If you can’t put a finger on what’s wrong with the men’s basketball team’s 2008-2009 schedule, here’s a hint: home cooking.
This season, the Owls have only 11 home games, which is a disgrace, considering last year the team came out on top of the highly competitive Atlantic Ten Conference.
A quick look around the league and you’ll find most teams have closer to 15 home games than 10. This year’s A-10 favorite, Xavier, has 16, but the team didn’t even reach the finals of last year’s A-10 Tournament.
St. Bonaventure, a desperate team with little hope for this year, will play 14 games under the friendly lights of the Reilly Center in New York.
How about the worst team in Division I basketball? The atrocious New Jersey Institute of Technology Highlanders will play 14 home games, and they went 0-29 last season. And here I thought they stopped playing basketball in New Jersey after the Nets were thwarted in the 2003 NBA Finals.
The Owls have one quality non-conference home game, and that’s against Tennessee Dec. 13. The early part of their schedule is bogged down with unimpressive Mid-American Conference opponents Miami (Ohio) and Kent State. Conference play means the Owls will welcome a resurgent Saint Louis team and the arch-nemesis Saint Joseph’s. Other than that, the Cherry and White are stuck with back-to-back-to-back games against bottom-dwelling Fordham, St. Bonaventure and La Salle. Not to mention they get a sprinkle of Rhode Island, Richmond and Charlotte somewhere in the mix.
The Owls are obliged to play Miami (Ohio) and Kent State because of a contract the football team has with the MAC. A few years ago, as a prerequisite for allowing Al Golden’s squad into the conference, the basketball team agreed to play a handful of MAC opponents per year.
Playing more games on the road will have an adverse effect on the team. Constantly traveling and not enjoying the subtle luxuries of home can become taxing. Not including the team’s opening tournament in Charleston, the Owls will be in the “guest” column for 16 games.
This year’s calendar is a mockery and has little substance. Sure, there are the Villanova and Kansas matchups, but they’re during winter break or out of the time zone.
It means more to be in the heart of North Broad Street, with 10,000-plus fans screaming in unison. Look how much fun last year’s Xavier game was, or the 2006 Maryland game when the seats cleared and the hardwood pulsated.
It’s going to be hard to convince student fans to become loyal when their team is out of town most of the time. The support base is already shaky to begin with.
Last year, the Owls opened the Liacouras Center 13 times for the men’s team, and even brought perennial powerhouse Duke to the Wachovia Center on Jan. 9. The attendance average was 6,117, a number with plenty of room for improvement.
Next year, the Owls are slated to bring Kansas to the Liacouras Center at some point. They will also have a shot at taking on conference rivals Xavier and Dayton (the cream of the A-10 crop) at home. These are positives, but for now, frustration lingers.
While the rest of the college basketball scene takes off in the coming week, many will not even know the Owls began playing until Dec. 3. That’s the home opener against Miami (Ohio). Hopefully, fans can look past a poor schedule and come out to see a program with loads of potential.
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.