Chattanooga will enter the season under a new head coach, but that shouldn't change the overall expectations for a program that has been synonomous with success in the Southern Conference hardwood since joining the league in 1977. The Mocs will be in search of their 11th league crown and NCAA Tournament, and first since 2009. Former head coach Will Wade, who left just after the season to succeed his mentor Shaka Smart at VCU, left the house in order so to speak, as the Mocs return four of the top players in the Southern Conference, including a former VCU Ram, Justin Tuoyo. Taking over the program will be Matt McCall, who comes to Chattanooga from the University of Florida, where he served under the direction of Billy Donovan, and helped the Gators to three-straight Elite Eights.
In total, McCall spent 10 seasons under the watchful eye of Donovan, as he served in two different stints in Gainesville. His road to success is not unlike Wade's, who got his start at Clemson, and like McCall, as a team manager. Tuoyo was the Southern Conference's Defensive Player of the Year last season, and finished the campaign after leading the Southern Conference in blocks, swatting away 104 shots in a single-season, which stands as a school record. With just 32 blocks this season, Tuoyo could be on track to become the program's all-time blocks leader, surpassing Stanley Lawrence, career mark of 132 blocks.
Though Jones was the leading scorer and did so much for this team defensively last season, it could be argued that Tuoyo is an even more dominating player for what he gives the Mocs on the defensive end of the floor. Tuoyo wasn't the only transfer to make an impact last season, as Tre' McLean (4.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG), Duke Ethridge (5.3 PPG, 3.2 RPG) and Chuck Ester (3.4 PPG, 2.9 RPG) all proved pivotal in helping the Mocs get their first 20-win season in two decades. McLean wasn't recognized as much for what he did as a scorer as the intangibles he brought to the team. Ester and Ethridge add size and athleticisim, and both should be improved scoring threats in 2015-16. Certainly the Mocs know what a player of Casey Jones' ilk gives the club. The cerebral, versatile three is not only athletic, but also smooth and confident.
Like Tuoyo, his work ethic, especially on the offensive glass, is reminisicent of former Mocs like Chris Mims (1996-97), Chris Brown (2003-05) and Mindaugas Katelynas (2002-05) as far being the same type of game-changer with the ability to crash the offensive boards with athleticism. Looking at what Jones was able to do last season will give many a strong reason to vote him SoCon Preseason League Player of the Year.
Jones is a two-time All-SoCon performer, and he came up clutch in several games for the Mocs during the 2014-15 season, with maybe the most memorable being his long three-point field goal from the ETSU logo in Johnson City, as the Mocs came up with a memorable 74-71 road win. Jones finished the season scoring 20 or more points on eight occasions. In an overtime loss at Mercer last season, Jones set new career highs for points (24) and rebounds (15) in a single game. Quite simply, Jones will be the player that will be the leader this season, and though the Mocs are talented overall as a team, it's Jones that is the clear leader of the this club.
He was one of the most consistent scorers in the league last season, and has one of the best work ethics of any player in the SoCon--especially in the hustle stats when it comes to crashing the boards and getting to loose balls. Now, Jones returns with some unfinished business, looking to lead the Mocs to their first Southern Conference basketball crown since the 2009 season. Jones also set a new career-high for field goals made in a game, as he posted 10 against The Citadel. Heading into his senior season, Jones will enter the campaign ranking second in the league in career-active scoring, having posted 1,323 points in his career, which is second to only Furman's Stephen Croone, who will enter the campaign just ahead of Jones with 1,373 career active points.
Jones is not really a threat from the perimeter, but was a menace on the offensive glass last season, ranking fifth in the SoCon in offensive rebounds average per game, as he posted 2.5 per game last season. One of the most improved players on the roster was Greg Pryor (11.3 PPG, 2.6 RPG), as the point guard improved his scoring average by nearly six points in total. Pryor enjoyed several strong performances last season, including 24 points in a non-conference game against Northern Kentucky last season. Pryor's improvement was most evident from the perimeter, as he improved his three-point shooting percentage by 33 triples, after connecting on just 11 triples as a freshman in 2013-14, Pryor improved to connect on 44 treys last season. Pryor's 76 helpers last season helped him rank second on the squad to only Ronrico White, who has graduated.
The job Pryor did on the defensive end of the floor can't be highlighted enough, as he led the Mocs with 74 steals last season, which converted to an average with 1.4 steals-per-game, and ranked 10th in the SoCon last season. Eric Robertson (8.8 PPG, 1.8 RPG) was one of the more underrated players on the Mocs' roster in 2014-15, however, Robertson was the most dangerous perimeter shooter in the SoCon and one of the top perimeter threats in the nation last season, connecting on a blistering 46.8% (65-of-139) from downtown last season. Robertson will be looked to as the main perimeter threat this season. The Mocs will be given the immediate shot in the arm by the additions of a couple of transfers that should give the Mocs an excellent chance to not only get back to the NCAA Tournament, but be a danger once in the NCAA postseason.
UT Martin transfer Dee Oldham and Southwest Tennessee Community/College of Charleston transfer Jonathan Burroughs-Cook will be among those added to the already talented roster of players. The 6-4 Oldham will be a senior after sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules. He averaged 9.1 PPG and 3.3 RPG as a sophomore at UT Martin. The 6-2 Burroughs-Cook is a good athlete, and will have two years remaining. The two-star recruit averaged 13.5 PPG, 4.7 RPG and 2.4 APG in his time at Soutwest Tennessee Community College. The other transfer is Traevis Graham, who originally signed with Florida Atlantic out of high school, however, the 6-6 forward ended up at Daytona Community College in his freshman season, where he averaged 8.3 PPG and 4.6 RPG. Peyton Woods, Trey Kalina and ZaQwan Matthews are three freshmen that also figure to contribute. The Mocs are loaded with talent entering the 2015-16 season. We all remember that 2004-05 season, which would be John Shulman's first as head coach at UTC.