While Down the Drive's fearless leader Blaine Huber just started taking a look at the schedule for Cincinnati's football squad, the Bearcats' athletic department released the non-conference schedule for basketball. For those of you that have not done so already, you can now mark your calendar for Nov. 13, which is the day Cincinnati begins its quest for a sixth-straight NCAA Tournament berth by hosting Western Carolina.
The non-conference slate has a Mega Man-level of difficulty, with basketball team's with excellent resumes replacing robots created by Dr. Wiley. After battling the Catamounts, the Bearcats host Robert Morris, last season's Northeast Conference champion. The first road game of the season comes next, with in-state foe Bowing Green welcoming the Bearcats to town.
Cincinnati will then host regional play of the Barclays Center Classic against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Southeastern Louisiana before traveling to Brooklyn, hopefully with the Beastie Boys blaring, for two games. The possible opponents are George Washington, Nebrasaka and Tennessee, who were all NCAA Tournament teams two years ago. It warms the heart to think basketball fans in Brooklyn will get a chance to watch some exciting young talent for once instead of the deteriorating corpse of Deron Williams and the walking bloated contract that is Joe Johnson. Hey, Nets. Boom. Roasted.
Once the calendar flips to December, the real fun begins. From Dec. 2 to Dec. 22, Cincinnati is in action six times, with four of those games coming against teams that played in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Those are, of course, Butler, Xavier, VCU and Iowa State. At least a couple of those teams will be nationally ranked once the season gets closer and all have aspirations to return to the Big Dance next March.
So that's the rundown of the non-conference schedule. But how can you decide which one warrants your undivided attention and which one you should record and let sit next to those seven episodes of The Following that you're definitely going to watch some day? I'm glad you asked.
Save The Date
You should just lock yourself in your house for these. Board up the windows. Tell your non-Bearcat family and friends that you have contracted a highly contagious virus with a lifespan of three hours (to account for possible overtime) and bask in the glow of high-octane college basketball.
First, there's Butler. The Bulldogs surprised a lot of folks last season, rebounding from a disastrous first season in the Big East to pull off a 23-11 campaign, which included an entertaining jaunt in the NCAA Tournament. They are loaded once again this season, with do-it-all forward Roosevelt Jones, 3-point gunner Kellen Dunham and scoring forward Andrew Chrabascz leading the way.
Keeping things in the Big East, even if Cincinnati was running out a group of kindergartners and Xavier's team consisted of a package of Pop Tarts and several brooms, the Crosstown Classic is must-watch stuff. The Bearcats rallied from a 12-point halftime deficit to even things up, but eventually fell short in a 59-57 decision at Fifth Third last season. Expect revenge to be on the menu this December.
Testing VCU will be no small challenge either. Stop me if you've heard this before: Shaka Smart is a very good coach and the HAVOC defense his team employs is tough to beat, but incredible to watch (Correction: Smart is now coaching at Texas, but HAVOC likely isn't going anywhere for this season). This should be one of those unstoppable force/immovable object situations, as Cincinnati prides itself on suffocating defense just like the Rams. First team to 30 might win.
Finally, there is the matchup with Iowa State. A bit of the star power will be gone, since Fred Hoiberg left for the NBA, but the actual roster remains relatively in tact, highlighted by Monte Morris, Jameel McKay and Georges Niang. Seeing Octavius Ellis and Gary Clark deal with Niang and McKay should make for plenty of entertainment for frontcourt enthusiasts.
Have A Backup
For these games, there is certainly some intrigue, but not nearly as much as the ones above. Down the Drive recommends viewing of these contests, but it is not required, although information from these tilts will likely be on the test at the end of the year. You've been warned.
Playing in Brooklyn would seemingly be grounds for must-watch status, but the group of teams that will gather at the Barclays Center is just a hair off of the type of talent that might be expected to play in a tournament in the basketball capital of the world. George Washington won 22 games last season and could very well be a powerhouse in the Atlantic 10. Kevin Larsen and Patricio Garino are both proven commodities, but the Colonials don't have the same type of headline grabbing power as Iowa State or Xavier. Meanwhile, Nebraska and Tennessee were both mediocre teams in 2015 after ascending to the upper echelon of the sport in 2014.
Robert Morris has either won the regular season or tournament title in the NEC in each of the last three seasons and it has won 20 games in seven of the last eight. These Colonials certainly aren't messing around. This could turn out to be a tighter game than the average fan might expect.
Just like RMU, Norfolk State presents more of a challenge than it might appear. After all, this is a program that knocked Missouri down a few notches in the NCAA Tournament in 2012. Last season, the Spartans won 20 games for the third time in the last four years and some important parts return, including big-time scorer Jeffrey Short, although Rashid Gaston decided to transfer to Xavier. (The scoundrel!)
The game against West Carolina is likely to be a rout but it makes its way to this level because of the mere fact that it is the season opener. With five starters returning, including potential American Athletic Conference Players of the Year like Ellis and Troy Caupain, Cincinnati should be excellent in the coming season. This will be a first taste of just how excellent.
For Diehards Only
These might be nice games to watch while taking a nap. Honestly, you are better off just skipping them. Go outside. Spend time with loved ones. That way, when March rolls around, you won't look like a total, psychopath for going off the grid and watching CBS/TBS/TNT/TruTV until your eyes bleed. Sorry, Bowling Green, Southeastern Louisiana and Morgan State.