Spring-semester classes begin Monday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The UTC men's basketball team just played its last nonconference game of the season, losing 74-58 Wednesday night at Georgia Tech, and will resume Southern Conference competition in earnest Saturday night at Samford.
"It is the beginning of a whole other season," sophomore guard Ronrico White said. "The scouting gets turned up, every game matters and we have to get back into the routine of class then practice."
Now everything counts toward March, when only one team from the SoCon gets to go to the NCAA tournament.
The first chunk of the season included a few surprises for UTC's youthful Mocs (5-9, 0-1). They were within five points or less in the second half of games at big-league schools LSU and Tech and led at Kansas at halftime, but they also endured a three-game stretch of home losses in the CBE College Classic against Southeast Missouri, Troy and Louisiana Tech.
"Our record would be the only thing I'm disappointed in," Mocs coach John Shulman said Thursday. "I'm disappointed, but I'm not shocked. If we played SEMo, Troy and LaTech right now, I don't think we'd go 0-for-3.
"The way we played last night at Georgia Tech, I wasn't sure we'd get to that point by February."
And there were body blows throughout the autumn. UTC started the season knowing senior point guard Dontay Hampton would be out. Then sophomore post Lance Stokes fell to a broken foot four games in, and freshman wing Casey Jones went down with a broken leg in the last game before Christmas.
But the Mocs won two nights in a row the last weekend of 2012 to take the Dr Pepper Classic title and then gave the Yellow Jackets a battle for a good while Wednesday.
The season has evolved already with depletion from the rotation. It will evolve again with the expected returns of Hampton and Stokes, probably for the home games of Jan. 17 and 19 at the earliest.
The Mocs were picked last or next-to-last in almost every preseason poll. But their five wins puts them squarely in the middle of the pack of the SoCon standings.
"I like our team an awful lot, and we have improved leaps and bounds," Shulman said. "We're not even the same team we were a month or two months ago."
Individual improvement is noticeable. After a brilliant 3-point showing against Kansas, freshman point guard Farad Cobb shot 0-for-30 from the arc in December. He scored 14 points and had four assists with no turnovers against Mfon Udofia in Georgia Tech's McCamish Pavilion on Wednesday.
Zaccheus Mason, Gee McGhee and Ronrico White are among the top 30 scorers in the SoCon, while Mason and Zlovaric are in the top 20 in rebounding and White is No. 13 in assists per game.
"In the Dr Pepper Classic we found what we have to do in order to win, and that's to throw that first punch," Zlovaric said. "Also, everybody has to contribute. Everybody, each night, has to give us their part. That's team basketball.
"At Kansas, we had no clue how much or what person could give. Now we have an idea what that is, and people have found their role."
UTC starts the heart of its season at Samford and then makes a swing to The Citadel and College of Charleston starting Thursday.
"We can't judge ourselves on our record because we've been trying to find ourselves ... and we've been playing without important guys," Shulman said. "Yet we've gotten better with our development of our young guys and development of our team."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...