LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Last season, the Covenant men's basketball team won a regular season conference title but ultimately fell short in its quest to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.
This year, head coach Neal Young and his squad are looking to climb that mountain again, but this time reach its peak.
With 10 returning players, including four starters, mixed in with a talented recruiting class, the Scots look primed for more success as the season gets under way on Saturday with an exhibition at Chattanooga. Saturday's game, an exhibition for both Covenant and UTC, is set for 2 p.m. at McKenzie Arena. Tickets can be purchased at gomocs.com.
Covenant set a program record for winning percentage with last season's 18-9 overall record to go along with a 16-2 USA South mark. The 16 conference set both a program and USA South record. Covenant claimed a USA South West Division title, the first regular season conference title in 55 years for the program.
The Scots are the target of the USA South as they were picked as the favorite in the West Division in the conference's preseason coaches' poll. With veteran leadership on the court, Covenant welcomes the task and looks to exceed even the loftiest of expectations in the new year.
Talent is all over the 17-man roster for Young and his coaching staff, but junior forward Will Crumly will draw the most attention from opposing teams.
Crumly, the reigning USA South Player of the Year and an NABC All-America selection last year, returns for the Scots after averaging 22.0 points and 8.5 rebounds per game last season. The 6-foot-9 big man shot 59.9 percent from the field, while ranking in the top five in several categories within the USA South.
Crumly isn't the lone scorer for the Scots, however. Covenant averaged 76.0 points per game last season and saw four players average double-figure scoring, and three of those players return this season.
Senior 3-point specialist James Mitchell comes back after averaging 11.9 points per game last year, while making a team-high 91 3-pointers. Mitchell enters the year 86 triples shy of the all-time Covenant program record.
Fellow senior Mitchell Hollis is also a returning starter for the Scots. Hollis enjoyed a breakout season in 2018-19 as he tallied 10.8 points per game and shot 47.1 percent from 3-point territory. Junior Noah Oetjen is the fourth returning starter for Covenant as he poured in 6.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per contest in his first season as a Scot.
Forward William Bryan and guard Jared Jauch round out the senior class. Bryan played in all 27 games last season, making nine starts, while Jauch returns from an injury that sidelined him for most of last year.
Young picked up seven players in his recruiting class, including a pair of transfers. Sophomore guard Chris Barnette comes into Covenant after a strong freshman year at Mars Hill (DII) where he averaged 5.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game. Brady Palmer, also a sophomore guard, will enter his first year as a Scot after coming in from Arkansas Tech (DII).
Junior Zack Allen returns to Covenant and supplies another 3-point threat. Allen played for the Scots in 2016-17 and averaged 4.5 points per game, while shooting 37.9 percent from deep.
The regular season gets started on Nov. 8 at the Lon Varnell Classic, hosted by Sewanee. Covenant will take on Birmingham Southern on Nov. 8 before facing Sewanee on Nov. 9. The home opener is set for Nov. 19 against Birmingham Southern.
Covenant then rounds out November with road games at region foes Centre (Nov. 23) and Emory (Nov. 26).
The USA South opener is set for Dec. 4, as Covenant will travel to reigning conference champion Maryville. Maryville and Covenant will also play on Lookout Mountain on Feb. 5. Maryville, Emory, and Sewanee all made the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
Covenant's lone home game in December is against Huntingdon on Dec. 7. The Scots then travel to Jackson, Miss., after Christmas to face Belhaven (Dec. 28) and Millsaps (Dec. 31). In January, Pfeiffer (Jan. 4), LaGrange (Jan. 11), Brevard (Jan. 14), and Berea (Jan. 28) all come to Lookout Mountain.
Over the final month, the Scots will host Greensboro (Feb. 1), Maryville (Feb. 5), Piedmont (Feb. 8), and Averett for Senior Day (Feb. 15).
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