The countdown has started, we are now under 49 days away from our Niners opening the non-conference schedule at Halton Arena against MEAC opponent, Coppin State, on November 7th. While single game tickets are not yet for sale, season tickets and Myrtle Beach Invitational tickets are both available for purchase.
There is a lot to prove this season in the 5th year of the Sanchez era (50-64, 42.9%). As with most teams in the current college basketball landscape the roster will look very different this season. Leading scorer and C-USA first -team guard Jahmir Young has transferred to Maryland. Charlotte also lost senior starters Austin Butler and Clyde Trapp, who combined for 21.5 points, 11 boards and 4 assists per game a season ago. Returning players Aly Khalifa, Jackson Threadgill and Robert Braswell to have a lot more responsibilities in the lineup this season. We’ll see how Musa Jallow returns form a season-ending injury, and if he’s able to fight off the injury woes and be an impactful player for the team.
Look for five-time freshman of the week and reigning C-USA freshman of the year Aly Khalifa to have a huge sophomore season. We saw glimpses of what he can be with precision passes on back door cuts, great offensive positioning on the block and an above average 3 point shot, especially for a big man. The sky is the limit for this young talent, an increase in rebounds per game could see some all conference votes head his way. A key for Khalifa will be conditioning, and judging by some preseason photos, he appears to have trimmed down in the offseason.
The 49ers were active in the transfer portal this summer bringing in forward Igor Milici Jr from Virginia, Josh Aldrich from 2021 opponent USC Upstate, guard Montre’ Gipson from Tarleton St and Lu’cye Patterson from Missouri State. After missing the previous season redshirt Junior Brice Williams makes his return to the roster, William posted 9.7 points per game in the 2020-21 season. Guard Daylen Berry redshirted last season and could challenge for rotational minutes at a guard spot. The Niners also welcome freshman guard Nik Graves to the team, son of former women’s basketball player Nikki, family bleeds green and gold. The last new face will be Rich Rolf, a freshman forward from Centerville, Ohio. The last couple classes of freshman have seen little to no playing time and have redshirted, so it’ll be interesting to see if Graves and Rolf crack the rotation.
As previously stated Ron Sanchez and the coaching staff have a lot to prove this year, the last before joining the American Athletic next season. The non-conference schedule lacks the power conference games we’ve grown accustomed to playing in previous seasons. The lack of a marquee game outside of the annual Hornets Nest trophy battle is surprising.
After kicking things off with two consecutive home games versus MEAC programs, Coppin State and Maryland Eastern Shore, Charlotte takes to the Myrtle Beach Invitational. The MBI will include three games in four days, which includes multiple teams from power conferences and recent NCAA tournament programs. The Niners will face Boise St on Thursday Nov. 17th, and either Tulsa or Loyola Chicago on the 18th. Sanchez and team will finish things off on Sunday the 20th versus any of these program: UMASS, Colorado, Murray State or Texas A&M.
After the MBI the team plays the first leg of an in season home-and-home with Detroit Mercy in Detroit. The Hornets Nest trophy is on the line November 29th at Davidson, where Charlotte looks to rebound after last seasons drubbing at home. This will be Charlotte’s first look at Davidson without Bob McKillop since President George H. W. Bush’s first term. The Niners will then return home December 2nd versus in-state foe Appalachian State before finishing their Non conference home schedule against Detroit Mercy the following week.
As this schedule has been assembled, the non-conference slate should give Charlotte a favorable look at a solid start to the season, but without a sweep down in Myrtle Beach, the only way to make a postseason tournament will be winning the regular season or conference tournament. A preseason prediction of 7th in conference is something I expect to overachieve before the conference switch. If this program wants to perform next season against far tougher opponents and make its first tournament appearance since 2005 a 20 win performance which hasn’t happened since 2013 should be viewed as the baseline for a step forward in Sanchez’s fifth season.