Like every other college basketball program this year, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's process of putting together a schedule didn't come without its struggles.
When the NCAA announced it would push back the start date of the 2020-21 season to Nov. 25 due to the coronavirus pandemic, UTC men's coach Lamont Paris and the Mocs lost some games as they reworked their schedule, including a Nov. 24 matchup at Big Ten member Iowa that was reported by the Athletic in late May.
The revised 27-game schedule will tip off Nov. 25 — the day before Thanksgiving — as Bellarmine visits McKenzie Arena for a 2 p.m. tipoff. There will be no exhibitions this year per NCAA alterations, and the Mocs are set to play five games in the first two weeks of the season, then three more times before entering Southern Conference play on Dec. 30 at home against Furman.
"It was a very challenging process," Paris, who is about to begin his fourth season leading the Mocs, said in a UTC release. "One thing that helped us along was not being in a multiteam event this year. That gave us a little more flexibility not having to wait to see if it was going to be played or if it would change venues or if the opponents in the tournament would change.
"That process was still difficult trying to find dates and determine if a certain contract would be honored or if guaranteed money would stay the same. We moved a date or two, but it was a pretty seamless transition."
The Mocs finished 20-13 in 2019-20, their first 20-win campaign under Paris and the first for the program since the 2015-16 Mocs went 29-6 and won the SoCon title to make their most recent NCAA tournament appearance. Lost from last season's team, which reached the SoCon tournament semifinals before national postseason tournaments were called off due to the pandemic, are four starters and six players total.
Matt Ryan and Jonathan Scott graduated, Justin Brown, Maurice Commander and Rod Johnson transferred and Ramon Vila returned home to Spain to turn pro. That means the Mocs must replace the players responsible for 62% of the team's scoring last season. The returning players include fifth-year senior guard David Jean-Baptiste, who averaged 12.6 points per game in 2019-20 and this past week was selected for the All-SoCon preseason team.
Here's a breakdown of UTC's opponents for the 2020-21 season:
BELLARMINE (Home, Nov. 25; Away, Dec. 9)
This is the Knights' first season playing Division I basketball, and they will face the Mocs for the first time as well. The Atlantic Sun program from Louisville, Kentucky, had been one of the top teams in Division II, with at least 20 wins in 12 consecutive seasons and near victories over Louisville and Notre Dame. They return three starters, led by junior point guard Dylan Penn, who last season averaged 11.6 points and led the team in assists with 75.
NORTHERN KENTUCKY (Home, Nov. 28)
The Mocs are 8-4 all-time against the Norse, with UTC winning the most recent series meeting 93-81 in Chattanooga on Dec. 16, 2014, in former coach Will Wade's last season. Last season, Northern Kentucky won 23 games and the Horizon League tournament championship to qualify for the NCAA tournament. They lost their top three scorers from last season.
TENNESSEE TECH (Away, Nov. 30)
UTC has struggled historically against the Golden Eagles, with Tennessee Tech holding a 42-18 edge in the all-time series, including 28-5 at home. The Ohio Valley Conference program in Cookeville struggled last season with a 9-23 mark in its first campaign under coach John Pelphrey, but the Golden Eagles are led by former McCallie standout Jr. Clay, a 6-foot guard who averaged a team-high 13.4 points per contest a sophomore in 2019-20.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE (Away, Dec. 6)
The Mocs lead this series 32-29, but they are 8-20 at the Murphy Center, the site of this season's matchup. The Blue Raiders won the most recent meeting between the two teams, 68-58 on Dec. 19, 2014, but are coming off an 8-23 record in their second season under Nick McDevitt, who went from UNC-Asheville to Murfreesboro when Kermit Davis left for Ole Miss. One of McDevitt's assistants is Wes Long, who was an assistant under Will Wade at UTC the last time the two teams met.
UNC ASHEVILLE (Away, Dec. 16)
The Mocs' 7-0 record in the series includes a 68-64 win in North Carolina last season. Led by guards Devon Baker and Lavar Batts, this year's UNCA lineup returns all five starters and its top player off the bench from a team that finished 15-16.
UAB (Away, Dec. 19)
The Mocs own three wins in the series against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but the Blazers have 11, including an 89-47 victory in Birmingham on Nov. 13, 2017, when Paris made his debut with the Mocs. UAB went 19-13 last season and was in the Conference USA tournament quarterfinals when play was stopped due to the pandemic. Tavin Lovan, last season's leading scorer, returns.
TENNESSEE STATE (Away, Dec. 22)
Ryan and Jean-Baptiste made 3-pointers in the final two minutes that helped break a 52-all tie and give the Mocs a 59-57 win in Chattanooga last season. The Tigers won 18 games last season, but they lost four of their five starters from that team. UTC leads the series 19-14 but is 5-8 in Nashville.
THE CITADEL (Away, Jan. 9; Home, Feb. 13)
Paris is 5-1 against the Bulldogs, with the wins coming in consecutive contests. The Mocs' offense was on full display in last season's sweep as they shot 52% from the field and made 23 3-pointers at a 41% clip.
ETSU (Away, Jan. 27; Home, Feb. 6)
UTC leads the series 47-42, but East Tennessee State has won 10 straight in a rivalry that has experienced massive swings back and forth in its history. The Buccaneers had an eventful offseason, with coach Steve Forbes leaving for Wake Forest and the program losing its top eight scorers from 2019-20. New head coach Jason Shay, who was Forbes' top assistant and was once on staff at Tennessee, will be starting from scratch. Two of the players on Shay's roster have Chattanooga-area ties: senior forward Silas Adheke, who prepped at Hamilton Heights Christian Academy, and freshman guard Mo Schramm (East Hamilton, Cleveland).
FURMAN (Home, Dec. 30; Away, Jan. 30)
The Mocs lead the all-time series 54-36 but have lost seven straight since former coach Matt McCall's 2016-17 team won 80-64 at home on Jan. 7, 2017. The Paladins won 58-53 at home and 73-66 in Chattanooga last season.
MERCER (Home, Jan. 13; Away, Feb. 24)
Road teams won both meetings last season, with the Mocs coming out on top 70-61 in Macon, Georgia, before the Bears triumphed 85-80 in Chattanooga. The teams have had some memorable battles since Mercer joined the SoCon prior to the 2014-15 season, and they have split the 12 meetings in that span.
UNC GREENSBORO (Home, Jan. 23; Away, Feb. 21)
Perhaps the Mocs' biggest win under Paris to date came in the SoCon tournament quarterfinals this past March, when they outscored the Spartans 43-25 in the second half to win by 10 points in Asheville. UNCG has been a top-three team in the league since Paris took over, but the Mocs are 3-4 in his tenure against the Spartans. UTC leads the all-time series 26-22.
SAMFORD (Home, Jan. 6; Away, Jan. 20)
Paris is 5-2 against the Bulldogs, which includes an upset victory in the first round of the 2018 SoCon tournament and a season sweep last season. Samford replaced former head coach Scott Padgett — now an assistant at New Mexico, he led the Bulldogs for six seasons after working as an assistant for two — with former Mountain Brook (Alabama) High School coach Bucky McMillan. The Bulldogs return only one starter: forward Jalen Dupree, who averaged 11.1 points and 7.4 rebounds per game last year.
VMI (Away, Jan. 2; Home, Feb. 27)
The Mocs swept Virginia Militiary Institute last season, stretching their winning streak against the Keydets to four games and improving UTC's all-time record in the series to 46-14. VMI, which went 9-24 last season, does have some experience returning, with the roster including four players who started at least 10 games.
WESTERN CAROLINA (Away, Feb. 3; Home, Feb. 17)
The Catamounts swept the season series in 2019-20, led by senior guard Mason Faulkner, who flirted with the NBA after averaging 17.7 points per game. They also return 3-point specialist Matt Halvorsen and guard Kameron Gibson from a 19-win team.
WOFFORD (Home, Jan. 16; Away, Feb. 10)
The Mocs came within a shot for playing for the SoCon tournament title in March. Unfortunately, the winning shot came from Wofford guard Storm Murphy, whose jumper with two seconds to play was the difference in a 72-70 victory for the Terriers. Murphy will be a four-year starter for Wofford, which won 19 games last season; also back are sophomore guard Ryan Larson and senior guard Tray Holloway, who was fourth on the team in scoring.