2009-10 Trojans face tough slate

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 20, 2009

With the start of the 2009-10 college basketball season on the horizon, the expectation levels surrounding the Troy Trojans appear to be at a very high level.

However, the level of competition that the Trojans will face this season is equally as high, if not higher.

The Trojans have a 29-game slate that includes not only 18 games in the ever-challenging Sun belt, but also an eight-game road stretch that head coach Don Maestri said may be the toughest stretch of games in recent Troy history.

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“We’ve never had that many games on the road in a row since we’ve been Division I, especially a road stretch with that level of competition,” Maestri said. “Two of those in the SEC, three in Conference USA and one in the Horizon League.”

The Trojans start the stretch with a game at Florida Nov. 20 before traveling to UAB on Nov. 24. Troy will then head to Georgia Southern in Statesboro, Ga., for a three-day round-robin tournament over Thanksgiving weekend against GSU, Arkansas-Fort Smith and Valparaiso.

The stretch wraps up with three early-December games against in-state SEC opponent Auburn and Conference USA foes Marshall and Houston.

For Maestri, the tough schedule is a welcomed challenge, but one that he would prefer to face more of in Trojan Arena.

“I like the fact we’re playing Houston, UAB, Valparaiso, Auburn and Florida, but I just wish half of those games were in Troy,” Maestri said. “To play that entire stretch on the road will be a big challenge for us.”

Senior guard Michael Vogler said the eight-game stretch should help the Trojans to evaluate themselves early on in the season.

“It’s exciting to play higher level teams and just see where you’re at before conference play starts,” Vogler said.

The season does not get any easier from there, as Troy must then play an 18-game conference schedule.

Seven of the 13 Sun Belt teams return at least three starters, with Denver, Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisianan-Monroe and North Texas returning all five starters from a year ago.

In addition to the wealth of playing experience in the Sun Belt, there is a dearth of coaching experience as well.

Former LSU head coach John Brady is the head man at Arkansas State, while Mike Jarvis leads Florida Atlantic. Of course, the biggest coaching splash in the Sun Belt was made by Florida International, who hired Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas to take over its program earlier in the year.

UALR, last year’s West division winner, brought in six new junior college transfers to help bolster its program in the short term.

“When you start adding those things up, this league will be just as good this year, if not better, than last year,” Maestri said. “The problem with being in a good conference is everybody beats everybody. You don’t have three or four teams with great records. Instead, you have eight teams with pretty good records.”

Maestri said the toughness of the Sun Belt could prevent from the conference from being able to land an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

“At our level, when you don’t have great records, people sometimes misinterpret that and think the league isn’t good,” Maestri said. “But, it’s the exact opposite. It’s so good that we beat up on each other and it’s really difficult to wind up with a great record in a league as good as this one.”