BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After a fifth-place finish in the conference last season, the Birmingham-Southern men's basketball team is poised and ready to tip off the 2019-20 campaign.
Coming off a 2018-19 season that saw the Panthers go 12-13 overall and 6-8 in the Southern Athletic Association, Birmingham-Southern is looking to improve, develop, and potentially climb back to the top of the league with its team in 2019-20.
"I think this year we've got a really balanced team that's able to distribute the ball and score pretty well," said head coach Chris Graves, who is entering his ninth season at the helm. "I'm excited about the year going forward."
There are nine players returning for the Panthers from last season's team, including BSC's lone senior Calvin Bak (Muscle Shoals, Ala./Muscle Shoals HS) and junior forwards Ben Spence (Memphis, Tenn./Christian Brothers HS) and Christian Stewart (Irondale, Ala./Shades Valley HS).
But this season BSC does not have one key guy to lean on, Graves added.
"This is the first time in a long time we're not returning an all-conference player," he said. "I think it's going to be a situation where we accomplish things by committee. We don't have one superstar, but we have a bunch of good players that can help us."
Members of the "committee" Graves described will most definitely include some of the six new faces to the Hilltop. Among the six newcomers, two are transfers, Paul Fitzgerald (Fort Valley, Ga./Lamar CC) and Jason Morrison (Atlanta, Ga./Snead State CC).
"Jason and Paul have some length and athleticism that really gives a little bit of a different element," Graves said. "Both of them shoot the ball well and defend well, so I'm excited about those guys."
The other four newcomers are freshmen Charlie Barnett (Raleigh, N.C./Virginia Episcopal School), Trevor Byron (Panama City Beach, Fla./Choctawhatchee HS), Josh Childers (Madison, Ala./Westminster Christian Academy), and Clark Larson (Jackson, Tenn./Goodpasture Christian School).
"I like our incoming class," Graves added. "I believe quite a few of our new guys will have to be impactful for us to be successful."
Birmingham-Southern's season will begin on Friday, Nov. 8 when the Panthers travel to Tennessee to face Covenant in Sewanee's Lon Varnell Classic.
"We open the season with Covenant, who's picked first in the USA South preseason, so that'll be a really good test to start with," Graves said.
Some other tests for the Panthers make their way into the non-conference schedule. After games against Covenant and Johnson University at the Sewanee tournament, the Panthers will play their home opener against Huntingdon on Nov. 16 and then LaGrange on Nov. 17 in the program's annual Black Tie Classic tournament.
BSC will then travel to Florence, Ala., on Dec. 8 for an exhibition against Division I opponent North Alabama.
"That exhibition game will be an interesting fun test for us," Graves said.
In total, the Panthers have 12 non-conference matchups to start the season, including a pair of games in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Dec. 19 and 20.
"There are a bunch of games that I think should be quality games for us before we start the conference season in a league that's looking pretty strong. It'll be a challenging and fun year," he added.
The SAA conference schedule starts in late December with BSC's first conference game at home against Millsaps on Sunday, Dec. 29. At the turn of the year, the Panthers will start 2020 with back-to-back games against last season's regular-season champion Centre on Jan. 3 and the defending SAA Tournament champ Sewanee on Jan. 5.
The remainder of BSC's schedule will be conference opponents and will end how it started, with a matchup against Millsaps on Feb. 15.
Graves said the SAA will once again be competitive with a number of teams fielding experienced and talented rosters, but he says this Panther squad should be ready when conference play rolls around.
"I hope that we'll be a team that competes near the top of the league," he said. "I think this team is one that should get better and better with experience and should be playing better by January and February."
With all that said, Graves and the Panthers are coming out on the hardwood with a relatively young team, one that will require development as the season goes on and whose results may depend on the success of the development.
"I think we have the potential to be one of the upper echelon teams in the league, but this season will really be about developing to the potential and the talent we have," Graves said. "If they develop to the point that I think they can then we should be a really strong position for the future."
"But if we get an opportunity to go into the conference tournament with a chance to win it, then I'll feel pretty good about that, too," he added. "The exciting thing is that there is talent on this team to develop and if we can mold these guys into the type of team we want to be, we've got a chance."
For all Birmingham-Southern men's basketball news and information, please visit bscsports.net/sports/mbkb.
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