LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- In his sixth year as head coach of the Covenant men's basketball program, Kyle Taylor has arguably his most talented and experienced team yet heading into the start of the 2014-15 season.
The Scots, coming off a tough 8-17 record in the 2013-14 campaign, return all five starters and 16 players total. Additionally, seven seniors and five juniors make up the majority of Taylor's 17-man roster. Even with all the experience returning, the Scots were picked to finish 10th in the 11-team USA South in the league's preseason poll.
"The difference between second and 11th in the conference is very minimal," said Taylor who has piled up 38 wins in five years as head coach. "Just a few points separate those teams and if you play well on the right night you can finish very high in the standings. If you don't, you'll struggle."
The Scots found themselves in the latter category a season ago. Although Covenant played tight with opponents into the final minutes of several games, the Scots could not get over the hump on many occasions. In their final seven games, Covenant lost four of those contests by single digits.
Taylor hopes that the experience from last season, mixed with the talent his team possesses, will turn Covenant's fortunes around this season.
"We need to play disciplined basketball," continued Taylor. "Limiting turnovers, getting defensive rebounds and doing the little things will go a long way towards where we finish this season."
Senior Colton McGriff is Covenant's top returning scorer from last season. The senior from Birmingham, Ala., averaged a career-high 15.4 points and 7.2 rebounds per game last season, both leading the team, and was named to the USA South All-Conference third team. He was a two-time USA South Player of the Week honoree.
"I really feel like Colton can have a big year," added Taylor. "With the guys he has around him, I want him to score but also be more efficient in the way he scores."
Starting point guard Nate Frierson also returns coming off a career season a year ago. A senior from Laurel, Md., Frierson registered 7.8 points and 2.9 assists per game, both career-highs, in 2013-14. Frierson also continued to excel in the classroom as he was selected to the CoSIDA Academic All-District team and also earned academic honors from the USA South and NABC.
"Nate is a cerebral guy who understands what we are trying to do out there," said Taylor. "He is a disciplined player who can control the tempo of the game."
Taylor also expects breakout seasons from junior forward Chris Boyd as well as senior Teron Ferguson and junior Daniel Garrett. Boyd is coming off a year in which he averaged 7.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and over one block per game. Ferguson, who has been hampered by injuries throughout his career, was able to stay healthy and contributed significantly and is one of two team captains this year. Garrett played the second semester and ended up averaging 7.9 points per game, second-most on the team.
"If Chris can stay healthy and stay out of foul trouble, I expect him to have a breakout year," said Taylor of Boyd. "Also Teron and Daniel fit well into our style of play and will be important players this year, especially defensively."
Returning to Covenant this year is TJ Cox. Cox played two years for the Scots before leaving school for a year. Cox scored 8.7 points and dished out 3.5 assists per game in his sophomore season in 2012-13.
"He brings the ability to create offensively," noted Taylor of Cox. "When the play breaks down he can create something for himself or his teammates. He is a vocal leader and has a confidence about him. He has willed us to victories in the past and he can help turn some close losses into wins."
Overall, Taylor sees a team with talent to finish in the upper half of the USA South standings and earn a berth into the conference tournament. The top eight teams in the final conference standings qualify for the tournament.
"I want us to give ourselves a legitimate chance to compete in the USA South tournament," said Taylor. "This group of seniors wanted to turn Covenant into a contender when they arrived here four years ago. They have a lot of work to do to attain that goal, but that's the challenge."
Covenant opens the season on the road against Stevenson in Owings Mills, Md., on Nov. 15. The Scots also play Goucher and Birmingham Southern on the road before opening the home portion of their schedule on Nov. 25 against Oglethorpe. The Scots will also face non-conference foes Emory and Sewanee at home before USA South play begins.
"We have a tough non-conference schedule, but I'm excited for our guys and believe it will equip us well for conference play," added Taylor. "I want our guys to be battled tested before USA South play begins."
Covenant will play its first four USA South games on the road before hosting North Carolina Wesleyan on Friday, Jan. 16. The USA South tournament is scheduled for Feb. 26-28 and the top-seeded team will host.
All home games will feature live video and live stats. Links are available on the schedule page. Video is compatible on mobile devices.