Tough schedule for Mocs in McCall's first season

Tough schedule for Mocs in McCall's first season

July 27th, 2015 by Gene Henley in Sports - College

Matt McCall is greeted by University of Tennessee at Chattanooga mascot Scrappy after being announced as the Mocs' new head coach for men's basketball on April 14.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

If Matt McCall was hoping to ease into his first season as men's basketball coach for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, those dreams went by the wayside pretty quickly.

The Mocs' 2015-16 schedule features 10 games against opponents who participated in postseason tournaments, including three NCAA tournament foes.

After a Nov. 6 exhibition against NCAA Division III opponent Covenant College, the Mocs open their season Nov. 13 at Georgia. Also on the schedule are games at NCAA tournament participants Iowa State and Dayton; Illinois, which played in the National Invitation Tournament; and Louisiana-Monroe, which played in the College Basketball Invitational.

A highlight of UTC's 15-game home slate is a Dec. 22 contest against Radford, which also played in the CBI during a 22-win season in 2014-15.

Southern Conference play begins with a Jan. 2 trip to The Citadel. For the second straight season, SoCon teams will play an 18-game league schedule, with each of the Mocs' nine opponents coming to McKenzie Arena, where they were 15-2 overall and 8-1 in conference play last season.

"We have some tough games right off the bat," McCall said recently. "Iowa State is going to most likely be one of the top 10 teams in the country, so it's going to be a challenging schedule — there are no ifs, ands or buts about it, we have our work cut out from the the beginning.

The Mocs return seven of their top eight scorers from a 22-win season, which included 20 wins against Division I competition for the first time in 20 years. Since becoming the program's 19th head coach on April 13, former Florida assistant McCall and his staff worked to keep players in the program. They lost two incoming freshmen who had signed to play for former coach Will Wade — now the head coach at VCU — but they kept all of the returning players, as well as 7-footer Trey Kalina and 6-6 swingman Zaqwaun Matthews.

In addition, McCall brought in junior college transfers Traevis Graham — who won't be eligible this season — and Johnathan Burroughs-Cook; forward Jackson White, a 6-9 shooter from the power forward position; and 6-4 guard Peyton Woods, who is among the top five Kentucky high school players all-time in 3-pointers made.

"We're just going to keep trying to get better," McCall said. "Once we finish the recruiting period in July, we're going to hit the ground running.

"We're excited to get to the season."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.