When trying to set its 2017-18 schedule, Cal State Bakersfield didn’t want to make the trip out to Statesboro, Georgia. Georgia Southern didn’t want to span the continental United States for a game in Bakersfield.
But on Monday at 4:30 p.m., the Roadrunners will tip-off at GSU’s Hanner Fieldhouse. And one month later, the Eagles will take the Icardo Center court. Both teams are locked into a situation they wanted to avoid.
“I didn’t want to go to Georgia,” CSUB head coach Rod Barnes said. “I mean crap, do you know how hard it is to get to Statesboro, Georgia? I don’t want to go there. But we got to fill the schedule and we needed a home game. That was the only way we could get it.”
The Roadrunners playing Georgia Southern twice this season is a product of what Barnes calls a “very precarious” scheduling position. CSUB has enjoyed an NCAA Tournament berth and an National Invitation Tournament semifinal run in the last two years. Now, it can’t find anyone to play.
Barnes is working on the game lineup for the 2018-19 season and said it’s not going well.
“We’re a program that has kind of shot on the scene in a sense and the way that we’ve gotten here, people are concerned with how good we are,” Barnes said. “They don’t want to play against us. But then we’re not quite good enough to get some of the teams that are in that next level to come to our place.”
Barnes needed two more games for the 2017-18 schedule and called up various schools trying to find people to play. He couldn’t find a single team willing to start a series at the Icardo Center and Georgia Southern was one of the few that would come at all.
Some schools that had made soft commitments to games earlier backed out after CSUB took down top-seeded California in the NIT and then Colorado State, Barnes said. During talks for next season, some coaches have verbally agreed to games with CSUB but are taking a wait-and-see approach so they can back out if the Roadrunners do well again, Barnes said.
“I wasn’t expecting it to be this bad,” Barnes said.
When Barnes eventually got fed up with the holes in this year’s schedule he called Georgia Southern with a simple message: “I can’t wait. I need a home game. You guys need a home game. Let’s do this.”
Now, they’re playing at least twice this year.
Based on the past two years, CSUB is now a threat to higher-caliber teams — especially at home. The Roadrunners are getting closer to the point where teams won’t pay CSUB to go on the road and play guaranteed games because the risk of an upset has increased.
CSUB is on the road at No. 3 Arizona and No. 21 UCLA in the first two-and-a-half weeks of this season. But with continued success, Barnes sees the day when a team of that quality would come to Bakersfield to play at the Rabobank Arena.
“I just think you have to build a resume to do that,” he said.
For now, he’ll have to settle for Georgia Southern in the Icardo Center and with the caveat of going on the road first.