The idea of spending an entire nonconference basketball schedule away from home has not led to very many wins for Arkansas-Pine Bluff, at least in coach George Ivory’s five seasons at the helm.
His Golden Lions continue to draw national attention for their challenging pre-conference slates, which have produced a combined 3-51 record under his watch.
But they’ve used it to gear for SWAC play and become a factor in the league race.
“We’re out there on the road playing, and 3-and-50? That’s pitiful,” Ivory said Saturday, three days before UAPB’s season home debut against Mississippi Valley State.
UAPB has completed this season’s nonconference slate 1-11, which included two top-25 teams in San Diego State and Michigan State, three Pacific-12 ballclubs, a Mountain West Conference team (Air Force) and Conference USA contender (Texas-El Paso). Its only win came against a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team in Maryland-Eastern Shore.
The games have come at a time when the Golden Lions’ postseason fate remains in limbo. The program is hoping the NCAA will reverse UAPB’s ban from this season’s SWAC and NCAA tournaments, which stems from a low Academic Progress Rate that was released in June.
A tough schedule can benefit a mid-major team athletically and financially. UAPB did not win a nonconference game during its SWAC championship season of 2009-10, when it won the NCAA opening round game against Winthrop and finished with an 18-16 record.
The “money games” — contests against bigger-name programs for a paycheck — bring in a total of about $700,000 annually on average, according to Ivory.
“I don’t look at it as money games, but I look at it as a chance to compete and get better,” Ivory said.
Statistically this season, the Lions have suffered. They average only 51.9 points per game, have a scoring margin of minus-19.7, hit just 34.7 percent from the field including 23.5 percent from three-point range, shoot only 60.4 percent in free throws and have a rebounding margin of minus-11.2, ranking among the country’s worst in those categories.
Their leading scorer, senior center Terrell Kennedy, averages just 11.4 points per game, but has missed seven games due to a foot injury. He’s expected to return to action Wednesday.
UAPB has dealt with the absence of another center this season. Junior Daniel Broughton of Watson Chapel has missed eight games and come off the bench in three in order to rehabilitate a surgically-repaired knee.
“Unfortunately, the last couple of years, we’ve been injury-prone,” Ivory said. “We compete in games, but when you play a top-20 team almost every year, you don’t find top-20 teams with that kind of schedule.”
With all the miles the Golden Lions have traveled so far — 20,000 this year, Ivory estimated — he’s looking for his program to benefit from it in a more direct manner.
“It really helps the athletic department when we play those games, but I’m looking forward to help me sometimes, too,” he said. “It’s certain things that we need for men’s basketball for us to move forward and be progressive in time. If we’re getting $700,000 a year and making that much for the university, we should get something.”
Ivory specified the need for an academic advisor to help coordinate the players’ academic work especially on the road, halftime promotions including fan-interactive contests, and minor improvements to H.O. Clemmons Arena, which opened in 1982, to enhance the atmosphere for home games.
He also would like for the Lions to have home nonconference games to maintain early-season fan interest in the team. Ivory had said before this season that would be a possibility, but added Saturday this season’s schedule had already been set beforehand.
“I’m thinking if we can get three (home) games in next fall, that will get the interest in season tickets early, you get a chance to see the team early, what they’re looking like and what they’re looking forward to, and you get more (games) for your buck,” he said.
Ivory said he’s been in discussions with Arkansas State, Central Arkansas and some other lower-level Division I schools within driving range for home games.
As for getting his team’s postseason ban overturned, the coach likes his chances. He has cited incorrect rosters submitted to the NCAA for figuring the team’s Academic Progress Rate as a factor in not reaching the benchmark of 900 needed to avoid sanctions.
“We knew there were some people on our paperwork that was not supposed to be on there,” Ivory said. “Once we got all that corrected, they accepted the name changes. They’re checking some more stuff now, but that made us feel good because we figured the majority of those guys have graduated.
“That was my whole thing at first: If those guys have graduated and they’ve never flunked out, how can we not be on line (to meet academic requirements)? Our number-one focus is academics. If they don’t overturn it, you’re still going to be here to get a degree. Nothing you guys did wrong or the guys before, but you stay on track and get your degree.”
If the ban is overturned and UAPB can repeat its 2009-10 success, the early-season struggles may be worth it.
Mississippi Valley State at UAPB
• First conference games of season for both schools
• When: Wednesday, women’s game at 5 p.m.; men’s at 7 p.m.
• Where: H.O. Clemmons Arena
• Records: Valley women 3-6, UAPB women 4-6, Valley men 0-9, UAPB men 1-11
UAPB men’s basketball statistical leaders
• Points per game: 1. Terrell Kennedy, 11.4; 2. Davon Haynes, 11.3; 3. Lazabian Jackson, 10.8; 4. Marcel Mosley, 8.3; 5. Mitchell Anderson, 8.0
• Rebounds per game: 1. Haynes, 6.8; 2. Anderson, 5.4; 3. Jackson, 4.0; 4. Kennedy, 3.8; 5. Tevin Hammond, 3.4
• Assists per game: 1. Hammond, 3.7; 2. Jackson, 1.8; 3. Anderson, 1.3; 4. Kennedy, 1.2; 5. Haynes, 0.6
• Steals per game: 1. Hammond, 2.3; 2. Jackson, 2.0; 3. Anderson, 1.4; 4. Haynes, 1.4; 5. Jaylon Floyd, 0.9
• Field-goal percentage: 1. Floyd, 48.6; 2. Haynes, 43.7; 3. Broughton, 37.0; 4. Jackson, 34.3; 5. Kennedy, 33.3
• Three-point percentage: 1. Floyd, 50.0; 2. Hammond, 35.1; 3. Kennedy 31.3; 4. Kyle Jones, 28.6; 5. Mosley, 25.0
• Free-throw percentage: 1. Haynes, 78.8; 2. Mosley, 77.8; 3. Jackson, 66.7; 4. Warren Boyd, 64.3; 5. Hammond, 59.1