August 19, 2010

ISLANDER MEN TO FACE CHALLENGING SLATE, HOST AGGIES AND COUGARS

With the likes of Texas A&M and Houston at home and road contests at Kansas, Oklahoma State, Marquette, Memphis and Texas Tech, the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi men's basketball schedule reads like a who's who of college basketball royalty as the Islanders look to make a run at the Southland Conference crown.

"This has been the most unique schedule that I've been a part of putting together," said Islander men's basketball head coach Perry Clark. "We had struggled since coming here with attracting good teams to play at home. With the help of Director of Athletics Tim Fitzpatrick in attracting Houston and A&M to the American Bank Center, it has created a transition in our program where our schedule becomes more balanced between home-and-away games. In the long run balancing the schedule between home and away will be beneficial to the program."

The 15-game home portion of the schedule boasts visits from in-state Texas A&M on Nov. 15 and Houston on Dec. 18. It marks the first time the Aggies, who had an RPI of 13 a season ago, has visited the Coastal Bend. Houston won the Conference USA tournament a year ago and will make its first trip to the American Bank Center. The Islanders will play 14 games on Stripes Court at the American Bank Center and one at the Dugan Wellness Center against defending league champion Sam Houston State on Jan. 22.

Strengthening the home schedule was of key importance to Fitzpatrick on several fronts.

"In order to grow fan interest in our program, it was really vital for us to commit to enhancing the non-conference portion of our schedule," said the Islander athletic director who is completing his first season at the Island University. "Bringing Texas A&M and Houston to the American Bank Center does that, and we are very hopeful that this enhancement translates into greater season ticket sales, better attendance and increased revenue. Improved fan support will enhance every aspect of our basketball program."

In total nine teams on this year's Islander men's schedule reached the postseason a year ago, including Southland Conference Tournament champion Sam Houston State. Kansas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Marquette, Ohio and Houston participated in the NCAA Tournament, while Memphis and Texas Tech participated in the NIT. Led by the Jayhawks, who recorded the NCAA's highest RPI a season ago, eight foes had RPIs in the top 100.

Three of the teams brought in recruiting classes rated in the top 25 nationally according to Rivals.com. Memphis brought in the second-highest rated class for the upcoming season. Marquette's recruiting haul was ranked 14th, while the Jayhawks class was rated 23rd and included the nation's top recruit Josh Selby.

"This will certainly be one the toughest if not the toughest non-conference schedule in the Southland Conference," said Clark. "With six non-conference games against NCAA Tournament teams, plus two NIT teams in Memphis and Texas Tech, our non-conference slate will be one of the toughest in the country."

Following the visit from the Aggies, the Islanders hit the road for the second of four games against Big 12 opponents when they visit Oklahoma State on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Following the trip to Stillwater, Okla., the Islanders will participate in four games in the Las Vegas Invitational.

A&M-Corpus Christi heads to Ohio (Nov. 21) and Kansas (Nov. 23) for the first two games before heading to Las Vegas for its final two games of the tournament. On Friday, Nov. 26, the Islanders will face Bethune-Cookman before closing out the event against Northern Colorado or Valparaiso the following day.

December opens with A&M-Corpus Christi facing St. Edwards on Dec. 1 at the American Bank Center. The Islanders will return to the road on Dec. 7 when it travels to Wisconsin to face Marquette before taking a nearly two-week break for exams. The break ends as the Islanders will host Conference USA tournament champion Houston at the American Bank Center on Dec. 18.

A pair of trips to the state of Tennessee close out the calendar year. The Islanders head to Memphis for a single game on Dec. 20. After a brief Christmas break, the Islanders return to Tennessee to participate in the Dr. Pepper Classic on Dec. 29 and Dec. 30.

After opening 2011 with a Jan. 2 game against Texas Tech, the Islanders travel to McNeese State to open conference play on Saturday, Jan 8. Three of the four league games that follow will be in the Coastal Bend. Back-to-back home games with UTSA (Jan. 12) and Southeastern La. (Jan. 15) begin the stretch. After a midweek trip to UT Arlington on Jan. 19, the Islanders will host the defending champion Bearkats on campus in the Dugan Wellness Center on Jan. 22.

Following a pair of road games at Texas State and Stephen F. Austin, which has eliminated the Islanders from the Southland Conference Tournament in the semifinals the past two seasons, the Islanders return home for four of its next five games. A three-game homestand starts the stretch.

After a visit from Nicholls (Feb. 2), Northwestern State comes to town on Feb. 5 for Homecoming on Stripes Court. A non-conference outing with Savannah State concludes the three-game set on Feb. 7 before a key road trip to Sam Houston State on Feb. 12. Texas State comes to the Bank Center on Feb. 15 for a rare Tuesday game.

The Islanders then hit the road for back-to-back games. They head to Lamar on Saturday, Feb. 18 before traveling North on I-37 to UTSA the following Wednesday.

The final two home games of the regular season follow for the Islanders. The Lumberjacks come to Stripes Court on Sunday, Feb. 27, while the Mavs visit March 2. A trip to Central Arkansas on March 5 concludes the regular season.

"The schedule will definitely be a challenge for our young team," said Clark. "It will be exciting for the fans, but challenging. It is a schedule that can really prepare us for success in the conference season."

The Southland Conference Tournament will be held March 9-12 in Katy at the Merrell Center.