RIO GRANDE, Ohio — A pair of brand new Mid-South Conference opponents and a five-game December road swing, which includes a trip to Florida for a pair of games and two exhibition contests against NCAA Division I foes, highlights the University of Rio Grande’s 2012-13 men’s basketball schedule released Tuesday.
The RedStorm will also host the annual Bevo Francis Tournament, as well as a pair of “Classic” events, as part of its 17-game home slate.
“We play in the toughest NAIA Division I league in the country and, with our league games starting so early now, I think it’s going to be an extremely demanding schedule,” said Rio Grande head coach Ken French. “We have four league games in November, almost right out of the gate. It’s going to take a special group in order to have success in dealing with that. I think we have that kind of group.”
Cumberland University, which is located in Lebanon, Tenn., and Bluefield College, located in Bluefield, Va., are the newest additions to the MSC. The RedStorm actually open their league schedule at home against Cumberland on Monday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m., at the Newt Oliver Arena, with the return trip south to face the Bulldogs set for February 16, at 5 p.m.
Rio’s first look at Bluefield will come on January 17 when the Rams visit for an 8 p.m. tipoff. The RedStorm will venture to the Virginia-West Virginia border for a rematch on February 9 at 4 p.m.
“Bluefield and Cumberland both have been solid programs throughout the past few years,” French said. “We’ve played Bluefield off and on over the years, so we’re a little more familiar with them. Cumberland just adds to the depth and the quality of our lead, plus it gives us another long road trip. Our league was a deep, quality league before they arrived. They’re just two more schools who can play.”
The five-game road stretch in December includes four contests prior to the Christmas holiday and begins with a trip to NCAA Division II Salem (W.Va.) International for a 4 p.m. tipoff on December 10.
After the game at Salem, the RedStorm heads south to Buies Creek, N.C., for an exhibition game against NCAA Division I Campbell University – a member of the Big South Conference – on December 12. The southern swing then continues on to Florida for meetings with Embry-Riddle on December 14 and Warner University the following day.
Rio’s first outing following the holiday break is an exhibition game on December 28 at NCAA Division I Cleveland State University, a member of the Horizon League. The two schools also met last year at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, with the Vikings posting an 86-57 victory.
“Both of the Division I teams we face are going to be pretty good and the two schools we’ll see in Florida are very good, too,” French said. “We’re going to be tested, without question.”
Aside from a home date with Cincinnati-Clermont on December 30 and a return visit from Salem on February 5, the remainder of the RedStorm’s slate is comprised of MSC contests.
The 2012-13 campaign will get underway with the Giovanni’s Tipoff Classic on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2 and 3, at the Newt Oliver Arena.
Rio Grande will battle a pair of foes hailing from Indiana – Bethel College on Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. and Taylor University the following day at 4 p.m. Shawnee State University is the fourth team in the event.
One week later, the RedStorm will host the annual Bevo Francis Invitational Tournament.
URG will tangle with OU-Chillicothe in its Homecoming Game on Friday, Nov. 9, at 8 p.m. and will face either West Virginia University Tech or Wilberforce – both former conference foes for Rio - in its Hall of Fame Game on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 5 p.m.
The tournament, which honors the most widely-recognized player in the school’s history, will serve as the centerpiece to the celebration of the 60-year anniversary of the legendary Rio Grande teams led by Francis.
“Both of the teams we’ll play in our Tipoff Classic are very good. When you add Shawnee and ourselves in there, I think you’ve got a pretty nice field,” said French, whose team finished 14-18 overall and 4-12 in the MSC last season. “The Bevo, which is one of the biggest events on our campus each year, comes up the following weekend and then we’re right into league play with five straight conference games, including three on the road. It’s certainly going to be challenging.”
Rio will open conference play at home with dates against Cumberland University and the University of the Cumberlands on November 15 and 17, respectively, before embarking on a three-game MSC road trip that includes stops at Shawnee State (Nov. 20), UVA-Wise (Nov. 29) and the University of Pikeville (Dec. 1).
The annual Newt Oliver Coaches Classic, named in honor of the man who coached the Bevo Francis-led squads in 1952-53 and 53-54, is scheduled one week later on Saturday, Dec. 8. The five-game event includes a trio of games involving high school teams from throughout the Tri-State.
The action-packed day begins with St. Ignatios (SC) Prep battling Spire Academy (OH) at noon, with a pair of high school contests - Wheelersburg (OH) squaring off with Jackson (OH) and Fairland (OH) meeting Boyd County (KY) - to follow at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively. The RedStorm will then face OU-Lancaster at 6 p.m., with another high school contest between Chesapeake (OH) and Athens (OH) closing things out at 8 p.m.
Along with the home game against Bluefield, four of Rio’s seven remaining January games are at home, including dates with Campbellsville and Lindsey Wilson on the 3rd and 5th, and versus St. Catharine and Georgetown on 24th and 26th. The RedStorm will visit Georgetown on the 10th, St. Catharine on the 12th and Lindsey Wilson on the 31st.
In addition to the February home date with Salem and the road contests at Bluefield and Cumberland University, Rio also entertains Pikeville on the 21st, UVA-Wise on the 23rd and Shawnee State in the regular season finale on the 25th. Other road games during the month are at Campbellsville on the 2nd and at the University of the Cumberlands on the 14th.
The top eight teams in the 11-school MSC will advance to the conference tournament, beginning March 1 at the Frankfort (Ky.) Convention Center.
“We’re happy with the fact that we were able to get 17 home games, which is almost unheard of in our league, but there are no nights off,” French said. “It’s a real grind, especially in the conference, when you’re playing on Thursdays and Saturdays and you’ve got a couple of very long trips thrown in there. It’s certainly going to be a physical and mental challenge for our student-athletes.”