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Kentucky and UNC provide early challenges for Belmont

Rick Byrd

Belmont head coach Rick Byrd cuts down the net after an NCAA college basketball game against Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Nashville, Tenn. Belmont won in overtime 70-68. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)


Last year, Rick Byrd put together a schedule that gave Belmont some tough tests. According to the Nashville Tennesseean, the Bruins played the No. 2 strength of schedule - traveling to Stanford, VCU and Kansas - and ended up with a top-25 RPI in 2012-13.

Pretty impressive, but this year’s slate might be even more brutal.

Belmont, long considered to be one of the gutsiest low-major squads in the nation, will travel to Chapel Hill to battle the Tar Heels on November 17th. Then they’ll hit Rupp Arena to take on John Calipari’s loaded Wildcats on December 21st. They’re opening the season with a “road trip” to play crosstown rival and former conference foe Lipscomb and will travel to Richmond early on as well.

The Bruins get a rest of sorts when they play VCU, simply because they somehow convinced Shaka Smart to give them a return date in Nashville, so they’ll get a raucous home crowd to egg them on in the face of Havoc.

Playing in the OVC, Byrd doesn’t have much hope of gaining an at-large bid, even if his squad comes in second to fellow giant-slayer Murray State. He knows this, so these early-season tests will not only earn his program a tidy pair of paychecks, but maybe they’ll prepare the Bruins to win the OVC auto-bid again and a chance for a program-defining March win or two.

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