LakePoint, Ga. – The 2016-17 men’s basketball season is just around the corner as the ASUN Conference announced this afternoon its annual Preseason Men’s Basketball Poll as voted on by the league’s head coaches.
Upstate, who returns a total of 10 players from last year’s team, has been picked to finish in eighth place in the preseason poll. With six first-place votes, Florida Gulf Coast is favored to win the conference in 2016-17 after capturing the tournament title last season and appearing in the NCAA Tournament. North Florida also earned two first-place votes and has been tabbed to finish second behind FGCU.
“The significant thing about the poll is not necessarily where people are but, I think, that we have the most balanced league from the top to the bottom,” said head coach Eddie Payne. “There is less separation between one and eight, and we happen to be eight. We feel we are going to be better and more competitive. I think this is the most balanced league since we have been in the ASUN. The polls don’t mean anything, but what means something is how you play and how you execute.”
The remaining rundown of the coaches poll has NJIT and Lipscomb predicted third and fourth, respectively, followed by Stetson, Jacksonville and Kennesaw State. North Florida’s Dallas Moore has been voted the ASUN Preseason Player of the Year and Demetrius Morant of FGCU the ASUN Preseason Defensive Player of the Year.
Of the 10 returners on the roster, the Spartans have five starters back in seniors Michael Buchanan and Josh Cuthbertson, junior Jacob Schulte, and sophomores Mike Cunningham and Deion Holmes. Buchanan was an ASUN Second Team All-Conference selection last season while Holmes earned All-Freshman Team accolades. Both players were recently recognized by College Sports Madness as Holmes was named ASUN Third Team Preseason All-Conference and Buchanan garnered a spot on the Fourth Team.
“We have 90 percent of our scoring, I think, back and we saw a significant amount of time, effort and energy, mental as well as physical, put in by our players in the offseason,” Payne said. “So you can see improvement in certain areas from all of them. The task that we are going to have revolves around players developing consistency in their performance and development of leadership on the team. Those are the two things that, I think, are going to have the biggest determining factor on whether we are just an ‘improved team’ or put ourselves in a position to compete from a championship perspective.”
Upstate is currently in the middle of preseason practice in preparation for its season opener on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12 p.m. against the Georgetown Hoyas in Washington, D.C. The Spartans and Hoyas will be facing each other for the first time in program history. The season opener begins a stretch for Upstate in which it will play eight of its first ten games of the year away from Spartanburg.
“The players have shown a better understanding of the concept of what we are trying to accomplish both defensively and offensively,” added Payne.
Along with the five returning starters this season, the Spartans also welcome back junior Ramel Thompkins, and sophomores Blake Edwards, Malik Moore, Jure Span and Philip Whittington. Upstate has three freshmen newcomers this season in Thomas Booker, Tim Hart and Nick Kornieck. Booker is a 6-3 guard from Bowling Green, Ky., Hart a 6-3 guard from Plano, Texas and Kornieck a 6-7 forward from Henderson, Nev.
“The three guys (Thomas, Tim and Nick) have shown us their willingness and ability to compete,” said Payne. “In many other ways they are just like any freshman, but that has brought a more balanced, competitive situation to our team. So they are putting some pressure on people in front of them. Generally speaking, their competitiveness has helped our team in terms of practice and so forth.”
Season tickets for the upcoming 2016-17 season are currently on sale and can be purchased through the USC Upstate Athletic Department. Upstate is offering three exclusive ticket packages, beginning with the faculty/staff package that is available for $100. Fans will have the opportunity to choose between the Full Season Package ($170) and the VIP Sideline Package ($220). The Full Season Package includes an exclusive parking pass and a complimentary game program, while the VIP Sideline Package includes the parking pass, game program and prime first row/courtside seats.
For more information on how to purchase season tickets, please contact the USC Upstate Athletic Department at (864) 503-5893.
The Spartans open their home season on Monday, November 14 with a 7 p.m. tipoff against Mars Hill.