BASKETBALL: Schedule will test Tops early

Danny Schoenbaechler

Western’s Athletics Department finally released the Hilltopper basketball team’s 2003-04 schedule.

It came a little later than usual, and it came a little tougher than usual.

Western is the three-time defending Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament champion, and boasts the nation’s longest home winning streak at 39 games. To continue that success, the Toppers will have to do it against some tougher opponents.

The schedule starts with four of the first six games against teams that played in the NCAA tournament last season.

The Toppers open the season against Auburn, Virginia Commonwealth, Mississippi State and Louisville.

First year coach Darrin Horn will quickly see where his team stands against teams from major conferences.

“I think we will have a chance to test ourselves early,” Horn said.

After two exhibition games, the season will start on Nov. 21 at Auburn. Then on Nov. 25 Western will travel to play Virginia Commonwealth.

After the two opening road games, the Toppers will open the home schedule against Mississippi State on Nov. 29.

The Louisville game will be in Nashville at the Gaylord Entertainment Center on Dec. 4.

Mississippi State and Louisville were both bounced by Butler, while Auburn lost to eventual national champion Syracuse.

After those four games, Murray State will arrive in newly renovated Diddle Arena for another in-state rivalry match.

Horn said games like Murray State and Louisville will mean more to the fans than to the players, but added that the Topper players from this area will be more prone to view the games as rivalries.

The Murray State game will be followed by a fourth NCAA tournament team from last year when Austin Peay comes to Bowling Green for a game on Dec. 13.

After playing 11 straight non-conference games, the Toppers open their Sun Belt championship defense at Arkansas State on Jan. 7.

From that point there will be only one more non-conference game.

That will be the ESPN Bracket Buster Saturday on Feb. 21. The opponent will not be announced until January, but the Toppers do know they’ll be on the road.

The Bracket Buster will come just two weeks before the Sun Belt Conference Tournament which will be held in Diddle Arena.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]