College of Coastal Georgia’s men’s basketball team is on a mission to exceed expectations for the second consecutive year in The Sun Conference.

Last year, the Mariners (16-13 overall, 8-10 in conference play) were picked to finish last in the 10-team conference and ended up qualifying for the conference tournament, where they were eliminated in the quarterfinals.

This season, the men’s team is picked No. 7 in preseason polls. Head men’s basketball coach Jessee Watkins said the goal this season is to exceed expectations.

The Mariners are off to a 2-0 start and will play Middle Georgia State (2-0) in an away non-conference game tonight.

“I try to play a really tough non-conference schedule,” Watkins said. “It gives me an opportunity to see where the team is at.”

The men’s team has eight new players, only three of them freshmen, who are all expected to contribute this season.

“We have to be consistent and compete every single night,” he said. “We have a tough stretch in December.”

The goal is to have the team jell by Christmas and become a cohesive unit that will compete with Sun Conference foes and qualify for the playoffs.

“We had a winning season last year,” he said. “We want to win the conference tournament. What we need to do is keep moving forward.”

The women’s team, which also exceeded expectations last year, is picked to finish third in conference play. The team made it to the conference semifinals last season.

Women’s coach Roger Hodge said last year, his team’s first season in The Sun Conference, was not as tough as in past years because the schedule required less travel time for his players. He expects his team (1-2) to continue to grow this season and challenge for the conference championship.

“I think if we stay healthy, we’ve got to a chance to be a good team,” he said. “We have a level of confidence.”

The team played an exhibition game against Georgia Tech, losing 95-46 against the Division 1 team.

“I thought it was a tremendous learning experience,” he said.

The team has nine new players who will battle for playing time this season. Hodge said the prediction for a third-place finish in the conference shows how much the program has grown.

“The coaches make the picks which shows the program is headed in the right direction,” he said. “We try to do things the right way and develop a culture they want to be part of. There’s a lot of talent in this area.”

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