Long the most popular team at Longwood, the LU men’s basketball has fought for a decade under tenth-year head coach Mike Gillian to enter a conference, and last year they completed that fight in a “big” way, joining the Big South Conference.
The team’s 2012-13 schedule was released recently, with the team’s opening contest being played on the road at Marshall of Conference USA on Nov. 9, and then the Lancers come home for the season’s first home match on Nov. 15 against Norfolk State of the MEAC. After that, the team will play in the Las Vegas Invitational against Arkansas, Creighton, Florida A&M, and another team yet to be determined.
In an interview with Gillian, the longest-tenured men's basketball coach in school history said that “In putting the schedule together in the past, you always try to put as many home games as possible right there in the beginning portion because we’re not sure how many of those home games we’ll get later on in the year … Once we knew we were in the Big South, we knew we would be locked into a certain number of home games once we got to January and February, so how you build it there is a little different and how you approach the season is a little different.
“Also, with that in some of those games against higher-name opponents like Marshall and when we get to the period after Finals, I want those games to be done with … We may not have quite as many home games early on, and we may have those high-profile games early on, which makes that a little more challenging.”
Gillian said that Marshall would be a team picked to finish high in their conference in preseason.
At some point in six of the past seven seasons, the Lancers have made the trip to Charlottesville to play local power Virginia, but the Cavaliers are a noticeable absence on Longwood’s schedule this year. Gillian noted that “We worked with them to try and put [a game] together once again, and now for us, there are fewer games that we have control of. In the past, we had 31 games that we had control of. Now, that’s not really the case.
"I’m talking to them now about getting back together with them in 2013-14. It’s certainly something we’d like to do and they’d like to do, but it’s something that has to work out together for both sides."
The team will again be active over the winter break, playing eight games in that time period, including at Georgetown on Dec. 10, at Virginia Commonwealth on Dec. 21, and their first-ever Big South game at home against Coastal Carolina on Jan. 5. Gillian remarked that there is some local flavor fame over the holiday break, as well as some familiarity from last year’s schedule: “You always want to have the profile of the program raised as much as possible. I think we’ve been able to do that and we’re going to keep back referring to the Big South because that’s the biggest part. You have Radford, Liberty, [and] VMI built in twice a year."
He added, “We want to try and maintain those in-state opponents to try and maintain the profile of our program. And although Georgetown’s not in Virginia, it’s Georgetown. It’s a prominent program in Washington, D.C., so it’s a huge time period for us. Even going to Buffalo to play Canisius is tough.”
When asked if he had any games in particular circled on the calendar yet, he firmly said “no,” saying that every game was, in fact, circled and that it’s not the same anymore. He said that the “cherry on top of the sundae” is the Big South Tournament, hosted by Coastal Carolina in early March.
"There are some realities as a coach that you realize. It’s very difficult for more than one team [in the Big South] to realize their dream and go to the NCAA tournament. That one team that does get that opportunity is the one that gets that win in March," he said.
"If we were circling anything, we’re circling that conference championship when we do get there, and you certainly want to be peaking at the end of the year."
All 12 teams from the conference make the Big South tournament. The top two teams from the North and South divisions earn an automatic berth in the quarterfinal stage of the tournament, while the other eight battle it out in the opening round.