GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Eight games against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament a year ago highlights the 2017-2018 Tusculum men's basketball schedule which has been released by Pioneer head coach Nick Pasqua. (2017-18 Schedule)
Tusculum will play 28 regular-season games along with an exhibition contest against NCAA Division I East Tennessee State. The Pioneers will face a 20-game South Atlantic Conference slate against the 10 league opponents. The 2017-2018 features 15 contests against teams that posted a winning record last season.
Tusculum returns six lettermen and one starter from last year's squad that posted a 12-17 record, finished eighth in the league standings and advanced to the SAC Tournament Quarterfinals.
Pasqua, who is entering his first season at the helm of the Tusculum program, has loaded up the Pioneer roster with a balance of Division I and II transfers as well as a talented group of freshmen.
"One thing I strongly believe in is playing a tough non-conference schedule to challenge our guys, and help us get ready for SAC play," said Pasqua. "My goal is for Tusculum to become one of the elite programs in the Southeast Region and a program cannot reach that level if they are not willing to play teams that have already achieved that level of success."
Pasqua will face a familiar opponent when he makes his head coaching debut on Nov. 10 as the Pioneers will open up against in-state foe King at the SAC / Conference Carolinas Challenge in Banner Elk, North Carolina.
Pasqua served on the King coaching staff for the last nine seasons, including the last six as associate head coach. He was also a four-year starter with the Tornado from 2004-2008. King went 19-12 last season including a 1-1 against Tusculum. The Tornado finished fourth in Conference Carolinas and advanced to the conference tournament championship game.
Following the King game, the Pioneers will face host Lees-McRae on Nov. 11. The Bobcats finished the season 8-21 and posted an eighth place league finish.
Tusculum will travel to Cleveland, Tennessee on Nov. 15 and take on Lee University. It will mark the first time the Pioneers and Flames have squared off on the basketball hardwood since the 1994-1995 campaign. Lee is coming off an 11-17 season where the Flames tied for ninth in the Gulf South Conference.
TC will close out the four-game season-opening road trip on Nov. 18 when they face Belmont Abbey. The Crusaders went 14-15 last season and finished sixth in Conference Carolinas. Tusculum and Belmont Abbey split last year's two meetings, winning on their respective home courts.
Tusculum will host Lee in a rematch on Nov. 21 in the Pioneers' home-opener. TC will follow with a grueling three-game stretch of games against NCAA postseason teams.
On Nov. 25, the Pioneers face Southeast Region foe Columbus State in a neutral site game in Jefferson City, Tennessee. The Cougars went 20-10 last season and tied for first place in the Peach Belt Conference West Division. CSU advanced to the PBC Tournament final and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"We do not have anyone on our non-conference schedule this year that is not capable of winning or challenging for their conference championship and making it to the NCAA Region Tournament," Pasqua added. "The SAC/Conference Carolinas Challenge will give us immediate feedback on where our team is, and how quickly we must improve on things if we want to have a good season."
The Pioneers will open its 19th South Atlantic Conference season on Nov. 29 when they host national powerhouse Lincoln Memorial. The Railsplitters claimed a share of the SAC regular-season title and advanced to the SAC Tournament championship game. LMU made another strong NCAA Tournament run, winning the Southeast Region title and advance to the NCAA II Final Four. LMU swept all three meetings with the Pioneers last year and TC will be looking to snap a 21-game losing streak to the Railsplitters.
Tusculum will host defending SAC co-champion Queens University of Charlotte on Dec. 2 at Pioneer Arena. The Royals had its best season in school history, sweeping both the SAC regular-season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Queens went 30-4 before being eliminated in the Southeast Region finals by Lincoln Memorial. Queens swept last year's two-game series with Tusculum.
The Pioneers will wrap up their three-game home-stand on Dec. 5 when they host the Coker Cobras. Coker went 8-20 overall and finished 10th in the conference. Tusculum swept the season series over the Cobras a year ago.
The Pioneers will be in North Carolina for its next two games with back-to-back Saturday contests at Catawba and Wingate. On Dec. 9, the Pioneers will venture to Salisbury to take on the Catawba Indians. Catawba went 18-11 and finished sixth in the league standings including a pair of wins over the Pioneers.
Tusculum will face its fourth NCAA Tournament team on Dec. 16 as the Pioneers travel to Wingate. The Bulldogs went 20-11 to finish third in the league. WU advanced to the semifinal round of the SAC Tournament before falling in the NCAA Regional quarterfinal.
The Pioneers will wrap up the pre-holiday portion of its schedule when they host Barton on Dec. 19 for a rare Tuesday afternoon game. The Bulldogs went 20-10 last year, finished third in Conference Carolinas and lost in the league tournament semifinal. The two teams last met during the 2013-14 season.
On Dec. 28, Tusculum will make the short trip to Johnson City to face NCAA Division I ETSU for an exhibition game. The game will count in the won-loss column for the Bucs, who are coming off a 27-8 campaign where ETSU won the Southern Conference Tournament title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Tusculum will travel to cross-mountain rival Mars Hill on Jan. 3 to open the New Year. The Lions went 6-22 overall and finished 11th in the conference including a pair off losses to Tusculum.
The Black and Orange will be at Lenoir-Rhyne on Jan. 6 for a match-up with the Bears. L-R went 10-17 and tied for eighth place in the SAC standings with Tusculum. The Pioneers and Bears split last year's season series.
Tusculum welcomes arch-rival Carson-Newman and reigning SAC Player of the Year Charles Clark to Pioneer Arena on Jan. 10 to begin a three-game home-stand. The Eagles finished fourth in the league and posted a 19-11 record, including two wins over Tusculum. The Eagles advanced to the SAC Tournament semifinal.
The SAC is arguably better than it ever has been, having LMU and Queens pre-season top-five in the country, Carson-Newman returning the SAC Player of the Year, and almost every other school returning multiple starters from their teams last season. It should be highly competitive every night in conference play, and I am looking forward to the challenge of seeing how our team responds and competes each night."
The Pioneers host Newberry on Jan. 13 as the Wolves finished fifth in the league and ended the year with an 18-11 overall record. Newberry went 2-0 against the Pioneers and advanced to the SAC quarterfinals.
The Anderson Trojans will wrap up the home-stand on Jan. 17. AU went 13-16 last year and finished seventh in the conference before falling in the SAC Quarterfinal.
Tusculum begins the second half of the SAC season on Jan. 20 and 24 with rematches at Queens and Lincoln Memorial, respectively. TC will host Catawba on Jan. 27 before stepping out of conference play for the final time against Winston-Salem State. The Rams went 13-14 last season and are favorites to win the CIAA South Division. This will be the first time the two teams have met on the hardwood since 2005.
The Pioneers will tip off February with home games against Wingate (Feb. 3) and Mars Hill (Feb. 7). Tusculum will travel to Coker on Feb. 10 and Carson-Newman on Feb. 14. Tusculum will host Senior Day on Feb. 17 when the Pioneers take on Lenoir-Rhyne. TC will close out the regular season with road games at Anderson (Feb. 21) and Newberry (Feb. 24).
The top eight teams will advance to the 2018 South Atlantic Conference Tournament with the top-four seeds hosting quarterfinal games on Feb. 27. The SAC semifinal and championship games will be play on Mar. 3-4 at Timmons Arena in Greenville, South Carolina.
The NCAA II Southeast Regional is slated to be held Mar. 10-13 at a campus site with the winner advancing to the NCAA Elite Eight in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Mar. 28-31.