SoCon Basketball: 2021 Conference Tournament preview and predictions

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SoCon Basketball Furman Paladins Noah Gurley John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

Key players for the Southern Conference Tournament

Isaiah Miller – Guard – UNC Greensboro

2020-21 stats: 18.9 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.9 apg

Senior guard Isaiah Miller has been an integral part of the UNC Greensboro basketball team for the last four years. In his freshman season, Miller played substantial minutes (16 per game), and playing time has increased each year since topping out at 30 minutes played per game in the 2020-21 season.

Miller has shown the ability to score without having a three-point shot his entire career. The guard has a paltry career three-point percentage at 23.7%. Against conference foes Citadel and Western Carolina, Miller had his two biggest games of the season by dropping 30 points and 28 points respectively.

Miller is a volume shooter evidenced by leading the NCAA and the Southern Conference in field goal attempts this year. He also led the Southern Conference in field goal attempts for the 2019-20 basketball season. Even while being a volume shooter, Miller has shown he can be efficient from two-point range and has ranked just outside the conference top-10 in field goal percentages the last two seasons with a 42.3% and 45.2% success rate respectively.

Miller is not a one-trick pony. He is the reigning Southern Defensive Player of the Year winning the award the last two seasons. Further, Miller has garnered All-Southern 1st team during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 basketball seasons. Last year, he was named the Southern Player of the Year. Miller may repeat this year.

For the third straight year, the guard leads the conference in steals and is second in school history in this category. He may go down as one of the most prolific stealers in recent memory as he has rattled off steal percentages of 5.9, 5.7, 4.8, and 5.4 in his career which is good enough for 7th all-time in NCAA history.

Hayden Brown – Forward – Citadel

2020-21 stats: 19 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 2.7 apg

Another four-year starter is one of the best players in the Southern Conference. Citadel forward Hayden Brown is seeing a career year in usage and production. Brown is averaging 31.5 minutes per game while shooting 50% from the field on 13 attempts per game. One of the biggest developments in Brown’s game over the last four years has been his ability to transform himself on the glass.

Coming into this year, Brown has never averaged more than 5 rebounds per game in his college career. This year he is averaging double-digit rebounds per game (10.5) to include a career-high in offensive rebounds per game (22). Brown happens to be the most prolific scorer in the Southern Conference this year ranking first in total rebounds, defensive rebounds and he rounds out the top five in total offensive rebounds.

At 19 points per game, Brown is the leading scorer in the conference. Although most of his attempts come from inside the arc, Brown is able to get to the free throw line at an amazing pace. Brown leads the Southern Conference in free throw attempts (142), free throws made (102), and more importantly, he is efficient from the line by hitting around 72% of his free throw attempts. Despite Brown’s efforts, Citadel has remained a bottom feeder of the Southern Conference and currently holds a 5-11 conference record.

Noah Gurley – Forward – Citadel

2020-21 stats: 14.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.3 apg

6’8’’ junior forward Noah Gurley is one of the top players on the Furman Paladins roster. Gurley is an all-around solid player who can do a little bit of everything for the Paladins and head coach Bob Richey. Gurley is averaging around 14 points per game but in the last year, his productivity has increased on the defensive side of the ball. Gurley is blocking more shots, assisting on more shots, rebounding more, and creating more turnovers all while decreasing his turnovers.

Unfortunately, Gurley’s kryptonite this year is his three-point shot. From his freshman to sophomore season, he saw an increase in success despite a decrease in shot attempts; in the 2019-20 season, Gurley hit 40.7% of his 1.8 three-point attempts per game compared to his freshman year where he was only converting 31.5% of his three and a half 3-point attempts per game.

Surprisingly, Gurley is hoisting up a career-high 4.3 three-pointers per game while only hitting 31.6% of the attempts. Will Gurley continue this pace in the conference tournament and beyond? It has been occurring all year long and Furman is leading the conference. Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.

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