NASHVILLE, Tenn. - - On the heels of an NCAA Tournament at-large bid and a 13th 20-plus win season in the last 14 years, Belmont University men's basketball head coach Casey Alexander released the program's 2019-20 schedule Tuesday evening.
Having won 17 conference championships since 2006 – third-most nationally over that span behind only Gonzaga and Kansas – Belmont stands among the most accomplished and tradition-rich programs in America.
Annually playing one of the nation's most demanding schedules – Belmont's 167 road/neutral victories over the last 13 years ranks top 10 nationally – the Bruins' slate features 12 contests against teams who received postseason invitations a year ago, including five against programs with a Top 60 final NET ranking.
"One trademark of our program has always been to play a competitive non-conference schedule and this year is no exception," Alexander said. "We will be tested early and often by high-caliber opponents. Conference play always carries the most weight, but we'll learn a lot about our strengths & weaknesses in November & December."
For the second consecutive season, Belmont will open regular season play with Illinois State. The Redbirds, who defeated BYU and Loyola Chicago among others last season, ranked second in the Missouri Valley Conference in rebounding last season. Belmont erupted for 62 first-half points and posted five double figure scorers en route to a 100-89 victory last season.
Belmont hosts Samford Nov. 11 in the home opener at the Curb Event Center. While Wofford, UNC Greensboro and ETSU garnered many of the Southern Conference headlines last season, the Bulldogs led the SoCon in field goal percentage defense, free throws and defensive rebounding. All-SoCon point guard Josh Sharkey, who ranked seventh nationally in assist rate, returns. Behind 21 points from junior Nick Hopkins (Fayetteville, Tenn.), Belmont defeated Samford, 99-93, last season in Birmingham.
The Bruins then travel to Boston to take on Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference Nov. 16 in the first of four games as part of the Gotham Classic. The Eagles defeated the likes of Florida State, Louisville and Minnesota last season, and welcome USC graduate transfer Derryck Thornton to the fold. Speaking of graduate transfers, the game will be a homecoming of sorts for Belmont graduate transfer Tyler Scanlon (Centreville, Va.) who spent the previous three seasons at Boston University.
Two days later, Belmont welcomes High Point to the Curb Event Center. National Championship and Olympic gold medal winning coach Tubby Smith led his alma mater to 16 victories in 2018-19. The Panthers are expected to challenge for the Big South Conference championship.
Alexander's return to Allen Arena is slated for Nov. 20 as Belmont plays at Lipscomb. Last season, Alexander led the Bisons to 29 victories, a Postseason NIT championship game appearance and final NET ranking of 37. The Bisons welcome first-year head coach Lennie Acuff, who led the University of Alabama-Huntsville to 11 NCAA Division II Tournament appearances.
Belmont continues Gotham Classic play Nov. 23 at defending Atlantic 10 Conference champion Saint Louis. The Billikens and head coach Travis Ford won 23 games last season and are universally regarded as the A-10 preseason favorite. Belmont freshman EJ Bellinger (St. Peter's, Mo) grew up a stone's throw from the Saint Louis University campus.
Belmont heads into Thanksgiving with a trip out west to Eastern Washington Nov. 26. The Eagles reached the Big Sky Conference championship game last season. Belmont plans to reconnect with former program video coordinator and KHQ-TV (Spokane, Wash.) news anchor Grace Chapin. The Bruins' last visit to the pacific time zone netted a victory at UCLA.
November concludes with a trip down I-24 to face Middle Tennessee. Belmont has defeated the Blue Raiders nine of the last 12 meetings, including 92-73 last season at the Curb Event Center.
December opens with a scene shift for the Battle of the Boulevard. And while Belmont has won 13 of the last 15 games in the series, eight of the last 10 meetings have been decided by nine or fewer points. Sophomore Caleb Hollander (Nashville, Tenn.) delivered one of many signature moments from the 2018-19 season with his game-winning shot in the final seconds.
Following semester exams, Belmont reacquaints with a past in-state rival hosting Carson-Newman Dec. 11. The Bruins and Eagles will meet for the first time in nearly 30 years.
Belmont hosts Kennesaw State Dec. 18. The Bruins have won 14 of the last 16 meetings in the series, dating back to Belmont's time in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Belmont freshman Ben Sheppard (Atlanta, Ga.) will likely see some familiar faces on the Kennesaw State roster.
Belmont faces Alabama Dec. 21 in Huntsville as part of the 2019 Rocket City Classic. The Crimson Tide bring together seven returning players and one of the nation's top recruiting classes for first-year head coach Nate Oats, who led the University of Buffalo to three NCAA Tournament appearances.
The non-conference schedule wraps up Dec. 28 at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers defeated Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arkansas and Saint Mary's (CA) among other last season, and return Conference USA Preseason Player of the Year candidate Charles Bassey. Belmont has won six straight games in the series, including 80-74 last season. Sophomore Grayson Murphy (Franklin, Tenn.) scored 20 points to lead Belmont.
The 18-game Ohio Valley Conference schedule opens Jan. 2 vs. SIU Edwardsville.
For the first time since joining the OVC in 2013, Belmont will play Murray State and Austin Peay twice in the regular season. The Bruins will play the Racers Jan. 23 and Feb. 6, while facing the Governors Jan. 25 and Feb. 8.
Senior Day is slated for Feb. 27 vs. Tennessee Tech.
Notably, Belmont is 97-19 (.836) in Ohio Valley Conference games.
A complete listing tip times and schedule of televised games will be released in the coming weeks.
All Belmont home and away league games will be broadcast on the ESPN family of networks and digital platforms.
For a 17th straight season, the live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network.
Belmont season tickets – which include the entire men's and women's basketball home schedule – are on sale now at belmontbruins.com/tickets.
To become a Bruin Club member, contact Russell Grimm at (615) 460-5668 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Belmont University men's basketball has earned postseason invitations 13 of the last 14 seasons, including eight berths to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins have won 17 conference championships since 2006 - third-most nationally over that span (Gonzaga, Kansas). Belmont is one of only six NCAA Division I programs outside the Power 5 to post Top 100 RPIs nine consecutive seasons (BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary's (CA), San Diego State, Wichita State). Belmont is one of only nine NCAA Division I programs to win 19 or more games 14 consecutive seasons (BYU, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, San Diego State). Belmont University men's basketball boasts an NCAA-leading 17 CoSIDA Academic All-America selections since 2001 and is one of only three NCAA Division I programs to make the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) Honor Roll every year of existence.