Alcorn State opens at Washington State, with Final Four foes ahead

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Give second-year Alcorn State coach Landon Bussie some credit.

After Tuesday's season opener at Washington State, the Braves will play three of last year's Final Four teams - Nov. 15 at Gonzaga, Dec. 6 at Houston and Dec. 20 at national champion Baylor - before Southwestern Athletic Conference play begins.

"I think we did a good job of trying to find some good, high-caliber teams that have had major success," Bussie said. "We play three teams - Baylor, Gonzaga, and Houston - that made it to the Final Four last year. I think all three of those games will be beneficial for us as we get prepared for conference play. I think we have one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country."

All 13 of Alcorn State's non-conference games - and their first three SWAC contests - will be on the road.

It's a bold move for a team that went 6-13 last season.

Bussie brought in five Division I transfers in Keondre Montgomery (Mississippi State), Lenell Henry (Prairie View A&M), LaDarius "Krunchy" Marshall (New Orleans), Darrious Agnew (Southeast Missouri State) and Dontrell McQuarter (Rider).

McQuarter, a guard, was the top scorer in that group last season, averaging 9.0 points a game, along with 5.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists.

"We have some long road trips," Bussie said. "I think these will be good games for us to kind of feel ourselves out, get to know each other better, and get in a rhythm. The stiff competition helps a lot. We will be playing some of the best college basketball players in the nation, including future NBA lottery picks. It will prepare us physically and mentally."

First up are the Cougars, who finished 14-13 last season - their first winning campaign since 2011-12.

Five players who started at least 10 games return for Washington State, causing some prognosticators to consider the Cougars a dark-horse candidate for the NCAA Tournament.

Guard Noah Williams, who averaged 14.1 points and 2.7 assists a game last season, is the Cougars' top returneee.

"We haven't done anything yet, but a lot of people are telling us we're good, so how do you deal with that?" third-year Cougars coach Kyle Smith said. "I feel like our talent is there, and we say all the time, 'Hard work can be talentless; talent is working hard.' And we're working hard. It's just a process."

--Field Level Media