Eight teams will meet in Estero, Florida at the end of November for the Beach Bubble at the Hertz Arena to open their seasons. East Tennessee, Abilene Christian, Akron, Middle Tennessee, Austin Peay, Omaha, Indiana State and East Carolina will play three games tournament-style from November 25th through November 27th.
Here’s a quick look at the eight teams competing:
East Tennessee State University
First Round Opponent: Abilene Christian
2019-2020 Record: 30-4, Southern Conference Champions
2020-2021 Outlook: After a historically successful season, the Bucs lose all five starters from 2019-2020 and their coach, Steve Forbes. ETSU was picked to finish third in the conference’s preseason poll.
Key Player(s): Brothers Ledarrius and Ty Brewer will play their first seasons for ETSU after transferring from Southeast Missouri State and Southeastern Louisiana, respectively.
First Round Opponent: East Tennessee State
2019-2020 Record: 20-11, second in Southland Conference
2020-2021 Outlook: The Wildcats are expected to have another strong season with four starters back from the 2019-2020 season. Leading scorer Payten Ricks has graduated, but the team was still voted second in the Southland Conference.
Key Player: Joe Pleasant, a 6’8 junior forward, was selected preseason first-team All-Conference. Last year, Pleasant averaged 11 points and four rebounds per game.
First Round Opponent: Middle Tennessee
2019-2020 Record: 24-7, first in the MAC
2020-2021 Outlook: The Zips were the class of the conference last year, but will have to replace three of their top four scorers from 2019-2020.
Key Player: Loren Cristian Jackson returns for his senior year after winning MAC Player of the Year during the 2019-2020 season. Jackson averaged 19.8 points per game and had three 35-point outbursts last season. He shot 43% from three-point range and averaged 4.5 assists per game.
First Round Opponent: Akron
2019-2020 Record: 8-23, 14th in Conference USA
2020-2021 Outlook: The Blue Raiders lost their two best scorers from a team that struggled last season, but newcomer Jordan Davis could help turn things around.
Key Player: Davis sat out last year after transferring from Dayton and will be a key part of Middle Tennessee’s success. As a sophomore, he averaged 9.9 points per game for the Flyers and started 32 games for a team that went 21-12.
First Round Opponent: Omaha
2019-2020 Record: 21-12, third in Ohio Valley Conference
2020-2021 Outlook: The Governors are expected to contend for the conference title with Terry Taylor and Jordyn Adams leading the way.
Key Player: Terry Taylor is the best player in the conference and is coming off a season where he led the OVC in scoring (21.8) and rebounding (11.0). The 6’5 senior was one of just four members of the 20/10 club last season in the NCAA.
First Round Opponent: Austin Peay
2019-2020 Record: 16-16, fifth in Summit League
2020-2021 Outlook: After going .500 last year, the Mavericks will be looking to replace their top three scorers.
Key Player: Marlon Ruffin didn’t start last year, but is the team’s top returning scorer. The 6’5 junior averaged 8.8 points per game and had a career-high of 30 points against Western Illinois in February.
First Round Opponent: East Carolina
2019-2020 Record: 18-12, third in Missouri Valley Conference
2020-2021 Outlook: The Sycamores were picked fourth in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll.
Key Player: Tyreke Key was named first-team preseason All-Conference after leading the Sycamores in scoring last year. The senior guard averaged 15.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in 2019-2020.
First Round Opponent: Indiana State
2019-2020 Record: 11-20, 11th in the American Athletic Conference
2020-2021 Outlook: The Pirates were picked to finish ninth in the conference this year, a slight improvement from last year.
Key Player: Jayden Carter was a bright spot amidst the struggle of the 2019-2020 season. As a sophomore, he led the conference in scoring with 19.7 points per game on 52% shooting. He’s a good rebounder as well, grabbing 9.2 rebounds per game.