Once again, the Wofford Terriers will put their talent to the test in the season’s first two months with a strong non-conference slate.
Wofford, which brings back a healthy mix of returners and an exciting freshman class, released its out-of-conference schedule Monday via Twitter. The Terriers will open the 2016-17 campaign November 11th against the LSU Tigers in Baton Rouge, the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
The schedule includes seven road trips and a pair of games against teams which cracked the AP Top 25 sometime last season, including the opener with Johnny Jones‘ Tigers squad and a December 3rd match-up with the Miami (Fl.) Hurricanes.
Two other marquee games involve unique connections with Wofford athletics.
In late November, the Terriers will travel to Boulder, Colo., to face the Colorado Buffaloes in a sort-of homecoming for starting point guard Eric Garcia. Garcia, who is entering his senior year, is a native of nearby Aurora.
Then, on December 10th, Wofford will play in Fort Worth, TX against the TCU Horned Frogs, whose Director of Athletics Media Relations, Mark Cohen, previously served 16 years in a similar capacity at Wofford.
Wofford’s non-conference finale will be December 22nd against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, a team who beat the Terriers last season, 77-61. Next season, the Yellow Jackets are set to visit the Terriers’ planned new venue, the Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.
The 2016-17 season will be the last for Benjamin Johnson Arena, which has been Wofford’s home building for nearly four decades.
A definite highlight of the Terriers’ 2016-17 non-conference schedule will be their participation in the Gulf Coast Showcase, a mid-major tournament held November 21-23 in Estero, Florida.
Last season’s champion, the Weber State Wildcats, went on to amass a 26-9 record and a Big Sky title, ultimately drawing the two-seed Xavier Musketeers in NCAA Tournament play.
After an opening game in Spartanburg on November 15th against Allen University, an NAIA school, Wofford will begin actual tournament action on November 21st with the Vermont Catamounts. The Catamounts finished the 2015-16 season with a record of 23-14 overall, and 11-5 in America East play.
The Catamounts won seven straight contests late last season before falling in the conference title game, 70-64, to the homestanding Stony Brook Seawolves, in front of a swirl of red, blue and gray.
Head coach John Becker, who has amassed a 110-63 record in five seasons at Vermont, including winning at least 20 games and making a postseason tournament each year, bounced back from the loss and led his team to the CBI semifinals for the second consecutive season.
The Catamounts return every starter from last season except forward Ethan O’Day, who led the squad in rebounds and blocks, and averaged 11.5 points per game. Junior guard Trae Bell-Haynes, the team’s leader in scoring (12.2), assists (3.5) and blocks (1.1) per game, and redshirt sophomore Ernie Duncan, who owned the Catamounts’ highest 3-point shooting percentage, will be difference makers.
Kurt Steigl, a senior guard/forward, will be another valuable piece.
The next day, on November 22nd, Wofford will take on either the Bradley Braves or the Hofstra Pride.
A year ago, Bradley struggled through a 5-27 season, including going just 3-15 in conference play. But, in 2016-17, the team will have a fresh look this season as first-year head coach Brian Wardle, hired away from the Green Bay Phoenix — an NCAA Tournament team last season — will begin anew with a very young roster that includes ten freshmen. Sophomore Callum Barker, a 6-9, 230 forward from Hobart, Tasmania, should be a returning standout.
Hofstra, on the other hand, will be looking to build on its past success, finishing 2015-16 with a record of 24-10 overall, and 14-4 against conference foes. Head coach Joe Mihalich, who has been at the helm since 2013, steered the Pride to a big win against the Florida State Seminoles and a strong performance two days later versus the South Carolina Gamecocks as part of an early-season tournament held in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The team was also a victory away from an NCAA Tournament berth, as it fell to the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks, 80-73, in the league title game. Instead, Hofstra took an NIT bid and nearly knocked off the George Washington Colonials in first-round action.
Teams on the other end of the Gulf Coast Showcase bracket include the Houston Cougars, George Mason Patriots, South Dakota Jackrabbits and Kent State Golden Flashes.
Two other intriguing mid-major match-ups on Wofford’s schedule include a home game December 15th against the Austin Peay Governors and a short trip to Conway, S.C., to play the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers on December 19th. Both of these teams defeated the Terriers and ended up making a post-season tournament during the 2015-16 campaign.
Despite a less than stellar 7-9 mark in OVC regular-season play (18-18 overall), Austin Peay clawed their way through the conference tournament, winning four games and clinching a surprising title as the bottom 8-seed. The Governors skirted past the Belmont Bruins in the semifinals, 97-96, and stunned the UT Martin Skyhawks, which had twice bested the Governors during the regular season, by 10 points in the championship.
Although the Governors lost star center Chris Horton, the team’s scoring, rebounding and defensive powerhouse, they return junior guard Josh Robinson, who hung 30 points on Wofford in a 84-77 win at Clarksville, Tenn., last season — his point total was aided by a perfect 14-for-14 free-throw shooting performance — and point guard Terrell Thompson, whose role will only get bigger as he enters his senior year.
Coastal Carolina, which outlasted Wofford in Spartanburg last December, finished last season with a 21-12 (12-6 Big South) record and were ousted in the first round of their conference tournament by the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs. The Chanticleers, led by longtime coach Cliff Ellis, instead made a splash in the CIT field, winning three games and advancing to the semifinals, where they fell in a close game to the UC Irvine Anteaters.
Over the summer, Coastal Carolina made the transition from the Big South to the Sun Belt, and will play a full Sun Belt Conference slate this season.
Senior guard Elijah Wilson paced the Chants with 13.7 points per game, and Jaylen Shaw, a transfer from South Carolina, averaged about 4 assists a contest and will presumably take over the point guard duties following Shivaughn Wiggins‘ departure. Some key playmakers suffered through injury trouble last season, including redshirt senior forward Michel Enanga, a native of Cameroon, and versatile guard Colton Ray-St Cyr. Both can be major contributors if healthy.
Home games against Division II schools Mars Hill (Nov. 29) and Virginia-Wise (Dec. 6) round out Wofford’s out-of-conference schedule.