Kennesaw State will be playing at Mississippi State and Kent State next season. Potential meetings with two other major-conference teams, Indiana and Cincinnati, are still being finalized.
Mississippi State struggled in the Southeastern Conference last season, while Kent State, a Mid-American Conference semifinalist, advanced to the second round of the CollegeInsider.com tournament.
“I’ve known (Mississippi State coach) Rick Ray for a very long time back, when I was at Penn State and he was at Purdue,” Preston said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for us to play. With Kent state, we have guys from Ohio, and it’s an opportunity to get those guys back.”
Two members of the Owls’ backcourt, Myles Hamilton and Delbert Love, were teammates at St. Edward High School near Cleveland.
As far as Kennesaw State’s two potential opponents — Preston confirmed that contractual details were still being ironed out — Indiana was ranked No. 1 for much of last season and went on to make the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament. Cincinnati was also an NCAA tournament qualifier.
Last year, Kennesaw State traveled to play three major-conference opponents — Tennessee, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh — while hosting Charlotte, then a member of the Atlantic 10. In Preston’s first season, they played Wisconsin, Auburn and Missouri.
The Owls also plan to host a tournament to start the regular season in November, with Eastern Kentucky, Florida International and Youngstown State expected to attend.
The Owls played Eastern Kentucky last season, falling 85-71 in a tournament the Colonels hosted. Florida International is a first-year Conference USA member, and Youngstown State plays in the Horizon League.
Preston is putting his team through a grueling schedule despite losing his leading scorer Markeith Cummings (16.5 ppg) and rebounder Aaron Anderson (9.0 rpg) from last season.
Preston is confident that his young team will be up to the challenge.
“We have a lot of experienced guys on the roster,” Preston said. “Look at the guys from last year — they logged a lot of minutes as well. We just want to put them in the right positions.”
Forward Andrew Osemhen will be Kennesaw State’s lone returning senior, with Love, a junior guard, the team’s leading returning scorer with 12.5 points a game. The Owls are also returning two sophomores in Hamilton and forward Nigel Pruitt.
Guard Yonel Brown, a sophomore from Gwinnett County, started eight games last season and averaged 3.5 points.
Kennesaw State will also be counting on a large group of newcomers.
The Owls will get their first look at a pair of former Auburn post players in 6-foot-10 Willy Kouassi and 6-8 Bernard Morena. The duo, high school teammates in Alabama and natives of Ivory Coast, sat out last season due to transfer rules, but will be looked at to strengthen Kennesaw State’s inside game.
Also bolstering the Owls’ frontcourt will be Drew McGhee, a 6-11 transfer from Miami (Ohio). McGhee, who averaged 5.2 points for the RedHawks last season, will be eligible to play immediately as a graduate student.
Orlando Coleman, a guard-forward, averaged 18.7 points and 11.6 rebounds in one season at Alabama Southern Community College. Tanner Wozniak, a 3-point shooting specialist, spent one year at a junior college in Mississippi after leaving Florida International.