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50 Days to Tipoff: Opponent Preview - Bethune Cookman, UTRGV, and North Texas

In Josh Pastner’s first season as head coach last year, the Jackets went 8-4 in non-conference play.

NCAA Basketball: North Carolina State at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Today, we move on to opponent previews. Which teams will give the Jackets the toughest test this year?

Countdown to tipoff: 25 days

We’re going to be previewing the UCLA game later this week, so for now we’ll pick up with the Jackets second game of the season against Bethune Cookman. It is also worth noting, all three of these games are part of the Ramblin Wreck Showcase, sponsored by BD Global Sports.

Bethune-Cookman (11/19)

To be completely blunt, Bethune Cookman was one of the worst teams in Division I basketball last year. They went just 10-22 and ranked outside the top 300 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. As a result, head coach Gravelle Craig was relieved of his coaching responsibilities at the end of the season. He was replaced by Ryan Ridder, who will have his hands full to turn this team around. Luckily for Ridder, the Wildcats finished 5-2 in their final seven games and have 70% of their minutes returning. Among the returning players is leading scorer Brandon Tabb. Despite standing at just 6’5”, Tabb also led the team in rebounding and will be the biggest piece to this years team.

There’s no reason for the Jackets to have trouble with Bethune Cookman and it should be an opportunity for an easy win early in the year. A loss would be a sign of a long season to come.

NCAA Basketball: Bethune-Cookman at St. John Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (11/22)

Things started out decent for UTRGV last season. After winning their conference opener on January 5, they sat at 9-9. They proceeded to win just one game the rest of the year, on their way to finishing 10-22. Luckily for second year head coach Lew Hill, the Vaqueros lose just one player (to transfer) and return their star guard Nick Dixon. Dixon averaged nearly 19 points per game last season on an extremely efficient 52% shooting. Dixon also led the team in rebounding and was second in assists, making him the x-factor in this game and a player the Jackets will definitely need to shut down.

While a win should be expected for the Jackets, they will have to be careful not to overlook the Vaqueros. A young team with another year of experience under their belt will be much improved next year.

North Texas (11/24)

Just like the previous two opponents, North Texas did not have a very good season last year. The Mean Green went 8-22, finishing the season on a 2-17 skid. While they do lose three starters, they return leading scorer AJ Lawson. Lawson was in his first year in the program last year and North Texas will be hoping for further development from him and an even bigger year this year. Leading rebounder Jeremy Combs left the program for LSU so his production will need to be replaced, which will start with Shane Temara, who averaged 4.6 rebounds per game. Scrappy guard Ryan Woolridge will be another key player for UNT. Last season, he ranked 31st nationally in steal percentage and will be harassing the Jackets guards all night. Woolridge is also the second leading returning scorer for the Mean Green.

North Texas is probably better than their record last year indicates, playing in a decently tough Conference USA. That said, the Jackets should have no issues with this game and will hopefully have their third win in a row when the final whistle blows.