A 30 win, 13-seed playing 4-seed Wisconsin, Belmont’s depth and experience seemed to sway even the biggest college basketball pundits from going with Wisconsin in the many bracketology discussions last March. But, the Bruins struggled with the 3 on the offensive side of the ball, and Wisconsin’s big men were too much down low for a Bruins team that thought they might finally break into the second (third) round of the tournament.
But tonight, Belmont gets a chance at sweet redemption. In 2008, the “Big Dance” showdown no one was talking about, the Bruins started playing with the Blue Devils. Duke squeaked out the win, 71-70 in a “last-few-seconds” layup, sending the Bruins playing the blues all the way back to Music City.
Tonight can be different.
Belmont returns four starters, including 6-3 guard Ian Clark who averaged 12.2 points (team high) a game last season (and while this figure may not immediately communicate dominance from the perimeter, it is more of a statistic of the Bruins’ tremendous depth) and 6-9 Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders who each averaged 10 points and 5 boards a game. Drew Hanlen, Senior point guard, returns to lead the Bruins and feed Clark with speed and minimal turnovers. Five more players also return from last year’s team that all saw a large amount of playing time in a Rick Byrd coached team that is known for its discipline and deep bench play.
But will this be enough to postpone Krzyzewski’s pursuit of the winningest record for one game?
It just might be.
There is no denying Krzyzewski’s history of top-tier recruitment and elite coaching. But what is the weakness of this pre-ranked 6th team in the nation?
Belmont’s strength is Duke’s greatest weakness, if you can even say Duke has a weakness.
But just venture down this path with me for a moment.
Duke’s top three scorers from last year are gone. Seth Curry, 6-2 Junior guard from North Carolina, returns as Duke’s top scorer, averaging only 9 points a game last season. With Curry the team’s top returning scorer as a Junior, the team only returns one senior, Miles Plumlee.
And I mean “only” 6-10 Miles Plumlee and the 30 points he scored in his last exhibition game. This will be the primary obstacle in the way of Belmont’s upset at Cameron Indoor.
Duke’s size really is unbelievable. And it all starts with the trio of Plumlee brothers; Miles, Mason, and Marshall- 6-10, 6-10, and 6-11, respectively. And it ends with Ryan Kelly, a 6-11 Junior from Raleigh, NC.
Four players 6-10 and above. Unreal.
But while many might scoff at the idea of a close game again with the Blue Devils, I have confidence the Bruins can make a good run, and potentially beat a young Duke team with less experience.
Belmont will need to be good at the 3, with plenty of help from Hedgepeth and Saunders down low.
And what some call a longshot, I call redemption.
Belmont by 2.