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Stephen F. Austin building a strong non-conference schedule in Kyle Keller’s second season

Games at Missouri and LSU are the highlights, but Mid-Major Madness has learned of a few more.

NCAA Basketball: Stephen F. Austin at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen F. Austin will visit Mississippi State and host North Dakota State next season, a source told Mid-Major Madness.

Those are just two more games in what appears to be a challenging non-conference schedule that Kyle Keller and his staff have devised. Those matchups join already-reported dates at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 6), LSU (Dec. 16), and Missouri (Dec. 19) next season.

Though Mississippi State went just 16-16 last year, the Bulldogs still finished in the KenPom top 100 and return the core of a team primarily made of freshmen and sophomores.

North Dakota State should also be strong after finishing 11-5 in the Summit League in 2016-17. The Bison lose Khy Kabellis and Dexter Werner, but return leading scorer and first-team all-Summit League selection Paul Miller.

Mid-Major Madness has also learned that Florida A&M will visit Nacogdoches on Nov. 27, in what should be a welcome cupcake in a tough schedule. The Rattlers did not beat a Division I team last year until January, and won just six total games all season. That can be excused, however, knowing that Louisiana Tech, Rice, North Dakota State, and three Power 5 schools are all on the schedule.

With a handful of tough games in November and December, Stephen F. Austin’s record may be deceiving heading into conference play. The Lumberjacks return almost everybody from last year’s squad, including their top five scorers. Rising junior TJ Holyfield made a leap from his first season to his second and scored in double figures in 10 of Stephen F. Austin’s final 12 games last year. That run also included three double-doubles. A full season of Ty Charles and Ivan Canete in the backcourt should provide a boost as well.

Stephen F. Austin will likely host a few Division II schools as well. Most programs like to shy away from that, but reality sometimes makes it a necessity. Stephen F. Austin is a reputable mid-major program in a tough-to-reach location, making it difficult to attract quality non-conference competition.

Stephen F. Austin will visit Longwood on opening night, Nov. 10, to kick off the season.