The Saint Leo University men's basketball team will find plenty of both on its 2014-15 schedule, in pursuit of a Sunshine State Conference title and a fourth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Of the Lions' 28 regular season games, eight are against teams that advanced to the NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Championship – including four who received automatic qualifiers. Saint Leo opens up the season in the Gulf South Conference/Sunshine State Conference Challenge Classic against two national powerhouses in Alabama-Huntsville and North Alabama.
Then, of course, are the Lions' 16 conference games – two trips around the Sunshine State Conference, arguably the toughest Division II conference in the nation. Not to mention an appearance on national television on the opening weekend of classes for the spring semester.
To which Saint Leo head men's basketball coach Lance Randall and his squad say: bring it on.
"Not only are we playing in the Sunshine State Conference, the best NCAA Division II conference in America, we are also playing one of the best non-conference schedules in the country," said Randall.
The Lions' early season slate will provide both opportunities to see where the team is in its development, as well as battle for some quality non-conference wins.
"We open up with games against Alabama Huntsville and North Alabama, two teams that have been to multiple NCAA tournaments and Elite Eights. Many of the teams we play won at least 18 games a year ago and I expect most to be picked in the top three of their leagues."
Following its trip to Huntsville, Ala., for the GSC/SSC Challenge Classic, Saint Leo returns to the Marion Bowman Activities Center for its 2014-15 home debut on November 18 against Florida Memorial. Thanksgiving week will see the Lions play host to Columbus State (Nov. 26) and Fort Valley State (Nov. 28), with a trip to Georgia to face Young Harris College (Nov. 22) wedged in between.
The Lions will travel to Flagler College (Dec. 1) and Palm Beach Atlantic (Dec. 13) for a pair of non-conference tilts, sandwiched around Saint Leo's Sunshine State Conference opener on December 6 at 2014 NCAA qualifier Barry University. Three more non-conference games line the schedule after exams, as Miles College (Dec. 17), Limestone College (Dec. 19), and Evangel College (Dec. 20) all visit Marion Bowman in the week prior to Christmas. Limestone was an NCAA tourney participant in 2014 after winning the Conference Carolinas championship.
"I believe an arduous non-conference schedule is one of the best ways to prepare your team for a chance at the NCAA tournament," said Randall. "We look forward to these nightly challenges."
The Lions, who were 10-6 in the SSC last season on their way to the No. 2 seed for the SSC Tournament, begin conference play in earnest in early January following the winter break. Two of the Lions' first four league games are home against Florida Southern (Jan. 7) and at Tampa (Jan. 14), both of whom joined Saint Leo in the 2014 NCAA Division II Men's Basketball Championship. Saint Leo is the only SSC program to finish among the top three in the conference in each of the last three seasons, including the league championship and top seed for the SSC Tournament in 2012-13.
Highlighting the league slate will be one of the more memorable events in the history of Saint Leo men's basketball and the Marion Bowman Center when CBS Sports Network televises the Lions' game with Lynn University on Sunday, Jan. 18, at 12:00 p.m. The game will also be streamed live on NCAA.com and on the NCAA Sports mobile app.
"It will be exciting for our fans and all the Saint Leo alumni around the globe to be able to join in this event, and hopefully they will feel the excitement that will be in Marion Bowman and across our campus during the Lynn game," said Randall. "The Saint Leo community is a large and extended one, and this will be one of those moments that binds us all together."
Saint Leo will step out of the SSC loop once more when it faces future conference rival Palm Beach Atlantic (Jan. 24) at home. The regular season concludes with Senior Day recognition in the regular season finale on February 28 at Marion Bowman versus Nova Southeastern.
The Lions' post-season journey begins with the 2015 Sunshine State Conference Men's Basketball Tournament, which is slated for Thursday, March 5, through Sunday, March 8, at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, Fla.
"Pride Pass" season tickets are available for Saint Leo men's basketball, giving fans access to all 15 home games.
The $20 "One Season Pride Pass" offers additional admission to all home women's basketball and swimming events this winter, while the $50 "All-Season Pride Pass" provides admission to all home athletic events for the 2014-15 academic year. Both Pride Passes offer discounted meal passes in the Saint Leo University Dining Hall, with a price of $5 on the days of regular season home athletic events and $8 on all other days. For more information about the Pride Pass, contact Associate Athletic Director Chris Lahey at 352-588-8223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saint Leo University students, faculty, and staff, as well as children under 12 years of age, are admitted free to all regular season home athletic events.
For more information on the Saint Leo men's basketball program, visit SaintLeoLions.com. Also, be sure to 'Like' the Lions on Facebook and 'Follow' Saint Leo Athletics on Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.