Bryce Drew’s First Vandy Win Offers Blueprint For Future

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 16th, 2016

Luckily for Bryce Drew, no memorable coaching tenure has ever been defined by its first game. The good vibes surrounding the Vanderbilt program and its new coach quickly dissipated on opening night last Friday, as Marquette sprinted past the Commodores in the second half of a 24-point rout. The shaky debut raised the stakes for Tuesday night’s inter-Nashville battle between the Commodores and Belmont, as an 0-2 start and a loss to a crosstown little brother would possess the potential to leave a lasting impact on Drew’s first season at Vanderbilt. However, Drew’s veteran outfit responded to the challenge at hand, posting a ship-righting victory that may be more crucial than the calendar and opponent would suggest.

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA Today Sports)

Luke Kornet was the best player on the court Tuesday night. (USA TODAY Sports)

At this point, no program in America should treat a win over Belmont as a given. The Bruins have proven to be more than just a pesky mid-major for over a decade now, and they pushed another high-major team on its home floor last night. Quite certainly, Drew’s first win is one he didn’t take for granted until his team extended its lead into double figures in the game’s final minute. However, the win revealed a blueprint for how his teeam might win games moving forward. Luke Kornet was the centerpiece, scoring 20 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and harassing 2016 OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds into an unusually inefficient 6-of-15 night from the field. On a team with little in the way of overwhelming talent, Kornet will need to be this sort of difference-maker on a nightly basis. The four upperclassmen that join him in the starting lineup are all competent complementary pieces, but junior Matthew Fisher-Davis is the only other Commodore starter with the talent to truly concern opposing SEC coaches. Given these limitations, it is not only imperative that Kornet find consistency as a focal point of the offense, but also that the group around him finds a way to make him a successful centerpiece of an elite defense. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bracket Prep: Belmont

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 8th, 2015

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. The first team to gain entry into the 2015 NCAA Tournament is Belmont, the Ohio Valley Conference champion. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winner.

Belmont Bruins

Belmont took down the 25th-ranked Racers and punched a ticket to the Dance. (Samuel M. Simpkins / The Tennessean)

Belmont took down the 25th-ranked Racers and punched a ticket to the Dance. (Samuel M. Simpkins / The Tennessean)

  • OVC Champion (22-10, 11-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #144/#147/#151
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +2.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15

Strength: Another year, another Belmont roster loaded with outside shooters. As usual with Rick Byrd’s 4-out, 1-in motion offense, Belmont hoists three-pointers at an incredibly high rate – 26 attempts per contest, which account for nearly 50 percent of its shots – and hits them often enough (37.9% 3FG) to remain competitive on most nights. And when the ball movement is really crisp and the shots are really falling, it’s capable of flat-out bludgeoning opponents; against Eastern Illinois in the Ohio Valley Tournament quarterfinals, the Bruins shot 16-of-27 from behind the arc and crushed the Panthers by 33 points. The constant movement and ball-screening also enables Byrd’s club to find easy buckets on backdoor cuts, a major reason why it ranks fifth nationally in two-point percentage (56.2% 2FG).

Weakness: The Bruins give up 106.4 points per 100 possessions this season, their worst mark since 2006 and the fourth-worst mark within the Ohio Valley. With no prominent player standing taller than 6’8”, they are susceptible to being gashed inside and occasionally manhandled on the glass. Belmont’s two-point defense (51.2% 2FG) ranks among the 60 worst in college basketball. Offensively, the Bruins turn the ball over at their highest rate since 2010 (evident at times against Murray State on Saturday), lowlighted by 18-turnover and 16-turnover losses to Eastern Kentucky and Jacksonville State, respectively, in early February.

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Belmont Returns to the Big Dance After a Year Away

Posted by David Changas on March 8th, 2015

There has been much discussion this season about the lack of scoring in college basketball and what needs to be done to fix the issue. It is a bit ironic, then, that the first automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament was earned on a Saturday night when Belmont won a fast-paced back-and-forth shootout in Nashville over Murray State to take the OVC Championship and return to the Big Dance for the first time since 2013. The 88-87 game featured a combined 26 made three-pointers and 12 lead changes, the last of which came when Belmont’s Taylor Barnette made a fall-away three with 3.2 seconds left that proved to be the game-winner. It was a thrilling finish to a thrilling tournament in which the final three games were decided by a total of five points.

Belmont can celebrate another return to the NCAA Tournament  (USA Today Images)

Belmont can celebrate another return to the NCAA Tournament (USA Today Images)

At the end of the day, though, a familiar face left with the hardware. Belmont lost in last year’s OVC championship game to Eastern Kentucky, but it had avenged that loss on Friday night to reach the final. Unlike last year, though, the Bruins were not expected to earn the league’s automatic bid. Murray State came into Saturday riding a 25-game winning streak, rolling through OVC play with a perfect 16-0 record. Though it is widely believed that the Racers now have no realistic shot at an at-large bid, they feature a future NBA guard in Cameron Payne who averages over 20 points and five assists per game. Belmont coach Rick Byrd knew that pulling off this upset would be a tall order. “I was prepared to say I’m proud to say we made eight of 10 conference championship games over the past 10 years, and at halftime I was really prepared to say something like that, because the last 10 minutes of the first half, it looked like men and boys,” Byrd said after the game, referring to a dominant 30-10 run the Racers put together over the last 10:06 of the first frame.

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Belmont Basketball: Same As It Ever Was

Posted by Ray Curren on December 23rd, 2014

Three-game losing streaks don’t bother Rick Byrd much anymore. He’s now in his 29th season in charge of Belmont (the fourth-longest current tenure in Division I men’s basketball) and in a one-bid league like the Ohio Valley Conference (or the Atlantic Sun, previously), he knows that it’s all about the conference season. After all, his Bruins withstood a four-game losing streak at around the same time last year, but still managed to go 14-2 in conference play before being upset by Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Tournament semifinals (not to mention coming seconds away from the NIT Final Four in a loss at Clemson). Add to the fact that Byrd is fairly mild-mannered, especially by the standards of big-time college basketball coaches, and surely he took those defeats in stride. Or not.

Rick Byrd and Belmont will likely be right in the tourney mix come March. (Getty)

Rick Byrd and Belmont will likely be right in the Tourney mix come March. (Getty)

“If you’re competitive, it’s never easy at all to lose,” Byrd said over the weekend. In fact, he actually picked up a rare technical (he says they’re not quite as rare as you might think) in December 11’s Wright State loss, which was the team’s second straight defeat at home. After a sluggish first half on Saturday at Fairfield, Belmont looked more like Belmont in the second half, picking the Stags — which were already 2-0 in the MAAC — apart for 44 second-half points (and 1.33 points per possession) in a 73-61 victory. The Bruins will travel to Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse next week for their final non-conference tilt. Although losing is no fun, Byrd did see some positives for his young squad in the losing streak, which played all three games without leading scorer Craig Bradshaw, who returned from an injury against Fairfield. “It does help you understand that you can still be a good basketball team in the end,” Byrd said. “We got beat by two good teams, Evansville and Wright State, Wright State without our starting wing [Taylor Barnette], too. And we played good enough to win that game. Last year, we got beat by South Dakota State by double figures, went to Denver and got beat by 28. This has been a little better performance. VCU was too much for us, but it does help to say, ‘Look, we lost to Denver last year by 28 and we won the league’. But it’s still no fun to lose.”

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Top of the O26 Class: C-USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on November 3rd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Southern region of the U.S: Conference USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region and Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region.

TOP UNITS

Conference USA

  • Louisiana Tech –2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3) – Two straight seasons Louisiana Tech has won its conference (C-USA in 2014; WAC in 2013), and two straight seasons the Bulldogs have been upset in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Is the third time a charm? Louisiana Tech is undoubtedly the favorite to take the C-USA crown, but can it come through when the games matter most? After flirting with some other opportunities, head coach Michael White is back, as are guards Alex Hamilton (14.5 PPG), Raheem Appleby (11.2 PPG) and Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (7.8 PPG, 7.7 APG). The big question mark is in the frontcourt. If the Bulldogs can get some decent play there, they might be able to finally break through.
Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C Bristow)

Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C. Bristow/AP)

  • UTEP –2013-14 record: 23-11 (12-4) – If there’s a team to challenge Louisiana Tech for the league title, it’s most likely UTEP. After a strong start with a win against Tennessee and a four-point loss to Kansas last season, the Miners stumbled down the stretch and were unable to win the league tournament on their home floor. There’s reason for optimism heading into 2014-15, though. Head coach Tim Floyd brings back a talented frontcourt duo of Julian Washburn (13.1 PPG) and Vincent Hunter (12.3 PPG), and talented recruit Omega Harris should help fill the void in the backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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Jeff Neubauer Perseveres, Leads Eastern Kentucky Back to Big Dance

Posted by David Changas on March 9th, 2014

In 2007, while in his second year as head coach at Eastern Kentucky, Jeff Neubauer led the Colonels to the NCAA Tournament, getting there with a group that he largely inherited from his predecessor. That team was a #16 seed and lost to a Tyler Hansbrough-led North Carolina squad in the first round. In the seasons that followed, Neubauer has had teams that have been competitive in the Ohio Valley Conference, but none of which has been able to get back to the Big Dance. That changed on Saturday, when Eastern Kentucky took down defending champion Belmont, 79-73, to win the OVC Tournament championship in Nashville. It was a surprising result to many, mostly because Belmont, which had won the regular season title, seems to never fall short of the NCAA Tournament. But to those who have watched the league closely over the past couple of years since Belmont’s arrival, it was no surprise at all that Neubauer was able to get this senior-laden team back the place every coach in a one-bid league aspires to.

Corey Walden, the OVC Tourney MVP, Cuts the Nets (AP)

Corey Walden, the OVC Tourney MVP, Cuts the Nets (AP)

For Neubauer, despite the many years of being not quite good enough, there was never a doubt that he would eventually make it back. “The thing I’ve had in my mind is that it is inevitable that we will end up back in the NCAA Tournament. I think, as a coach, you have to have that mentality that it’s going to happen,” he said after the win. “It’s something we all should really appreciate.” Given the wealth of experience that this team had, missing the NCAAs would have been a lost opportunity. The Colonels are led by guards Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden, who combined for 52 points in the win, and who give Eastern Kentucky as athletic a backcourt as exists in the OVC. With a total of six seniors, this was clearly Neubauer’s best opportunity to get back to the Big Dance. Last year, in a league with an even better Belmont squad and an extremely talented Murray State team, winning the league’s automatic bid was a tall order and was one the Colonels narrowly fell short of in a semifinals loss to the Racers. It was that game that proved to Neubauer that his team could win it. “Our experience being here last year in the semifinal, if you would ask these players, really helped us understand what this OVC Tournament was all about.”

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New Year, Same Story for Belmont

Posted by David Changas on November 21st, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between Lipscomb and Belmont in Nashville. 

When he lost his three leading scorers to graduation, including standout guards Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark, many assumed that Belmont coach Rick Byrd would see his team take a step back from last year’s OVC championship squad. But this is Rick Byrd, and rebuilding at this point in the program’s existence is no longer a concern. As evidenced by Sunday’s win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, his latest group is once again likely the team to beat in the OVC, and a return to the Big Dance for the seventh time in nine seasons appears to be a distinct possibility.

Rick Byrd Has One of the Most Consistently Good Mid-Major Programs Going

Rick Byrd Has One of the Most Consistently Good Mid-Major Programs Going

On Wednesday night, the Bruins backed up their win over the Tar Heels with a resounding 94-64 thumping of cross-town rival Lipscomb in the season’s second “Battle of the Boulevard,” giving Belmont its NCAA-best 22nd consecutive home win. And in getting off to a strong start that includes not only the North Carolina win, but also a home victory over an Indiana State team that crushed Notre Dame in South Bend,  Byrd’s squad is proving that it has simply reloaded. Now led in the backcourt by the solid duo of Reece Chamberlain and Craig Bradshaw, both of whom saw valuable minutes last season, Belmont relies on a stronger front line than it had last season. J.J. Mann, whom Byrd recently called one of the hardest workers and most competitive players he’s coached, proved his mettle by hitting the game-winning three against North Carolina. The senior forward looks poised to lead the Bruins in scoring this season, and his role as a vocal leader has increased with the departure of Johnson and Clark.

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North Carolina’s Collapse Against Belmont Exposes Lineup Problems

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 18th, 2013

Brad Jenkins is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Sunday afternoon’s North Carolina vs. Belmont game from Chapel Hill. 

Normally when a small school like Belmont wins a road game against a traditional power like North Carolina, it is deemed a major upset. But the Bruins’ 83-80 victory in Chapel Hill Sunday afternoon did not look like a big surprise. This statement has more to do with North Carolina’s team right now than it does with Belmont. After a lackluster win over a lightly-regarded Holy Cross on Friday night, RTC ACC microsite columnist Lathan Wells pointed out that North Carolina was suffering from an offensive identity crisis. As of Sunday, the Tar Heels are still looking for answers.

Roy Williams is Searching for Answers

Roy Williams is Searching for Answers in Chapel Hill

The story of the first half was certainly the pathetic 9-of-28 free throw performance by North Carolina, leaving the Heels behind by seven points at the half. They were better from the charity stripe in the second half but still finished a dismal 22-of-48 for the game. For a team with only one perimeter shooting threat in Marcus Paige, attacking the basket aggressively against the smaller Bruins would appear to be a sound strategy. The problem was that the two guys repeatedly getting fouled are both bad free throw shooters. J.P. Tokoto and James Michael McAdoo were a combined 15-of-35 from the free throw line on Sunday, but that’s not a total shock given their history: McAdoo shot 58% last year and Tokoto managed to make only 38.5% of his free throws. So maybe that strategy isn’t so great after all. The only real effective thing North Carolina did on the offensive end was hit the glass. The Heels collected 21 of their misses out of a possible 43, for a phenomenal offensive rebound rate approaching 50 percent.

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Rushed Reactions: #6 Arizona 81, #11 Belmont 64

Posted by AMurawa on March 21st, 2013

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Andrew Murawa is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Round of 64 NCAA Tournament game between #6 Arizona and #11 Belmont in Salt Lake City.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. First Half Domination. It’s the same old song and dance for Belmont: great season, plenty of love on Selection Sunday as a possible Cinderella, then they come out and lay an egg in the tournament against a bigger and more athletic opponent. The Bruins turned in perhaps their worst half of the season on Thursday evening, grabbing just 9.1% of their own misses and only 50% of their opponents misses, while also getting outshot 52.2% to 29.6% in effective field goal percentage. While senior Ian Clark cobbled together enough offense to tally 11 points, the rest of his team combined to make just 2-of-17 field goal attempts. All of which combined to equal a 32-20 halftime deficit. Belmont played Arizona pretty tight in the second half, but the first-half damage was done.

    Mark Lyon was the star of the game for Arizona. (AP)

    Mark Lyon was the star of the game for Arizona. (AP)

  2. Too Much Size and Athleticism. With the tallest guy on Belmont checking in at just 6’7” and with Arizona featuring four rotation guys along the frontline at least that tall, not to mention significantly more athletic, you probably should have seen this coming to some extent. But the sheer level of the domination along the frontline was startling. Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski and Grant Jerrett have been improving slowly but surely all year and today, after getting through the grind of the Pac-12 and similar level athletes, they seemed to get a lot of joy out of beating up on overmatched opponents. And Mark Lyons? After seeing guys like Jahii Carson and Larry Drew II and Dominic Artis and Spencer Dinwiddie, he seemed to know he could get by whichever Belmont guard was checking him and get into the lane with ease. Credit the Wildcats for exploiting mismatches and advancing, but things are about to get much more difficult.
  3. Pac-12. Underrated? On a day when the Pac-12 went 3-0 in the Tournament you’ve got to start to wonder just how good this conference is. They haven’t had much of a chance to prove it outside of the league since December, consider what Oregon did to Oklahoma State today. And consider that Arizona, for instance, has wins against teams like Miami, Florida, San Diego State and now Belmont in their undefeated non-conference slate, but struggled to seven losses against Pac-12 competition. Maybe the Pac-12 is better than we thought?

Star of the Game. Mark Lyons, Arizona. Look, Lyons is never going to be the type of distributing point guard that would fit in so well on this Arizona team. But tonight at the very least he was the guy Mark Lyons is really good at being. He attacked off the bounce and seemed to get to the rack just about whenever he wanted. And when the ball found its way to him around the perimeter in the halfcourt game, he stepped up and drilled catch-and-shoot jumpers. And, especially in the first half, he harassed Kerron Johnson and got inside his head, limiting Belmont’s second-leading scorer to just four first-half points.

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The Official RTC Bracket: Midwest And West Regions

Posted by KDoyle on March 20th, 2013

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We released the Official RTC Bracket for the South and East Regions earlier today — be sure to check that out if you need a refresher on our methodology for this exercise — and we’ll save you the fluff this time and cut right to the chase with the Midwest and West Regions. (note: our Final Four selections are after the analyses)

Midwest and West Regions

Quick Hitters From the Midwest Region

  • Advancing to Atlanta: #1 Louisville
  • Round of 64 Upset: #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis
  • Later Round Upset: N/A
  • Three Most Disputed Games: #5 Oklahoma State over #12 Oregon, #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis, #2 Duke over #3 Michigan State

Four Questions About the Midwest Region

Louisville is the odds-on favorite to not just advance out of the Midwest Region, but win the National Championship. Which team has the best chance at dashing Louisville’s title hopes?

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Andrew Murawa: After giving the Cards the nod as the overall #1 seed, the selection committee certainly didn’t do them any more favors, dropping them in, what is to me, the toughest region in the bracket. Once they get out of the Round of 64 in this region, Rick Pitino’s club could be facing nothing but dangerous clubs, from the nation’s best rebounding team in Colorado State, to one of the nation’s hottest teams in Saint Louis, to possibly Michigan State or Duke in the Elite Eight. All of those teams can beat the Cards. But the team with the best chance is certainly the Blue Devils, a squad that has already beaten them this season, albeit without Gorgui Dieng.

The #8 vs. #9 game is usually a coin-flip type of game, but it is a 100% consensus that Colorado State beats Missouri. Are the Rams that much better than Missouri?

Zach Hayes: The Rams are by no means world-beaters, but the consensus opinion probably stems from their ability to compete where Missouri excels: on the boards. Colorado State ranks in the nation’s top two in both offensive and defensive rebounding, a glass-crashing tenacity which should work to negate the rebounding prowess of both Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers. The confidence also resides in how shaky Missouri has been at the tail end of close games despite featuring an elite point guard in Phil Pressey. Most bracket prognosticators would rather go to war with a Rams team starting five seniors over Missouri’s constant unpredictability away from home, where their only scalps came against the dregs of the SEC.

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