Free from Mid-South Conference, Tech basketball opens season Saturday
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Life after the Mid-South Conference begins for WVU Tech men's basketball Saturday when the Golden Bears host Salem International in the team's season opener.
Tech was ruled ineligible for the league championship last year by the MSC, but that didn't stop the Golden Bears from finishing with the league's best record. This year Tech will play as an NAIA independent and work to break in many new players after losing seven seniors from last year's squad to graduation.
The move will help Tech in being more flexible with scheduling, which will allow the school to play more games in and against competition from West Virginia.
"It's a major adjustment," Tech head coach Bob Williams said. "Instead of scheduling 10 or 15 games you have to schedule 30. It's especially difficult in the second semester when teams are in conference [play]. For us it's been good because it has worked out where we get some in-state games. Instead of driving to Kentucky for league games, most of our games are in the state."
Tech is in the odd position, as a basketball team, to be the main attraction for the school's homecoming festivities this weekend. With no Golden Bear football team, Williams said it's different for a basketball team to play the homecoming game but he is just glad to be playing.
"NAIA usually starts earlier and we would have normally opened around the first of November. We're happy to play homecoming," he said. "It's different than going to a homecoming football game but the schools that don't have football have to play volleyball, basketball or soccer."
The Golden Bears were listed as "also receving votes" in the preseason NAIA poll but Williams' faces the task of replacing seven seniors from last year's squad.
"We still have some question marks," Williams said. "We'll be smaller and not as experienced but we'll compete."
Tech's top recruit, Jacob Copley from Tolsia, left school early in the semester and will not play for the Golden Bears. Williams said Floyd Campbell, Terrale Clark, Brandon Burgraff and Jaren Marino will all start against Salem on Saturday and to expect the team to play a guard-oriented lineup most of the time.
Charleston opens its season Nov. 6 with an exhibition at Conference USA's Southern Mississippi before starting regular-season play at home Nov. 20 against Davis & Elkins.
The Golden Eagles have to fill the void left by departed West Virginia Conference Player of the Year P.J. Reyes, but coach Mark Downey said he thinks he and his staff and put the pieces in place to maintain the success the team had last year when UC finished in second place in the regular season WVC standings and lost to West Liberty in overtime of the conference tournament championship game.
"We want to be recognized and we want people to know our name," Downey said. "When people talk about good Division II programs we want to be mentioned. Everybody's shooting for West Lib. They've got everybody back and they're No. 1 in the country. It's going to be harder to stay up there this year."
Downey said the addition of Robbie Dreher - a 6-foot-4 junior guard who led Winthrop University in scoring as a sophomore before transferring - and Terrell Lipkins - a 6-0, junior guard who was one of the top scorers in the nation while at Northland Community College in Minnesota - are newcomers who will play a big part in replacing the production Reyes provided.
"They're on the level as P.J." Downey said. "Last year we had one guy like that with a bunch of complimentary guys, but this year we'll have a few more guys that are all-conference-caliber players. People won't be able to key on one guy."
Getting back to the WVC tournament final will not be easy for the Golden Eagles but it is a task Downey said his team is looking forward to taking on.
"There's four or five guys back that played in that game last year that know about that," he said. "That's something that we welcome. There are a couple polls that have come out and we want to be mentioned in that. We want to be a staple in the NCAA tournament."
West Virginia State opens its season two weeks from today on Nov. 9 at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., and does not play a home game until Nov. 29, when the Yellow Jackets host Concord in Institute.
Coach Bryan Poore's team went 14-13 overall and posted a 12-10 record in WVC play last season before being bounced from the conference tournament in the first round by Shepherd.
State finished second in the WVC regular-season standings two years ago and lost to West Liberty in the conference championship game. The year before that the Yellow Jackets also finished in second place in the standings and edged the Hilltoppers 108-107 for the WVC crown. In the 2008-09 season, State won the regular-season conference title before being upset in the conference tournament quarterfinals by Wheeling Jesuit.
Leading scorer Corey Bathea (19.3 points per game) is gone, but senior David Ford (15.3) returns to anchor a Yellow Jacket squad eager to return to the ranks of the WVC's elite.
Reach Tom Bragg at email@example.com.