Breaking down Louisiana Tech’s non-conference men’s hoops schedule

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RUSTON – A quick glance at the 2017-18 schedule for the Louisiana Tech men’s basketball team and it is easy to find new opponents, new locations and new challenges to the non-conference slate.

In regards to new locations, the Bulldogs will be playing in the Cancun Challenge in Mexico, one of the most well-known basketball events of the year, during Thanksgiving week. It will mark the first time the team is traveling internationally during the regular season since 1989 when they played in the Phenix Ball in Chiba, Japan.

LA Tech will also play a second neutral site, two-day tournament right before Christmas in New Orleans, a part of the state it does not play in often.

As for true road games, the Bulldogs are only playing two (out of 13) this non-conference season at Alabama and Texas which is the fewest in 20 years.

When it comes new opponents, there are potentially three games that LA Tech will face a team it has never played before (George Mason, Evansville, Liberty and Fort Wayne).

And the new challenges come from nine of the 13 non-conference opponents having won at least 20 games in at least one of the last two seasons while only two of the 13 possible opponents won less than 14 games last season.

SEMO (Nov. 13)
Was one of the most improved teams in the country last season, going from a five-win season to 15 while finishing in a tie for third in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Redhawks, under third-year head coach Rick Ray, must replace Antonius Cleveland who signed a free agent deal with the Golden State Warriors.

The last time the Bulldogs faced the Redhawks on the hardwood, it was in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the 2012 CBS Hall of Fame Classic. LA Tech came out on top, 67-63, in route to going 3-0 in that tournament. SEMO did win the meeting prior to that which came in Ruston in 2007.

Montana State (Nov. 18)
Montana State returns all five starters off a team that finished 16-16, its best season since 2009-10. The Bobcats 11-7 Big Sky record marked its best conference record in over a decade. One of the returning starters is junior Tyler Hall who earned Lou Henson All-America honors after averaging 23.1 points per game and finished among the nation’s top 10 in scoring and three-point field goals.

LA Tech and Montana State have faced each other three times before with the last meeting coming almost 30 years ago in 1988.

Cancun Challenge (Nov. 21-22)
George Mason
It won’t take much for CBS Sports Network to find storylines in the matchup with George Mason in the opening round of the Cancun Challenge as head coach Eric Konkol served stints as an assistant from 2002-05 and 2007-11 for the Patriots. There is also assistant coach Tony Skinn who played for George Mason from 2003-06 and was the point guard on the Final Four team.

George Mason saw its season come to an end in the CBI Tournament, finishing with a 20-14 record, its first 20-win season since 2012-13. The Patriots set a new record for Atlantic 10 victories and ended the year as one of the top-20 most improved teams in the country.

Fresno State
Potential opponent Fresno State is one of the favorites to contend in the Mountain West Conference, coming off a 20-win season that included a fourth-place finish in the MW, eight wins against top 100 RPI teams and a berth in the National Invitation Tournament (edged by eventual champion TCU in first round).

The Bulldogs return All-Mountain West selections Deshon Taylor and Jaron Hopkins. It could be a rematch of the ‘Battle of the Bone’ rivalry that existed when the two teams were conference foes in the WAC from 2001-12.

Potential opponent looks to rekindle their winning ways from 2014-15 (24 wins) and 2015-16 (25 wins) as the Purple Aces produced a 16-17 overall mark last season. They did finish the year strong though, winning six of eight before falling to the Missouri Valley regular season champion Illinois State in the league tournament.

Evansville will have four seniors on its roster this upcoming year, as well as MVC All-Freshman selection Dru Smith. It would be the first meeting ever between the Bulldogs and Purple Aces.


Alabama (Nov. 29)
Head coach Avery Johnson and the Crimson Tide won 19 games a year ago, advancing to the National Invitation Tournament. Alabama is poised to make a huge jump this upcoming year though as they return four starters as well as a top-8 recruiting class, led by one of the top recruits in the country in Collin Sexton.

Alabama is currently ranked in three different preseason Top 25 polls. The Bulldogs have never defeated the Crimson Tide, losing all five meetings with the last one taking place in Tuscaloosa in 2005.

Stephen F. Austin (Dec. 6)
The Dec. 6 matchup with SFA will pit two of the top winningest programs in the country over the last half decade. The Lumberjacks have the sixth-best winning percentage (134-34) while LA Tech owns the 15th-best winning percentage (129-44) during that span.

Stephen F. Austin is coming off an 18-win season after making the NCAA Tournament three consecutive years. The Lumberjacks look to regain their dominance in the Southland Conference and return to the Big Dance with the return of four regular starters.

Despite the two programs being less than three hours apart, this will only be the 13th meeting and the first in almost 20 years.

Jackson State (Dec. 9)
The Tigers won 14 games a year ago while finishing in a tie for third in the SWAC. JSU will be an experienced ball club in 2017-18 as they return six seniors.

This will mark the fourth time in the last five years that LA Tech and Jackson State will face off against one another. The Bulldogs have won nine straight, the last victory coming in double overtime at the Thomas Assembly Center in 2015.

Louisiana-Lafayette (Dec. 12)
Louisiana Tech and Louisiana-Lafayette — the top two Division I winning programs in the state over the last five years – will meet for the 163rd time on Dec. 12 in a continued home-and-home series.

The Ragin’ Cajuns won 21 games last season and return four regular starters, including two All-Sun Belt performers Frank Bartley and Bryce Washington. Louisiana-Lafayette will also have three Power 5 transfers become eligible.

Texas (Dec. 16)
Head coach Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns expect to make a lot of noise in the Big 12 and nationally this season behind a top-6 recruiting class, including center Mohamed Bamba who was ranked as the No. 4 overall prospect in the country.

Texas is ranked 24th in ESPN’s Preseason Top 25 poll. This will be the fourth time LA Tech goes up against Texas in basketball. The last meeting was in Austin in the 2010-11 season opener.

New Orleans Shootout (Dec. 21-22)
Alabama State
LA Tech will be facing Alabama State for a second straight year, this time though the meeting will take place in New Orleans at the Xavier Convocation Center. The Hornets look to improve on their 8-win season a year ago as they return four players who started double-digit games, including their leading scorer Rodney Simeon.

Potential opponent Liberty had a historic 2016-17 season where they won 21 games (one of just four 20-win seasons in D-1 program history) and finished in a tie for second place in the Big South Conference, winning a program-record 14 league games.

The Flames return a wealth of experience in four starters, including second team All-Big South selection Ryan Kemrite. It would be the first ever meeting between LA Tech and Liberty on the basketball court.

Fort Wayne
Potential opponent Fort Wayne won 20 games last season, including a 71-68 overtime victory over No. 3 Indiana for the program’s first ever win over a ranked opponent. The Mastadons saw postseason action, making it to the quarterfinals of the Tournament.

Fort Wayne will be led by returner John Konchar who earned First Team All-Summit League honors. Just like with Liberty, this would be the first ever meeting for LA Tech versus Fort Wayne on the hardwood.

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