Even though Middle Tennessee welcomes five newcomers and faces the unknown of several returners in more prominent roles, it shouldn't take fans long to become familiar with the Lady Raiders in 2018-19.
Hall of Fame Coach Rick Insell has announced a daunting schedule for Middle Tennessee this season, but it is also one that enables one of the nation's strongest fan bases to see their Lady Raiders early and often.
"There is no doubt we will find out a great deal about our basketball team right off of the bat," Insell said. "This is a challenging schedule in which our team will face a lot of different tests from the outset, and it's one I believe our fans will enjoy."
Middle Tennessee will play 25 percent of its schedule in the month of November with eight games scheduled in the opening month – the most games ever for the program in the opening month of the season.
It all starts with the season opener against SEC-foe Vanderbilt, Nov. 9. It marks Vanderbilt's first trip to Murfreesboro since Feb. 6, 1991.
Middle Tennessee also welcomes Midstate power Belmont, Nov. 19, marking the first meeting between the schools in the Insell era, and the first overall meeting since the start of the 2000-01 season.
"We are very excited to have home games with Vanderbilt and Belmont, two really well-coached teams within a 30-mile radius," Insell said. "These are great games for the fans of both programs and these are outstanding RPI games."
The first week of the season also will see the Lady Raiders travel to nearby Cookeville for a date with rival Tennessee Tech. It marks the 81st meeting between the teams in a series dating back to 1976.
The non-conference portion of the schedule also sees the Lady Raiders participating in two in-season tournaments in which they will be chiefly tested prior to Conference USA competition.
Middle Tennessee will play in the UNLV Lady Rebel Roundup in Las Vegas, Nov. 24-25. The Lady Raiders will face Dartmouth in an opening-round game, and they will face either UNLV or UC Santa Barbara in the second game of the tournament.
Another highly-regarded in-state foe awaits Middle Tennessee when the Lady Raiders travel to New York City for the Fordham Holiday Classic. Chattanooga will be Middle Tennessee's first foe, Dec. 29, while the Lady Raiders will face either Fordham or Maine in the second game.
"These two in-season tournaments will help prepare us for Conference USA play and it also gives you a taste of playing in back-to-back days like you have to do in the conference tournament," Insell said. "Chattanooga is another outstanding women's basketball team so that's another big game for us and one that certainly gets you ready for what you are going to face in conference play."
Speaking of C-USA, Middle Tennessee will welcome Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech, Marshall, North Texas, Rice, Southern Miss, UAB and WKU. February will be a huge month in terms of conference play as the Lady Raiders face defending champion UAB and WKU three times in the month, along with dates at Charlotte, Marshall and Old Dominion.
"Conference USA is an outstanding women's basketball league and the teams have improved each year we have been in it," Insell said. "I expect another competitive league with tight races right to the end of the season."
The home stretch will also whet the appetite of fans as Middle Tennessee plays rival WKU twice in the final three weeks, including the regular-season finale in Bowling Green, March 7.
The C-USA Championship returns to Frisco, Texas, March 13-16.
The Lady Raiders also have two exhibition games on the docket. They will play host to Lindsey Wilson, Oct. 28, before facing Trevecca, Oct. 31.