With seven new players on the roster and facing a difficult non-conference schedule, Bob Hoffman expected to see some growth from his Mercer team entering conference play.
The Bears will find out if there was enough growth starting Saturday.
Mercer (6-7) opens Southern Conference play at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Wofford before staying on the road Monday at Furman. The Bears’ first conference home game is Thursday against VMI.
“I think it will be an amazing conference season again. A lot of teams can win,” Hoffman said. “I think there’s going to be more turns than most people expect throughout the conference season, but we need to get off to a good start. I like to go on the road to start conference season. I think that’s always a good thing. You’ve just got to find a way to get some wins, and that will put you in a great position.”
Mercer certainly should be battle-tested entering conference play. The Bears’ seven losses have come to teams that have combined for a 62-21 record. Four of those teams — Akron, George Mason, Clemson and Auburn — have 10 wins.
Mercer wrapped up non-conference play Wednesday with a win at Kennesaw State.
“Any time you can win on the road, no matter where you’re playing, in college basketball everybody’s trying to win, and everybody’s got good players,” Hoffman said. “So when you can get one of those, it’s amazing the kind of enthusiasm it gives your team moving forward.”
Juniors Ria’n Holland (17.7 points per game) and Demetre Rivers (12.8) are the only Mercer players averaging in double figures in scoring. Junior point guard Jordan Strawberry had 31 points in the triple-overtime loss to La Salle and 14 points at Kennesaw State and is averaging 7.6 points, while Ryan Johnson, Desmond Ringer and Stephon Jelks are all averaging more than six points per game.
Wofford is 5-8 overall, while Furman is 7-6.
“We’re playing good. We’re a little banged up a little bit, but everybody is who has been playing,” Hoffman said. “We understand (Wofford is) not an easy place to play, but not many places are easy anymore. (Wofford and Furman) have tremendous scorers, and their defensive schemes are good in how they try to take away your strengths.”