Editor’s note: Stats used in this article are from statsheet.com and include all games played during the season.
As The Mont makes their sixth tournament appearance, the school’s faithful fans have by now grown accustomed to the one-and-done Bruins. Perhaps, we are all just guarding our hearts – but the sentiment after the emotional OVC Championship game as well as Belmont drawing an 11 seed on Selection Sunday, seems to be that, ‘we’ve done enough’. I beg to differ.
4 Things to Watch for Thursday’s game:
1. We’re loaded with experience
Basically, Belmont runs a seven-man rotation. Every one of those players have been on the court for an NCAA Tournament game. Six of those seven players (Reece Chamberlin is a sophomore) have played in two. Compare that with just three players that have any experience in the tournament from the Arizona roster, Belmont has a distinct advantage in the experience category. I said in my article last week, poise will be the biggest factor this post-season (as proven by Isaiah Cannon’s foot). We are positioned to see a much more mature and unshakable Belmont team take the court in SLC Thursday night.
2. Brandon Baker will be a major (albeit quiet) factor in this tournament.
What? Senior Brandon Baker, who has averaged less than 3 points and and 2.5 rebounds per game in his career as the teams questionably athletic forward, has been one of the quietest contributors to this team this year. Brandon Baker actually leads the Bruins in a very interesting offensive category: Offensive Efficiency. This basically boils down to how many points go on the scoreboard when a player uses a possession. Baker is currently sitting at 1.38 points per possession. In years past we used to groan when Baker would touch the ball, as he’d clank 3 pointers and miss layups. However, this season he has shown major maturity as his FG% has almost doubled from last year to 61.3%. The question on everyone’s mind going into this game is, ‘how are we going to guard Arizona’s two seven-footers?’ Brandon Baker will provide strong defense, timely fouls, and clutch shooting underneath, that will slow down Arizona’s inexperienced big men.
3. JJ Mann will need to take over this team
Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson got all the love this season from the media but JJ Mann has been the workhorse. Averaging 30 minutes per game (2nd on the team), he is our best free throw shooter (92.3%), good from behind the arc (38.4 3FG%) and a solid rebounder (4.7 RPG). This season JJ has also improved his offensive efficiency, from 1.09 PPP last year to 1.35 PPP this year, making him one of the Bruins most consistent weapons when he gets the ball. With a 6-6, 210 lb frame, JJ has both guard and forward qualities. More than likely, Arizona will put heavy coverage on Ian, like Murray St. did in the OVC tournament, and if Trevor ‘the Hay-Bailer’ Noack struggles at all (he was his own worst enemy during the OVC tournament), JJ will need to be the steady ‘Road Warrior’ he’s been all year for the Bruins. .
4. Kerron Johnson the creator
It’s the end of the road for Belmont’s most athletic basketball player. After 2010 (Belmont’s 30-win season), Kerron was the most exciting prospect heading into his junior year. Over the past two years I was initially confused to watch his shooting game fail to take off as his sophomore numbers suggested they would.
In 2010-11 he was a thief (2.0 steals in 18.2 minutes per game) and a sniper (42.9 3FG%). Last season, as I watched Kerron’s 3Pt game decline, I often wondered which player Kerron Johnson really was. Now, it’s quite clear that since the end of 2010 Rick Byrd has been grooming Kerron to be a leader and a true point guard that makes things happen. Kerron is 30th in the nation in FT Attempts and 20th in the nation in using 40.2% of Belmont’s possessions when he is on the floor. He creates points, lots of them, by drawing fouls and passing the basketball. He has certainly become his own brand of athlete for the Bruin’s program, one that I have finally come to understand (and celebrated during the Murray State game). If Kerron Johnson is dialed in and the referees are blowing their whistles consistently, the Bruins will win this game. So sit back and enjoy (or rather hold your breath) as Kerron gives us a curtain call we’re sure to remember for a long time.
So get your hopes up my friends.
– Adult Steve