All basketball teams like balance, whether that’s on the court, in the classroom — or in this case — on the schedule.
Northwestern State men’s basketball coach Mike McConathy used ‘balance’ to describe the Demons’ 2021-22 slate that features a 14-game Southland Conference schedule and five non-conference home games, six non-conference road games and a preconference tournament against league opponents.
The basketball schedules are presented by McDonald’s.
“There is a good balance,” said McConathy, who will begin his 22nd season on the NSU sidelines. “When you’re building a schedule, we’re playing opponents we’ve played before, and that gives us a familiarity with those opponents and their systems.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to the players. We’ll employ our system and they’ll employ their system, and we’ll go out and be competitive.”
NSU kicks off the season with an Oklahoma two-step that includes a Nov. 9 date with the Sooners before catching Tulsa on Nov. 10.
The Demons open the Prather Coliseum schedule with Champion Christian on Nov. 13 before heading to SMU on Nov. 15.
A trio of historic rivals visit Natchitoches in late November with Louisiana Tech on Nov. 19, Louisiana College on Nov. 23 and Stephen F. Austin on Nov. 28.
SFA is a recent conference opponent that stays on NSU’s schedule after the Lumberjacks were one of four Southland Conference teams to leave for the Western Athletic Conference alongside Sam Houston, Lamar and Abilene Christian.
NSU will be on the road for four of the next five games, starting at Houston (Nov. 30), at UL Monroe (Dec. 4), home against Dallas Christian (Dec. 11), at LSU (Dec. 14) and at Texas A&M (Dec. 21).
Not counting new opponent Dallas Christian (National Christian College Athletic Association), the Demons have faced every non-conference opponent at least once in the past four seasons.
NSU played five of those opponents this past season and all but Oklahoma and Houston within the past two seasons.
Moving into the new year, NSU will make an unusual trip to the Merrell Center in Katy, Texas, to play three games in a preconference tournament from Jan. 6-9.
With the eight-member league playing 14 SLC games, the tournament will be non-conference games against league opponents with a winner’s and loser’s bracket format to ensure three games for all eight teams.
“It’s an opportunity to do something different and for new players to see the arena in which we’ll play the league tournament a few months later,” McConathy said.
The conference season will feature a home-and-home schedule with the other seven league members with every conference game being a doubleheader with women’s basketball, erasing the “mirror” schedule in which one team plays on the road and the other at home.
“With teams playing everybody twice, you get more of a true champion, and there’s more stock put into a regular season title,” McConathy said. “Value needs to be placed on that, and with this schedule, I think there is more weight to a regular season championship.
“The conference schedule will be a little different with there just being eight teams, and it’ll be a little bit of a strange feeling considering there’s been at least nine since I’ve been at NSU, and we’ve had 13 teams the last couple of years. But there were just six teams in the league when I played at Louisiana Tech, so it’s not anything that hasn’t happened before.”
The SLC slate, which typically starts in early January and occasionally in December, begins Jan. 15 with a trip to Southeastern.
NSU continues its conference contests on the road at Nicholls (Jan. 20) and New Orleans (Jan. 22).
The Demons return home to handle Incarnate Word (Jan. 27) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (Jan. 29).
NSU will see a more home-friendly February with five of nine contests in Natchitoches.
The Demons start that stretch at Houston Baptist (Feb. 3) and McNeese (Feb. 5) before finishing with a home-heavy push to the postseason.
NSU turns around and hosts Houston Baptist (Feb. 10) and McNeese (Feb. 12).
The Demons finish their road schedule at UIW (Feb. 17) and TAMU-CC (Feb. 19).
The last three home games are in the friendly confines of Prather against Nicholls (Feb. 24), New Orleans (Feb. 26) and Southeastern (March 5).
The Southland Conference Tournament, for which all eight teams will qualify, starts March 9 in Katy, Texas.