It has been only a little over a month since the men’s basketball season ended. But head coach James Jones and company already have started on next season’s schedule, which is not yet finalized.
“Last season [2002-2003], we had the NCAA minimum of nine home games,” Jones said. “But this season [2003-2004], the schedule comes back to us a little bit, and some of the teams we’ve played will be coming here. We will be looking at more games at home, probably 12 to 13 [games].”
Besides the seven Ivy League home games, Yale will have at least five others. Currently, Jones is planning to host Wake Forest, Holy Cross, Niagara, Sacred Heart, and the University of Alaska–Fairbanks during the 2003-2004 season.
In shaping his schedule, Jones has not ignored the importance of road games. In addition to playing Bucknell and Rhode Island away, Yale also will make an appearance at the Pepsi-Marist Classic along with Marist, Eastern Michigan, and Coastal Carolina. In addition, Yale has been invited to play in the 2003-2004 Preseason NIT.
“The Preseason NIT is a great tool for recruiting, and it’s a great opportunity for us to play on the national stage,” Jones said. “The good thing about the Marist tournament is that it gives you two games back-to-back. That’s the way we will be playing in the Ivy part of our season, and I want to see early how the guys react to that kind of play.”
Jones is also in the process of working out a game with at least one of the following opponents: Virginia, Oregon State or South Carolina. Because he is still in the process of negotiations, Jones does not know whether any of these games will be at home.
Home games have been critical for Yale the past two seasons. During the 2001-2002 season, in which Yale won a share of the Ivy League championship, the Elis had a 10-2 record at the John J. Lee Amphitheater. Many of Yale’s most impressive performances that season happened at “the Church,” like the weekend sweep of University of Pennsylvania and Princeton.
“It’s definitely an advantage for us to play at home,” guard Edwin Draughan ’05 said. “We’re used to shooting on our own baskets, the same ones we’ve been using in practice. It is also good to not have to travel. And, of course, it’s good to play in front of our home fans.”
Last season, Yale was 5-4 at home (4-4 against Division I opponents) including key losses to Rhode Island, Brown, Princeton, and Pennsylvania. Yale beat Division III RPI in New Haven.
Perhaps more important than the number of road games is the timing of the Elis’ road trips. In the 2001-2002 season, Yale’s first home game took place Nov. 28, 2001. Beside the two tournaments Yale played at the beginning of the season, the Bulldogs never went more than four games without a home game.
Last season, Yale’s first home game occurred Jan. 8, 2003. The Elis had to play 10 games on the road before their home opener, which, according to some, was a drain on the team’s resolve.
“We had a little bit too many road games to start off,” Draughan said. “Maybe, if we had a few home games in between there, things would have turned out different for us. It was a pretty big factor, that kind of schedule, especially earlier on in the season, wears us down a little bit. When we did get home, we did not have the kind of intensity that we needed.”
Having to play its toughest non-conference opponents — Stanford, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest — on the road also may have hurt Yale last season.
“The only thing that may have hurt us a little bit is that we didn’t win as many games as we would have liked, and that did not build up our confidence and our team chemistry as much,” forward Matt Minoff ’04 said.
Jones insists that last year’s 10-game block of road games was not the product of design but of necessity: many teams did not want to play in New Haven.
Several teams on the 2002-2003 schedule will not play Yale in the upcoming season. Stanford and Oklahoma State each paid Yale $40,000 to play in their gyms last season. The money was paid to the Yale Athletic Department as part of a one-time guaranteed game agreement. So far, both teams have declined to renew the agreement for the upcoming season.
In addition, Army, who has played Yale in each of its last eight seasons, has declined to play Yale next winter. The Elis also will not play Penn State, Fairfield or St. Mary’s again after games this winter.
“You don’t want to play the same teams every year,” Jones said. “You want to mix it up a little bit. We’re going to play one of those teams [Virginia, Oregon State, South Carolina] instead of Stanford, and we’re going to pay the Preseason NIT instead of Oklahoma State.”