ETSU men’s basketball is one step closer to starting its season as first-year head coach Desmond Oliver and his staff announced on Wednesday the Buccaneers’ 2021-22 schedule.
Games at Tennessee and Georgia, 15 contests inside Freedom Hall and playing in the inaugural Naples Invitational the week of Thanksgiving highlight the slate for the Blue and Gold. The Bucs will play four teams who made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, while potentially playing nine teams who ranked in the top 100 in RPI rankings and eight in the NET rankings last season.
“I’m so excited to bring ETSU fans back to Freedom Hall this season,” said Coach Oliver. “The fans are the reason many non-conference opponents do not want to travel to Freedom Hall. Your support and presence at our games have made Freedom Hall one of the BEST home arenas in the country…at ANY level!”
COACH OLIVER ERA BEGINS ON THE ROAD
Following a home exhibition game against Catawba on Nov. 5, the Coach Oliver era will begin with a pair of road tests against teams who participated in last year’s NCAA Tournament. The regular season starts Friday, Nov. 12 at reigning Sun Belt Tournament champion, Appalachian State. Two days later, ETSU heads to Coach Oliver’s old stomping grounds as the Bucs play at Tennessee (Nov. 14).
FAMILIAR FOE FOR FREEDOM HALL OPENER
ETSU plays a familiar foe in its home opener when ETSU hosts USC Upstate on Nov. 18. The two teams met 14 times during their stint in the ASUN, however, the Bucs left for the Southern Conference in 2014-15 and USC Upstate moved to the Big South in 2018-19.
SPENDING THANKSGIVING WEEK IN NAPLES
The Buccaneer faithful can spend Thanksgiving week with the Blue and Gold in Southwest Florida, as ETSU will play three games in the inaugural Naples Invitational from Nov. 22-24.
The eight-team tournament field features ETSU, Murray State, Kent State, George Washington, Wright State, James Madison, Missouri State and Long Beach State. Seven of the eight teams have earned NCAA Tournament bids in the past decade, including the Bucs claiming Southern Conference titles in 2017 and 2020.
ETSU will take on former Ohio Valley Conference rival Murray State in its first game of tournament at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 22. The winner of that game will play the winner of Missouri State-Long Beach State at 8 p.m. on Nov. 23, while the championship game is scheduled for 8 p.m. on Nov. 24.
REMAINING NON-CONFERENCE CONTESTS
Coming off the Naples Invitational, the Bucs return home to close out the opening month versus Lees-McRae on Nov. 27, while opening up December with a return trip to UAB on Dec. 1. The Blazers are coming off a 22-win campaign in Andy Kennedy’s first season, while winning 15 of their 17 games inside Bartow Arena.
From there, ETSU heads back to Freedom Hall for three straight games against Lenoir-Rhyne (Dec. 4), Morehead State (Dec. 11) and North Carolina A&T (Dec. 14). Morehead State made its eighth NCAA Tournament appearance in 2020-21 after going 23-8 and winning a program record 17 conference games. NC A&T has finished no worse than second in the MEAC in each of the last four seasons.
The Bucs conclude non-conference play on the road at UNC Asheville on Dec. 18 and at Georgia on Dec. 22. Only 60 miles separate both campuses, but it will only mark the 23rd all-time meeting with UNCA – ETSU leads the series, 15-7. Meanwhile, a second straight game against the Bulldogs sends the Blue and Gold to Athens, where ETSU and Georgia have split the four previous meetings between the two programs.
LET THE SOCON SEASON BEGIN
The second part of ETSU’s season begins Dec. 29 when the Bucs stay in state to take on conference rival Chattanooga in the Scenic City, marking the first time since 2000-01 the two teams will meet in the SoCon opener.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
For the second time in the last three seasons ETSU will play at home on New Year’s Day when the Bucs host Western Carolina on Jan. 1. The Bucs have won 13 straight games against the Catamounts, including an 86-78 victory in last year’s conference opener inside Freedom Hall.
The Western Carolina game marks the first of three straight inside Freedom Hall to open 2022 as ETSU takes on VMI (Jan. 5) and Wofford (Jan. 8) to conclude the homestand.
ON THE ROAD
The Bucs hit the road for the first time in 2022 when ETSU plays at Furman on Jan. 12 before heading to Samford on Jan. 15.
ETSU’s other road games in conference play feature three straight to close out January and open the final month of regular season play when the Bucs play at VMI (Jan. 29), Western Carolina (Feb. 2) and Wofford (Feb. 5). The Blue and Gold then make the Mercer/The Citadel swing in mid-February, while closing the month at reigning champion UNCG on Feb. 26.
SOCON HOME GAMES
The Bucs enjoy their second stint of three consecutive conference home games from Jan. 19-26 when Mercer, The Citadel and UNCG visit Johnson City. ETSU, who plays six of its last nine on the road, hosts Furman (Feb. 9) and Samford (Feb. 12), before facing Chattanooga in the home finale on Feb. 23.
The conference tournament will once again be held in Asheville, N.C., from March 4-7. The conference champion will receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.