It has been a while since the Northern Arizona men’s basketball team has opened a season against a Division I opponent at home.
The last time was just under 15 years ago in a win against Cal State Fullerton when Mike Adras was still the head coach. Since then, the only teams the Lumberjacks have opened with at home have been D-II or lower programs -- and, according to the team’s online media guide, the wins haven’t counted toward the overall record.
Saturday’s opener against a winless Jacksonville team will give fans at Rolle Activity Center a chance to see what Lumberjacks head coach Jack Murphy’s latest new-look team is about.
“This is different than any season during my time at NAU,” Murphy said. “We’ve been at Rolle for every practice, which has never happened before; opening the season at home, which has never happened before. ... I don’t know how to handle all this good news. We’re excited about being here and opening in front of the home crowd.”
Usually the team holds practice in the Union fieldhouse on the north end of campus, but this year the team has the added benefit of keeping their practices at Rolle.
Northern Arizona's most recent home win is in Rolle Activity Center -- not the Walkup Skydome, where the Lumberjacks play the majority of their regular-season games. Last season’s 58-53 win over Sacramento State was in Rolle and was one of the team's two home wins that year that both occurred in the venue.
The last time Northern Arizona won a game in the Skydome was Senior Night at the end of the 2016-17 season against Eastern Washington.
The Lumberjacks open against the Jacksonville Dolphins, who fell in their season opener to Florida A&M, 65-50. The Dolphins offense stalled for most of the game, shooting just 28.8 percent from the field and 1 for 17 from 3-point range.
Northern Arizona beat Jacksonville on the road last year 83-72 and has a 60 percent chance to win this year's game, according to KenPom. Murphy understands the Dolphins aren’t looking to repeat their dud of a season opener.
“We have to be ready for everything and the kitchen sink,” Murphy said. “That can be a tough proposition when you have a talented team that feels like they are coming into a game that they must win.”
As for a potential starting lineup or rotation for Saturday, Murphy didn’t give specific names, but said he he has nine players who will get playing time and is confident in their potential to contribute, barring any injuries. Senior forward Isaiah Thomas won’t be part of the rotation because he is out indefinitely with a right foot injury.
Northern Arizona opens the season with four games in eight days in four different states. After starting at home, the Lumberjacks face South Dakota Monday, Nebraska Omaha Wednesday, then finish off the week with Hawaii on Sunday.
Murphy compared the early-season stretch to what the Lumberjacks will face in the young stages of the Big Sky Conference schedule when they have have three straight road games capped off with a home game during the second and third weeks of conference play.
Tipoff for Saturday is set for noon in Rolle Activity Center.