Men’s basketball takes on Bearcats

Northern Kentucky University Men’s Basketball Team will travel across the river to the Buckeye State to take on the University of Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.

This is the sixth consecutive year NKU and UC have played a pre-season game, with the Bearcats winning the past five meetings. Between 1981 and 1988 the two teams met seven times in regular season contests, with the Cats winning all seven games. This is a trend that doesn’t look to continue with the improvements NKU Coach Dave Bezold is making with this program.

This will be a homecoming of sorts for six Norse players who played high school basketball in Cincinnati. Seniors Kevin Schappell and James Cripe played at Loveland High School. Sophomore guard Mike Kimmey is a Sycamore Aviator High School graduate. Reigning Great Lakes Valley Conference Freshman of the Year Billy Finnell played basketball at Purcell Marian High School. Forward Darral Payton played at Withrow and junior sharp-shooter Mark Hawkins finished as Finneytown High School’s all-time leading scorer.

“It is always good to play in front of my hometown friends, family and high school faculty members. Having so many familiar faces and support in the crowd is just very special and adds a little extra motivation to perform well,” Hawkins said.

Last year’s exhibition game between NKU and UC ended in the Bearcats’ favor when they overwhelmed NKU with a 96-60 win. The Bearcats hot shooting, poignant defense, along with a gutsy performance from Eric Hicks, helped propel the Bearcats to the 36-point victory. Hicks had 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots.

This year will have different personnel and coaches. Former Bearcat Head Coach Andy Kennedy was not rehired at the end of last year and is now the head coach at the University of Mississippi. Replacing Kennedy is former Associate Head Coach of the Bearcats Mick Cronin. Cronin was born and raised in Cincinnati and is coming from Murray State University where he was head coach for two years.

Junior guard and forward Vincent Humphrey said of the Bearcats, “Even though they (UC) have a lot of new players and coaches, we still have to go and play our game.”

NKU has added an abundance of newcomers who give the Norse the edge it needs to steal a victory against UC. The Bearcats have All-American Mike Williams who transferred from the University of Texas, but he had to sit out last year because of NCAA transfer rules. A couple other talented newcomers the Cats will have are junior college transfers Marvin Gentry, John Williamson and Marcus Sikes.

The Norse will need to do a lot right to leave with a victory. “The main thing we will need to do is compete for 40 minutes,” Hawkins said. “We can’t worry about the crowd or the score. It is the first test of the season and we look at it as a pre-season game, a game to get us ready for the regular season. The first game of the season is always a confidence booster and finally all the hard work put in the off-season and practice pays off.”

An NKU victory would be a huge confidence booster and a big-way to start the 2006-2007 campaign, but by no stretch of the imagination will it make or break the season.

“If you don’t play well you call it a learning experience, but if you do play well it is a confidence booster. Our performance against Cincinnati and Xavier will expose our strengths and weaknesses. Questions about offense and defense will be answered. We will see the importance of being in the right spots at the right time and execution,” Bezold said.

“At Cincinnati the players are a couple inches taller, 10 to 15 pounds more of strength and are usually an extra step quicker,” Bezold said.

NKU will have to play hard and leave everything they have out on the court as they step in to the first pre-season game. Then the Norse will travel and take on Xavier University Nov. 6 at 7 p.m.