When Belmont head men’s basketball coach Rick Byrd was a young boy, he used to take out orange markers and decorate plain T-shirts with University of Tennessee signs and symbols. They didn’t have merchandise like they do these days, Byrd explained. He grew up in East Tennessee—and like everyone else around, Byrd bled orange.
But that was years ago. On Tuesday, Byrd and his team will travel to Knoxville to take on the Vols as part of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
“Getting to start the regular season in the NIT is exciting for our players and coaches,,” Byrd said. “The NIT Season Tip-Off is run in a first-class manner, and I believe the players will enjoy the experience.”
Being able to participate in the tournament helps out the school both financially and publically. The NIT pays for all expenses, and schedules four games for each team.
“Belmont, being the small school it is, is at a disadvantage scheduling good non-conference games, and this tournament guarantees four good non-conference games that Belmont would might have otherwise not been able to schedule,” Media Relations Director Greg Sage said.
The Preseason NIT was created in 1985 and consistently features some of the best teams and players in the country.
“We are happy to be participating in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Since its inception, the NIT has been the premier early season college basketball tournament in the country. It will also afford us nice media exposure, both local and national. We look forward to some exciting games,” Athetic Director Mike Strickland said in a written response.
The coaches and staff are not the only ones excited about Belmont’s participation in the upcoming tournament.
“I am looking forward to traveling with the team and getting to compete on a large scale against a major opponent. Our team is really close and we believe that we have something to prove. We want to show people that Belmont University is here to play,” freshman guard Holden Mobley said.
To advance to the NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinals in New York City on Nov. 24-26, Belmont will have to beat Tennessee and the winner of the Missouri State-Arkansas State game. The NIT Season Tip-Off Semifinals and Finals will be held in Madison Square Garden.
With a trip to Madison Square Garden, Belmont would be able to recruit to a wider range of players using the Preseason NIT as its tool.
“If Belmont were to make it to New York City, it would be the biggest thing that has happened to the school since the 2008 NCAA tournament appearance,” Sage said.
“I am looking most forward to playing at Tennessee in a hostile environment with the chance to play at Madison Square Garden. Everyone has been pushing each other and been very positive both at practice and in the weight room, which I think will play to our advantage for the tournament and during the regular season,” Freshman forward J. J. Mann said.
The game will be broadcast live on ESPNU at 8:30 p.m CST.
“This is an opportunity for us to go out, have fun and play a televised game,” Mobley said. “What else could you want?”