Saint Francis men’s basketball coach Chad LaCross has a simple philosophy when it comes to scheduling games for his program: test yourself early and you’ll pass tests late.
The Cougars unveiled their 2012-13 schedule on Wednesday and it includes the usual assortment of nationally-ranked teams mixed in with a few great teams and a pinch of really, really good teams just for good measure.
“I’m happy with the schedule,” LaCross said. “It gives us some opportunities to play in a few tournaments and I like the tournament mode.”
LaCross was an assistant with Saint Francis when it won the 2010 NAIA Division II national championship. He then took over for Jeff Rekeweg, who left for a similar position with NCAA Division II Northwood (Mich.) and the program didn’t skip a beat. The Cougars advanced to the title game before falling and in LaCross’ second year, he again led his team back to the national tournament.
This season Saint Francis will play five teams that participated in the 32-team NAIA National Tournament last spring, each of which were ranked in the NAIA Top 25 poll to end last season.
“We want to play the better teams,” LaCross said. “Our goal is to win some championships early (in the tournaments). We just always want to play the best competition.”
The Cougars will open the season with an exhibition against Rekeweg’s Northwood squad (Oct. 27) before opening the regular season on the road against Concordia (Nov. 2), Aquinas (Nov. 3), and at the Siena Heights Tournament (Nov. 9-10).
“We’re playing a lot of (Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference) opponents and that helps with travel,” LaCross said.
Another WHAC opponent that will challenge the Cougars is Fort Wayne-rival Indiana Tech. Saint Francis will play across town on Nov. 13 and then the Warriors will visit the Hutzell Athletic Center on Nov. 24.
“The way Indiana Tech plays solid defense,” LaCross explained, “they provide us with a good pre-conference test.”
The Cougars will open their home season with another near-by rival, as Huntington comes to Fort Wayne on Nov. 20 to not only open the Cougars’ home season, but Crossroads League (the former Mid-Central Conference) play as well.
Three Crossroads League teams (Marian, Indiana Wesleyan, and Grace) in addition to Saint Francis are returning NAIA National Tournament qualifiers.
In the case of Marian, the Knights made perhaps the biggest splash they could in hiring a new coach this spring. Former Butler and Iowa coach Todd Lickliter has taken over the program in Indianapolis.
“He’s probably going to raise the bar a little bit and do some things,” LaCross said. “All of the talk around the league has been about what he’s going to do there.”
Saint Francis will visit Marian on Jan. 10 and the Knights will come to town on Feb. 12.