SPARTANBURG, S.C. – UNC Greensboro is the coaches’ preseason favorite and Furman is the media’s pick to win the 2020-21 Southern Conference men’s basketball title in polling of the league’s 10 men’s basketball coaches and media. UNCG senior guard Isaiah Miller, the reigning SoCon Player of the Year and two-time defending SoCon Defensive Player of the Year, is the coaches’ preseason player of the year selection for the second straight season.
The coaches, who also picked a preseason all-conference team, were not allowed to vote for their own teams or student-athletes as part of the balloting. Due to a tie in the voting, there were 11 members on the preseason All-SoCon team.
Aside from UNCG and Furman alternating at the tops of the two polls, the coaches and media predicted the league’s teams to finish in the same order. UNCG topped the preseason coaches poll with 76 points, edging Furman by two, but the Paladins picked up five first-place votes, one more than the Spartans. In the media poll, Furman totaled 278 points and 16 first-place votes, followed by UNCG with 274 points and nine first-place votes. ETSU, Mercer, Wofford, Western Carolina, Chattanooga, Samford, VMI and The Citadel followed in that order in both polls. ETSU received one first-place vote from the coaches and four from the media, while Mercer picked up one first-place nod from the media.
The top returning scorer in the league, Miller was second in the SoCon in scoring last season at 17.8 points per game and led the conference in steals for the second straight season, totaling 89 and averaging 2.8 per contest to rank second and fourth, respectively, in NCAA Division I. He enters his senior campaign with a program-record 241 career steals, good for eighth in SoCon history. The Covington, Georgia, native was eighth in the league in assists in 2019-20, totaling an even 100 and averaging 3.1 per game, and was ESPN reporter Myron Medcalf’s preseason pick as the mid-major player of the year entering 2020-21.
As a team, the Spartans went 23-9 overall last season and 13-5 in the SoCon, finishing third. UNCG, which received a vote in the Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll on Monday, has won at least 20 games in each of the last four seasons and its 104 over that span are second-most for a DI team in the state of North Carolina. The Spartans return 12 players from last season, including starters Miller and Kaleb Hunter (10.3 points per game) and reigning SoCon Freshman of the Year Keyshaun Langley.
Furman has also won at least 20 games in four straight seasons, including a school-record 25 in each of the last two. The Paladins, who were 25-7 overall and second in league play at 15-3 last season, return 10 letterwinners, three of which earned spots on the preseason All-SoCon squad. Junior forward Noah Gurley averaged 14.3 points per game last season, good for 10th in the league, while senior forward Clay Mounce averaged 13.2 points and was eighth in rebounds at 6.0 per game. Junior guard Mike Bothwell, who was also in double figures with 10.9 points per game, rounds out the Paladins’ preseason all-conference picks.
Defending regular-season and tournament champion ETSU is slated third in the preseason polls after becoming just the fourth team in the SoCon’s 100-year history to win 30 games in a season last year, winning a school-record 30 contests against just four losses and going 16-2 in the SoCon. The Bucs lost all five starters and head coach Steve Forbes from that squad, but under the direction of first-year head coach Jason Slay, ETSU will have four DI transfers ready to play this season, including brothers Ty and Ledarrius Brewer, who both earned spots on the preseason All-SoCon squad. Junior guard Ty Brewer spent the last two seasons at Southeastern Louisiana, while redshirt junior forward Ledarrius Brewer redshirted at ETSU last season after spending the first two years of his career at Southeast Missouri State.
The Bucs are followed in the poll by Mercer, which finished fourth in the SoCon at 17-15 overall and 11-7 in league play in coach Greg Gary’s debut season. The Bears placed two on the preseason all-conference squad in redshirt junior guard Jeff Gary and redshirt senior guard Ross Cummings, who was a second-team All-SoCon performer in 2018-19 but was limited to just six games due to injury last season.
Fifth in both polls is Wofford, which finished last season 19-16 overall and 8-10 in SoCon play. The seventh-seeded Terriers made an impressive run through the Ingles SoCon Championship presented by General Shale last season, winning three straight to make it to the tournament final for the second consecutive season. Wofford is paced by senior guard and preseason All-SoCon pick Storm Murphy, who averaged 11.9 points per game and was sixth in the league with 3.6 assists per game.
Checking in in sixth place is Western Carolina, which tied for fifth in the league last season at 19-12 overall and 10-8 in SoCon play. The Catamounts, who improved their win total by 12 games from the year prior, reached the semifinals of the SoCon tournament and posted their most wins since the 2013-14 campaign. Senior guard Mason Faulkner represents Western Carolina on the preseason all-conference squad after averaging 17.7 points (third in the SoCon), 6.0 rebounds (ninth) and 6.1 assists (second) per game in his first season on the squad.
Chattanooga is seventh in both polls after going 20-13 overall and tying for fifth in the SoCon at 10-8 last season, advancing to the tournament semifinals. The 20-win season was the Mocs’ first since 2015-16. UTC’s lone returning starter is redshirt senior guard David Jean-Baptiste, a preseason All-SoCon pick who averaged 12.6 points and 2.4 assists in starting all 33 games last season.
Samford (10-23, 4-14 SoCon) is slated eighth in the preseason polls. Led by new coach Bucky McMillan, the new-look Bulldogs return just one starter from last season’s squad in Jalen Dupree and welcome five transfers and six true freshmen.
VMI (9-24, 3-15) and The Citadel (6-24, 0-18) round out the poll in ninth and 10th, respectively. The Keydets return three starters from last season’s squad, while the Bulldogs bring back four, including SoCon All-Freshman pick Fletcher Abee, who shared the league lead with 2.7 made 3-pointers per game.
The Southern Conference will conduct its virtual Basketball Media Day on Thursday, with interviews with each coach conducted by Pete Yanity airing on ESPN+ beginning at 1:30 p.m. Eastern on Friday.
The 2020-21 season gets under way Wednesday, Nov. 25. The 2021 Ingles SoCon Men’s Basketball Championship presented by General Shale will be held March 5-8 at Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville in Asheville, North Carolina, with the semifinals and final airing live on ESPN linear platforms.
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. UNCG (4) 76
2. Furman (5) 74
3. ETSU (1) 63
4. Mercer 56
5. Wofford 47
6. Western Carolina 44
7. Chattanooga 38
8. Samford 23
9. VMI 15
10. The Citadel 14
2020-21 Preseason Player of the Year
Isaiah Miller, Sr., G, UNCG
2020-21 Preseason All-Southern Conference Team
Ledarrius Brewer, R-Jr., G, ETSU
Ty Brewer, Jr., F, ETSU
Mike Bothwell, Jr., G, Furman
Noah Gurley, Jr., F, Furman
Clay Mounce, Sr., F, Furman
Ross Cummings, R-Sr., G, Mercer
Jeff Gary, R-Jr., G, Mercer
Isaiah Miller, Sr., G, UNCG
David Jean-Baptiste, R-Sr., G, Chattanooga
Mason Faulkner, Sr., G, Western Carolina
Storm Murphy, Sr., G, Wofford
2020-21 Preseason Southern Conference Media Poll
Team (1st-place votes) Total
1. Furman (16) 278
2. UNCG (9) 274
3. ETSU (4) 211
4. Mercer (1) 190
5. Wofford 184
6. Western Carolina 175
7. Chattanooga 150
8. Samford 79
9. VMI 61
10. The Citadel 48