ASHEVILLE, N.C. — East Tennessee State begins every college basketball season with high expectations. This year, coaches and media covering the Southern Conference agree.
The Bucs were picked atop the coaches’ and media preseason polls, which were released Monday morning during the conference’s Tip-Off event at the Asheville Renaissance, just a few blocks away from where the conference tournament will be held in March.
What used to be known as the Asheville Civic Center, then the U.S. Cellular Center, will be renamed the Harrah’s Cherokee Center beginning Jan. 1, 2020. The tournament, college basketball’s oldest, is set for March 6-9.
Eight of the SoCon’s 10 coaches voted for ETSU as No 1. UNC Greensboro, which was picked second, got the other two first-place votes. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
The coaches and media polls were identical. Furman was third in both, followed by defending champion Wofford.
“It’s just where we’re at right now,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We have a lot of guys back. We have our top six scorers, seven of our top eight players. I think rightfully so, coming off 24 wins last year, that we’d be picked near the top of the league.
“We still have to go play the games. I have too much respect for the coaches in our league and the players in our league to let that go to our heads, but for today we’ll enjoy it.”
UNCG junior point guard Isaiah Miller was picked as the preseason player of the year.
ETSU had three players — guards Daivien Williamson and Bo Hodges and forward Jeromy Rodriguez — on the preseason all-conference team.
“I like the chemistry,” Forbes said of his team. “I like the cohesiveness. They share the ball. They’re trying hard on defense even though they need to get better. They just seem to be really focused.”
ETSU’s women were picked fourth in both polls and do-it-all guard Erica Haynes-Overton was on the preseason all-conference team.
Haynes-Overton led the Bucs in scoring at 16.8 points per game last season and is the team’s returning leader in just about every statistic kept. She’s also been the SoCon’s defensive player of the year the past two seasons.
“EHO is getting better and better,” ETSU coach Brittney Ezell said. “She’s maturing. She’s handling things much differently. She’s more of a leader. Last year she let out some frustration at times. She’s learned to play with emotion without being emotional. That’s what we’re working on.”
ETSU will need a lot from Haynes-Overton, who is 45 points shy of 1,000 for her career, and her partners in the backcourt as a front-court full of newcomers emerges.
”I think our guards are far, far ahead of our posts,” Ezell said. “Our posts are all new with the exception of Shynia Jackson. That’s where our strength lies, with our guards. If we can get our posts to rebound and run, we’ll be alright.”
The Bucs will be without two players they expected to contribute. Anajae Stephney is still out after suffering a serious concussion last season and Taisha Murphy will miss the season after undergoing hip surgery.
Unlike in the men’s polls, there was a big discrepancy between the coaches and media in the women’s rankings.
The coaches have Furman, Wofford and Mercer as the top three, while the media has it Mercer, Furman and Chattanooga.
— — —
1. ETSU (8) 80
2. UNCG (2) 74
3. Furman 61
4. Wofford 52
5. Samford 48
6. Chattanooga 41
7. Western Carolina 38
8. Mercer 29
9. The Citadel 16
10. VMI 11
Preseason player of the year: Isaiah Miller, Jr., G, UNCG
Preseason all-conference team
Bo Hodges, Jr., G, ETSU
Jeromy Rodriguez, R-Sr., F, ETSU
Daivien Williamson, So., G, ETSU
Jordan Lyons, Sr., G, Furman
Ross Cummings, Sr., G, Mercer
James Dickey, R-Sr., F, UNCG
Isaiah Miller, Jr., G, UNCG
Josh Sharkey, Sr., G, Samford
Carlos Dotson, Sr., F, Western Carolina
Nathan Hoover, Sr., G, Wofford
— — —
1. ETSU (20) 286
2. UNCG (6) 264
3. Furman (4) 245
4. Wofford 216
5. Samford 169
6. Chattanooga 128
7. Western Carolina 117
8. Mercer 115
9. The Citadel 70
10. VMI 40
— — —
1. Furman (6) 48
2. Wofford (1) 39
3. Mercer (1) 38
4. ETSU 31
5. UNCG 23
6. Chattanooga 21
7. Samford 17
8. Western Carolina 7
Preseason player of the year: Chloe Wanink, R-Sr., G, Wofford
Preseason all-conference team
Erica Haynes-Overton, Jr., G, ETSU
Le’Jzae Davidson, Sr., G, Furman
Celena Taborn, Jr., C, Furman
Shannon Titus, Jr., G/F, Mercer
Nadine Soliman, Sr., G, UNCG
Te’Ja Twitty, Sr., G/F, UNCG
Lakelyn Bouldin, Sr., G, Chattanooga
Eboni Williams, So., F, Chattanooga
Da’Ja Green, Jr., G, Wofford
Chloe Wanink, R-Sr., G, Wofford
1. Mercer (8) 99
2. Furman (5) 90
3. Chattanooga (1) 85
4. ETSU 78
5. Wofford 58
6. UNCG 46
7. Samford 29
8. Western Carolina 19