Provo • BYU coach Dave Rose is determined to not let what happened to Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett last March happen to him.
The Gaels were ranked nationally most of last season and won 28 games, including a victory at Sweet 16 entrant Gonzaga, but were left out of the NCAA Tournament, presumably because they played a weak nonconference schedule.
Rose, who has two years left on the five-year contract he signed in 2015, has upgraded his 2018 and 2019 nonconference schedules.
“Next year’s schedule is going to be just as good as this one, if not better,” he said last month.
This season’s schedule is as ambitious as anything BYU has played the last decade, maybe longer. It is road-heavy, especially after the Cougars play six straight home games from Nov. 9 (Utah Valley) to Nov. 24 (Houston).
“Yeah, we’ve changed a few things, just philosophy-wise,” said Rose, whose program has missed the NCAA Tournament the past three seasons. “We can’t get teams to return games here [at the Marriott Center], so I may play one every year where we just play without a return. I can’t play too many of those, though, because I’ve got 18,000 people who want to see wins.”
That “one game” this season is at Mississippi State. Rose used his friendship with MSU coach Ben Howland, the former UCLA coach, to set up the deal with the SEC’s Bulldogs.
BYU was able to add Mississippi State and former Mountain West foe San Diego State because it will play two fewer West Coast Conference games, part of the changes made to persuade Gonzaga to stay in the league.
Assistant coach Tim LaComb is Rose’s point man on scheduling.
“I just put Tim on it,” Rose said. “I said, ‘Let’s just get out there and see who will play us at their place.’ There were more takers at their places than there were four years ago when we had a similar [scheduling strategy].”
Having lined up a home-and-home with Illinois State last year (BYU will return the game in Normal, Ill., on Nov. 28), Rose and LaComb went searching for more upper-level Group of Five teams and inked deals with UNLV, Houston, SDSU and Nevada.
“We all want to play better games,” Rose said, speaking of teams outside Power Five conferences. “We have to play better games, because we are all getting locked out of the Power Five games. … We also had something lined up with New Mexico, but it fell through at the end.”
The Nov. 6 opener at Nevada, which is expected to be ranked in the preseason top-10 and a Final Four contender, will be the first time BYU starts a season on the road in seven years.
“Nevada is a home-and-home, and they are good,” Rose said. Nevada coach “Eric [Musselman] is a stand up scheduling guy. He’s not a BS’er where he will tell you he will do something and then not do it. Eric will play anybody. There are a lot of guys who will talk noise, but the contract never gets signed.”
Rose said BYU and San Diego State are playing each other “out of necessity, almost.” The Aztecs will play at the Marriott Center on Nov. 9, 2019, the first Provo matchup for the former rivals since Jimmer Fredette scored 43 points and got rock star treatment after No. 9 BYU beat No. 4-ranked and undefeated SDSU 71-58 in front of 22,700 fans in 2011.
“Neither me nor [SDSU coach] Brian Dutcher want to play the game, because I know what it is to play there and he knows what it is to play here,” Rose said. “But we have to play the game, or we are going to lose out.”
Rose said junior guard Nick Emery’s return from a nine-game suspension imposed by the NCAA before the Dec. 5 home game against Utah State “is just how it worked out” and wasn’t planned.
“My philosophy is that if you put a schedule together, and win 80-85 percent of the time, and it doesn’t qualify you to get in, that would be hard for a coach to take,” Rose said. “So hopefully if we can win eight out of 10 tough games, we can get in.”
BYU’s 10 key nonconference games
Nov. 6 • at Nevada
Nov. 9 • Utah Valley
Nov. 24 • Houston
Nov. 28 • at Illinois State
Dec. 1 • at Weber State
Dec. 5 • Utah State
Dec. 8 • vs. Utah at Vivint Smart Home Arena, SLC
Dec. 15 • vs. UNLV at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas
Dec. 22 • at San Diego State
Dec. 29 • at Mississippi State