JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Nov. 2, 2009) -- The ETSU men's basketball team -- the defending Atlantic Sun Conference champions and a 2009 NCAA Tournament participant -- will open the 2009-10 season with a pair of exhibition games, beginning Tuesday night when the Buccaneers take on nearby Milligan College inside Memorial Center.
Game time is set for 7 p.m.
For more on the Bucs as they begin the new campaign, read the season preview story located below or click on the 2009-10 ETSU Men's Basketball Media Guide link located above.
2009-10 Season Preview
An eight-time NCAA Tournament and two-time NIT participant, the ETSU Buccaneers enter the 2009-10 season looking to build on what was another historic and successful campaign in 2008-09.
One year ago, the Buccaneers posted 23 wins and captured one more conference championship - the 18th overall title in program history -- winning the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament trophy and representing the league in March Madness. The Bucs went on to capture the interest of the entire nation during the tournament, taking No. 1 seed and Big East champion Pittsburgh to the wire before falling in the final minutes, 72-62. In that game, the Bucs trailed by only two points with just over four minutes left in regulation, and actually had possession of the ball with a chance to tie. Only free throws at the end by the Panthers led to the 10-point final deficit.
The Bucs success of a year ago was powered mainly by the "Big Three" of graduated seniors Courtney Pigram (Memphis) and Kevin Tiggs (Flint, Mich.), along with current senior guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.). That trio combined to score 1,890 of the Bucs 2,657 points during the year, with Tiggs placing second on the all-time single season scoring list with 729 points, Pigram finishing eighth on that list at 598, and Smith ending just outside the Top 10 with 521 points on the year. The bad news for the Bucs is that Pigram and Tiggs are both now graduated and gone, and over 50 percent of the team's offense from a year ago has left with them.
As the Bucs move forward in 2009-10, the departure of both Tiggs and Pigram leaves much of the offensive load to Smith, who not only finished third on the team with 15.3 points per game a year ago, but also led the squad in rebounding with 7.7 boards a contest. Smith ended the year with 10 double-doubles on the season. In addition to what Smith will bring to the table offensively, the Bucs will look to returning players such as redshirt sophomore forward Isiah Brown (Miami), junior guard Micah Williams (Manchester), senior guard Jocolby Davis (Meridian, Miss.), sophomore guard Adam Sollazzo (Tampa, Fla.), sophomore guard Jarvis Jones (Memphis) and junior forward Tommy Hubbard (Boston) to add some offensive firepower to the mix.
As for the newcomers this season, University of Alabama transfer Justin Tubbs (Trussville, Ala.) will make his much-anticipated debut with the blue and gold. Tubbs, who brings an athletic body and SEC experience to Johnson City, is a 6-3 shooting guard with incredible leaping ability and highlight-reel moves. Along with Tubbs, the Bucs also expect contributions from redshirt freshman forward J.C. Ward (Marietta, Ga.), as well as a trio of true freshmen in guards Bruce Grimm (Rochester, Ind.) and Sheldon Cooley (Tampa, Fla.), and forward Lukas Poderis (Port Richey, Fla.). All five of these additions to the ETSU roster have shown potential in early season workouts.
As for the season ahead, the Bucs will face a schedule that includes national power Louisville, SEC opponents Tennessee and Arkansas, visits from former Southern Conference rivals Appalachian State and College of Charleston, and an early season stretch with eight games in just 17 days. It will be arguably one of the toughest schedules the Buccaneers have faced in school history.
Pigram's departure leaves a major void for the Bucs on both ends of the floor. The team's starting point guard and one of its most feared defenders in the ETSU fullcourt defense, Pigram leaves large shoes to fill this season. Sollazzo brings the most experience to the point guard job, having started 12 games a year ago and averaging 17.9 minutes per game. However, the return of Davis - considered possibly the team's best defender - from his medical redshirt season immediately puts the battle for the team's starting guard position in question. Meanwhile, Grimm has impressed in the preseason with both his shooting touch and his court presence, leaving the Bucs with a three-player bottleneck for that position. At the shooting guard, Jones and Williams appear poised to fight for playing time, while Tubbs brings a great deal of hype to the mix, though he has yet to play one minute for the Bucs. Cooley will also look to find a spot on the floor at either the shooting guard or small forward spot.
Brown and Hubbard return as the only holdovers from the Bucs' frontcourt of a year ago. Making matters worse, with the departure of Greg Hamlin (Flint, Mich.), the team's starting center a year ago, the squad has also lost its best post defender and shot blocker. However, Brown appeared to mature in front of the entire nation in last season's NCAA game against Pittsburgh, scoring seven points and grabbing eight rebounds in just 17 minutes of floor time. Meanwhile, Hubbard returned from injuries that cost him most of the season to become a major contributor in the final weeks of the season, providing the team with a lockdown defender and strong inside rebounding presence that helped lift the team to an A-Sun title. A major unexpected hurdle for the team was the tragic loss of 6-11 center Seth Coy (Montgomery, Ind.), who would have been a sophomore this season before losing his life in a car accident last summer. While Brown and Hubbard were on the active roster a year ago, Ward spent last season as a redshirt and will enter his first season as an eligible player on the ETSU bench. Hope surrounds not only his ability to provide valuable minutes to the team, but also that Poderis will also develop quickly despite being a true freshman.
Fullcourt defensive intensity and offensive production from the transition game were the keys to success for ETSU a year ago, and this season should be no different in that regard. The Bucs return a team with the athleticism and defensive skill to be solid in those areas. However, offensive production appears to be the biggest question mark for the Bucs this year, with only Smith returning as a double-figure scorer from last season. Who will step up to replace the point-production of Pigram and Tiggs remains to be seen, but whether or not this happens will be the key to the Bucs hopes of returning to NCAA play.