MACON, Ga. - Aiming to capitalize off a groundbreaking 2011-12 season, the Mercer men's basketball team has released a formidable 2012-13 schedule, highlighted by the Paradise Jam Tournament and 13 home contests at Hawkins Arena in the University Center.
VIEW: Mercer Men's 2012-2013 Basketball Schedule
"We're going to be really stretched in the non-conference portion, which has always been beneficial for our team come conference play," Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman said. "This season will be no different, and we will see every style of play and be in every part of the country. We'll be pushed to the maximum to see what our strengths and weaknesses are going into A-Sun competition."
All told, the 2012-13 schedule features 13 non-conference games as a supplement to an 18-game Atlantic Sun slate. Of the non-conference matchups, nine are contested on the road, including three against 2012 NCAA Tournament participants.
Mercer's season gets underway on November 10 in the annual Homecoming event, as the Bears play host to the University of the South at 4 p.m. Two days later, the Bears are back on the Hawkins Arena hardwood in a test against Oglethorpe at 7 p.m.
Mercer's clash with Oglethorpe is the team's final tune-up before traveling to the US Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam Tournament. Other teams in the annual event are Illinois-Chicago, New Mexico, Wake Forest, Connecticut, Quinnipiac, Iona, and Mercer's first-round opponent, George Mason.
"I think it's always a great opportunity to see teams on a neutral floor that have had success in the past like George Mason, New Mexico, Connecticut and Wake Forest," Hoffman said. "Having the opportunity to go and potentially win some games gives you another chance to move the bar for your program in the direction you want to be in."
Each team is guaranteed three games in the Paradise Jam, with a winners and losers bracket extending from the four initial matchups. Mercer and George Mason open the event on November 16 at 2:30 p.m.
After the Paradise Jam, Furman rolls into Macon for a November 25 test before the Bears depart for a three-game road swing at New Mexico, Florida State and Denver. Those three games are part of a larger segment that sees the Bears on the road for six of seven games over a 25-day span.
"Our frequent flyer miles will be up," Hoffman said. "As a college basketball player you want to have experiences. We're going to play in some storied places; The Pit in Albuquerque has hosted the final four. There will be excited fans that we'll be playing in front of that love hoops at a high level."
On December 8, the team hosts Alabama A&M before returning to the travel circuit for games at Chattanooga, Georgia and Alabama. The December 22 trip to Alabama marks the end of Mercer's non-conference slate.
The A-Sun gauntlet begins on the final day of 2012 in a home conference opener against Stetson. Other notable home A-Sun matchups include a January 2 clash with Florida Gulf Coast, a weekend set with East Tennessee State and USC Upstate on January 17 and 19, and a senior-day welcome to Macon for the league's newest member, Northern Kentucky, on February 23.
"I couldn't sit here and tell you in my mind who's going to win the league this year; there are many teams that have that opportunity," Hoffman said. "It will be down to the end as it has in the past. It will be fun to see those teams compete in the non-conference against some other leagues and continue to show how good our league is. Once we get into conference play, there are going to be some really good teams with losses."
For the final season, Mercer gets a chance to host the A-Sun Tournament on March 6-9 with a shot at an NCAA Tournament bid on the line. The 2013 A-Sun Tournament marks the fourth-straight year the event has been held on the Macon campus.
"We need to start the name change of the arena off right," Hoffman said. "We're undefeated on the floor of Hawkins arena, and it would be a great way to get our first appearance in the NCAA, coming out of our own conference on our own floor. We're excited about our potential."
That potential is sky-high after the team lost just two seniors from last year's 27-win, CollegeInsider.com Tournament Championship team. In all, the team returns over 80% of its scoring and over 85% of its rebounding from a year ago.