Bellarmine's visit to WVU just another stop on the Knight's gauntlet in nonconference play

Nov. 25—MORGANTOWN — Before the headlines rolled this college football season about the possible injustice done to James Madison, there was Bellarmine University.

The Knights—a little school with an enrollment under 4, 000 from Louisville, Ky.—knows all about the NCAA's transition rule.

The rule states that any school moving up to Division I must endure a four-year reclassification process before being eligible for bowl games, NCAA tournaments or even the NIT.

James Madison began this season 10-0 before losing its first game last week, but since the Dukes are still in their transition period, they may not play in a bowl game this season even though they are ranked in the Top 25.

Bellarmine, coached by Scott Davenport, won the Atlantic Sun tournament in 2022, but was denied the automatic bid to the NCAAs, and won't be eligible for the postseason until 2025.

It's just a note, as the Knights (2-4) travel to the Coliseum at 5 p.m. Sunday to play West Virginia (2-3).

WVU STATS But it's far from telling the entire story of how Davenport has built his nonconference schedules since the Knights joined the Atlantic Sun in 2020.

"They going to be as battle-tested as they can possibly be in the nonconference, " WVU head coach Josh Eilert said of the Knights. "When they get to their conference, they'll understand who they are and what they have to do to compete."

That may be an understatement of sorts, because Davenport has gone out of his way to duck no one to help get Bellarmine on the map.

Two years ago, the Knights took on Purdue, Gonzaga, UCLA and WVU on its way to a 20-13 record and the Atlantic Sun tournament championship.

Last season, Davenport scheduled road games against Louisville, Clemson, Duke, UCLA and Kentucky.

Why schedule such a gauntlet ? Davenport said it's his way of building a players-first program.

"Only four schools in the history of college basketball have played in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Pauley Pavilion and Rupp Arena, " Davenport said last season after conducting his own research on the subject. "It's North Carolina, Notre Dame, St. John's and Louisville. Only four.

"The closest anyone ever did it was over two seasons, 333 days, from December to the following November. We are going to do that in nine days. If you were a Bellarmine player, would that thrill you ? Yes. So in this program it's putting our players first. No matter what it takes. It's not just talk."

Already this season, two of Bellarmine's four losses have come against the University of Washington and Kansas State.

Louisville is also on the schedule again, as are other road games against Utah and BYU.

"What better environment to learn ?" Davenport continued. "When you talk about these players playing in Cameron and playing at the Yum ! Center (Louisville) and playing at Pauley and playing at Rupp Arena, they're a part of something that's bigger than them, to bring things out of them they may not even know exists. That's what teaching's all about."

WVU is going through its own learning process, trying to end a two-game losing streak that came against SMU and No. 24 Virginia at the Fort Myers (Fla.) Tip-Off.

Eilert said the Mountaineers are searching for more discipline from its players, who are still growing into new roles.

That includes making adjustments to playing more minutes. The Mountaineers will have just an eight-man roster eligible today.

"I hope our guys understand, and we've talked about it, the only guy on our roster who has played big minutes before is Jesse Edwards, " Eilert said. "Looking back now, Seth (Wilson) has played big minutes for five games. Kobe (Johnson) has, Josiah (Harris) has.

"Hopefully we get ourselves more accustomed to playing these big minutes to where we feel like we're more comfortable. This is the hand we're dealt, so we've got to figure it out."

BELLARMINE at WVU WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday WHERE: WVU Coliseum TV: ESPN + (Online subscription needed)