Every year, men’s basketball coaches and sports information directors gather together and create the Sunshine State Conference Preseason Poll. The poll is used to gauge the talent on teams within the conference and gives coaches a look of how their team is perceived from the outside. In the past, the SSC Preseason Poll hasn’t been kind to the Tampa Spartans and ranked them near the bottom of the conference for the past three years. However, this year the Spartans are ranked fourth and sit behind nationally ranked teams, Florida Southern (7) and Barry (2).
While they may not be the favorites to win the SSC title, they are certainly contenders. Last year the team was predicted to finish last in the SSC and ended up finishing as runner-up in the conference finals. Although this year’s ranking won’t give the Spartans as much of a chip on their shoulder as last year’s, head coach Richard Schmidt is comfortable being an underdog. Over the past ten years, Schmidt and the Spartans have never been ranked higher than fourth but have only had two losing seasons.
The players have also been welcoming of their modest ranking in the difficult conference. Freshman power forward Othniel “Duke” Shelton said, “I think it’s a good ranking for us, it gives us a chance to prove ourselves on the court.”
Shelton is one of many newcomers to the team this year and coach Schmidt has been working hard to get them ready for their preseason tournaments. “These games are going to be tough, we have a lot of new guys and it will take a while for them to learn our complicated system. We are asking a lot from them,” Schimdt said.
The Spartans kick off their preseason with the University of Alabama Huntsville Tournament this weekend on the road. It will be a difficult test for Schmidt’s squad as they take on both the host team and the University of North Alabama, who eliminated the Spartans from the NCAA South Regional Tournament last season. It will be the first time in recent history that the Spartans take the trip to Alabama to participate in the tournament. This strays away from the past practice by the team to play big name Florida schools in exhibition games. Last season, the team kicked off their preseason with exhibitions against Division I teams Stetson University and the University of Central Florida, both of which ended in losses for UT. Now they will be sticking to their division and region in order to benefit greater from their preseason. “This tournament in Alabama is real important because they’re also from the South Region and we can end up playing one of these teams later. We can learn a lot about ourselves and how we stack up from these games.” said Schmidt.
Following their trip to Alabama, the team will travel across the Bay to participate in the Eckerd Classic during Thanksgiving weekend. Good news for the Spartans is that they have had tremendous success in the Eckerd Classic in their recent history, only losing one game in seven appearances. With such a strong pedigree in the tournament, this will more likely be a crucial opportunity for the team to work out any kinks in their armor before they begin their season.
Sophomore point guard Matt Johnson and senior team captain Jordan Davis will bring consistency to the team while the many newcomers develop into staple players under Schmidt’s system. “We have a lot of good new guys coming in that should help us out. Guys like Eugene McCrory from UCF and Marcel Robinson should get us plenty of wins this year,” Schimdt said.
With plenty of talent on both the defensive and offensive sides of the ball, the Spartans could make a big statement to its opposition this preseason. With still plenty to improve on, Schmidt and the team will benefit greatly from a real road test before their conference play begins in December. “It’s going to be tough, but I have faith in us,” said Schmidt.
Marcus Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org