It’s Friday. That means most of the basketball teams in the Summit League are traveling. Or not depending on the weather where they are and the preferences of their coaches. For example, some prefer to stay where they play and travel the next day; others prefer to travel through the night in order to have more time in the Saturday city.
Regardless, it’s been difficult for coaches, players and directors of basketball operations to settle into much of a travel rhythm given the membership turnover the last few years; the travel partners keep changing. They will again next year, too, with Oral Roberts rejoining the league.
These logistics don’t really matter in the sense that everybody has to go everywhere in the conference during the regular season. But there’s no doubt that some trips are easier than other either in terms of getting from Town A to Town B or the quality of the paired clubs. Sometimes even the order of games seems to matter - like having the supposedly tougher opponent first or second on the weekend.
How are things aligned in 2013-14? Like this:
South Dakota State and North Dakota State. There are 190 miles between them. It’s a drive trip due to a lack of direct flights. Weather is the real issue because I-29 can be a beast in the winter. Also, it’s the most challenging swing on the map this season based on the men’s preseason poll with NDSU picked first and defending champ SDSU third.
South Dakota and Denver. It’s a new path and with more leeway because Denver has direct flights to Sioux City and Sioux Falls - relatively short flights, too. Although the longest trip at 590 miles, it’s not the most difficult and pales in comparison to, say, the defunct Kansas City to Southern Utah trail. Or Oral Roberts to Shreveport.
Fort Wayne and IUPUI. Overall, this should be the easiest in that there are only 122 miles between the cities and both have airports. That’s a key factor. Fly trips feel considerably less taxing than fly-then-drive trips.
Western Illinois and Omaha. This one is tricky. For starters, there’s no easy way to get to Macomb. You can fly into Chicago, the Quad Cities or Peoria then drive or just bus the whole thing. Omaha is highly accessible via its (reasonably priced) airport, but 350 miles from WIU. That’s sort of too short to fly yet long enough to feel, well, long.
It’s also interesting from a basketball standpoint in that the WIU men are built on defense and Omaha is rich with offense.
I don’t expect these arrangements to determine the regular-season champs - they’re not that grueling under normal conditions. Plus, home teams in any conference have higher winning percentages. Still, it’s bound to factor into a surprise or two as the weeks go on, justifying the energy spent by staffs on minimizing travel headaches.
Terry Vandrovec also posts regular updates on his Twitter page.