Men’s basketball tough non-conference schedule to prepare for Big Sky competition
The NAU men’s basketball team has a chance to become “Arizona’s team” this year. At least, that is what NAU men’s basketball head coach Mike Adras is hoping for, as the Jacks will be playing in four different Arizona cities this season.
“We’re playing all over the state of Arizona,” Adras said. “We’re playing in Tucson, Tempe, Prescott and Flagstaff. I don’t know if any other team can say they are playing games in four different cities in the state. Hopefully we’ll become Arizona’s team that way.”
In addition to playing its home games in Flagstaff, the Jacks will travel to Tucson and Tempe to play in-state rivals UA and ASU. The 2006-2007 season was the last time the Lumberjacks faced both schools in the same year. NAU is also traveling to Prescott for a game at Tim’s Toyota Center against Brigham Young University (BYU) on Nov. 30. Though BYU lost All-American Jimmer Fredette to the NBA draft, they have returned nine players from last year’s squad that reached the Sweet 16. The returning nine includes Brandon Davies, who missed the tournament after violating the school’s honor code.
Even though the Jacks want to take it one game at a time, it is apparent they are looking forward to their games against the Wildcats and Sun Devils, which will occur on Dec. 3 and Dec. 17, respectively.
“Oh yeah, I love that, I love that competition,” said Lumberjack junior guard Stallon Saldivar. “It’s fun to get out there and see how we compete with those guys.”
The Lumberjacks are used to playing tough non-conference games. In the past four years, NAU has played games against USC, Creighton, San Diego State, New Mexico, Stanford, UNLV, Kansas and Iowa State.
“The goal is to play a tough non-conference schedule so that it prepares you for what lies ahead,” Adras said. “You’ve got to get through the non-conference healthy, you’ve got to feel good about yourself and you’ve got to see progress made by the team.”
NAU’s conference schedule, which begins on Dec. 29 at home against Sacramento State, could pave the way for the Jacks. The team will play six of its first nine conference games on the road, with five of its final seven at home.
Does NAU’s schedule give them an advantage or a disadvantage for the season? It depends on who you ask.
“It’s great if you can survive the front part of the league, and that’s gonna be the challenge for us,” Adras said. “You want to play your best basketball in league time. It’s not ideal to play that many road games in the first half.”
Senior guard Durrell Norman feels the home conference games at the end could be advantageous.
“Definitely [an advantage],” Norman said. “You don’t have to travel as much, you get to sleep in your own bed and you get to rest; that’s always nice. A little home cooked meal is nice too. And sometimes at the end of the year, you can get a little sluggish and you need that little pick-me-up. So I think it will definitely help us.”
Saldivar’s feelings lie somewhere between his coach’s and his teammate’s. “It’s an advantage for us because we’re not traveling,” Saldivar said. “But I wouldn’t say it’s a huge advantage.”
Northern Colorado won the Big Sky regular season title and the Big Sky tournament last year, but Adras believes Weber State and Montana are the teams to beat this year. Montana and Weber finished second and third respectively in the Big Sky last year, with NAU finishing fourth. NAU has made the NCAA tournament twice in school history, the last coming in 2000 in which they lost their first game to St. Johns by five points. Winning the Big Sky Championship would result in an automatic bid to the tournament in March. Ultimately, this is the goal Coach Adras and his players are striving for.
“Our goal every year is to win the Big Sky Championship, so that’s what we’re shooting for,” Norman said.
If the Lumberjacks can make that goal a reality, they might also accomplish what Coach Adras is hoping for — being “Arizona’s team.”