Gonzaga has been making the rounds lately.
Home for one game, away to the Bay Area for the next each of the past two weeks. It’s the opposite this week: at Portland on Thursday, home vs. San Francisco on Saturday.
The West Coast Conference has gone to an unconventional schedule the past two seasons after the 2016 slate opened with a pair of pre-Christmas games. That didn’t sit well with member schools, but the tradeoff has been split weeks, the loss of some travel partners and an 18-game schedule without bye dates.
“They’re interesting,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of split weeks. “These guys all think they want to play in the NBA, this is what it’s like.”
The calendar plays a key role in scheduling. The 18 games had to be compressed into a nine-week period last season and this season.
Gonzaga tries to maintain routine preparation during split weeks. The Zags charter, so players attended classes Friday, practiced and flew to the Bay Area for Saturday contests the past two weeks.
“You get pretty comfortable with the rhythm of two at home, two away,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Now you have to be a little more organized. The way we travel, we know we’re going to be back Thursday night (from Portland) weather permitting, so we’ll have a normal Friday.
“For other teams, it can be tough. Play at home, have to get up early the next day and fly and practice that night. We try to keep it as normal as possible, but we have to fly to every road game and the California schools can bus sometimes.”
Split weeks can leave teams with a smaller time frame to install the scouting report.
“It would be like the NCAAs or a preseason tournament, where you might only get a shoot-around, or maybe one practice and a shoot-around,” Lloyd said. “We tell our guys to absorb as much as you can in a short time period. You maybe simplify a little bit.”
There’s a 10-week window next season, allowing for the return of the traditional schedule with travel partners and two one-game weeks. In the past, Gonzaga scheduled a marquee nonconference game – against Memphis several times, vs. SMU in 2016 – during a one-game WCC week.
There’s a 10-week window in two years, but there are a couple of catches. The WCC’s agreement with Orleans Arena expires after next season, so the location and dates of future conference tournaments could change. WCC games are usually held Thursday and Saturday, but Thursday falls on Dec. 26, which would require teams to travel on Christmas Day. A potential solution could be playing Saturday-Monday on opening weekend.
This year’s conference schedule has been more travel-friendly for the Zags, who encountered five split weeks last season.
“We obviously took feedback from last year,” WCC associate commissioner Jeff Tourial said. “There’s no great way to do it and we want to be as equitable as we can. Every team plays four or five Thursday road games to minimize missed class time. We want to minimize split weeks as much as we can.”
Few endorses playing split-week games on Wednesday and Saturday. The Missouri Valley Conference plays primarily on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with one home game and one away. One drawback could be additional missed class time.
Players seem unfazed by GU’s three consecutive split weeks.
“Not really (hard),” freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. said after Saturday’s win over Santa Clara. “The academic staff at Gonzaga is great and keeps us focused in the classroom. Our coaches do a good job of managing practice and not going too crazy on our legs, when to go hard and when to go light, when to just have a film day.”
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