College Basketball Odds, Picks, Futures: 2022-23 Southern Conference Betting Preview
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Jalen Slawson (Furman)
Welcome to the 2022-23 college basketball Southern Conference!
We have a full preview to come, so let's jump right in below.
Can Furman Finally Clinch an Auto Bid?
The Paladins have been among the class of the SoCon for the past several regular seasons. Niko Medved's tenure at Furman was key in altering the trajectory of the program, and Bob Richey has certainly continued the winning ways since Medved departed for Colorado State.
Still, Paladin fans have been left disappointed at the team's lack of success in the conference tournament.
Regular season success still hasn't parlayed itself into an automatic NCAA tournament bid, as Furman will enter this year looking to punch its ticket for the first time since 1980.
I do believe Furman is a measurable "notch" above the remainder of the league this year. The Paladins will be led by super seniors Jalen Slawson and Mike Bothwell, who will both be looking to use their heartbreaking loss in the SoCon title game as fuel throughout the year.
Slawson and Bothwell were both first-team all-conference honorees last year.
Size will be a concern for Richey's roster, giving opponents an apparent edge at the rim and on the glass.
The scoring depth and experience of this roster is why I would still identify the Paladins as a deserving favorite.
The Southern Conference has certainly proven to be one of the best of the mid-majors in recent years.
While that may be true, it is still extremely unlikely it will be a multi-bid league in 2022-23.
Chattanooga is coming off of a season that resulted in a SoCon tournament title and a subsequent NCAA tournament appearance.
The team that lost a squeaker to the Fighting Illini will certainly miss a number of its key pieces from last year, including Malachi Smith, David Jean-Baptiste and former Kansas forward Silvio de Sousa.
However, the Mocs were able to pluck a number of key pieces from SoCon foe VMI that will likely help keep them near the top of the standings.
Center Jake Stephens, guard Honor Huff and even coach Dan Earl are all former VMI Keydets that will prove key contributors to Chattanooga's SoCon title defense.
Stephens is extremely likely to repeat as first-team all-conference, while Huff is a likely starter — so long as the Southern Conference removes its current block on his immediate eligibility.
I would guess that I am considerably higher on Wofford than most others who follow college hoops closely.
The narrative emerging around the Terriers is the departure of seven of their top eight scorers from last year will prove too big of a challenge to overcome this year.
I would counter with a couple of key points:
- The evolution of college transfer rules makes it easier to construct a roster on an annual basis. It's rare to see a team "get old" together as was the case 20 years ago.
- Wofford's sole returning top-eight scorer from last year is a key one in B.J. Mack. Mack's 6-foot-8 frame allows him to score at and protect the rim, sure. What's more is that he returns from a year in which he shot north of 44% from 3-point range, making him an extremely difficult matchup.
Wofford may not be at or near the list of favorites when the SoCon odds are posted, but I would certainly argue it has the greatest potential to surprise.
The Terriers' apparent lack of depth is a reason for pause, but if Mack can carry Jay McAuley's aggressive offensive attack, I do believe they're the most undervalued team in the conference.
UNC Greensboro Spartans
The Spartans will enter the second year of the Mike Jones (who?) era after a middling debut for his squad last year.
Greensboro figures as the antithesis of the aforementioned Wofford Terriers.
While Wofford plays with reckless offensive abandon and is perfectly comfortable in an up-and-down shootout, the Spartans hang their hat on the defensive end, but may struggle to find scoring at times this year.
Jones' coaching style has never emphasized playing with tempo. The roster and personnel he will lead this year doesn't necessarily indicate a change is on the horizon.
Consequently, I'd anticipate the Spartans to fit a similar mold to last year's bunch, with many key contributors having the benefit of another year of experience in Jones' system.
Greensboro may not quite have the ceiling to win the conference, but its floor is likely high enough to keep it above .500 in league play.
Of all teams in the SoCon, Samford may have the highest ceiling.
The Bulldogs return veterans Ques Glover, Jermaine Marshall and Logan Dye, who all played significant roles for the team last season in scoring and beyond.
And in coach Bucky McMillan's first real opportunity to utilize the transfer portal, he added a few major-conference transfers, most notably Bubba Parham, formerly of Georgia Tech.
Unlike UNC Greensboro, finding scoring on any given night should not be an issue for Samford. The Bulldogs have a multitude of options to turn too if another is struggling.
Their transition-based offensive profile mirrors the approach of many of their SoCon counterparts, which also can lend itself to some of the defensive issues Samford has experienced in the past.
However, coach McMillan has been one of the rare coaches to make the leap from high school to college and have success early.
McMillan has acknowledged his team's playing style may lead to defensive lapses, which I believe may be even more exacerbated this year due to their lack of size at all five positions.
Samford will be the sexy pick to spoil Furman's bid at its elusive SoCon title. The Bulldogs have name recognition throughout the lineup and numerous players who could lead the team in scoring on a given night.
They also have a ton of energy from their fanbase — as coach McMillan enters his third year at the helm — especially after knocking off Oregon State and Ole Miss on the road last year.
While others zig, I will zag by exercising caution and encouraging you to look elsewhere for a SoCon future that has more value.
Like Samford, Mercer lacks size throughout its roster — at least among those who figure to earn significant minutes this year.
In contrast, the Bears lack the easily identifiable scorers on paper that Samford is littered with.
Mercer's hyperbolic potential will then have to rely on coach Greg Gary's system and its ability to improve incoming transfers who failed to find offensive rhythm at their prior stops.
Gary is confident in his approach and believes his style can be a fresh start for the wary shooter. However, all four incoming Division I transfers shot well below 33% from beyond the arc last year, so even subtle improvements would not necessarily translate to a winning offense.
Mercer has proven its ability to beat anyone in the league on a given night. Yet, the recent indication is that Mercer tends to give away as many games late as it closes, implying its record will likely hover around .500 and result in a middle-of-the pack SoCon finish.
The "Low Ceilings"
East Tennessee State Buccaneers
Injuries mired what was a really positive start to the 2021-22 season for then first-year head coach Desmond Oliver.
Now entering his second season with the Bucs, Oliver will be happy simply to have more than six healthy players at his disposal, which was the case for him in ETSU's final four games of last season.
Quite simply, ETSU must improve in all facets if it hopes to seriously contend in the SoCon this year.
And given the offensive prowess of many SoCon opponents, the Bucs' biggest improvements must be made on the defensive end. The Buccaneers were terrible defensively last year, particularly in second halves.
Coach Oliver is hopeful those lapses had more to do with a lack of depth than technique. Still, given that defensive improvement comes primarily from coaching and effort, some of the blame also falls on Oliver himself.
Frankly, even an improved ETSU squad likely falls short of seriously contending in a good league this year.
Improved depth should help slightly on the defensive end, but I simply have not seen enough from a coaching standpoint to believe in the Buccaneers.
I will keep an eye out to fade them in second halves if they get out to a lead in the first 20.
As prefaced in the Chattanooga blurb, VMI has lost quite a lot in the offseason. Potential SoCon Player of the Year Stephens has departed, along with Huff and former VMI head man Earl.
For those who enjoy taking a few overs blindly, you may be very familiar with the brand of basketball VMI sported last season. Unfortunately, new coach Andrew Wilson will not be inheriting anyone who significantly contributed to those high point totals.
The brand of basketball VMI will play under coach Wilson is likely to be a bit of a shift from Earl's. Wilson has become known for preaching an aggressive style of defense that is willing to gamble to create turnovers.
Even though a defensive approach doesn't sound like an aid to overs, creating more turnovers would naturally lead to transition offense. And gambling for those turnovers may backfire at times, creating backdoor and lob opportunities and easy buckets for opponents.
VMI's ceiling will be limited by its half-court offense, lack of experience and likely the growing pains of a complete overhaul.
I would still rank VMI slightly above the cellar dwellers of the SoCon, though, and I anticipate it will manage five or six conference wins.
The Citadel Bulldogs
New head coach Ed Conroy will make his return to the Citadel bench this year after serving as head coach for his alma mater in the past (2006-2010).
In recent years, the Bulldogs have played at a tempo so fast they have simply disregarded the defensive end at times.
A head coaching change would seemingly imply a style change along with it. Conroy, however, is likely to employ a similar style due to his nature and the roster's complete lack of size.
Returning forward Stephen Clark represents the only competent big that could manage to guard some of the better opposing forwards this year for the Citadel.
So, a few quick whistles on Clark could lead to a few nights where it may get "late, early" for Conroy's Bulldogs.
The Citadel will do well to even be competitive in the rebounding battle on a nightly basis.
Although Conroy was impressively able to use the portal to bring in Elijah Morgan from Notre Dame and Austin Ash of Iowa, this roster fails to boast a single player who averaged double digits in points last year.
When it gets late in the shot clock, I just cannot see where their shots will be created from. Some ugly, fruitless trips are likely in this group's future.
Western Carolina Catamounts
If VMI's calling card this year will be creating turnovers, Western Carolina should follow suit.
Coach Justin Gray's first year was disappointing from a win/loss perspective, and the fix will have to start on the defensive end this year.
Further, Western Carolina simply needs to avoid employing the classic "Ole!" defense. The Catamounts ranked above only a handful of Division I programs in terms of creating turnovers. Opponents were free to choose any form of offensive production they preferred.
Where will the defensive improvement stem from this season? In short, I am not convinced the roots are there. A few incoming transfers have played limited minutes in their D-I careers, but none figure to be impactful on the defensive end.
Scoring may not be the biggest issue for the Catamounts if the new pieces are able to round into form by the time conference play begins.
Matching the improvement on the defensive end will be the challenge, though.
Coach Gray preaches that the mindset that leads to getting stops can be contagious and help build a culture. The mindset he references is one I think is easy to sell in the offseason, but not so much after a four-game losing streak in conference play.
Southern Conference Futures & Picks
Without current odds, I'm going to make my projections for how this conference will play out from a betting perspective.
- Projected Champion: Furman Paladins
- Most Undervalued Team: Wofford Terriers
- Most Overrated Team: Samford Bulldogs
- Best Projected "Take the Over" Team: ETSU Buccaneers
- Projected "Take the Under" Team: UNC Greensboro Spartans