NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - On the heels of a sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last eight years, Belmont University men's basketball head coach Rick Byrd released the program's 2013-14 schedule Thursday.
Packed with intrigue, storylines and unrivaled competition, the 2013-14 season promises to be another exciting chapter in the history of Belmont Basketball.
After playing the No. 2 strength of schedule in the nation last year en route to a 26-7 record and No. 24 final RPI, remarkably Byrd and his staff may have compiled an even more demanding non-conference examination.
The slate features 14 games against postseason teams from a year ago, and 10 contests against opponents in the top 72 of the final 2013 RPI.
"The 2013-14 schedule appears to be the toughest we have ever faced at Belmont," Byrd said. "We believe in playing great competition in great environments, and this year is no exception. In addition to our road schedule, our home schedule is very attractive, perhaps the most notable collection of games coming to the Curb Event Center we've ever had. The challenge is undeniable, but our players and staff look forward to the opportunities presented."
For the second consecutive year, the regular season opens the second Friday of November at Lipscomb. Now in year two as non-conference foes after nine as league rivals, the 'Battle of the Bouelvard' series gets an added twist this go-round with former Belmont point guard and assistant coach Casey Alexander beginning his tenure as head coach of the Bisons.
From there, Belmont opens a four-game slate as part of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Nov. 11 at Richmond. The Spiders reached the Sweet 16 in 2011 and are expected to challenge for the Atlantic 10 Conference crown.
The Bruins' home opener is set for Nov. 14 against Indiana State. The Sycamores return a core nucleus that defeated the likes of Final Four participant Wichita State, SEC Champion Ole Miss and ACC Champion Miami a year ago.
Next stop, Chapel Hill, as Belmont will face five-time National Champion North Carolina Nov. 17. Tar Heel head coach Roy Williams (700) and Byrd (663) enter the season as the fourth and seventh winningest active coaches in NCAA Division I men's basketball respectively.
12 days after opening the season, Lipscomb and Belmont meet at the Curb Event Center Nov. 20; a game that has become a staple of the Nashville sports landscape.
The Bruins complete their series of games in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Nov. 23-Nov. 24 at the Mohegan Sun Resort in Uncasville, Conn. Belmont will face Patriot League mainstay Holy Cross, before taking on either Hartford or Hofstra.
Belmont closes the month with a home date against NAIA Brescia Nov. 26.
Perhaps the most enticing yet taxing set of December games in program history begins Dec. 1 at home against VCU. Much like the Bruins, the Rams have earned a national reputation and staying power through an exciting, uptempo brand of basketball and strong leadership. A consensus preseason Top 25 team, VCU could be the first nationally-ranked opponent ever to play at the Curb Event Center.
Two days later, Belmont heads down I-24 to Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee. While Belmont has won six of the previous eight meetings in the series, the Blue Raiders appear well-positioned to build upon their 2013 Sun Belt regular season championship in their inaugural season in Conference USA.
The Bruins host Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference stalwart Fairfield Dec. 11. The Stags won 19 games last season and earned an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament.
Belmont then opens a four-game road swing at defending Summit League champion, South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits visited the Curb Event Center last season. From there, the Bruins head to the Mile High City to face defending Western Athletic Conference champion Denver. The Pioneers won 22 games last season in reaching the second round of the Postseason NIT.
The gauntlet continues Dec. 21 in Lexington, Ky. against eight-time National Champion Kentucky. The Wildcats are a consensus preseason Top 5 team, with many national media outlets ranking them No. 1. This marks Belmont's first-ever meeting with Kentucky.
Non-conference play concludes Dec. 28 at Indiana State, in a return of the Nov. 14 contest.
As was the case last season, Belmont will open Ohio Valley Conference play against Jacksonville State, this time Jan. 2 in Nashville.
Following a home date with Tennessee Tech (Jan. 4), Belmont begins a four-game road stretch at Southeast Missouri Jan. 9.
The Bruins entertain OVC preseason favorite Eastern Kentucky Jan. 25.
A rematch of the heart-stopping 2013 OVC Championship game comes Feb. 6, as Murray State makes its highly-anticipated debut at the Curb Event Center.
Belmont Homecoming Week 2014 culminates Feb. 8 against Austin Peay.
The home schedule wraps up with successive Thursday dates with area rival Tennessee State (Feb. 13) and Eastern Illinois (Feb. 20).
The 2014 OVC Basketball Championship will take place Mar. 5-8 at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium. The top two teams in the regular season standings will earn byes into the semifinals, with the third and fourth seeds earning byes to the quarterfinal round.
Belmont joins Kansas and Memphis as the only three programs in the nation to earn an automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament six of the last eight years. Moreover, only Belmont, Gonzaga, Marquette and Xavier among non-football playing universities have reached the NCAA Tournament six of the last eight years.
A complete listing of home tip times, schedule of televised games, and games with live video streaming on the OVC Digital Network will be released in the coming weeks.
For an 11th straight season, the live play-by-plat of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network.
For more information on purchasing Belmont Basketball season tickets, contact the Curb Event Center Box Office at (615) 460-BALL or visit belmontbruins.com.