Tony Bennett Always Willing To Play Mid-Major Road Games

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Tony Bennett has taken Virginia back to the NCAA Tournament.
Tony Bennett’s team opened this season on the road at UNC Greensboro, an NIT team this postseason. ~ Mike Ingalls

When CBS unveiled the brackets on Sunday, Illinois State never saw its name on screen. The 27-6 Redbirds became one of the top snubs for this year’s NCAA Tournament and coach Dan Muller didn’t take the news quietly.

Muller called it idiotic and noted that scheduling as a mid-major school to beef up the non-conference resume is tricky and borders on impossible.

“What the committee is asking for is not possible sometimes,” Muller said in The Chicago Tribune. “Our staff probably called 25 of the schools that made it to see if they would play us. What do they want us to do?”

He didn’t stop there. He took to Twitter to further voice his frustration, throwing out an open invitation to Power 5 schools to take on Illinois State. While Andrew Coppens at Yardbarker wrote that it “isn’t like anyone worth their salt is going to step up to a challenge like Muller has thrown out,” ISU and Ole Miss have since discussed meeting on the court per this ESPN article.

While some teams at the mid-major level may have trouble finding Power 5 opponents, like Coppens suggested, that hasn’t been true for teams in Virginia’s area of the college basketball world. The Hoos have played a home-and-home series with Virginia Commonwealth and they played Old Dominion at a neutral site. VCU is on future schedules as well. They’ve taken trips to JMU, George Mason, George Washington, and Wisconsin Green Bay too. The Hoos lost at Mason, GW, and Green Bay.

This season, UVA opened at UNC Greensboro, a team in the NIT field.

Coach Tony Bennett’s reasoning dates back to his days at Wisconsin Green Bay. Still the all-time leading scorer for the Phoenix with 2,285 points, he also remains the NCAA’s all-time leader in career 3-point percentage too at 49.7%.

”First because I played my college basketball at Wisconsin Green Bay and I was desperate to play Marquette or Wisconsin in my time and we never could get that game,” Bennett said. ”I watched my father as a coach when he was at Green Bay and wouldn’t get a lot of those games and then when he got the job at Wisconsin, he played pretty much everybody.”

During Bennett’s career from 1988-1992 at Green Bay, the most recognizable opponents from big conferences were:

1988-89: Colorado State (W)
1989-90: at Northwestern (L), at Illinois (L),
1990-91: at Colorado (W), at Clemson (L), at DePaul (W), Nebraska (L)
1991-92: at Purdue (W), at Nebraska (L), Colorado (W)

(A fun fact about that era and scheduling … in Bennett’s freshman season in 1988-89, Wisconsin Green Bay faced high-flying Loyola Marymount the year before the magical NCAA Tournament run following Hank Gathers’ death and lost 85-83. The Lions scored 100+ 22 times that season, though.)

With that background, Bennett decided if he became a head coach that he would try to play those types of teams. He’s carried through on that goal at Virginia.

“It’s a quality game. Now the way it works, it’s not so much that they have to be from a BCS [school]. It’s just playing quality teams in tough settings,” Bennett said. “It’s just my philosophy. Everybody’s got a different formula for how they schedule. But I always said if I’m a head coach, I’m not going to not play teams just because we’re in a BCS and I don’t even know what’s a mid major anymore or a high mid major? It’s hard – those lines are gray because teams are just good.”

“Yep, you can get beat and we have in those games, but I do think they’re good for you,” he added. “I think you go on the road sometimes and you play in hostile environments.”

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1 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. I could not love CTB anymore. He’s not afraid of anything or anyone. As Kyle Guy said, “you’re not losing, you’re learning”.

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