The full 2019-20 Liberty men’s basketball schedule was released Thursday. The schedule is highlighted by road trips to two Power 5 opponents, a trip to the Bahamas, and showdown with Grand Canyon University in Phoenix.
“I am excited about the schedule we were able to put together,” Ritchie McKay said. “It was a little more challenging this year. I think everyone that is in the profession usually has a bit of an aversion to scheduling a program that has the amount of points or rebounding statistics that we have returning. It made it a little more difficult to navigate. I think we have a ton of neutral games that will really test our group.”
Head coach Ritchie McKay and his Liberty Flames will officially open the 2019-20 season on November 8th in the Vines Center against former Big South rival Radford. It will be the first of 6 non-conference home games for the Flames who will be seeking to replicate the success the program saw from last year, when the team won a school-record 29 games, advanced to the program’s 4th ever NCAA Tournament and won the first ever NCAA Tournament game, defeating Mississippi State, 80-76, in the first round.
“I do think that rivalry is a natural,” McKay said of the series with Radford. “We go back to Radford the following year, and I think our fans, if you remember back to the Big South Championship from our last season in the conference, that was a great atmosphere. So, hopefully we can re-create that.”
Liberty will have a 3 game homestand to open the season as the Flames will face Maryland Eastern-Shore on November 10th and South Carolina State on November 12th. Both teams finished near the bottom of the MEAC in 2018-19.
A short 1-game road trip to East Carolina follows on November 16th before the Flames return home to face Navy on November 19th. This will be the 8th ever meeting for the Flames and Pirates but first since 2007. Navy is returning the trip that Liberty made to Annapolis last year when the Flames defeated the Midshipmen, 76-58, on November 28th.
After the team’s opening 5 games, McKay’s squad will head to the Bahamas for the first of two tournaments the Flames will appear in before Christmas for 3 games played November 22-24. Liberty will open the Bahamas Showcase against Morgan State. Other teams in the tournament are Rice, Milwaukee, Missouri Kansas-City, George Washington, Evansville, and East Carolina.
The Flames will return home for the program’s only two games against non-Division I opponents beginning with Kentucky Christian on November 29th and Trinity Baptist on December 2nd.
Liberty will then hit the road for the remainder of non-conference play, beginning December 8th when the Flames play Grand Canyon University at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix, home of the Phoenix Suns. The Antelopes have seen success in their first 5 years as a Division I member, advancing to either the CIT or CBI in 4 of 5 seasons and winning 20 or more games in each of the past 3 years behind head coach and former NBA star Dan Majerle. Liberty will not get to play at GCU Arena, home of one of the most electric home court atmospheres in mid-major basketball. GCU is a private, non-profit, Christian University located in Phoenix. The game will be played as part of the Jerry Colangelo Classic.
On December 14th, Liberty will return to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt and new head coach Jerry Stackhouse. The Flames and Commodores battled last year, with Liberty losing 79-70 as freshman sensation Darius Garland scored 33 points in the win for Vandy.
Just prior to Christmas, Liberty will compete in the Battle for the Capital Tournament on December 20-21, facing Towson in the first round and then either Tulane or Akron. All games will be played at the St. Elizabeths East Entertainment and Sports Arena in Washington, D.C. The arena is home to the WNBA’s Washington Mystics and the G League’s Capital City Go-Go as well as serving as a practice facility for the Washington Wizards.
“It was hard to find home games,” McKay said. “So, instead of going to play as many guarantee games as we did last year, we went the neutral route. We thought that would be good for us, and (the Battle for the Capital is) drivable. Having left the Big South, there are not as many games that we have the opportunity to play that are a bus trip.”
The Flames will conclude its regular season non-conference slate on December 29th at LSU in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. That date was special for Liberty this past season, as it was on December 29th that Liberty defeated UCLA. It will be the first ever game between Liberty and the Tigers who advanced to the Sweet 16 this past season before losing to Michigan State. Their coach, Will Wade, was just recently reinstated following an in-season suspension that lasted through the end of the just completed season due to Wade’s potential involvement with the recruiting scandal involving Christian Dawkins.
“I think we’re going to be really challenged in the non-conference, but that’s what I want,” said McKay. “I feel like that prepares you for what will again be a really competitive Atlantic Sun Conference season, and we need those reps and that preparation so we get exposed to what we’re not or who we’re not.”
Liberty will begin defense of its ASUN men’s basketball regular season and tournament crown at the same place it started a season ago, at Florida Gulf Coast, on January 2nd. The regular season will conclude on March 1st at Lipscomb. The complete ASUN conference schedule was released July 9th.
“It was noticeably more difficult to get games,” McKay said after the team’s success last season. “But that’s natural. We will play anyone home-and-home that we felt was a Power 5 or a high mid-major. That will be something that we continue to pursue as much as we can.”