These are the games that makes teams better, Gary Tuell says, so expect more Division I teams on Augusta State's schedule in the future.
Tuell's Jaguars (1-4) play at Division I Georgia State tonight at 6 p.m., the team's first game against a school from college basketball's top level since losing to Mercer 91-67 two years ago.
"The stuff you get from playing games like this is more than you'll ever get from playing Claflin (Augusta State's only victory)," Tuell said. "Kids get up for games like this. It builds their confidence, and even if you get drubbed or pounded, you take away lessons that you wouldn't get from beating Cupcake U. by 50 points."
While at St. Thomas University, a NAIA school in Miami, Tuell regularly scheduled Division I schools such as Florida International and Florida Atlantic. "That's until we beat them a couple of times and they wouldn't play us anymore," he said.
Two years ago, Tuell, who is a close friend of Utah coach Rick Majerus, took his team to play the Utes. Utah won 87-63 in Keith Van Horn's junior season. Van Horn is now a rookie with the New Jersey Nets.
"We had a great time," Tuell said. "It didn't matter what the score or outcome was, because we had a great time and we learned a lot from the game. Our kids were able to get Van Horn's autograph and go into the Utah locker room and hang out with those guys. They had just beaten Southern California something like 88-49 and they were telling our guys that we were much better and could beat a lot of Division I schools. Players get a lot from that. It really helps their confidence."
So Tuell, who is in his first season at Augusta State, is trying to work out deals with Louisville, where he was an assistant in the 1970s, Utah, Georgia, Georgia Tech and South Carolina.
It's tough, however, with so many big-time schools locked into television contracts. Also, the NCAA Tournament selection committee takes power ratings into account when deciding on teams, and playing a Division II school certainly doesn't help boost that.
"Most of those schools don't want to commit to you this early," Tuell said. "They like to see what offers they get from television or other schools. They know you're begging for games, so they can sit back and see what happens before coming back to you."
Amazingly, Augusta State holds a 6-3 advantage in the series with Georgia State, but the Jaguars have not defeated a Division I team since the semifinals of the 1991 Big South Tournament, when they knocked off Radford.
Also, Augusta State has lost it's past 15 games to Georgia schools, a streak that dates back to the 1994-95 season.
"Our kids are playing hard and playing better defensively," Tuell said. "I think we're ready to move to another level of defense. Our problem is scoring. We just don't have enough size or strength to score."