Coming off of a record shattering, ground-breaking and monumental 2011-12 season, the Mercer men’s basketball team has released an extremely competitive 2012-13 schedule, highlighted by the Paradise Jam Tournament and 13 home contests at the newly named Hawkins Arena in the University Center.
“We’re going to be really stretched in the non-conference portion, which has always been beneficial for our team come conference play,” Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. “This season will be no different, and we will see every style of play and be in every part of the country. We’ll be pushed to the maximum to see what our strengths and weaknesses are going into A-Sun competition.”
All in all, the 2012-13 schedule features 13 competitive non-conference opponents in addition to an 18-game Atlantic Sun line up. Of the non-conference matchups, nine are contested away from Hawkins Arena on the road, including three against 2012 NCAA Tournament participants.
Mercer’s season begins on Nov. 10 in the annual Homecoming event, as the Bears play host to the Sewanee, the University of the South at 4 p.m. Two days later, the Bears are back on the Hawkins Arena hardwood floor in a test against in-state foe Oglethorpe at 7 p.m.
The Bears’ battle with Oglethorpe is the team’s final warm-up before traveling abroad to the U.S. Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam Tournament. Other teams participating in the annual event are the University Illinois-Chicago, University of New Mexico, Wake Forest University, University of Connecticut, Quinnipiac University, Iona College, and Mercer’s first-round opponent, George Mason University.
“I think it’s always a great opportunity to see teams on a neutral floor that have had success in the past like George Mason, New Mexico, Connecticut and Wake Forest,” Hoffman said. “Having the opportunity to go and potentially win some games gives you another chance to move the bar for your program in the direction you want to be in.”
Each team is guaranteed at least three games in the Paradise Jam, with a winners and losers bracket extending from the four initial matchups. Mercer and George Mason open the event on November 16 at 2:30 p.m.
After the Paradise Jam tournament, the Paladins of Furman rolls into Macon for a Nov. 25 test before the Bears depart for a three-game road swing at the University of New Mexico, Florida State University and the University of Denver. Those three games are part of a larger segment that sees the Bears on the road for six of seven games over a 25-day span.
“Our frequent flyer miles will be up,” Hoffman said. “As a college basketball player you want to have experiences. We’re going to play in some storied places; The Pit in Albuquerque has hosted the final four. There will be excited fans that we’ll be playing in front of that love hoops at a high level.”
On Dec. 8, the team hosts Alabama A&M before returning to the travel circuit for games at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama. The Dec. 22 trip to Alabama marks the end of Mercer’s non-conference slate.
The quest for an Atlantic Sun championship begins on the final day of 2012 in a home conference opener against Stetson University. Other notable home A-Sun matchups include a Jan. 2 clash with Florida Gulf Coast University, a weekend set with East Tennessee State University and University of South Carolina-Upstate on Jan. 17 and 19, and a senior-day welcome to Macon for the league’s newest member, Northern Kentucky University, on Feb. 23.
“I couldn’t sit here and tell you in my mind who’s going to win the league this year; there are many teams that have that opportunity,” Hoffman said. “It will be down to the end as it has in the past. It will be fun to see those teams compete in the non-conference against some other leagues and continue to show how good our league is. Once we get into conference play, there are going to be some really good teams with losses.”
For the final time, Mercer gets a chance to host the A-Sun Tournament on March 6-9 with a shot at an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. The 2013 A-Sun Tournament marks the fourth-straight year the event has been held on the Macon campus.
“We need to start the name change of the arena off right,” Hoffman said. “We’re undefeated on the floor of Hawkins arena, and it would be a great way to get our first appearance in the NCAA, coming out of our own conference on our own floor. We’re excited about our potential.”
The sky is the limit for a Bears team that lost just two seniors from last year’s 27-win, CollegeInsider.com Tournament Championship team. In all, the team returns over 80 percent of its scoring and over 85 percent of its rebounding from a year ago.