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Countdown to Tipoff: Previewing USC Upstate, Kennesaw State, Gardner Webb, and Florida A&M

Previewing USC Upstate, Kennesaw State, Gardner Webb, and Florida A&M

NCAA Basketball: Syracuse at Georgia Tech Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

USC Upstate Spartans

NCAA Basketball: South Carolina Upstate at Minnesota Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Spartanburg, SC

Conference: Big South

2017-2018 Record: 7-25, 2-12 in conference

Head Coach: Dave Dickerson, 1st year at school, 68-64 overall

Best Season: 1982 NAIA National Champion

Record vs. Jackets: 1-0

Pre-Season pick: 11th in the Big South

Leading returning scorer: Deion Holmes, 15.5 points per game

The Spartans are looking at a new coach and a new conference home in 2018. Dave Dickerson was brought in to help the Spartans transition from the Atlantic Sun to the Big South conferences. It looks to be a tall order for the former Tulane head man, the Spartans finished at the bottom of the Atlantic Sun are were picked to finish in the bottom of the Big South. Dickerson’s offense will rely heavily on two returning double digit scorers, guard Deion Holmes and forward Malik Moore. The Spartans will have to look for production from freshman in the front court, no returning player is taller than 6’6. Tech will have a chance to notch a revenge win, the Jackets lost 59-54 in 2014, before starting the ACC grind.

Kennesaw State Owls

NCAA Basketball: Kennesaw State at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Kennesaw, GA

Conference: Atlantic Sun

2017-2018 Record: 10-20, 6-8 in conference

Head Coach: Al Skinner, 35-58 at KSU, 420-349 as a HC

Best Season: 2004 DII National Champion

Record vs. Jackets: 1-3

Pre-Season pick: 7th in the Atlantic Sun

Leading returning scorer: Tyler Hooker, 10.8 points per game

The Owls travel down 75 to play the Jackets for the first time since 2013. Al Skinner begins his 3rd season at the helm looking to replace two double digit scorers from last season, look for UCF transfer Danny Lewis to play a big role in filling that scoring gap, Lewis will be eligible to play in January. An interesting matchup will be Owls guard C J Washington playing against his old high school teammate Jacket forward Kristen Sjolund, both helped lead Tompkins HS in Katy, TX to their first state title game.

Gardner Webb Runnin Bulldogs

NCAA Basketball: Gardner-Webb at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Boiling Springs, NC

Conference: Big South

2017-2018 Record: 14-18, 9-9 in conference

Head Coach: Tim Craft, 88-78 at Gardner Webb

Best Season:

Record vs. Jackets: 0-1

Pre-Season pick: 2nd in the Big South

Leading returning scorer: David Efianayi, 17.5 points per game

The Bulldogs will rely heavily on 1st team pre-season All Big South player, David Efianayi to lead a deep squad that expects to compete for the conference title. DJ Laster will be the main option in the front court, the 6-6 senior averaged 13.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season. Jaheam Cornwall is another player that will be expected to help score, the sophomore guard shot .439 from behind the arc last season. This looks to be a good early season test for the Jackets, against an experienced team that will compete for a conference title and NCAA berth in the Atlantic Sun.

Florida A&M Rattlers

NCAA Basketball: Florida A&M at Miami Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Location: Tallahassee, FL

Conference: Mid-Eastern Athletic

2017-2018 Record: 9-25, 7-9 in conference

Head Coach: Robert McCullum, 9-25

Best Season: 2004, NCAA Tournament, win in the first four vs. Lehigh

Record vs. Jackets: 0-6

Pre-Season pick: 8th in the MEAC

Leading returning scorer: Justin Ravenel, 8.6 points per game

Florida A&M will be the 2nd of the two matchups that the Jackets have with HBCUs this season. The Rattler’s have size in the front court with 6-9 Tulane transfer, DJ Jones, and 6-10 redshirt junior Ifyeani Umerurike as well as 7-0 senior Isaiah Martin, who will be eligible to play in January. Justin Ravenel looks to the be top scoring option, he really came on in conference play, averaging 12.6 points per game and shooting .417 from behind the arc. Coach McCullum dipped into the JUCO ranks to help bolster his squad, signing 15.2 per game scorer Rod Melton JR, as well as Rich Anderson, who lead the JUCO ranks in 3-point shooting at .547.

A strong set of four winnable games for the Jackets. With the meat grinder that is the ACC, the Jackets need to rack up as many non-conference wins as they can in order to show growth in Pastner’s third season in Atlanta.