With preparations for the 2017-18 season already underway, UCDavisAggies.com will feature a five-part review throughout the upcoming weeks highlighting men's basketball's historic season. Starting with the strategic way the program assembled its 2016-17 schedule, upcoming articles will focus on the Aggies' successful league campaign, its first-ever Big West Tournament title and the program's inaugural appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
Once UC Davis basketball released it 15-game non-conference schedule, a few things immediately stood out:
- A new location for its rivalry game against Sacramento State
- Numerous opponents that competed in the 2016 postseason
- Two tournaments, including the Aggies’ first-ever appearance at the Great Alaska Shootout, the longest-running regular-season college basketball showcase in the nation
- An all-UC matchup at Cal, schools separated by an hour’s drive
- Numerous road games before the start of Big West play
As league play entered the final weeks of the season, it became apparent how this non-conference slate paid dividends to a team focused on returning to postseason action.
Of the Aggies’ first eight games, six took place during tournaments at the Cable Car Classic (hosted by Santa Clara) and the Great Alaska Shootout (hosted by Alaska Anchorage). Competing in non-conference tournaments is a common sight for many Division I teams; by competing in two events within a short timespan, playing three games in as many days (with quick turnarounds from one game to the next) quickly became a situation that every UC Davis coach and player embraced and managed accordingly.
After all, if the Aggies wanted to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, they would need to win the Big West Conference Tournament — a weekend of action that forces championship participants to play three games in three days, with little time to recover and prep for the next opponent.
Once the postseason begins, players and teams need to execute in pressure-packed situations in order to advance to the next round and extend their season by another game. By competing in the first-ever college basketball game at the Golden 1 Center — the state-of-the-art brand new downtown home of the Sacramento Kings — UC Davis received its first taste of a playoff basketball environment when it faced cross-Causeway rival Sacramento State.
Starting with Darius Graham’s three from the near corner, the first basket scored in a college game in the arena’s history, the Aggies took control of this historic rivalry matchup from the opening tip. Leading 36-34 at the break, an 11-3 Aggie scoring run helped them pull away from the Hornets for good and record a nine-point victory.
To help his team prep for games against Big West teams, head coach Jim Les wants his team to play against the top-caliber opposition, and this year’s non-conference schedule reflected that philosophy. In addition to the field of teams competing at the Great Alaska Shootout, a tournament that featured five 2016 postseason squads, UC Davis’ non-conference schedule already featured numerous games against playoff teams.
Throughout the months of November and December, the Aggies competed in 12 games outside of Davis and logged over 15,000 miles of travel. Throughout that timespan, the players were placed in a situation that demanded a successful balance of academic and athletic responsibilities. By strengthening the skills and discipline needed to manage their time throughout the season, thanks to these early season road trips, student-athletes were able to efficiently handle all of their commitments throughout the team’s Big West and NCAA postseason run.
The Aggies’ travel schedule also provided ample opportunities for the team to strengthen its chemistry. Beginning with the team’s preseason Costa Rica Foreign Tour, last year’s squad knew when to focus its efforts on academic coursework, prepare for its upcoming opponent and when to let loose, share a laugh with each another and have fun.
By maintaining this healthy balance, opponents faced a cohesive team from the opening game of the season. By the time league play started, UC Davis truly was the Big West's best team; not only did the Aggies occupy the top spot atop the conference standings, certain events began to take place as the year progressed — elements covered in the second part of men’s basketball’s 2016-17 season review.
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