Belmont Escapes At-Large Worries: Can the Bruins Break Through?

Posted by David Changas on March 11th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s OVC Championship in Nashville.

Late in Saturday’s Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game, it looked like the college basketball world would face a week-long debate about whether Belmont, a top-25 RPI team that won the league’s regular season championship, would merit an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament after falling to defending champion Murray State. The Racers appeared to be in control when they led 62-58 with fewer than 40 seconds to play in regulation. But an Ian Clark jumper and a two missed free throws from Ed Daniel set up a Kerron Johnson drive that tied the game with nine seconds remaining. Following some controversy surrounding a clock stoppage issue and Murray State calling timeout before crossing half-court, the Racers could not get a good look for the win. In overtime, after Murray State star Isaiah Canaan dribbled the ball off of his foot in a tie game with 25 seconds remaining — one of 26 Racer turnovers on the night — it was Johnson again playing the hero as he pulled up in the lane and made a high-arcing jumper over Daniel, giving the Bruins a 70-68 victory and the league’s auto-bid in their first year, as well as the 1,000th victory in program history.

It Was Storybook For Belmont Saturday

It Was Storybook For Belmont Saturday

Belmont is now able to avoid all talk of whether its resume was good enough to earn a coveted at-large spot in the field, and while we may never know whether it was, coach Rick Byrd is more than happy to not have to wonder. “I had thought about that question because I knew we could lose either of these games,” he said. Now, he can focus on getting his team ready for its next opponent, whoever it may be. The Bruins must sit and wait a week before finding out whether their resume was good enough to earn a seed that will give them a reasonable shot at a first-round victory, something that has eluded the program in its first five appearances in the Big Dance. There was the near-miss in 2008 against Duke that put the program on the national map, and the disappointing double-figure losses to Wisconsin and Georgetown the last two years, when the Bruins represented the Atlantic Sun. While they clearly stepped up in competition in the OVC this year, most projections, including our latest, have them in the #12-line, only a spot better than the past two seasons.  So while the RPI may be higher than it has ever been for Byrd’s team, the draw his team gets may look familiar. What likely faces the Bruins is a game against a bigger, more athletic high-major squad that will present match-up issues.

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OVC Titans Produced a Mid-Major Classic Thursday Night

Posted by CNguon on February 8th, 2013

David Changas is a RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Thursday night’s OVC battle between Belmont and Murray State in Murray, Kentucky.

It was billed as the game of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference. The league’s perennial power and defending champion taking on the new kid on the block and winner of its first 10 games as a member of the conference. It featured two of the nation’s best guards much of the country has never heard of. While it appeared that Thursday’s matchup between OVC West Division leader Murray State and East Division Leader Belmont would not live up to the hype, a late charge by the Bruins to overcome a 14-point deficit with under 5 minutes to play to tie the game with under a minute remaining allowed it to do just that. Ian Clark, the Bruins’ three-point sharpshooter who came into Thursday’s game making an absurd 51.4% of his three-point attempts, despite attempting nearly 6.5 per game, made three in the final 2:30 to bring the Bruins all the way back from a deficit that grew to 15 points in the second half. But it was Murray State preseason All-American guard Isaiah Canaan who had the final say, as he broke the 74-all tie with a deep three with 35 seconds remaining to put the Racers back on top to stay on their way to a 79-74 victory.

“[Clark] stepped up for his team and I knew we needed it and I stepped up for ours,” Canaan said.

Isaiah Canaan scored 26 points in an impressive outing to help his Murray State squad hand Belmont its first conference defeat (AP)

Isaiah Canaan scored 26 points in an impressive outing to help his Murray State squad hand Belmont its first conference defeat (AP)

While Thursday’s game may have no impact on which team makes the NCAA Tournament – Belmont may be able to make a case for an at-large bid, while Murray State’s resume is not impressive enough to merit such consideration – the game clearly meant a lot to both teams. Before a charged up, partisan CFSB Center crowd of 7,141, the Racers were effective until the final minutes in controlling Clark and his backcourt mate, Kerron Johnson, who sat for the final few minutes because of his ineffectiveness, and exploiting their athletic advantage in the front court on the way to the victory. The Racers have not been nearly as dominant this season as they were last year on their way to a 5-seed in the Big Dance, but they have positioned themselves to make a run in the OVC Tournament championship and their third NCAA Tournament bid in the past four seasons with Thursday’s victory. The game clearly meant a lot to Murray State coach Steve Prohm, who expressed relief and satisfaction with his team’s effort after the game. “We needed this game,” Prohm said. “We needed it to test us and see where we are as a team. There was a different vibe out there tonight, with the crowd, the energy, the emotion, and the big plays.”

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Belmont’s Handling of MTSU Raises Questions About Blue Raiders Going Forward

Posted by rtmsf on December 14th, 2012

David Changas (@dchangas) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after tonight’s Middle Tennessee State – Belmont game in Nashville.

Kermit Davis has won 187 games in just over 10 seasons as the head coach at Middle Tennessee State.  He has only suffered through one losing season during his tenure, and led the Blue Raiders to a school-record 27 wins and a Sun Belt regular season championship last year. It was his second league title in three years, and despite losing 2011-12 Sun Belt Player of the Year LaRon Dendy, MTSU returned the majority of a roster that disappointingly lost in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, costing itself any chance of an at-large bid. And this is the problem for Davis. Despite being a a consistent, steady, and well-liked leader for the Blue Raiders for the past decade, he has never taken the school to the NCAA Tournament. With so much returning from last year’s squad, expectations are high, as MTSU is the prohibitive favorite to win the league championship. Anything short of a trip to the Big Dance will be an unqualified disappointment. And because the Blue Raiders are so senior-laden, this may be their last best chance to win the conference for a while.

Kermit Davis is Underrated Because He Hasn't Yet Danced at MTSU

Kermit Davis is Underrated Because He Hasn’t Yet Danced at MTSU

MTSU was 7-2 entering Thursday’s contest at Belmont, with wins at Central Florida and over Ole Miss being the most impressive on its resume, but after a back-and-forth first half that left them trailing by only four at the break, the Blue Raiders fell apart quickly in the second half and trailed by as many as 18 on their way to a 64-49 defeat. Entering the game, MTSU seemed to have the quickness on the perimeter to slow down Belmont’s dynamic backcourt duo of Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark, and also had a significant edge on the interior, where the Bruins are especially limited. Johnson dominated the second half, though, and Belmont neutralized Blue Raider big man Shawn Jones, who despite having a significant size and athletic advantage, was a complete non-factor after being relegated to the bench with foul trouble for nearly the entire first half. It was a disappointing effort for a team coming off a win over SEC foe Ole Miss on December 8. “I didn’t think we competed at all in the second half.  Our size should have been a big factor in the game.  We couldn’t take advantage of it.  We missed some balls around the rim,” Davis said. “Their bigs were so much more effective than our bigs around the goal.” Davis also was critical of his team’s lack of “physicalness and toughness,” and was clearly disappointed in MTSU’s overall effort in a game that matched programs of similar stature that can use every quality non-conference win they can get.

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131st Battle of the Boulevard Goes to Belmont

Posted by rtmsf on November 9th, 2012

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from tonight’s Battle of the Boulevard match-up between Belmont and Lipscomb.

They may be in a new league, and they may have lost their two biggest contributors in the post, but anyone who thinks the Belmont Bruins will do anything but contend for their seventh trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last nine years is in for a rude awakening. As they proved by their 89-60 dismantling of their archrival Lipscomb on Friday, the Bruins will give OVC favorite and defending champion Murray State all they want in the Racers’ quest to return to the Big Dance. Belmont may have lost Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders, its two leading rebounders and biggest bodies from last year’s NCAA Tournament team, but it returned one of the league’s best backcourts in Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Johnson is a classic pass-first point guard who uses his athleticism to break down defenses and can also score (he led the Bruins with 22 points on Friday). Clark is a prolific shooter with an unorthodox but quick release that is difficult to defend. The pair combined for 41 points on Friday, and it is reasonable to expect similar results throughout the season.

Belmont’s First Game This Year Was a Resounding Success

The most pleasant surprise Bruins coach Rick Byrd got from Friday’s win was the play of forward Trevor Noack. The 6’7″ senior averaged less than eight minutes per game last season, but hit double figures by the half and looked like a player who could be a consistent scoring option behind Clark, Johnson, and junior forward J.J. Mann. Belmont will be well-served by the athleticism of its backcourt, which will allow it to compete with the likes of Murray State and Tennessee State. Where the Bruins have questions is on the front line. While Noack’s offensive emergence is encouraging, Belmont will certainly struggle with talented big men – such as TSU’s Robert Covington – as it simply does not have much size on the interior. The Bruins play no one taller than 6’7″, and Noack and athletic frontcourt mate Blake Jenkins, a solid defender, do not offset their height disadvantages with much beef.

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2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2012

David Changas is the RTC correspondent for the OVC.  You can follow him on Twitter @dchangas.

Top Storylines

  • Can Murray State Repeat Its Success?  Last year, the Racers took the college basketball world by storm by being the nation’s last remaining undefeated team after starting 23-0. They lose several key contributors, but another run to a second-round NCAA Tournament win is realistic, and coach Steve Prohm proved he can coach in his first season at the helm. Should Murray State win the league’s automatic bid, it likely will not come with a lofty five-seed as it did last year, but any team with potential All-American Isaiah Canaan leading it in March will be dangerous.

Isaiah Canaan Is The Early Favorite For OVC Player Of The Year And Has A Shot At Even Higher Accolades. (Getty Images)

  • Belmont Arrives:  In an effort to raise its overall profile, Belmont left the Atlantic Sun and certainly will add cachet to a league coming off its best year in recent memory. The Bruins have been a dominant force in the A-Sun for the past dozen years, earning the conference’s automatic bid in five of the last seven. Their addition to an already formidable league raises its profile that much more, and though Murray State is the league favorite, Belmont will draw attention to the OVC in this and years to come.
  • Who is Robert Covington? With all of the hoopla surrounding Canaan and Murray State, plus the arrival of Belmont, the player who isn’t the subject of enough discussion is Tennessee State big man Robert Covington. The 6’9″ senior finished third in the league in scoring and second in rebounding last year, and is projected by some to be a second-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft.  He scores, rebounds, and shoots the three proficiently, and has an NBA physique.  A player of the year caliber season should be expected from Covington, and the presence of NBA scouts will be commonplace at Tiger games.

Reader’s Take


Predicted Order of Finish

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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by EMoyer on February 3rd, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Southern Conference and Atlantic Sun Conference and a contributor to the RTC SEC Microsite. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

  • Spartan Conquest: USC Upstate continued its season-long upswing, beating Belmont, Lipscomb and ETSU in succession. Granted the scheduling gods rarely have one school face the three Tennessee schools in order, but regardless, no A-Sun team had beaten the Bruins, Bison and Buccaneers in order since Gardner-Webb in February 2006.
  • Top Byrd: The Nashville Sports Council named Belmont head coach Rick Byrd as one of five finalists for the Nashville Sports Person of the Year award on Wednesday. Byrd, who received the 2011 Hugh Durham National Coach of the Year award, joined a pair of Vanderbilt head coaches – James Franklin (football) and Tim Corbin (baseball) – IndyCar driver Dario Franchitti and Nashville Predator goaltender Pekka Rinne as finalists.
  • January’s Best: Although the league does not have an official monthly award, RTC recognizes Lipscomb’s Jordan Burgason as the A-Sun Player of the Month. He led all A-Sun players in scoring for the first month of 2012, averaging an even 19.0 points per game and surpassed the 1,000-point plateau during January. Over the nine games, he connected on 35 3-pointers (fourth-best in the country for the month) and shot 54.7 percent from the 3-point arc (seventh-best in the NCAA among those who made at least 20 3’s in January).

Lipscomb's Jordan Burgason is threatening to set the A-Sun single-season record for 3-point percentage

Power Rankings

  1. USC Upstate (14-9, Previous Ranking: 5): Despite trailing both the Bears and Bruins by a game in the loss column in the A-Sun standings, the Spartans ascended to the top spot thanks to the historic “Tennessee Trifecta.” Torrey Craig, an A-Sun Player of the Year candidate, became the first Spartan to reach double-figure scoring in every game of a single month in the Division I era (since 2007-08).
  2. Mercer (17-7, Previous Ranking: 2): The Bears extended their win streak to six and moved into a first-place tie after Belmont stumbled at USC Upstate. Ay 17-7, the Bears have not posted a better 24-game record since 2002-03 when they started 19-5 en route to sharing the A-Sun regular-season South Division title. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Atlantic Sun Conference

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

Eric Moyer is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic Sun Conference and the Southern Conference. You can find him on Twitter @EricDMoyer.

Reader’s Take


Looking Back

  • 1,200 Wins. ETSU needed a second-half rally to earn the 1200th win in program history. Sitting on 1,199 wins, the Bucs faced UNF for the first time since being eliminated by the Ospreys in the semifinals of the 2011 A-Sun Championship. UNF jumped out to a 15-point first-half advantage and held ETSU to 31% shooting. Adam Sollazzo scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half and hit the game-winning free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining
  • Dramatic Finishes. Monday featured three dramatic finishes. In addition to ETSU’s second-half comeback at UNF, a pair of A-Sun contests needed overtime to determine a winner. Jacksonville scored its first win of the conference season after withstanding a tying by USC Upstate at the end of regulation and beat the Spartans in the extra session. The second overtime thriller featured a game-winning three-pointer by Lipscomb’s Damarius Smith in the waning seconds lifting the Bison past Stetson and into a fourth-place tie in the A-Sun race.
  • Coaching Battle. After 16 years seated next to each other on the Belmont bench, Rick Byrd and Casey Alexander met as opponents when Byrd’s Belmont welcomed Alexander’s Stetson Hatters to the Curb Event Center. The Hatters showed they have quickly picked up the trademark Belmont offense hitting 15 3-pointers, the most ever by an opponent in Curb Event Center history. The Bruins, who trailed 31-29 at halftime, dispatched the Hatters with a 55-point second half, winning 84-71.

Kerron Johnson (ball) Leads A Talented Belmont Attack

Power Rankings

  1. Belmont (13-6, Previous Ranking: 1): Despite a surprising home stumble against rival Lipscomb, the Bruins remain atop the Power Rankings after handling FGCU and Stetson. In the 95-53 win against FGCU, the Bruins hit 14 3-pointers and recorded 27 assists on 35 baskets. In wins against the Hatters and Eagles, the Bruins shot a combined 54.5 percent from the floor. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s a slow Monday night but keep your eye on what happens in these two games, even though neither will be on the tube.

Belmont at Marshall – 7:00 PM EST no TV (***)

  • For Tom Herrion, keeping control of the basketball has to be at the top of his game plan tonight. Marshall has a poor turnover margin, mostly due to its 15 turnovers per game average. It won’t be easy against Belmont either, a team that thrives off of giveaways and easy baskets. Offensively, Marshall has an edge in the paint with Dennis Tinnon (10/10) and Robert Goff. The Thundering Herd averages 42 RPG and is #2 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage. If Marshall’s guards, including top two scorers DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts play well and can handle the ball, this team has to be favored at home.
  • With four losses on its resume already, Belmont has pretty much wrecked any chance it had of an at-large NCAA bid should it need one. Of course, the Bruins could win the Atlantic Sun tournament and make it anyway. As we mentioned, rebounding is a strength for Marshall and therefore a concern for Belmont. Rick Byrd’s team needs to create turnovers to help offset what should be a significant disadvantage on the glass. Belmont is #16 in offensive efficiency and it will need a quality game out of guards Kerron Johnson and Drew Hanlen. Hanlen is the team’s best three point shooter at 42.6%. Defensively, the Bruins do not have a good free throw rate. Luckily for them in this game, Marshall is one of the worst free throw shooting teams in the country.

    After Challenging Duke In Its Opener Belmont Has Struggled

  • Belmont is 1-4 on the road so you’d think it is due for a win away from home. Both teams shoot a lot of three pointers but the Bruins are much more efficient. Marshall shoots only 26.4% from deep but gets a lot of offensive rebounds, leading to a two point FG% of 52.6%. An astounding 43.7% of Belmont’s field goal attempts are triples so you can bet those will have to be falling in order for the Bruins to win this one on the road. Expect a close game throughout with Marshall being the ever so slight favorite.
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Night Line: Another Blemish Jeopardizes Belmont’s At-Large Chances

Posted by EJacoby on December 14th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Coming off a 30-win season and returning nine players who averaged at least 10 minutes per game, Belmont was expected to be the next mid-major to make its way on to the national scene this year. After a tremendous season-opening game in Cameron Indoor Stadium in which they nearly took down Duke, the Bruins left a great first impression on the nation. But fast-forward to Tuesday night when the Atlantic Sun darlings lost another close road game (at Middle Tennessee State), and this team still has yet to produce a signature non-conference win on its resume. While Belmont consistently has the look of an NCAA Tournament team, it seems that they’ll have to earn their invitation to the Big Dance the traditional way, by winning the conference tournament.

Belmont Hasn't Held on For Any Signature Wins (AP/G. Broome)

Rick Byrd’s team has now squandered three excellent chances for quality wins, and an at-large bid seems nearly out of the question, regardless of how the Bruins play the rest of the season. Belmont played Duke to a classic season-opening one-point loss, but followed up that game with a poor effort at Memphis in which they allowed 97 points to a team now falling fast. The Bruins held on to beat this same Middle Tennessee State team after two overtimes on November 20, but Tuesday’s rematch saw their opponent come out victorious, 65-62. MTSU  at 10-2 is a  solid team and likely the class of the Sun Belt Conference, so a road sweep of the Blue Raiders would have looked impressive on their resume. Instead, Belmont now can only boast of a split against MTSU and a close loss at Duke as their non-conference highlights thus far.

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Set Your TiVo: 12.13.11

Posted by bmulvihill on December 13th, 2011

Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter.  See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

After a flurry of games to start the season, most teams slow things down a bit as students head into finals and winter break.  There are still some intriguing matches during the week, particularly a mid-major rematch that thrilled fans just three weeks ago.  Let’s get to the action.

#14 Wisconsin at Milwaukee – 8:00 PM EST on ESPN3 (***)

  • After back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Marquette, Wisconsin has bounced back with wins against Wisconsin-Green Bay and UNLV. The Badgers continue to play the slowest basketball in the country at 59 possessions per game. Their style isn’t for everybody, but it certainly creates problems for opposing teams, particularly on the offensive end. Bo Ryan’s club leads the nation in defensive efficiency and is currently only allowing teams to shoot 36.1% from two and 24.6% from three. With very little in the way of offensive firepower, Milwaukee’s biggest issue during the game will be finding a way to score on the rock solid UW defense.
  • Milwaukee possess its own solid defense as well. They rank 14th in the nation in three-point defense, allowing teams to shoot only 25% from downtown. Three-pointers are a significant part of the Badger offense, so it will be interesting to see if Milwaukee can continue to defend the perimeter against a team that shoots a hefty amount of three’s at a 40% conversion rate. It will be imperative for the Panther’s to limit second chance points for the Badgers, as well. Wisconsin had its lowest offensive rebounding rates of the season in its two losses.
  • Milwaukee needs to find offense quickly or this game will turn into a blow-out. The Badgers do not make mistakes, they defend the ball extremely well, and they hit the defensive boards really hard. The Panthers will have to stay patient and take smart shots near the basket.  If you see the Panthers getting frustrated on offense and taking ill-advised shots, they are in for a long night.

Belmont and Middle Tennessee Match Up for a Second Time in Three Weeks (Belmont Sports)

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