All of the preliminaries, scrimmages and exhibitions are over. Tonight, the season begins for the USC Aiken men’s basketball team.


The Pacers will play their first game of the 2012-13 season when they welcome Voorhees College to the Convocation Center for a game that’s scheduled to tip off at 7 p.m. This is the third consecutive season USCA will open its regular season at home against Voorhees. The Pacers have easily downed the Tigers the past two seasons. Tonight’s game should follow that same formula as the NAIA Tigers lost several key contributors from last season’s team that posted a 22-9 record.


Gone are six seniors, who helped head coach Michael Cheaney post an impressive record in just his second season at the helm for Voorhees. Although the Tigers have five players returning for their senior campaign this season, they’re a team in transition as the veterans of the program are looking to mesh with several newcomers who transferred in from other colleges.


Two players who figure to play prominent roles for the Tigers are seniors Sam Dotson and Willie Waters. Both averaged eight points per game last season as well as two steals from Dotson, a guard, and six rebounds by Waters, a forward. They were major contributors for Voorhees in its first regular-season game this season, a 77-66 loss to Life College.


Dotson led all scorers with 24 points on 6 of 11 shooting from the field. He also displayed a knack for getting to the free-throw line – something that could be big tonight – where he connected on 9 of 10 attempts. Waters came off the bench and recorded a game-best 11 rebounds.


The Tigers also got a big game from Brandon Allen, a 6-foot-6 forward who transferred from Alabama A&M. Allen finished the game with nine points and 10 rebounds, while teammates Andre Datcher and Jeffrey Evans – two returning seniors – combined for 19 points in the loss.


One area where Voorhees struggled was protecting the ball. It committed 25 turnovers and that doesn’t bode well going against an aggressive Pacer squad that will use pressure and traps to try and force loose balls and spark the transition game.


“Defensively, we’re getting better. We could be really good with our length,” Vince Alexander said as he enters his eighth season as USCA head coach. “At this point, what we can accomplish is unlimited. It depends on how quickly we gel and the new guys pick up the defensive schemes.”


The Pacers, like the Tigers, are a team in transition. USCA has five proven holdovers from last season’s squad that had the best record in the Peach Belt Conference’s regular season and returned to the Division II NCAA Tournament. But it also has 10 new additions, most of whom are expected to contribute for Alexander, who has shown a willingness to go deep into his bench to find a successful combination of players.


“I’m very excited, we’ve got lots of new faces,” said senior point guard Re’mon Nelson, who figures to be a coach on the floor helping his teammates adjust to life as a Pacer. “I’m teaching the new guys, but we’ll be pretty good this year.”


Even if the new players don’t offer much help, USCA should be a very good team this season. It starts with Nelson, who led the team with averages 11.8 points and 3.7 assists per game last season. He’s second on the school’s all-time steals list and third in assists. Joining him in the backcourt are veteran guards Ronald Zimmerman and Jesse Seilern, who can light up the scoreboard but are just as important to the Pacers as energetic defenders. Big men Rick Alderman and Maurice Hubbard are also returning and figure to improve on their stats, which included a combined average of more than seven rebounds per game.


Among the newcomers who could have an instant impact, look for Paul Larsen to be solid from the start. The 6-6, 225-pound transfer from Mercer had seven points and seven rebounds in USCA’s exhibition game loss to the College of Charleston last week and could get the start tonight, along with fellow first-year Pacer Santoine Butler. The Augusta native is a classic swingman who can use his 6-8 frame to shoot over opponents. Kinley Branch and Derrick Scott are two more long and athletic players who could become cogs in the defense first approach that could cause lots of problems for Voorhees.


Following tonight’s season opener, the Pacers will have almost a week off before returning to action on Nov. 19 when they host Winston-Salem in the first game of what will be a home-and-home series. It will be the first tie the teams play on the hardwood, but not the last as they finish the two-game set on Nov. 28. USCA will follow that with six games in December, four of which will be at home.


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.



Today’s Game

What: USC Aiken men’s basketball season opener


Who: USCA vs. Voorhees


When: Today, 7 p.m.


Where: USCA Convocation Center


STAR WATCH


USCA: Re’mon Nelson, Sr. G. Nelson is second all-time in school history in steals with 141, third in assists with 316 and has 792 points as a Pacer.


Voorhees: Sam Dotson, Sr. G. This is like a homecoming for Dotson, who’s from Columbia and is one of the top returning scorers for the Tigers after averaging eight points per game last season.