ETSU, which opens with a home game Wednesday night against Newberry at Freedom Hall, is ranked third in the preseason Mid-Major poll. The Bucs were picked to win the Southern Conference in the media and coaches polls and were picked as the 58th-best team in the country by ESPN’s Jay Bilas.
“We’ve had a pretty good offseason with that type of publicity,” Bucs coach Steve Forbes said. “Now we have to play the games. That stuff kind of goes out the door. The mark of a good team is to be ready and stay ready all year. That’s what we have to do if we’re going to have the type of year we want to have.”
The Bucs won’t be anywhere near full strength for the opener. Joe Hugley, a transfer who is expected to play a big role this season, suffered a leg injury in the exhibition game against Limestone. X-rays were negative, and he underwent an MRI earlier this week.
There is optimism in the Bucs camp that Hugley’s injury isn’t as bad as it appeared as he writhed in pain on the court, but he certainly won’t play Wednesday night.
In addition, two players coming off surgery — Patrick Good (hip) and Jeromy Rodriguez (foot) — looked rusty in the exhibition game.
“We’re going to be down a man and it was pretty obvious that Jeromy and Pat aren’t in midseason form yet,” Forbes said.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The last time these two teams met was during the 1989-90 season, and ETSU set a school record for points in a 125-74 victory.
Since 1981, ETSU has won 35 of its 38 home openers. Forbes, beginning his fifth season at ETSU, is 4-0 in those games.
Forbes said he’ll go with the same starting lineup as he did in the exhibition game. That lineup featured two point guards, Isaiah Tisdale and Daivien Williamson, in addition to shooting guard Bo Hodges, center Lucas N’Guessan and Rodriguez at forward.
The two-point guard look was a new wrinkle for the Bucs, and Forbes liked what he saw.
“I trust those guys,” he said. “They make good decisions. They’re all different. They bring different skills.”
Three of the starters — Rodriguez, Tisdale and N’Guessan — are seniors, as are two of the key reserves, Tray Boyd III and Hugley.
“The season begins and they all count now,” Forbes said. “You have to play your best, especially for the seniors. You only get one senior year. It’s go time for everybody, but I think it would have a little more urgency for the seniors.”
When you hear the Bucs refer to one of their teammates as “Pun,” they’re talking about Tisdale. He got the nickname after the late rapper “Big Pun.”
Newberry has a new coach in Jeremy Taylor, who came from Tennessee Tech. The Wolves were 10-18 last season.
Junior guard Angelo Sales Jr. is Newberry’s top returning player. He averaged 16.1 points per game last season and was a member of the South Atlantic Conference’s preseason all-conference team.
NEXT GAME UP
After the opener, the Bucs take to the road for a game at Tennessee-Martin on Saturday. Tipoff for that one is 8 p.m. (EST).