MEN

Division: NCAA Division I

Coach: Steve Forbes (4th season)

Last season: 24-10, 13-5, lost to Green Bay in first round of CollegeInsider.com tournament.

Key returners: Tray Boyd, G. sr.; Jeromy Rodriguez, F, sr.; Patrick Good, G, jr.; Bo Hodges, G, jr.

Key losses: Mladen Armus (8.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg); James Harrison (3.8 ppg); Kevon Tucker (3.6 ppg).

Promising newcomers: Joe Hugley, F, sr,; Ledarrius Brewer, G, jr.; Vonnie Patterson, F, jr.

Outlook: ETSU enters the season as the preseason favorite to win the Southern Conference. At least it’s good publicity for the program.

“That is fine. We have a lot of guys returning and there is no need to run from it,” said Forbes, who has led the Bucs to 76 wins in three seasons, including two postseason appearances. “That is our goal every year is to win the league so why not be picked number one, but it doesn’t really mean anything.

“It is nice for the fans to read and it is something maybe I can use in practice, but it doesn’t really have any bearing on what we are doing.

Expectations are high for good reason. The Bucs return its top six and seven of its top eight scorers from last year’s 24-10 squad, including double figure providers in Tray Boyd (12.2 ppg), Jeromy Rodriguez (11.2 ppg, 10.9 rpg), Patrick Good (10.4 ppg) and Bo Hodges (10.3 ppg).

All but Boyd had injury issues entering fall practice.

There have also been some additions, including Central Connecticut State transfer Joe Hugley, who tallied 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds per game last season for the Blue Devils. The Bucs also have a pair of 7-footers - Octavion Corley and Lucas N’Guessan – who are expected to contribute.

Isaiah Tisdale scored 20 points in ETSU’s 80-62 exhibition game win over Limestone last week. Boyd added four 3-pointers for 12 points, while Daivien Williamson and Hugley had 11 apiece.

“I think depth-wise, in the five years I have been here, yes, I do think we have a lot of depth, we have talent,” Forbes said. “I think we have several potential all-league league players depending on how they play and if they stay healthy. I like where we are at right now.”

ETSU, which opens its season on Tuesday with Newberry College, has a testy non-league slate, highlighted by visits to Kansas and LSU. Forbes expects the Southern Conference to be competitive as well, with league games now slated to be held on Wednesday and Saturday each week.

“I think it will still be good. We did lose some marquee players, we lost two marquee coaches…” said Forbes, whose Bucs were 24-10 last season, falling to Green Bay in the CollegeInsider.com tournament. “It will be balanced. Will we have the success we had last year? I guess that remains to be seen. I don’t know if anybody was predicting that last year.

“In fact, I don’t think Wofford was picked to win the league last year. I think maybe Mercer was so you never know. I think the league will still be strong.”

ETSU was able to get some competitive action in August with an overseas trip to Europe, which Forbes expects to pay off for the Bucs.

“We are a lot of further ahead obviously because of going to Europe,” said Forbes, who was pleased with the Bucs’ efforts on that trip, especially his team’s ability to communicate on the floor. “We had those extra practices so we are already down the road on some things that normally that we not. That goes with that, plus we have a lot of experience returning.”

WOMEN

Division: NCAA Division I

Coach: Brittany Ezell (7th season)

Last season: 10-21, 8-6, lost to Wofford in first round of Southern Conference tournament

Key returners: Erica Haynes-Overton, G, jr.; Micah Scheetz, G, jr.; Kaia Upton, G, soph.

Key losses: Lexus Spears (7.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg); Raven Dean (6.8 ppg, 4.0 rpg); Sadasia Tipps (4.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 38 blocked shots)

Promising newcomers: Tijuana Kimbro, C, jr.; Arielle Harvey, G, sr.; Mykia Dowdell, F, soph.

Outlook: Brittany Ezell believes in stacking the non-conference schedule. That might lead to a few early losses, but she expects it to pay dividends when it matters most.

“I think our kids are comfortable with the way we schedule in the non-conference,” said Ezell, whose Bucs were 10-21 last season, including an 0-8 and 2-15 start to the campaign, but were 8-6 in the Southern Conference. “We are not looking to set the world on fire, we are looking to be ready when SoCon comes around and finish strong.

“I think they understand that. I think they have a good mentality going into it. We will see.”

That schedule includes a season opener on Tuesday with Tennessee, which will be the debut of new Lady Vols’ head coach Kellie Harper. That is one of any challenges ahead for the Bucs.

“In the non-conference the big thing for us is to continue to grow,” Ezell said.” With each and every game what we tell our kids is in order for people to take you seriously you have got to be consistent.

“We are trying to find a level of consistency in our effort and our attitude and our performance right now and we will be doing that throughout the non-conference play.”

There is little doubt where the strength lies with the Lady Bucs. A trio of All-SoCon products roam the backcourt, led by Erica Haynes-Overton (16.8 ppg, 4.8 reb, 3.5 ast, 3.1 stl), Micah Scheetz (11.2 ppg, 3.5 reb) and Kaia Upton (5.5 ppg, 2.5 ast).

Haynes-Overton is the leading returner in just about every category for the Lady Bucs.

“She is a stat-stuffer,” said Ezell, comparing Haynes-Overton to NBA star Russell Westbrook. “Erica is a dynamic and explosive athlete. She can do some things that I can’t coach. If I could coach it I would make everybody on our team do it. She was just gifted and we are doing our best to utilize those gifts and put her in a position to be successful and put the team in places to be successful in utilizing everyone’s talent...”

What ETSU doesn’t have is experience around the basket. Ezell does expect contributions from 6-foot-4 JUCO transfer Tijuana Kimbro and Shynia Jackson, who averaged just 1.1 points in 18 games last season.

“Those would be the two I would point at right away and then we will wait and see on the other ones,” Ezell said. “I am not rushing to judgment on our team until the end of the season. People will have things to say after each and every game, but I don’t really evaluate us until the end of March...

“Our backcourt is really experienced. Our frontcourt, not so experienced, but pretty talented so I like them all.”

bwoodson@bristolnews.com | Twitter: BHCWoodson | (276) 645-2543

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