CHAMPAIGN — During his five seasons at Wisconsin-Green Bay, Matt Bollant’s Phoenix teams annually faced the state’s other three Division I women’s basketball programs, including Wisconsin and Marquette.
“Which was great for Green Bay,” the first-year Illinois coach said.
As Bollant fills in future Illini schedules, can UI fans expect regular matchups with some in-state nonconference rivals?
“We’re open to it,” he said.
However, Bollant also places some stipulations on the scheduling of such games. For one, he isn’t inclined to play those contests on the other school’s court. And there is a limit, he says, to the financial guarantee Illinois would agree to for a visit by an in-state team.
“We want to play more home games here, and we want to play some guarantee games,” Bollant said. “But, at the same time, I don’t think you should have to give an in-state (school) $15,000 to (travel) 45 minutes to an hour. So some of those teams that wanted that amount, we don’t feel like that’s probably appropriate, so we’ve taken some teams a little bit farther away.”
Bollant indicated the Illini currently are scheduled to face two in-state nonconference opponents next season. Illinois will play at Bradley to complete a contract with the Braves, who visited the Assembly Hall this season. The Illini also have a game against Illinois-Chicago at the United Center in Chicago as part of a doubleheader that includes a UI men’s game.
Bollant said he has had discussions with Illinois State about future matchups, but those talks failed. The Illini and Redbirds have met once each regular season since 2009, with the schools alternating as hosts. ISU visited the Assembly Hall in December.
“We tried to get them back here, but they need home games,” Bollant said. “We both wanted to play at home, and neither one was willing to give in.”
At this point, Bollant said, Illinois has scheduled four true road games for next season. Besides Bradley, the Illini will travel to Colorado and Georgia — two schools that visited Illinois this season. Illinois also will hit the road for the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with the opponent yet to be announced.
“Four tough road games; that’s plenty,” Bollant said. “We would like to play the other nine (nonconference games) at home if we can.”
Given Bollant’s background at Green Bay, he said he can appreciate the perspective of midmajor programs when it comes to scheduling.
Programs in power conferences can be reluctant to schedule midmajors, particularly in-state rivals, if they’re not confident about winning, That wasn’t the case, however, in the Badger State. Bollant’s highly successful Phoenix teams not only played Wisconsin and Marquette five times apiece but went 3-2 against both the Badgers and Golden Eagles.
Now that Bollant is in charge of a high-major program, he says such in-state matchups are an option he’s open to, but not under any circumstance.
“At the same time, we have to think what’s best for Illinois.” Bollant said. “I can’t think, ‘Well, we’re going to schedule these teams because it’s good for them.’ That’s not our goal. Our goal is to make our program the best and to do what’s right for us.”