Irrespective of talent and coaching, the Fresno State men’s basketball team is on schedule for success.
That doesn’t mean the Bulldogs don’t have talent. That doesn’t mean they don’t have good coaching. It means they finally have the type of schedule that sets them up well for postseason.
For the first time in coach Rodney Terry’s five seasons, Fresno State has more regular-season games at home than on the road – and by a wide margin. Of the Bulldogs’ 13 nonconference games in November and December, nine will take place in the friendly confines of Save Mart Center.
Including conference games, Fresno State’s slate of 18 home dates and 13 road is the most home-leaning in the Mountain West Conference.
“It definitely gives us an advantage,” said senior guard Marvelle Harris, the conference Preseason Player of the Year. “It gets us prepared for league and it’s great for fans, too, because they can come out and see us more and get more involved. We talk about filling the Save Mart all the time.”
Scheduling at Fresno State is definitely a challenge because what’s happening now is there’s more and more money available for guaranteed games. If you don’t have it, you can’t get those games.
Bulldogs assistant Byron Jones
A favorable early schedule can help the Bulldogs burnish their postseason résumé by piling up wins, not to mention bolster confidence and momentum heading into a league play.
What are the effects of a bad schedule? Just look back to last season.
The 2014-15 squad may have had issues, but the schedule only exacerbated things. Fresno State played just five nonconference home games.
Considering the Bulldogs went 11-3 at home, those extra four home games likely make the difference between their 15-17 overall record and a second consecutive winning season.
It wasn’t just the number of road games that doomed last year’s team, it was how they were spaced. Fresno State opened with 5 of 6 on the road, including a weeklong trip to Florida via Flagstaff, Arizona.
“We were road warriors last year,” Terry said.
Road kill, more like it. The Bulldogs went 1-6 in November (0-5 on the road) and didn’t record their first win over a Division I opponent until Dec. 3. They began conference play behind an eight ball the size of the Unisphere.
The Bulldogs went 1-6 in November (0-5 on the road) and didn’t record their first win over a Division I opponent until Dec. 3. They began MW play behind an eight ball the size of the Unisphere.
Fast forward 12 months and things couldn’t be more different. Fresno State opens with three straight home games starting Friday night against Pepperdine. There are no multi-stop road trips that require anything more than carry-on luggage.
The farthest the Bulldogs travel is Houston, a direct flight. And the remaining road games are either a short hop (Arizona and Oregon) or bus ride (Cal Poly) away. What’s more, the Arizona and Oregon games are preceded by at least two off days.
“The schedule sets up pretty good for us in terms of travel,” Terry said. “Guys have an opportunity to get in a really good routine as far as preparation. That’s when college athletes tend to be more successful.”
When it comes to scheduling Terry has final approval. But the guy in the trenches making the phone calls is assistant Byron Jones, who has been with Terry since 2011-12.
The biggest reason there are so many home games is because of what Jones termed “sacrifices” from last season. The Bulldogs agreed to open at Pepperdine so that the Waves would return the favor this year. Also, they played at Pacific two consecutive years (2013-14 and 2014-15) in order to keep the series going.
Lastly, Fresno State caught a break when the Evansville game (part of the Mountain West-Missouri Valley Conference Challenge) was rescheduled from Indiana at the 11th hour.
9 Number of nonconference home games for Fresno State men’s basketball, up from five last season
“Scheduling at Fresno State is definitely a challenge because what’s happening now is there’s more and more money available for guaranteed games,” Jones said. “If you don’t have it, you can’t get those games.”
Lacking guaranteed money to purchase home games, Jones has become adept at what he calls “creative scheduling.” This year he had about $180,000 to work with. The vast majority ($165,000) went to the Roundball Showcase, a tournament that takes place at home sites. (The Bulldogs are hosting Lamar and San Francisco and playing Rice on the road.) Fresno State is also paying $5,000 apiece to NAIA schools The Master’s and Pacific Union.
The one element this schedule lacks is a marquee home game. Fresno State hosted Cal last season and has Oregon slated to visit in 2016-17 as part of a two-for-one series. Just don’t expect to see an Arizona or UCLA at Save Mart Center anytime soon.
“Bringing a name in here is always going to be a big challenge,” Jones said. “They have so much money to throw around they don’t need road games. In the past, like 10 to 15 years ago, sure. But those times are done.”
It isn’t just big names that are becoming cost prohibitive. Even Cal State Northridge is getting $85,000 to play at San Diego State, according to Jones. If he gave that kind of money to teams like the Matadors, that’s nearly one-third of his budget.
You want to show the community what type of team you have, get them excited and get them looking forward to league.
Bulldogs guard Marvelle Harris, on the home-heavy schedule
Former athletic director Thomas Boeh once told me increasing the basketball team’s guarantee budget did not make financial sense because he would see no return on the back end. Considering Fresno State’s attendance, he had a point.
The new guy in charge, Jim Bartko, has a different philosophy. Even so, with all the demands on Fresno State’s athletic budget, guarantees remained at the same level as previous years.
“If you ask me what would be a magical number, I’d like to see us have a budget of at least $300,000,” Jones said. “That way we can buy at least a tournament every year, and if we don’t do a tournament it gives us the opportunity to buy three to five home games.
“When you only have a certain amount and you want to fit the game on a certain spot on the calendar, it’s very difficult to entice someone to play us in Fresno.”
Through sacrifice and serendipity, the Bulldogs have a schedule that sets them up for success. Now’s when the talent and coaching comes in.
Bulldogs’ season opener
FRESNO STATE VS. PEPPERDINE
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Webcast: Mountain West Network
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
Fresno State plays nine nonconference home games during November and December compared to four on the road. Here’s how SI.com and statistician Ken Pomeroy rate the opposition. (The Bulldogs are ranked 109th by SI.com and 91st by KenPom.com out of 351 Division I teams.)
Lamar (Nov. 16)
San Francisco (Nov. 19)
at Rice (Nov. 22)
Delaware State (Nov. 27)
at Oregon (Nov. 30)
The Master’s (Dec. 3)
at Cal Poly (Dec. 5)
at Arizona (Dec. 9)
Pacific (Dec. 12)
Cal State Bakersfield (Dec. 16)
Evansville (Dec. 20)
Pacific Union (Dec. 27)