PROVO — For the BYU basketball program, last season’s nonconference schedule was ideal.
The No. 18 Cougars, in their first season under coach Mark Pope, played teams in the preseason that ended up ranked No. 1 (Kansas), No. 6 (San Diego State) and No. 22 (Houston) in the final Associated Press poll. BYU also played No. 2 Gonzaga twice in a pair of West Coast Conference regular-season contests.
Most of that nonconference schedule was put together by coach Dave Rose and the previous staff.
Assistant coach Nick Robinson now oversees nonconference scheduling for BYU, and he and the rest of the staff are trying to create another intriguing schedule that will prepare the Cougars for the postseason.
“Our scheduling philosophy is designed to put us in a situation where we have the best opportunity to participate in the NCAA Tournament each season,” Robinson said.
BYU director of basketball operations Bobby Horodyski was part of Pope’s staff at Utah Valley University, which opened the 2017-18 season at Kentucky and then played the following night at Duke. Pope called it “the toughest 24 hours” in college basketball.
“Obviously, we want to have a competitive schedule with teams that our fans appreciate and recognize. That’s important. I know that coach isn’t afraid of a challenge. After playing Kentucky and Duke in a 24-hour period, he is willing to lay it all out there and try anything,” Horodyski said. “We’ve definitely got some challenges potentially laid out for us and I think our fan base will like that and appreciate the schedule not only this year, but in years to come.”
“I think that coach Pope and the staff will continue to look at taking a few big swings,” Robinson said. “But ultimately we want to compete at an elite level, year in and year out. We’ll seek to schedule that way.”
Trying to duplicate last season’s schedule won’t be easy.
“We played four No. 1 seed games in our regular season,” Horodyski said. “That’s a great schedule. Not sure that happens every year but we’re not running from a challenge, that’s for sure.”
But other potential challenges are looming.
First, the spread of COVID-19 is threatening to disrupt the college football season and it’s too early to know how it might affect the college basketball season.
“I don’t think the pandemic has impacted the process of game scheduling that much. It’s provided more time for us to focus on scheduling. But it hasn’t had a huge impact,” Robinson said. “We’re very hopeful that what’s been put into place will provide us an opportunity to have a somewhat normal and exciting basketball season. As of today, we’re moving forward with business as usual. In the future, if something changes, we’ll adjust accordingly.”
BYU is scheduled to play in the Junkanoo Jam tournament on the island of Bimini in the Bahamas Nov. 17-21. The other teams in the round-robin tournament are Boston College, Tulsa and George Mason.
Last week, BYU and Utah announced a four-year extension of their hoops rivalry through 2023, including a game in Provo on Dec. 12.
It’s been reported that the Cougars will play Arizona State on Dec. 19 at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.
Luring big-name programs to the Marriott Center has been tough, given the Cougars’ perennial success in Provo. But Robinson views the program’s dominance at home as a reason why prominent teams should want to come to the Marriott Center.
“That is actually an advantage for some of the Power Five and blue blood programs. The way scheduling is structured these days, you want to be able to play Quad 1 quality opponents on the road or on neutral sites,” Robinson said. “That’s a challenge because some of the success we’ve had as a program historically at the Marriott Center. But it’s also an advantage for teams that are looking to schedule good, quality Quad 1 games on the road.”
While the season last year tipped off on Nov. 5, this season is scheduled to begin Nov. 10. The West Coast Conference opening night, which was on Jan. 2 last season, will be Dec. 31 this season.
“This year, there’s a week that I guess you could say that is missing from a typical non-conference scheduling window,” Robinson said. “That’s a little bit of a challenge in the sense that you’re looking to weave a couple of more games in where you might have had an extra week to do so. Everybody in the country is dealing with the same time constraints. I don’t see it as a negative but an opportunity to play some great games in a shorter time frame.”
For the past couple of seasons, the WCC has reduced its conference schedule from 18 games to 16 games at a time when Power Five leagues, like the Pac-12, are playing more conference games and fewer nonconference contests.
“Conferences that are playing more games have done so for a variety of reasons. The way the WCC is scheduling our conference games provides us the flexibility to be able to have a schedule that is both challenging and exciting for our team and for our fans,” Robinson said. “Each conference is unique in their approach but I think that the way we are able to schedule provides an opportunity to have an NCAA Tournament resume-building schedule.”
The entire nonconference schedule won’t be finalized and announced for a while.
“In terms of when the schedule will be completed, we want to make sure that we get it right first. If that happens to be sooner, then great. If that happens to be a little later, that’s great, too,” Robinson said. “Ultimately, we want to get a schedule that’s going to prepare us for our conference schedule in one of the best leagues in the country in the WCC, and also that will prepare us and put us in a good situation to have a great resume for the NCAA Tournament.”