NORFOLK, Va. – Head coach Robert Jones and the Norfolk State men’s basketball program officially announced their full 2016-17 schedule on Tuesday. NSU will host four non-conference games in the early part of the season and play six of its first nine MEAC games at home as well.
The Spartans play two teams from the SEC, one from the Big Ten and one from the Big East as part of their non-conference schedule. Overall, four of Norfolk State’s opponents competed in the NCAA tournament last year.
“This year's schedule is as tough as it gets,” said Jones. “We will be tested early and often by some of the top high- and mid-majors in the country. This schedule is also a product of recent success during a five-year span. It is becoming more and more difficult to schedule like opponents, thus the level of competition willing to play us has increased.”
The Spartans host Shenandoah University and renew one of their longest rivalries with Elizabeth City State to highlight their early home schedule. NSU also welcomes Northern Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky to Joseph Echols Hall before diving into conference play. In addition, the Spartans will play an open exhibition game at Virginia State on Nov. 5 in Petersburg.
“Renewing these two old rivalries with Virginia State and Elizabeth City State is something we thought would be good for the fans,” stated Jones. “Despite it being an exhibition against the Trojans, we know everyone will be chomping at the bit for that game. Exposing our players to a hostile environment before the season starts against the defending CIAA champion, a Division I caliber team in my opinion, will pay dividends down the road for us.”
The regular season starts off with a Friday night contest at Mississippi State on Nov. 11. NSU’s busy opening week includes the home games with Shenandoah on Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. and Elizabeth City State on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. The Spartans then hit the road for a week straight, competing at Vanderbilt on Nov. 18 and at Butler on Nov. 21 – both NCAA tournament participants last year – as part of the 2016 Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational.
Following the game against the Bulldogs, NSU will fly out to Las Vegas for two games at Orleans Arena on Nov. 24 and 25. On its side of the bracket, Norfolk State plays Bucknell on Thanksgiving and then either Sacred Heart or Northern Colorado on day 2.
“We are extremely excited to be invited to this tournament,” Jones continued. “It is an honor for this program and university to face the likes of SEC-member Vanderbilt, a very tough Butler team that could possibly be top 25, as well as top mid-majors in Bucknell, who competed in the NIT last year, and Northern Colorado and Sacred Heart.”
NSU will close out the opening month of the season with a contest at Loyola Chicago on Nov. 30. The Spartans then return home to host Northern Kentucky on Dec. 3 at 6 p.m., followed by road games at Niagara on Dec. 10 and at Evansville on Dec. 14, the latter of whom did not go to the postseason last year but nevertheless finished 25-9 overall and as the runner-up in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.
The last non-conference home contest takes place on Dec. 19 against Eastern Kentucky at 7 p.m. NSU then closes out non-conference play with a game at NCAA participant Purdue on Dec. 21 and at Bowling Green on Dec. 30.
“It will be a difficult challenge facing Mississippi State in the season opener, a team that has a top 10 recruiting class in the nation and a future Hall of Fame coach in Ben Howland,” added Jones. “Purdue was one of the best teams in a strong Big Ten conference last year, and of course Northern Kentucky, Evansville, Bowling Green, Loyola and Niagara will be extremely tough as well.”
Six of the Spartans’ first nine MEAC games will be at home this year, all in the month of January. NSU will thus play just twice at home after Feb. 1, closing out the regular season with five of seven games on the road. Of the program’s eight home MEAC games, six will take place on Saturdays this year.
The MEAC schedule begins with a game at Morgan State on Jan. 4, followed by a home weekend against Savannah State on Jan. 7 and South Carolina State on Jan. 9. The Spartans stay in Echols for a contest against North Carolina Central on Jan. 14 before traveling to Delaware State to play the Hornets two days later on Jan. 16.
The Battle of the Bay against Hampton will be held on Jan. 21 at Echols Hall, and again NSU will hit the road for a Monday game, this time at Coppin State on Jan. 23. To close out the month, the Spartans host Bethune-Cookman on Jan. 28 and North Carolina A&T on Jan. 30.
They make the return trip to South Carolina State and Savannah State on Feb. 4 and 6, respectively, to begin the second part of the MEAC season. The following weekend, the Spartans host UMES on Feb. 11 before making another long weekend trip to Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman on Feb. 18 and 20, respectively. The last NSU home game occurs on Feb. 25 against Howard, and like Savannah State, S.C. State and B-CU, NSU will also play Hampton twice this season. The second of those two matchups against the Pirates will be on Feb. 27 at Hampton.
Following the conclusion of the regular season in the second Battle of the Bay, NSU will compete in the MEAC tournament, scheduled to run from March 6-11 at Scope Arena in Norfolk.
“This year the MEAC schedule will be extremely balanced and of course as difficult as it always is,” said Jones. “Our challenging non-conference schedule will really help us grow as a team and get prepared for the rigors of 16 conference games.”
NSU was one of four teams in the MEAC to compete in the postseason last year, joining Hampton (NCAA) and S.C. State and Savannah State. The Spartans joined the latter two schools in competing in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.
The Spartans will welcome eight newcomers to this year’s team, including three Division I transfers, and return six players from last year’s squad. NSU finished 12-4 and in second place in the MEAC as well as 17-17 overall in 2015-16.