Sports

State college basketball: midseason report

Preseason rankings have been vindicated or thrown out the window.

Players have emerged to become the stars, while others have turned into duds or dealt with injuries.

With the conference season heating up, a midseason analysis of South Carolina’s state college teams:.

ALLEN

Record: 2-13 overall

Breakdown: There are plenty of reason’s for Allen’s dismal start. The biggest one is that the Yellow Jackets, an NAIA independent, have been forced to schedule a slew of games against NCAA Division I and II opponents, including South Carolina State, USC Aiken, Francis Marion, Newberry and Lander. Biggest surprise: The Yellow Jackets have been more competitive than even their coach, Timard Gates, had anticipated. Despite having a lineup that doesn't include a senior, Gates' squad has kept several of the losses from becoming embarrassing.

Biggest disappointment: Two major injuries early in the season slowed the team. Junior Harem Carolina, a 6-foot-6 post player, sustained a major knee injury three games into the season and was lost for the season. Corey Williams recently returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for seven games.

Second-half outlook: Getting Williams back should help, but as the season progresses, it's clear Gates will have some battle-tested players for next season and beyond. Injuries, the coach said, have forced him to put inexperienced players on the floor sooner than he wanted to. The experience those players gain should help the program in the long run.

BENEDICT

Record: 8-2 overall, 6-1 SIAC

Breakdown: As expected, the Tigers have run roughshod over the majority of their competition, falling only to Peach Belt title contender Augusta State and conference rival Claflin. Benedict's defense is leading the way. The Tigers are tops in the SIAC in field-goal percentage defense and third in points allowed per game.

Biggest surprise: Offensively, Benedict is balanced; there is no star player. Michael Holmes (10.5 points per game through Jan. 15), Bennie Lewis (10.3) and Zachary Barron (10.3) average double figures in scoring, and five more score at least eight points per game.

Biggest disappointment: The Tigers' loss to SIAC newcomer Claflin on Jan. 7 might have shown that the conference doesn't belong to Benedict. After winning 28 games a season ago and tearing through conference competition, expectations of another league title — and slowing Claflin’s rise — were high.

Second-half outlook: As strange as it might sound, the SIAC regular-season title could be decided by Jan. 29, when Benedict and Claflin have their rematch. With no signs of either team running into much trouble before that game, a victory by Claflin could give it the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.

CHARLESTON SOUTHERN

Record: 5-10 overall, 1-4 Big South

Breakdown: After the Buccaneers appeared to have turned the corner with a Big South victory over High Point on Dec. 1, Barclay Radebaugh's team took a nose dive. Charleston Southern lost its next six games against Division I opponents, including league games against UNC Asheville, VMI and Liberty. The other losses were to Cincinnati, Florida State and Virginia Tech.

Biggest surprise: Sophomore Jamarco Warren is putting a serious dent in the stat sheet. The 5-foot-11 guard is averaging 21.6 points per game, second in the Big South to VMI's Chavis Holmes.

Biggest disappointment: Charleston Southern generally recruits a different type of athlete than fellow Charleston teams College of Charleston and The Citadel. But the Bucs didn't do themselves any favors in regard to recruiting when they lost to both schools in a five-day span in November.

Second-half outlook: With Warren and Omar Carter (13.6 points per game), the Bucs aren't far from turning the season into a productive one. This time a year ago, the team’s record was slightly better, but the schedule also included more cupcake opponents. With only one more nonconference game on the slate, don't be shocked if the Bucs come close to posting their first winning record in more than a decade.

THE CITADEL

Record: 8-9 overall, 3-3 Southern Conference

Breakdown: The Bulldogs might be the surprise of the first half of the season in South Carolina. Coach Ed Conroy's team has more wins than it did last season. Much of that can be attributed to experience; last year, the Bulldogs were one of the youngest teams in the country. They have parlayed that experience into victories this season.

Biggest surprise: Forward Demetrius Nelson has become one of the best big men in the Southern Conference, averaging 14.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. The redshirt senior missed the majority of last year after sustaining a season-ending foot injury seven games in. This year, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Nelson has opposing coaches talking about him non-stop.

Biggest disappointment: It appears the Bulldogs rely too much on the 3-point shot. Citadel has attempted more 3s than all but three teams in the league yet have one of the worst percentages (.322, 10th). Part of that is a result of a guard-heavy lineup and opponents double-teaming Nelson.

Second-half outlook: Between Nelson and guard Cameron Wells (15.3 points, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals per game), the Bulldogs have a great inside-outside combination that is capable of knocking off a few of the Southern Conference front-runners. A league title is probably out of the question, but the team’s improvement has been significant.

COASTAL CAROLINA

Record: 7-10 overall, 1-4 Big South

Breakdown: The season couldn't have started much worse for the Chanticleers, who dropped their season opener to NCAA Division II Coker. The 21-point loss gave critics all the ammunition they needed. But Coastal started to turn things around in late December with quality wins over Georgia State and East Carolina.

Biggest surprise: Joseph Harris has rebounded from the thumb injury that ended his season after eight games last year. The 6-foot-5 junior forward is leading the team in scoring (14.4 ppg.) and is second in the league in rebounding (10.1).

Biggest disappointment: The Chanticleers nearly left Lexington, Va., on Jan. 10 with a victory over VMI, the lone undefeated team in the Big South. However, Steven Sexton's buzzer-beating 3-pointer was ruled a two-point attempt, and Coastal lost 103-102.

Second-half outlook: The play of its guards will be important. Mario Sisinni, Sexton and Mario Edwards will have the task of keeping opponents from locking in on Harris and fellow forward Anthony Breeze.

COLLEGE OF CHARLESTON

Record: 13-3 overall, 5-1 Southern Conference

Breakdown: The Cougars have returned to prominence in the Southern Conference. Bobby Cremins' team has taken down South Carolina, UNC Wilmington, Winthrop and TCU, not to mention all of the conference teams not named Davidson it has played this season.

Biggest surprise: Guard Andrew Goudelock has exceeded preseason expectations, which were high. Goudelock is third in the league in scoring, at 16.9 points per game, behind Davidson's Stephen Curry and Chattanooga’s guard Stephen McDowell, a former South Carolina

Biggest disappointment: The Cougars are eighth in the league in offensive rebounds, ninth in defensive rebounds and 10th in rebounding margin.

Second-half outlook: Charleston might not dethrone the Wildcats, but the Cougars are in position to earn a top-three seed for the conference tournament. When Charleston travels to North Carolina to take on Davidson on Feb. 7, the Cougars even could be playing for the top seed.

FURMAN

Record: 2-12 overall, 0-5 Southern Conference

Breakdown: Furman is struggling through one of the worst stretches in team history. Its two victories have come against low-tier competition, and one, a 68-64 win over Berry, came against an NAIA team. Jeff Jackson's team has failed to be competitive in three of its past four SoCon games.

Biggest surprise: Sophomore guard Justin Dehm (10.5 points per game) has come on strong of late, scoring 73 points and hitting 16 3-pointers in the past five games. Dehm has taken some of the pressure off leading scoring Jordan Miller (14.4 ppg.), who has been hindered by a sinus infection the past several weeks.

Biggest Disappointment: The team’s average margin of defeat in SoCon games is 11.8 points, and nine of its losses overall have been by double digits.

Second-half outlook: At this point, Furman might be looking for any way to salvage something out of the season. A victory over a Division I opponent would be a good start. It nearly came Thursday, when Furman lost to The Citadel 74-69 in overtime.

NEWBERRY

Record: 12-3 overall, 3-2 SAC

Breakdown: The Indians have kept themselves in contention for a South Atlantic Conference title. They are scoring 74.9 points per game while holding opponents to a league-best 62.1 points per game. The result has been the SAC's best scoring margin (+12.8), one that is double the next-best team in the league.

Biggest surprise: Everyone knew Clemente Martin could score, so his average of 19.2 points per game isn't surprising. But the amount of support Martin has received gives the Indians a bevy of options. Jesse Wheeler (12.8 points per game), Brett Goodwell (12.7), Grant Domsic (10.8) and Vytautas Valiulis (8.7) all have made their mark this season.

Biggest disappointment: It's hard to say what Newberry would be doing on the boards if it wasn't for Goodwell, who averages a team-best 7.5 per game. The Indians were outrebounded in two of their three losses.

Second-half outlook: It's clear Newberry will be competing with Catawba and Lenoir-Rhyne (which beat the Indians on Jan. 10) for a shot at the SAC title. Before hitting the crux of the conference slate, Newberry will get another tune-up game, against Allen on Jan. 17. After that comes a key stretch, as the Indians will play three of their next four conference games on the road.

PRESBYTERIAN

Record: 6-11 overall, 3-3 Big South

Breakdown: In its second season at the Division I level, Presbyterian is starting to show it has some of the tools necessary to compete with the big boys. The Blue Hose have won more games than they last season, when they won five games.

Biggest surprise: The Blue Hose have showed they can compete in the Big South. After finishing 1-4 in the conference last season (playing only a partial league schedule), Presbyterian started the league slate by winning three of its first six games, including overtime victories against Coastal Carolina and Liberty and a one-point, overtime loss to defending conference champion Winthrop.

Biggest disappointment: It’s a good thing defense has been a strength of coach Gregg Nibbert’s team. The Blue Hose are scoring a league-worst 56.6 points per game. They have scored 70 points or more twice this season while being held below 50 five times.

Second-half outlook: Unlike a season ago, when Presbyterian played 25 road games while making the transition to Division I, the Blue Hose will play a respectable number of games in Clinton with a league schedule. Presbyterian isn't eligible to start competing in the Big South tournament until 2011-2012, but it can make a run at a regular-season title.

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE

Record: 6-8 overall, 1-1 MEAC

Breakdown: In its MEAC opener on Jan. 10, South Carolina State beat Delaware State after a 10-day layoff, then fell to Maryland-Eastern Shore two days later. The Bulldogs (70.9 ppg.) are the top scoring team in the MEAC and have a trio of potentially explosive scorers in Jason Flagler, Jason Johnson and Jimmy Williams.

Biggest surprise: Johnson has improved on his 56 percent shooting average from a season ago — by a lot. The 6-foot-7, above-the-rim player has hit 66 percent of his shots while averaging 13.9 points per game. He also is grabbing 7.6 rebounds a game and is a virtual lock for postseason all-conference honors.

Biggest disappointment: The Bulldogs have played a number of “guarantee” games, paying the bills with trips to Clemson, Nebraska and Idaho. But all the travel might have taken a toll. Between Nov. 24 and Jan. 24, S.C. State will play 10 road games and two at Orangeburg. Coach Tim Carter's team lost six of the first eight in that stretch.

Second-half outlook: Because of its ability to score, it stands to reason South Carolina State will win enough games to compete for a top spot in the MEAC, which appears to be wide open.

WINTHROP

Record: 3-12 overall, 2-4 Big South

Breakdown: Winthrop finds itself in a rare spot. Instead of fighting off conference teams to win another Big South title, the Eagles simply are trying to stay afloat. Randy Peele's team suffered through a 10-game losing streak that ended on Jan. 3.

Biggest surprise: There are two sides to the story of Cameron Stanley’s emergence as the team’s star. On one hand, the 6-6 forward is averaging a team-high 11.1 points per game, while the rest of a young team acclimates to the college game. On the other side, Stanley is playing just one season after graduating from Wake Forest and enrolling in graduate school at Winthrop.

Biggest disappointment: Finding ways to score has been one of this team’s biggest issues. The Eagles are the second-lowest scoring team in the league, at 57.9 points per game, and they have been held to 49 points or less four times. Against conference opponent High Point on Jan. 7, the Eagles shot 26.4 percent, the second-lowest figure since Winthrop started playing in Division I in 1986.

Second-half outlook: Until someone pries the conference title from the Eagles, it's there’s to defend. While Peele and Co. are in the middle of the Big South pack, other teams haven't experienced the success Winthrop has. That should count for something as the Eagles try to repeat, whether it is in the regular season or league tournament.

WOFFORD

Record: 6-7 overall, 2-2 Southern Conference

Breakdown: Wofford is one its way to exceeding preseason expectations — the Terriers were picked to finish fourth in the SoCon’s South Division. Coach Mike Young’s has beaten Chattanooga, the North Division preseason favorite, and Samford, the top defensive team in the league.

Biggest surprise: Wofford isn't about to mess with a good thing. And the Terriers have one in reserve Noah Dahlman. The 6-foot-6 forward has not started a game this season, but the sophomore is averaging 16.8 points and 7.3 rebounds a game.

Biggest disappointment: Young would have loved to see what his team could have done against South Carolina on Jan. 5 with a full roster. As it turned out, his leading scoring, Junior Salters, missed the game with a gluteus muscle sprain, and the Terriers lost 78-61.

Second-half outlook: When Salters (17.3 points per game) returns from his injury — he is game-to-game — the combination of he and Dahlman should provide for a solid push in the second half of the season. Salters' 3-point percentage is higher than his overall shooting percentage, and with Dahlman playing as well as just about any post player in the league, Wofford could make some noise.

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