PEMBROKE — After claiming the Peach Belt Conference regular season and tournament championships in each of the last two years, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke men’s basketball team announced the schedule it will defend those titles with on Monday.
The loaded Peach Belt Conference sent three teams to the NCAA tournament last year, and the Braves have set in place a challenging non-conference schedule to prepare themselves to take on the regions best come December through March.
“It’s like when I first got hired here, I got tired of hearing about the Aikens and Augustas,” UNCP coach Ben Miller said about the target on his team’s back. “I’m sure teams are tired of hearing about UNCP now.”
“It means that our guys have to be ready every night. Whether it’s conference games or non-conference games, if a team gets a win against the Braves it means a lot. That means we will get everyone’s best shot.”
UNCP finished 27-6 last season.
The Braves start the year off as thy travel to Ohio State, a No. 5-seed from last year’s Division I NCAA tournament, for a preseason exhibition. Miller’s father Eldon, who is also a volunteer assistant coach with the Braves, coached for 10 seasons in Columbus from 1976 to 1986. This is the second preseason the Braves have visited one of Eldon Miller’s former coaching stops, after visiting Northern Iowa last season.
“Ohio State has always played in-state schools. When they had the coaching change, they opened the door and some of dad’s former players were instrumental in going to the staff to see if they could get Coach Miller back while he is still active,” Miller said. “That will be a lot of fun and a great experience for our team.”
On top of the 22-game conference schedule, the Braves start the schedule with two weekend classics at the Peach Belt/South Atlantic Challenge hosted by Catawba on Nov. 9 and 10 where they face off with Newberry and Catawba on back-to-back nights. The following weekend, UNCP travels to Mount Olive for the Pickle Classic to take on Barton on Nov. 16 and Mount Olive on Nov. 17.
The Braves’ first home action comes five games into the year with the only home non-conference game on the docket a Nov. 20 matchup with Wingate.
“With the Peach Belt going to 22 games, we don’t have as many open games,” Miller said of the road-heavy non-conference schedule. “I wish we had a few more home games, but our guys play well on the road and it’s good preparation for conference play.”
“(Wingate) has been a contender in the SAC. We try to schedule as many in-region games as we can.”
Young Harris comes to Pembroke on Dec. 1 for the Peach Belt Conference opener, and 10 days later the Braves close out the non-conference schedule at Elizabeth City State. UNCP and the Vikings last met on the hardwood in 1970.
Conference play heats up for the Braves after the start of the second semester with three straight home contests against Columbus State, Georgia Southwestern and USC Aiken on Jan. 19, 21 and 23. That stretch ends with a road trip to Clayton State on Jan. 26. UNCP and Clayton State played in last year’s Peach Belt Conference tournament championship game last season and split the regular-season series.
The road lessons in the non-conference portion of the schedule will look to guide the Braves over their final six games of the season when they hit the road for five road games. The lone home game in that stretch is the senior night game on Feb. 23 against Clayton State.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.