by Matt Vines, Assistant SID
For the second time in three seasons, the Northwestern State men’s basketball team will play extra regular season games as a result of participating in a multi-team event.
But instead of making far-flung trips like the Demons did in 2018-19, NSU will renew old rivalries.
The Demons will play Louisiana Tech and UT-Arlington in the Louisiana Tech Classic presented by Hampton Inn of Ruston at Tech’s Thomas Assembly Center.
NSU will face the Mavericks on Nov. 28 before finishing the event against the Bulldogs on Nov. 29. UTA and Tech will kick off the weekend Nov. 27 with a matchup.
“It’s always important to play schools that are close, and the regional aspect is important,” said NSU men’s coach Mike McConathy, who will begin his 22nd season on the Demons sidelines. “People come to see games that are natural rivals.
“We haven’t played Louisiana Tech in five years, but those games have been some of our best crowds, those types of regional rivals. UTA used to be in the Southland Conference, and that’s a good game especially for our coaching staff.”
The Demons and Bulldogs hadn’t locked horns since 2014-15, which ended a streak of games in six straight seasons. NSU won two of those meetings but was a double-overtime loss away from posting a 3-3 mark in those six contests. Both NSU wins came in Natchitoches.
Since the first meeting in 1915-1916, NSU has a 61-76 mark all-time against La. Tech.
NSU hadn’t met UT Arlington since the Mavericks left the Southland Conference in 2011-12.
The Mavs, now a Sun Belt Conference member, hold the series edge 28-23.
Participation in a multi-team event allows NSU two extra regular season games, which allows the Demons to play up to 31 games before the Southland Conference Tournament.
The 2018-19 Demons played in a four-game Men Against Breast Cancer Cup, which included trips to BYU, Rice and Houston and a home game against Alabama A&M.
McConathy said the extra non-conference games should benefit the squad ahead of league play.
“The opportunity to play more games against quality opponents is important,” McConathy said. “For Louisiana Tech, it’s a huge difference because they get to play extra home games, and the odds of winning at home are better than on the road many times.
“But it’s good to play road games close to home as well. There are different schools of thought whether you want to play more games or less games, and that usually has to do with depth. You start the season with 13 players, and you think everything is rosy until you get a few torn ACLs or broken wrists. But we think we’ll be pretty deep, and we liked the opportunity to play extra games.”
NSU returns all but one key player from a deep rotation that featured eight newcomers. The Demons finished 15-15 this past season, including a first-round SLC Tournament win before the postseason was cut short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Photo: Head coach Mike McConathy offers instruction to his Demons during a game in the 2019-20 season. Credit: Chris Reich/NSU Photographic Services