The curtain has come down on the Elon University men’s and women’s basketball teams’ final season in the Southern Conference. Even if the Phoenix gets a postseason invite to a lesser tournament, its SoCon era is over. The men’s team, picked to win the conference, fell short of expectations and finished fourth, bowing out in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament. The women’s team met its preseason prediction of fifth in the conference, and fell in the semifinals of the conference tournament to No. 1 University of Tennessee-Chattanooga.
But what would Elon have done if it had already moved to the Colonial Athletic Association, its future home? To provide a basis of comparison, we’ll look at College of Charleston, which made the same move as Elon (SoCon to CAA), just a year earlier.
In 2012-13, the Cougars beat the Phoenix head-to-head twice, including in the Southern Conference tournament semifinals. Charleston finished second in the SoCon in 2013, returned all but two players, and still finished sixth in the CAA at 6-10 in conference play. The Cougars beat three SoCon teams (Furman University, The Citadel and Davidson College) in regular season play as well.
What are we getting at here? Elon would have been a mediocre team in the CAA. In RPI, the CAA had four teams in the Top 150, including two in the Top 100. By comparison, the SoCon had one in the Top 150. Elon currently has an RPI of 167, which would have placed the Phoenix fifth in the CAA.
Elon’s best stretch of the season came against the bottom half of the SoCon in the month of February, when the Phoenix won eight in a row against teams such as Georgia Southern University, University of North Carolina at Greensboro and Furman. Facing the more athletic, better competition of the CAA, it would have been difficult for Elon string together wins. In all likelihood, the Phoenix would probably have finished in the range of 7-10 to 10-8 in conference, which would have placed Elon fourth or fifth in conference. Even if Elon had won its first round game in the CAA tournament, the Phoenix would have run into the University of Delaware in the semifinals.
As for the women’s team, Elon would have had the benefit of playing in a conference without Chattanooga. The only problem? James Madison University is comparably good, going 15-1 in CAA play. Going back to the Charleston comparison, the Cougars went 9-7 in the CAA this year, third in the league and the only team to beat JMU. A year ago, Elon and Charleston split the season series and the Cougars wound up fifth in the SoCon. The Elon women still would have gone through growing pains, and would probably have ended up in the 9-9 range, somewhere between third and fifth in the CAA. While this year’s Elon women’s team would not have seen a huge boost from playing in the CAA, the Phoenix will be a serious contender next season.
What will next year bring? For the Elon men, it will be a struggle. As discussed above, the CAA is a step up, and Elon will lose the “core four.” The women could very well hold the trophy in Upper Marlboro, Md., next March at the CAA Tournament. It will be a fun road regardless. Bring on the Colonial.