The Cal Poly men’s basketball team and head coach Joe Callero have always stressed improvement. In 2010, the team plans to continue improving while facing some of the toughest challengers yet. Its regular season schedule, which was released last month, displays 29 regular season games, 12 of which are in Mott Gym. The three toughest competitors are located in the Mustangs’ non-conference schdule: UCLA, San Diego State and California.
“No team in our conference is as good as these teams, so it will definitely help us out,” senior forward Will Taylor said.
Callero stressed that there were three main reasons to have such tough teams on the season schedule: to help the team improve, to help with recruitment and to help the program gain financially.
“We want to set the bar high by playing nationally respected teams,” Callero said.
His players are up for the challenge.
“It will be a good experience for us, I expect for us not to back down,” Taylor said.
UCLA, Cal and SDSU are not the only forces to be reckoned with on the Cal Poly schedule. Seven of the 19 opponents they will face had at least 17 victories last season — five more wins than the Mustangs.
But none of the players see this as a daunting task.
“I think I can speak for everyone in that we are excited to play and try to beat those schools,” junior forward David Hanson said.
The Mustangs, who were 12-19 overall last year and made it to the quarterfinals in the Big West Tournament, open up the season on Nov. 14 at Seattle.
“This first game will always be an exciting one for me because of the history I have with that school,” Callero said.
The Mustangs said they hope they can win first on the road before opening up the home portion of their season on Nov. 18 against Cal State Monterey Bay. The Mustangs were 5-4 at home last season.
“One of our main goals as a team is to have a winning record at home,” Hanson said.
The Mustangs will travel to Montana State on Nov. 21 before returning to Mott Gym on Nov. 24 for the first of two matchups against Loyola Marymount.
Cal Poly begins a five-game road trip with a contest at Sacramento State on Nov. 27 and then a road matchup against Loyola Marymount on Dec. 4.
After that, Cal Poly visits Pauley Pavilion for one of the biggest games of the season on Dec. 11 versus UCLA. The two teams have not faced each other since 1955 and Taylor said it will be one of the best non-conference games of the year.
The road trip continues when the Mustangs face the defending Mountain West Conference Tournament champions, San Diego State, on Dec. 13. The Aztecs entered the 2010 NCAA tournament last year, seeded 11th in the Midwest Regional but were defeated by Tennessee.
After one big game comes another when the Mustangs visit Cal on Dec. 18. The Golden Bears, who were 24-11 overall last season and won their conference, secured a spot in the 2010 Pac-10 Tournament, making it to the second round before being defeated by Duke.
Cal Poly finishes its preseason games with a matchup at Pepperdine on Dec. 21. Then the Mustangs will take on Long Beach State, the team that knocked them out of the conference tournament at home last season.
“We are ready to redeem ourselves,” Hanson said.
On Jan. 6, the Mustangs will visit Pacific, the Co-Big West champ, then head to UC Davis on Jan. 8 for a game many would consider a rivalry.
“The fans there really fed into the energy last year… I would really just like to beat them,” Taylor said.
Cal Poly will then host Cal State Fullerton on Jan. 13, followed by UC Irvine on Jan. 15. After that, the Mustangs will take a trip to UC Riverside and Cal State Northridge on Jan. 20 and Jan. 22 respectively.
Then comes one of the biggest rivalry games for the Mustangs, a matchup against UC Santa Barbara at home on Jan. 27. The Gauchos shared the Big West Conference title last year with Pacific. However, they were defeated in the NCAA tournament by Ohio State in the first round.
The matchup against the Gauchos last year brought in a sold-out crowd at Mott Gym, and Taylor said he hopes to pack the gym again this season.
Next, the Mustangs take on non-conference team Cal State Bakersfield on Jan. 29 before facing UC Davis and Pacific at home on Feb. 3 and Feb. 5.
On Feb. 10, Cal Poly travels to UC Irvine before starting its final homestand of the season versus UC Riverside on Feb. 12. It is followed by a game on Feb. 16 against Cal State Northridge follows before Cal Poly hosts its Bracketbuster opponent on Feb. 19.
Callero said it is critical for the team to win at home – especially at the end of the season – to gain momentum for the following road games.
The Mustangs end the regular season with road games at Long Beach State on Feb. 24, followed by Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 26 and UC Santa Barbara on March 5.