Editor’s Note: We like to laugh here at the Byrd Cage and we hope you do too. That’s why we’re happy to announce the return of Mort & Hugs. Our two in-house professional gripers/comedians who’ve never met a D1 athlete they weren’t scurd to anonymously mock on the internet.
Posts Tagged ‘byrdcage’
Editor’s Note: We like to laugh here at the Byrd Cage and we hope you do too. That’s why we’re happy to announce the return of Mort & Hugs. Our two in-house professional gripers/comedians who’ve never met a D1 athlete they weren’t scurd to anonymously mock on the internet.
MORT: We’re almost halfway through the OVC schedule and it is time to dust off the obligatory weekly lampoon. Hugs and I enjoyed our column last year, but have yet to muster enough inspiration this season to spend the necessary fifteen minutes to put 350 words to word processor due to the fact that our initial excitement for entering this new conference was whittled away by the drubbing of our first 5 conference opponents by a combined 120 pts. If this conference was a movie, it would have the plot twist of a yawn and the critical acclaim of “Jack and Jill”, which sucked, but was the inspiration for the greatest movie review headline of all time: 0 out of 5 stars, laughingly unfunny. What incredible headline does this conference inspire? “Nobody watched, but no one threw up.”
For the love of Marty Dickens can someone PLEASE turn up the damn speakers in the event center? There are THREE guys sitting at the sound booth. ONE of you needs to find the volume knob and turn it up to awesome. Lipscomb’s system makes my ears bleed, and it is amazing. We are losing to Lipscomb, an inferior school with an inferior team in a barely inferior conference. Then someone needs to tell God or whoever is in charge of the karaoke selection that a.) please no karaoke, and b.) please never play that Turtles song ever again. I get it. It’s a Belmont institution. But it shouldn’t be. I think “neat fact” is as far as that haunting carol should have ever gotten, but someone somewhere in the quality assurance department fell asleep when Karaoke Turtles Song in the Third Quarter Every Game was proposed before the season began.
Also, ByrdCage column DEMAND: Spreadin’ The News with Nick. Every Belmont game, Nick tells us which team he took against the spread and why, complete with his descriptions of his disgust with our opponents’ lack of quality coaching.
HUGS: Listen everyone, I don’t have time for this nonsense; I’m not in grad school anymore. Just kidding. But not really.
In all seriousness though, I do feel a DEEP sense of shame for my lack of commitment to our Bruins in their inaugural year in the OVC. But it looks like they’ve been doing fine without me. Seriously, conference opponents. Get your crap together. The one game I’ve managed to make it to this year was the least compelling sporting contest I’ve ever witnessed, and I’m a Cubs fan. If we are just going to run roughshod over the conference, then I have little motivation to pay close attention. I’ll have to come up with more exciting ways to fill my time, like becoming a hockey fan or watching my 26 year old roommates rediscover Tony Hawk Pro Skater for Playstation.
I am happy for our boys though. It’s not their fault they’re playing the Globetrotters to the OVC’s Generals. Or maybe it is. Maybe they should start shaving some points to make these contests more engaging. It will definitely make Nick’s gambling addiction more exciting.
What does excite me is that if we continue the current pattern, it WILL make for a very interesting Selection Sunday. Until then, wake me up when we go to Murray State. However, I won’t be awake for very long because IMMEDIATELY after the game I will be heading to the Murray fixture and culinary GOLD MINE that is Mary’s to eat an A-Train (steak sandwich between two grilled cheese sandwiches), which will send my organs into the most pleasant meat and cheese-related shutdown imaginable. Stay tuned to Ian Clark being amazing.
Sweet Bruin Baller Tweets:
@2sicksideburns: I made a wish at 11:11 and it came true!! Juwanna Mann is on Comedy Central!!!
I would like to note that this tweet was composed during the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, which also happened to be on Martin Luther King Day. This future schoolteacher chose instead to watch Juwanna Mann. There’s a joke here somewhere.
This confirms all my suspicions. Baker is a 14 year old schoolboy in a schoolteacher’s body.
@DrewHanlen: Just watched Shawshank Redemption w/ my mom. Love that movie! Buddy tunneled his way out of jail w/ a small hammer. Persistence pays off!
Drew, your twitter account is the one of the most consistently inspirational things I regularly read. I admire your upbeat attitude and your ceaseless encouragement. That said, take it down. Just. take it. down. a notch. This is a movie of vicious beatings, corruption, and crawling through poop. It is not an after school special.
When did Hoopin’ become the single greatest person of all time? Seriously, the dude watches Shawshank (the most inspirational movie of all time save Mighty Ducks, D2, and Bridesmaids) WITH HIS MOM. He hangs out with NBA All-Stars and counts “persistence” as a hobby. Rumor is he’s both a knight and a saint. Compared to Drew, Tim Tebow is a drunk-driving prostitute. If you wouldn’t trade lives with this guy, then put me down for an eighth of whatever you are smoking.
…yeah me too.
@Itsburgtime: Drank so much coffee I’d fail a drug test. #BurgyProbz
Remember that one time… ? Roasted.
Coming off a less than impressive stint in the Great Alaska Shootout, our boys are geared up for what, in my opinion, is one of the more challenging games (aside from Kansas) on our schedule. I have to admit I’ve had this game circled on my calendar since it was announced for numerous reasons. Perhaps a little bragging right between my brother and I (my brother attended VCU), home town nostalgia (I am a native of Richmond, VA…home to the VCU Rams) or maybe it’s just that I am excited for what I believe is going to be a great game of college basketball.
It was a fantastic night to be one of the handful of Belmont Bruins fans at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, CA on Sunday. As the Cardinal players, coaches, and fans grew subsequently confused, frustrated, and angry when the Bruins refused to relinquish their double-digit advantage through much of middle section of the contest, there was a growing sense among the red and blue faithful that we weren’t just playing the better game—we were the better team. Read the rest of this entry »
Belmont won in a pretty sizeable blowout last night. It seems that the hype of the Battle of the Boulevard rivalry will be going into indefinite hibernation until Lipscomb’s very young team does some growing up.
I’ve already heard the nay saying, that this, being an out of conference game, is meaningless. And now that the Bruins are in the OVC, the Lipscomb game will no longer matter, because they will forever remain inferior being in our recently departed Atlantic Sun. I beg to differ. To be honest, if you take Murray State and Belmont out of the OVC it actually drops significantly against the A-Sun to the point that the A-Sun might actually be a far superior conference (read this article from ESPN). Lipscomb might actually be more indicative of the teams we will play throughout the season, than say, the highly touted Murray State.
Belmont faces Lipscomb in their 131st matchup tonight at Allen Arena
If you wasted your time following the latter half of Lipscomb’s Men’s Basketball program last year , you’ll remember the team shamefully spiraling into the abyss despite a fairly promising start. By the time the ASUN Conference Tournament got underway EIGHT PLAYERS had either left the team or had been suspended.
This included the suspension of Lipscomb’s two leading scorers: the country’s leading 3-point shooter (you read that right) Jordan Burgason, (violating school policies), and forward Robert Boyd (deemed academically ineligible). Milos Kleut, Zach Brown, Brett Stall, Stephen Hurt, Damarius Smith, and Marvin Williams also left or were suspended from the team.
I finally got to meet the man that everyone in Athletics called “Coach”. As I walked into his office-which was covered with cut nets and trophies- Coach Byrd emerged from behind his large desk and extended his hand. He asked me to sit at a smaller table and chairs where we could relax. He didn’t want to be behind that large, executive desk. He wanted to sit closer, get on my level, and I could immediately feel a genuine warmth and welcome from one of the best minds in the NCAA. I wanted to get things rolling, to not waste his time, but he asked me about myself for about ten minutes. We spoke about what I studied at Belmont and what I’m doing now. I was a fan, with a little blog- but he treated me like a highly touted recruit or wealthy donor. I had a feeling I wasn’t the only one he did this to, and that this genuine quality is what kept him at Belmont- really caring about people. The interview that follows was full of honesty from a man that exudes quiet resolve, discipline, and a warmth that is infectious. What follows is my interview with the great man, Coach Rick Byrd.
Brett McReynolds: Coach Byrd, you are one of only five active NCAA coaches with over 500 wins at one school. You have clearly accomplished a lot at Belmont University. What would you call your greatest accomplishment?
Coach Rick Byrd: First off, you know that’s a legitimate stat, but not nearly all of them are division one wins. I think it’s a little… you know.. it’s not easy to win NAIA games- so I’m not saying it is less important. But you know, first of all, I’m not the least bit comfortable talking about my accomplishments, but I think the most difficult thing is that we really came in and kind of, um, rebuilt.. what’s the right word? It’s kind of like I had two jobs here at Belmont, one was an NAIA job, I came here the very March that Lipscomb won the [NAIA] National Championship. So, your rival, and what you are going to be compared with, is the best in the business and you got to find a way to be competitive. By the end of ten years we beat them six times in row and had our share of at least even success in the last five years against Lipscomb. But I think going from NAIA to Division 1, and having the success that we have now enjoyed, has got to be sort of the cumulative greatest accomplishment of this program. Because, a lot of people have tried it- I don’t mean people- a lot of schools have tried it- and it’s just not easy. Wofford has been to the Tournament the last two years from the Southern, and they started this five or six years before we did. There are many schools around, Tennessee Tech hasn’t been to the Tournament since 1963, there are a lot of schools around that don’t get to go at all. And certainly a lot that have tried to make this move. So, to make it to the tournament 5 times and win to win 5 regular season championships- in a relatively short time after going Division 1, is something we are proud of.
BM: There were some high expectations for the team this year. Starting off strong against Duke, the year seemed to begin on the right page, but some key losses against USC Upstate and Miami of Ohio, stopped the idea of a 30-win season. How would you compare this team versus last year’s team?
CRB: Well, i’ve spent most of this year trying to talk to our guys about not comparing it, because it’s, it’s a little unfair. 30-5 was a historic year. And, all you had to do was look around to see that hardly anyone else did that, that year. And hardly anybody ever does it. Even though a lot of guys were back, our schedule was pretty obviously tougher. Even though we started with Duke and Memphis on the road, the two games against MTSU and how good they were, and the two games against Marshall- the five game, ten day trip- four of them on the road was a challenge to say the least. So, we lost the two games, and I mean, you didn’t mention the Lipscomb game at home, that was our worst loss. The Upstate loss was bad because we were up 16, but anybody in the league who has tried to win at Upstate could tell you it was a tough one. We should have won the game. But you can look around the country and see the best programs, that’s why it’s impressive to see what Kentucky has done going 18-0 in the SEC, and what Syracuse has been able to do. Usually even the best teams stumble every now and then. And so, with what I think was a much more difficult schedule, I think 27-7 is not too far off from 30-4 this time a year ago.
BM: That being said about the Duke game, can you elaborate on what Coach K said to you after the game?
CRB: I remember the first time we played them in the NCAA tournament, but I don’t, I mean, recall. I may have even talked first. I don’t recall. I think I said to him, “I guess we just can’t beat ya,” or something like that. And certainly his comments in the media room about our team were, I think, honest. You always want to make people feel better, but I think they felt like they literally had not played bad, that they had to play good to beat a good team. I think we knew that night that we had the chance to be a really good team. And, I got a couple of texts after the game, one text that said you aren’t just good, you are “Sweet 16″ good. I think that night reflected that we could be that good, but I don’t think our play in the last six weeks tells us that we can’t be that good.
BM: Since Blake Jenkins started his first game against ETSU, the Bruins have gone on a 14 game winning streak. Talk a little about the 4 position’s evolution throughout this season if you would.
CRB: Yeah, you know that substitution was more about, “let’s find someone that can guard Adam Sollazzo”. He’s a big, penetrating point guard, and as we looked at video leading up to that game, he was totally the focus of their offense. And, he’d end up scoring a lot of points if you helped on him too quickly, then he’d pick you apart. I mean, we had clip after clip of guys getting dunks because their man helped too quick and he fouled the guy. And so, we wanted somebody that would make his scores tougher in one-on-one, and we wouldn’t have to help off those other guys. And Blake is long and athletic and a good defender on the ball, and he did a really good job that night. Adam Barnes came in that night when Blake got tired or in foul trouble and did a good job on him. And then later on, actually Ian did a good job in the tournament game on him. But that was the reason Blake started. If we had started- they were playing four guards and a post player- if we had started Mick and Scott both, which was our starting line-up at the time, neither of them can guard Sollazzo, so we would have had a hard time guarding Sollazzo with anybody. And it just didn’t make sense to even start the game- and I was struggling offensively with both bigs in the line-up. It’s not how we play. We play four out- one in. I was struggling with a way for us to play while they were together. And we did fine that way, but I think it has made us better. Partly it’s because Blake has played well most of the time, but just going back to the four guys that can shoot… Now, you ask about the four position. Brandon and Trevor pretty much shared that spot a year ago, and neither of them have had a decent shooting year, and when you play four out- one in, you’ve gotta have guys making shots. And they both contribute in different ways. This weekend Trevor came in against ETSU when they had two bigs in the lineup and did great, and Brandon didn’t play. And the next night, when Gulf Coast’s 4 was more of a shooter, Brandon came in and did a good job defensively. So we’ve used those guys more about match ups than who is playing better than the other one.
BM: Speaking of Blake, how do you react when a player dunks? Maybe it is just your general steely reserve on the court, but from a fan’s perspective it seems like you may think dunks are a nuisance. Am I wrong here?
CRB: I think, if you try to dunk it, and it’s a harder play than trying to score it with a layup or whatever the other option would be, if there is less chance of the ball going in, I don’t like it. I don’t. To me that’s a selfish play. The same way that throwing a pass behind the back would be if the other way is more effective. If I’ve got a great passer that can throw a behind the back pass in the right place at the right time, then that is okay. You know, my job as a coach is for us to be as effective as we can be. And I have no problem with he, or Scott, or Mick or anyone else that can dunk it. If it’s literally as easy or easier, I wouldn’t know [laughter]- whether its easier or not. But, look, we’ve all seen in our lifetime a whole lot of dunks missed. And who knows whether it is going to be a one-point game or not. That’s how we talk about every possession. If you foul up on defense because you’re not focused and you give up a three-point shot, that is a three-point mistake. If you’ve done the best you can and they run a good play and the kid makes a good shot, that’s one thing. If you’ve lost your focus out there and make a mistake that gives them points, then it is the same thing as missing that dunk, it’s the same thing as missing that pass. That’s what a coach does, he makes his team as effective as they can be. I’m not really interested, I mean, I think our team is an exciting team, but if it weren’t I wouldn’t worry about it if it was good. Does that make sense?
BM: Yeah, that makes complete sense.
BM: Do you think the Lipscomb game is an important event to hold on to as we leave the A-Sun?
CRB: Yes. I think it is. You know, if I could have my own personal way we would never play the game again and it would be alright with me. Because it is a game that creates a lot, at least for me, a lot of pressure. It’s the game that everyone shows up for, that everyone puts emphasis on, and I wish that people felt that way about every game here. I wish the students felt that way, I wish the alumni felt that way, I wish everybody wanted to come to every game we play in here. It almost becomes a little irritating [laugh], you know what I mean. Therefore, when we do have a bad game and lose to them, and our record has not been as good with them as it has been with anyone else in the league. And then, I guess, it’s like the Alabama/Auburn football game. So many people put so much emphasis on that, and you can go 10-0, they don’t really care. You lost to Alabama, or you lost to Auburn. There is some of that with this game that I don’t enjoy. But our plan is to play in both places, two games each year. I think if you have got a game that creates that much interest, a non-conference game that can fill your gym in both campuses it would be crazy not to play the game.
BM: Speaking of Lipscomb, what is up with “Bisons”? Do you think the grammatically incorrect mascot name is a reflection on the institution’s educational priorities, or was it just an initial slip by a really bad editor?
CRB: They’ve changed it though, didn’t they?
BM: Well, they are trying to change it.
CRB: They have, everything they use on their website is Bison. It’s no longer used as “Bisons”.
BM: Well, right. [laughter]
CRB: It sounded like their explanation was, was… kind of murky… “Well, we’re not really changing it.. but”. So I don’t know… [smirking] It’s certainly [laughter], it’s certainly not any of my business as a basketball coach, although my dad was a sportswriter, so it’s important to get things right. You know what, here is what I think; I think it is entirely up to them to call their team whatever they want to call it. We changed from the Rebels to the Bruins one time. So, you know, if they want to become the “Fighting Bison” they want to become the, you know, it’s up to them [laughter], I don’t know. But you know, one of the best signs that our student section ever had was, “Bisons Is Not A Word”. It’s something I’ll always remember seeing.
BM: March Madness is almost upon us. People are, of course, speculating on who Belmont would draw. Who would you rather play out of these four teams: Michigan, Marquette, Georgetown, or Baylor?
CRB: None of the above.
CRB: You know, it would be crazy for me to let you put that in there [smirking], because it is amazing what people find. I would literally, you know, we are so tied up in our own year… I try to watch games because i’m a voter in the USA Today/ESPN thing, is that what it is? So I try to follow up pretty closely, but in terms of trying to find time to watch those teams play, about all I can do is catch glimpses and watch their results. So, at this point I wouldn’t have a good idea who might, or might not, be a good match-up for us. And as soon as somebody thinks it is a good one for us, it usually isn’t and vice-versa. You know, it’s gonna be a top 15 or 16 team that we play, and it will be good.
BM: I really appreciate your time. Thank you.
The 14 seeds have had some success in this tournament they call “The Big Dance”. They have reached the Sweet Sixteen on two occasions. This feat was most recently accomplished by the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, everyone’s second favorite Tennessee basketball program. The 14 seed has won about 14% percent of time, but what if Belmont landed at the 14? Who would they play? Lets take a look..
When you think of the University of Michigan, you think of Rich Rodriguez and the tremendous job he did on the gridiron, right? What you do not think about is John Beilein and the five out motion that he made famous at West Virginia. Beilien’s 2012 Wolverines are an athletic group with a 23-8 record and a 13-5 Big Ten conference record, tied for best in the conference. This team has played the best, and beat the best. The Wolverines have beat nine top 50 RPI teams including wins against Ohio State and in state rival Michigan State. This is a battle tested team that boasts one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Michigan is led by son of Tim Hardaway, Tim Hardaway, Jr. The 6’ 6” sophomore guard has started all 31 games for the Wolverines and is averaging 14.5 points per game. This guard heavy team does not start any player over 6’ 9” and depends on a large percentage of their points to come from behind the arc (37.3 percent, 10th highest in the nation), sound familiar? Michigan is sending one of their best teams in program history to the tourney hoping to erase the memory of… TIMEOUT!! TIMEOUT!! What? No more timeouts?..
Buzz Williams took over this Marquette program from one of this authors most admired coaches, Tom Crean. Buzz has won 94 games since taking over in 2008 and led them to a Sweet Sixteen last season. The Golden Eagles hail from the mighty Big East and has racked up a 14-4 record in conference and 25-6 overall, good for a top ten AP ranking. This team looks good on the floor, do they match up on paper?
The Golden Eagles thrive on forcing turnovers. They are forcing their opponents to turn the ball over on 23.7 percent of possessions while posting one of the nations top steal percentages at 12.5. On offense the Eagles are led by Big East Player of the Year candidate, Jae Crowder and senior guard Darius Johnson-Odom. They have combined to average almost 36 points a game. Marquette is not the most efficient team or the best shooting team in the country. However they are the top scoring offense in the Big East at 76.1 points per game. How is that possible? Thanks for asking. This team plays at a high pace and attacks the rim. They produce 23 percent of their scoring from the foul line. Sounds like a semi-famous Marquette alum who was handed an NBA championship..
Here is another Big East team that has some history with the Belmont Bruins. If you remember, Roy Hibbert and company easily handled a helpless Bruin front line in the first round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. John Thompson the Third’s team this season may not be littered with potential first round draft picks, but talent is never a problem for the Hoyas. They are 22-7 overall are currently sitting at #11 in the AP poll, #13 in the Kenpom ratings.
This version of the Hoyas makes their living on the defensive end of the floor, and not by forcing turnovers. This grind-it-out style of play leads to a slow-paced half court game. They are surrendering only .91 points per possession and forcing opponents to shoot a measly 43.3 percent effective from the field, seventh best in the country. This slowed paced style forces opponents to be brutally efficient. The Hoyas put up these defensive numbers against the 8th most difficult schedule in the country. This does not sound like any fun..
The Baylor Bears do not have a long and storied basketball program and are still trying to recover from the Patrick Dennehy tragedy. Baylor has only made it past the first round of the NCAA tournament once (post 1950). However, this year’s team started out the year winning its first 17 games before losing to Kansas at home. In fact, Baylor dropped both matchups against the Jayhawks as well as both matchups against the Missouri Tigers. This team runs over lesser competition, and has shown struggles with top teams.
Perry Jones is the guy to watch in this one and is a good example of why leaving for the NBA early is a good idea. Yes. NBA. Early. This Baylor team does not lack in athleticism or talent. Perry Jones leads the Baylor in scoring at just over 14 points per game. Jones, along with the rest of the crew, has put together a very efficient and dynamic offense scoring 1.10 points per possession and shooting 53 percent effective from the field. Any team that matches up with Baylor better have some offensive firepower in the bank. Because that Britney Griner is tall…
Belmont struggles playing against length and size, two characteristics that both Baylor and Georgetown possess. Marquette is a team that is able to consistently score around the rim and from the foul line, both high percentage locations. Michigan, on the other hand, depends largely on their outside game to generate offense. Don’t think Kerron Johnson, Ian Clark, and Drew Hanlen would love to face off against a guard heavy team? Think again. Michigan provides Belmont with the best matchups and in my opinion, the best chance for a win.
What team do you want to face?
First, it is imperative that we understand something at this point: a 15 seed would suck. A lot.
Why? In the 15 v 2 game, the 15 seed has only won four times. None of those four teams won a second game. In other words, a 15 seed is a one and done consolation prize for low major conference teams who happened to win their conference tournament.
That’s the primary reason why I personally don’t expect Belmont to be a 15 seed. Even though Belmont earned a 15 seed in their first three tournament appearances, the Bruins have become a well known mid-major staple among those who are “in the know” in college basketball. How ever, in the interest of being thorough, let’s take a brief look at the potential two seeds.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll look at the four projected two seeds according to CBSSports.com: Missouri, Ohio State, Michigan State and Duke.
Missouri is a prolific offensive team. According to StatSheet.com, the Tigers lead the country in points per posession at 1.19. The team is lead by Senior Guard Marcus Denmon who scores 18 points per game on 47% shooting. The Tigers’ Achilles heel is two-fold; first, although the team is 27-4 many of those wins came against far inferior talent and second, Kansas State.
Missouri’s non-conference strength of schedule was 287th – compare that with Belmont’s 66th ranked non-conference strength of schedule. There’s a caveat here: Missouri split the series with Kansas and beat Baylor twice so they can win against superior talent, but the Tigers lost both contests against 21-9 Kansas State. On Feb 21st, the Wildcats went in to Columbia, MO and beat the Tigers on their home court by ten. Aside from these two shortfalls, Missouri could be a one seed and with a Big 12 tournament win, may still earn a one seed. Missouri will go far in the tournament no matter where they are seeded.
Don’t be fooled by Ohio State’s #10 AP ranking, Jared Sullinger and his band of Nuts are good enough to win a national championship – Ken Pomeroy has them at #2. What the Buckeyes lack in flashy stats they make up for in defensive efficiency. They’re one of the best in the nation at limiting their opponents’ chances. Ohio State ranks second in the nation in defensive rebound percentage and first in the nation in opponents’ points per possession.
With a win in yesterday East Lansing over Big Ten front-runner Michigan State, the Buckeyes may have snuck into a one seed for the Big Ten Tournament, but the two teams remain in a three way tie with Michigan. Ohio State does not lack strength of schedule – they’ve played the 14th toughest schedule this year. The Buckeyes’ sole “bad” loss came to Illinois. If Belmont draws Ohio State, we’ll need Scott Saunders, Mick Hedgepeth, Boomer Herndon and Adam Mark on the floor to cover Jared Sullinger.
Who had the toughest schedule in college basketball this season? Michigan State. It’s not only because the Big 10 has been good this year, the Spartans’ non-conference strength of schedule ranks 15th in the country. Michigan State is led by Draymond Green, a Senior Forward who averages 16 points and 10 rebounds per game, leading the team in both categories.
Michigan State ranks in the Top 10 nationally in only one statistical category: rebound percentage. However, the Spartans are ranked third in the country according to Ken Pomeroy and third in the Massey College Basketball Ranking Comparison. Draymond Green is the heart and soul of this team. For my money, they are the most susceptible to upset of the potential two seeds. If a team develops a scheme to keep the ball out of Green’s hands and force the Spartans to win another way they can be defeated. That, however, will not be an easy task in any round of the tournament. This is another Tom Izzo team that isn’t flashy but manages to win games.
If you think it’s a coincidence that I saved the Blue Devils for last, you’re wrong. I would pay money for Belmont to draw Duke again. Unfortunately, I bet Coach K would pay ten times my wager to avoid Belmont. The Bruins and Blue Devils have faced each other only twice. Duke has claimed both contests but only by a combined two points.
Duke is a big question mark this year for many in the college basketball world. Duke suffered through the 2nd most difficult schedule this year and dropped only five games – only one of those to a sub-50 RPI team (Miami’s RPI was 51). Yet, even with wins over Kansas, UNC, Michigan State, and Michigan the onlookers want more.
Duke always has a chance to win the ACC and that’s what it will take to move the Blue Devils from a two seed to a one seed. This Duke team is like all Duke teams. They’re balanced on offense and they play defense when they feel like it. Duke ranks 62nd nationally in rebounds per game – an area of their game I’m sure Coach Krzyzewski will be working on in the wake of 18 point blowout at home at the hands of Tobacco Road rival UNC; a game in which Duke was out-rebounded 42 to 22.
I’d give anything to watch Belmont take on Duke again. At the same time I hope they don’t. Duke will be a one or a two seed and I do not want Belmont to be a 15 seed.
At the end of the day I don’t want Belmont to play any of these teams. Not because I don’t think Belmont could win, but because these are all teams who believe they have a chance at a national championship and with that in mind, won’t overlook a team like Belmont early in the tournament.
No matter what team lines up against the Bruins in a few weeks, they’ll be wise to prepare heavily. Already comparisons are being drawn to last year’s Belmont team, but the two could not be more different.
I can’t wait for Selection Sunday which, in my opinion, is the single greatest day in all of collegiate sport.
The above picture is of Belmont Head Coach Rick Byrd. He is smiling because not only is he taking the Belmont Bruins to their fifth NCAA Tournament berth since 2006, but because he has his Bruins on a red-hot 14 game winning streak heading into the Big Dance.
A Look Back At The Season
Belmont almost did what the Byrd Cage predicted back in its first post in November against Duke at their home opener in Cameron indoors. The Crazies were almost left silent by Coach Byrd’s disciplined team that didn’t get its head down all game, and came back from a significant deficit in what is, arguably, the hardest place in college athletics to sustain confidence and control the game. The game was ultimately lost by one point, and everyone pointed to the Bruins as being “for real” and all those sports qualities that the talking heads give sports teams they ultimately do not know anything about. But the Bruins had their chance to prove themselves four days later in Memphis, only to lose by 16 points.
Still waiting for that “signature” win, the Bruin faithful kept in good spirits heading into conference play, and looking to get some quality wins from non-conference opponents on the national level. Playing at MTSU twice, the Bruins played a Blue Raider team that looked to be the best in their history, and split the series 1-1. After a quality handling of future OVC foe Tennessee State University, the Bruins arrived at Miami of Ohio on December 17 with a record of 10-3, the respectable losses to Duke, Memphis, and MTSU in Murfreesboro. The team had confidence, their fans expecting another 30 win season, and their opponents largely expecting a whole heck of a lot from every match-up.
But it wasn’t as easy as everyone thought, and the magic season started to get a little messy. Belmont dropped two in a row at Miami of Ohio and Marshall. The Bruins limped back to Clarksville with a win against struggling future OVC opponent Austin Peay on December 21st and had Christmas to think about what they did. Who were the Bruins? What happened to that 30 win season we were all expecting? A few more wins got the Bruins back in the flow— moving to squash their rival in the the Battle of the Boulevard, a sold-out rivalry game to a struggling Lipscomb team. But the Bisons had different ideas and had 6 of their players were in double-digits, giving the Bruins a thorough wake-up call after a beating 85-74.
It was time to get worried. Dropping another game to USC Upstate, the Bruins nursed a 13-7 overall record toward the end of January. There was a major flaw somewhere in all this basketball, and if anyone could change things around and get this team playing to its full potential, it was Coach Byrd. On January 23, 2012, Coach Byrd made a decision that would change the season for the Bruins. Starting Blake Jenkins against ETSU that night to defend 6-6 senior guard Adam Sollazzo, the Bruins had a new life injected into the team. Winning 14 straight, it is hard to over emphasize the way the team has responded to the injection of Jenkins’ play (You can read our breakdown on “The Blake Jenkins Effect” here).
A lot has happened since ETSU that January night for Belmont. The Bruins are now ranked in the top offensively in the nation, Ken Pomeroy has Belmont ranked 25th overall, and Mid-Major Top 25 has Belmont ranked 15th. The Bruins go into the Madness with one of the top winning streaks in the NCAA and have an awful lot of coaches hoping the Selection Committee doesn’t choose that music school from Nashville come Sunday.
Belmont received the highest seed in their history last year at 13, and faced a number 4 Wisconsin team that many members of the sports media picked to be upset by the 30-4 Bruins. But the Badgers were too much under the basket for the Bruins, and our 3-point shooting just wasn’t working. The Bruins’ tournament dreams were crushed under a score of 72-58. Badger Coach Bo Ryan’s mixture of stalwart big men and tempo change, moved the game from Belmont’s usual high level of possessions to a creeping slow pace.
What seed will Belmont receive this year? That is a story that will have to wait for Sunday to break, but we can speculate. Many of the “experts” have Belmont at a 14 seed this year. As of right now, CBS has us playing number 3 seed Michigan at the Columbus, Ohio tournament site. Other 3 seeds are Baylor, Georgetown, and Marquette.
The Byrd Cage will have you covered on all previews as the week progresses. Be sure to follow us on twitter via @BelmontByrdCage and “Like” us on Facebook for all your Belmont basketball needs.