A new-look Vincennes University men’s basketball team is going to face a 2021-22 schedule that has several changes from its recent past.
The opener and season-ender are both new opponents that the Trailblazers haven’t played in at least 30 years — Rend Lake and Henry Ford. Also the non-Region 24 portion of the slate has plenty of quality as VU won’t have a lot of time to find their game.
The Blazers, the 2019 NJCAA champion, were 17-7 in a COVID-19 restricted schedule and qualified for the National Championship in Hutchinson, Kan., for the NJCAA-best ninth consecutive season in 2021. Only one full-time starter, 6-1 Brevin Jefferson, and two reserves, 6-4 Nigel Martin and 6-10 Deatrick Pashell, return off that squad.
Six of VU’s opponents this season were ranked in the final NJCAA poll last season. Two of those opponents are in Region 24, No. 12 John A. Logan and No. 24 Olney Central, which means the Blazers play those teams at least two times.
Coach Todd Franklin said he always tries to get the toughest opposition regardless of the composition of his squad.
“We don’t have the luxury to make a schedule based on our team. We just try to get the best teams we can get,” Franklin said. “One of the harder things we do is make a schedule. It’s a challenge.
“We did about as good as we could do. We only have 29 games, and we could add a game later on, but this schedule has a good flow to it, no bare spots for games.”
It gets interesting right from the start on Nov. 1 with Rend Lake, a Division II school, which hasn’t played the Blazers since 1991.
“Rend Lake wanted to get an early game and play only once, and wanted to play in the big house,” said Franklin, pointing to the VU P.E. Complex. “If I were in their position, I would look for that type of game. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose.
“They have their group in there in Year 2, got their feet on the ground, and they want to test their guys.”
The Blazers spotlight non-region games are their Kiwanis and Sodexo classic games, to be played Nov. 5-6 and 12-13. Harcum (Pa.), ranked 21st in last year’s final poll, is once again in the Kiwanis Classic and is VU’s opponent on Nov. 6. Two Mississippi schools, East and Northeast, take on the Blazers in the Sodexo Classic. Northeast Mississippi was honorable mention in the last poll.
“The two classics we filled with excellent teams,” Franklin said. “The two Mississippi schools might be the best two teams in Mississippi. Northeast is very good and East is always good. I know (East) coach Billy Begley is excited about his guys up here.
“Harcum is the power of the east. They always want the opportunity to come here and show the world what they can do. They’re always jacked up,” he said. “Columbia State (the first Kiwanis game) might be the best team in Tennessee this season. At least those are the projections.”
The biggest change in the schedule is the Lake Land Classic in Mattoon, Ill., the last two days before Thanksgiving. VU plays Indian Hills (Iowa) and Triton (Ill.), with the rotation still to be figured out. Indian Hills and Triton were sixth and 18th in the last poll.
“Teams aren’t going to travel cross country to play. To get Indian Hills and Triton on a neutral floor, that’s two super quality games there,” Franklin said.
The Blazers’ slate of Region 24 games starts Dec. 1 when Lincoln Trail comes to VU. The Blazers’ region nemesis, Logan, which is a part of the fields at the Sodexo and Lake Land classics, play VU the first time on Dec. 11 in Vincennes. The rematch in Carterville, Ill., is Feb. 9. Olney has proven to be a tough opponent too recently. The Blazers take on the Blue Knights on Jan. 12 in Vincennes and Feb. 19 at Olney Central.
Region 24 is down to 10 teams as Southeastern Illinois, which didn’t play basketball last season, has opted to play as a club team this season. At one time, the region looked like it might drop to nine schools. Lewis & Clark had thoughts last season of dropping to Division II this coming season, but is staying put.
The final game of the regular season is non-region foe Henry Ford (Mich.), a school VU hasn’t faced since 1983.
The Region 24 tournament is in the first week of March. Last year’s event had the higher seed host games, but Franklin said he expected the tournament to return to neutral site Rend Lake in Ina, Ill., this season. That decision has yet to be made.
Fans can get a sneak peak of the Blazers on Oct. 10 in their noon jamboree.