville, North Carolina, at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville on Tuesday, with interviews with each head coach conducted by Pete Yanity airing on ESPN+ on Wednesday beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern. The league’s women’s coaches will go first, followed by the men’s coaches.

The 2021-22 season gets underway Tuesday, Nov. 9, with nine SoCon teams in action, while ETSU opens its season on Friday, Nov. 12.

The 2022 Ingles SoCon Men’s Basketball Championship will be held March 4-7 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville in Asheville, North Carolina, with the semifinals airing live on ESPNU and the final on ESPN.

2021-22 Southern Conference Preseason Coaches Poll

Team (1st-place votes)      Total

1. Chattanooga (7)              77

2. Furman (2)                      71

3. ETSU                             59

4. Mercer (1)                       58

5. Wofford                          49

6. UNCG                            45

7. VMI                                32

8. Samford                         24

9. The Citadel                     23

10. Western Carolina          12

2021-22 Preseason Southern Conference Player of the Year

Hayden Brown, Gr., F, The Citadel

2021-22 Preseason All-Southern Conference team

Hayden Brown, Gr., F, The Citadel

Ledarrius Brewer, R-Jr., G, ETSU

David Sloan, Sr., G, ETSU

Mike Bothwell, Sr., G, Furman

Alex Hunter, 5th, G, Furman

Neftali Alvarez, R-Jr., G, Mercer

Felipe Haase, R-Sr., F, Mercer

David Jean-Baptiste, Gr., G, Chattanooga

Malachi Smith, So., G, Chattanooga

Jake Stephens, Sr., C, VMI

2021-22 Southern Conference Preseason Media Poll

Team (1st-place votes)      Total

1. Chattanooga (18)            254

2. Furman (3)                      220

3. Wofford (1)                      191

4. Mercer (2)                       190

5. ETSU                             186

6. UNCG (3)                       160

7. VMI                                104

8. The Citadel                     74

9. Samford                         57

10. Western Carolina          49

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