The Southern Conference men's basketball season is set to start.
Furman and Elon will play the first 2011-12 league game tonight in Elon's Alumni Gym. The other 10 SoCon schools will play Thursday, and each of the teams will have two games that count in the standings by the end of Monday.
The standings, of course, will shape the seeding for the SoCon tournament March 2-5 in the Asheville (N.C.) Civic Center.
"For us, it's kind of neat that while everybody is in the middle of nonconference games, we get two games that count on the permanent record," SoCon commissioner John Iamarino said. "I don't know how much the coaches like it, but it's the only practical way we can do an 18-game [league] schedule without forcing teams to play three games in five days."
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and Davidson were selected in preseason polls to win their divisions and earn first-round byes for the tournament. So far, SoCon men's teams are a combined 33-32 with Elon having beat South Carolina from the Southeastern Conference and the College of Charleston having defeated Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"We've had some signature wins," Iamarino said. "The early indications are that Charleston and Davidson appear to be the class of the league. We're all waiting for UTC to jell, and Western [Carolina] is better than they've shown so far, so I think the race in the North is going to be wide open.
"I like that the regular season will lead us to a terrific tournament in Asheville."
The Civic Center is undergoing a renovation based primarily on hosting the tournament. Iamarino said everything is on schedule and tickets are available.
"All signs have been positive so far," Iamarino said. "I have no doubt everything will be in place when the lights go on in March."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...