By Nick Sterling
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Pat Skerry likes a good challenge. For the third time in four seasons, his Towson men’s basketball team will go on the road to play a team with a preseason top 25 ranking during the first month of the season.
Three years ago the Tigers led No. 24 Maryland much of the game but faltered, losing 71-66. Last season the team was blown out by eventual champion Virginia.
This year, the challenges on the schedule are equally — and perhaps even more — daunting: a trip Nov. 14 to face No. 4 Florida, followed a week later by a neutral site game against No. 20 Xavier.
Skerry isn’t deterred by recent losses to top teams. Playing ranked opponents early in the year is part of his plan to get his team prepared for league play.
“My mindset has been we gotta try and as schedule as aggressively as possible because if you play people you know you can beat, then you don’t figure out where you’re at getting ready for the league,” Skerry said.
Even before Towson faces the top 25 opponents, it has a stiff challenge at home. The Tigers will kick off their season Tuesday night against George Washington. The game is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at SECU Arena, following the women’s basketball game.
It will be the first time since the 2013-2014 season that Towson is beginning its season at home.
The two teams have played each other five times since 2002, with George Washington winning every one, including a 68-64 home victory last season.
Towson guard Allen Betrand said the tough opening slate will pay dividends later on in the season.
“It’s helping us develop early so we can go through deeper into the playoffs,” Betrand said.
Towson welcomes Division III Bryn Athyn on Friday. While that game looks like an easy matchup on paper, Skerry wants his team prepared no matter the opponent.
“We are going to coach and play every night like it’s the Super Bowl,” Skerry said.
From there, Towson will play Kent State in its final home game before a month of road/neutral site games. The Golden Flashes have enjoyed some success over the past few seasons. They won the MAC championship in 2017, giving them an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. That game is Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.
The biggest test of not only the early stretch but the whole season will be traveling to Gainesville to take on the Gators. Florida enters the season with national championship aspirations.
Skerry believes the key to being successful against these opponents is having “tough-minded” and competitive guys.
While Betrand tries his best to keep the same mindset for every opponent, he knows it can be tough when facing a great team.
“We try and make it [our mindset] the same but in reality, it’s going to be tougher because it a bigger school and bigger stage,” Betrand said. “So it’s going to be tougher but I try and make it the same.
The schedule does not lighten up from there.
A neutral site game Xavier, a road game against Vermont — one of the best mid-majors over the past few seasons — and a home game against UMBC. All of those games happen before conference play.
“We have great opportunities in our non-conference schedule,” Skerry said. “I think guys wanna play against as good of people as you can get.”
By Robert Kenly
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Mid-major basketball programs like Towson often don’t have time to ease into the season. That’s because they are busy playing some of the top competition in Division I in order to build up their strength of schedule.
Towson coach Pat Skerry, in his ninth year with the Tigers, looks at the early-season schedule as a test.
“We have an extremely challenging non-conference schedule,” Skerry said. “I look at it like guys want to play against as good as competition they can get.”
The 2018-19 season saw Towson ranked 233rd in the country in strength of schedule. They lost to eventual national champion Virginia and also played in two early-season tournaments, the Islands of Bahamas Showcase and the Boardwalk Battle.
This year’s schedule shapes up as being even more challenging.
Following games against George Washington, Division III Bryn Athyn and Kent State, Towson will travel to Gainesville to face No. 4 Florida on Nov. 14, a game that will be nationally televised on ESPN2. On top of facing an SEC powerhouse, Towson begins the following week with an appearance in the Charleston Classic, where they open bracket play against No. 19 Xavier.
“It is a high, high profile tournament,” Skerry said. “We get to play a marquee, brand-name like Xavier on national TV so it is an unbelievable challenge and opportunity.”
The tournament, running from Nov. 21-24, features Buffalo, Connecticut, Florida, Miami (Fla.) and Missouri State. It is located on the campus of the College of Charleston.
Senior guard Brian Fobbs, a pre-season All-CAA selection, is relishing the chance to play in high-profile early-season games.
During the season, Fobbs started all 32 games and averaged 17.8 points, which earned him a spot on the All-CAA Second Team. He said Towson needs to take advantage of the national exposure.
“It is great for this program and it is great for the CAA as well being able to have teams recognized on TV,” Fobbs said. “We are mentally right, physically right, so we are prepared for it.”
Towson opens the season Tuesday against George Washington at SECU Arena at 7 p.m. Last year, Towson dropped a close game to the Colonials, 68-64.
The CAA preseason poll has Towson in sixth out of 10 teams. For the Tigers, the non-conference slate will be about establishing themselves as a force to be reckoned when conference play commences.