As Lamont Paris has built the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball program back up, he's scheduled relative to the level of talent and experience he's felt he had on the roster.
Meaning he has to feel pretty good about his current team.
When the Mocs announced this season's schedule on Tuesday — besides its Southern Conference slate — it included away games at NCAA tournament qualifier Virginia Commonwealth University and perennially strong mid-majors Loyola Marymount, Lipscomb, Belmont and Murray State, as well as home-and-home series against Tennessee Tech and UNC-Asheville. It also included home games against Middle Tennessee State and former Southern Conference foe College of Charleston.
"It's very challenging, but we do have a mature team," Paris said Tuesday. "I wanted to have a non-conference schedule that was reflective of the level of competition that would make us feel more confident once we got into league play."
The team has high goals, and with good reason. In 2020-21 the team started 9-0 despite playing with just seven or eight players at times in the non-conference schedule. There were numerous struggles throughout the conference season in terms of depth, but the Mocs still finished 9-7 before the losses of guard Malachi Smith and forward Darius Banks due to COVID-19 protocols left the team with just eight available players in a 63-53 loss to East Tennessee State in the SoCon tournament.
Some of those depth issues have been addressed. The Mocs lost senior forward Stefan Kenic to the professional ranks after the in-season losses of junior guard Trey Doomes and junior forward Mark Tikhonenko. Those pieces have been replaced by a pair of players with college experience in former Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa and former Central Florida forward Avery Diggs. Guard Tada Stricklen comes to UTC with three years remaining after starting his career at Morehead State before transferring to Southwest Mississippi Community College, and the Mocs got freshman Jacob Radaker after the 6-foot-9 forward spent the 2020-21 season at Navy Prep.
For good measure, the Mocs added freshman forward Randy Brady, a local product who will help the team down the line.
"We're going in not expecting anything less than national top-25 consideration and March Madness," Smith said in April. "And if something happens, like us having a bad shooting night in the (conference) tournament, we're getting an at-large bid because we're that good, like Loyola or Drake, teams that were getting an at-large whether they won their tournaments or not. That's our goal."
And this season they have a schedule that will give them that opportunity.
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