I need to start with a confession:
I honestly don’t remember where I was when the Bruins beat Lipscomb in the 2006 Atlantic Sun Championship game to go to their first ever NCAA tournament.
I need to start with a confession:
I honestly don’t remember where I was when the Bruins beat Lipscomb in the 2006 Atlantic Sun Championship game to go to their first ever NCAA tournament.
Over the last six years it has been almost tradition to cheer for the one and done Belmont Bruins. Each year our expectations rise a little bit more and we wonder if we’re ever going to be the next Gonzaga or George Mason. So, how does this team stack up against tournament teams in the past?
Note: This Belmont team boasts the highest RPI (58) in school history due to their sub-200 strength of schedule. Take that with a grain of salt when considering the following statistics.
The current Bruins team has by far been the best of all the tournament teams in this statistic. They average 81.5 points-per-game, which is the most of the past teams, but isn’t out of the norm for any of these Rick Byrd coached squads. The team that got shelled by UCLA in 2006 averaged 80.6 and last year’s 30-win A-Sun powerhouse averaged 79.7. It hasn’t been unusual to see the Bruins in the top-20 in the nation in this category. But what is different about this team is that they are 4th in the nation in points per possession and although they shoot a strong 37.8% from the arc, they are 13th in the nation with a 48.4 overall FG%. This team has a better inside presence than last years team, which could come in handy if the 3-point shot isn’t falling. But if you want to know the best Bruin team with an inside game you have to look back to 2006 when the Bruins we’re scoring more than 50% of their points from inside the arc.
The verdict: This year’s Bruins are the best in their NCAA tournament history in overall scoring. They are a more well-rounded scoring team we have ever had. If they can push the score into the 80’s they may just have the offense to overwhelm any nationally ranked team in the country.
The Byrd Cage has always been extra critical of Belmont’s rebounding ability and historically this team has been a very average rebounding team. Our best rebounding team we ever had was the 2007 team (with the Boomer), when they ranked 55th in the nation. However, they were pitiful on the offensive boards (34% offensive rebound percentage). What made last years Bruins team so effective was in their offensive rebounding, averaging almost 13 per game ranking them in the top 50 in the nation in that particular statistic. The current Bruins team is mediocre at best in the offensive rebounding category.
The verdict: Second chance points are essential to beating teams that are better than you. Keeping the opponent from scoring pesky second chance points is what is going to keep Belmont in the game when they are trying to keep pace. This could be a struggle. If the Bruins can grab at least 14 offensive boards, they give themselves an excellent chance at winning historically.
Well, whoever it was that said “defense wins championships,” I hope they are wrong. The 2012 Bruins are, plainly stated, bad defensively. What made last year’s 30-win team a threat coming into the tournament was their ability to take away points. They averaged a staggering, eye-popping, dehumanizing 19 turnovers per game, while this year’s team ranks towards the bottom compared to the other four tournament teams with 14.5. Last year’s team also ranked 2nd in the nation by giving up only .89 points per possession. This year’s team: .97 point per possession. But this isn’t the worst we have ever had- remember that team that “almost beat Duke”? They averaged 1.01.
The verdict: Let’s just hope that we run into a team who ate whole sticks of butter for breakfast, because it’s going to be hard to stop any top-25 ranked team (remember Memphis). However, if the 2008 team is any indication, anything can happen in the tournament. (Please note: Article was written before Georgetown was drawn as opponent. Stay tuned for our Georgetown previews in the days ahead)
Offensive Turnovers - I probably bang this drum harder than anyone and have taken some flack for it, but when I said that Blake Jenkins’ four turnovers against ETSU was a sign of bad things to come if gone uncorrected, I stand by the statement. The cure for a bad defense is limiting chances for the other team. This team is the best we have ever seen in that statistic. Giving up just 12.4 turnovers per game, this year’s Bruins are excellent in ball-control. If you compare that with our worst team we have ever sent to the tournament (in this category), the 2006 team gave up 16.2 TOPG and even last year’s 30-win team gave up 13.7.
The verdict: Ball control is perhaps the Bruins strongest attribute, and if they can keep their composure while being under the big lights of the national spot-light- they will win ball games. But they have to be perfect! If they give up more than 10 possessions we could be in for a long night.
Editor’s Note: This list is based on single season performances by players from the five tournaments teams, we invite your discussion.
Center - Boomer Herndon (2006) 14.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg
We all complain about how Boomer hurt the pace of his team, but like I may have hinted at above, he actually didn’t. The Bruins averaged more possessions and more points per game than most of the other Bruin tournament teams with Boomer in the lineup. His 7.4 rebounds per game in 2006 are almost 2 rebounds better than both Saunders and Hedgepeth this year. Hate him or love him, that “UT reject” was our UT reject- just erase the line drive hook shots from the UCLA game out of your mind.
Forward - Shane Dansby (2008) 13.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg
If you saw this guy in class, you would know that he not only was an amazing offensive force on the court but he was also a fabulous texter, leading all Belmont students with 37 per minute. But, in all seriousness, the Bruins have never seen a guy who could rebound and shoot like Dansby did in 2008. He shot 51% from the field, but when you consider that he also 41 for 109 from the arc, that FG% looks even stronger.
Shooting Guard - Justin Hare (2008) 14.7 ppg, 91.8 FT%
Justin Hare will forever be immortalized for his clutch free throw shooting in A-Sun tournament. No one on any of these tournament teams have gotten close to Justin Hare’s free throw shooting ability. Mix in his smooth stroke behind the arc and you have a Bruin player who is one of the best ever.
Shooting Guard - Drew Hanlen (2012) 48.1 3FG%, 3.8 apg, 3.4 rpg
Currently riding the Byrd Cage Bump (he’s been on fire since his interview, coincidence?), Drew Hanlen is one of the best 3-point shooters in the country this year. With Lipscomb’s Burgason gone, Nashville’s best shooter is old ‘Hoopin Hanlen’. His other contributions of grabbing loose boards and distributing the ball well has shown a mature, clutch guard.
Point Guard - Kerron Johnson (2012) 14 ppg, 5.1 apg, 1.4 spg
I have been critical of Kerron Johnson all season, mostly because he has failed to live up to his “god-mode” 3 point shooting and defensive statistics from last year. But, by the end of the season, Johnson has turned it around and has really settled into his role of passer, lane-driver, and pest on defense.
Sixth Man - Kerron Johnson (2011) 7.8 ppg, 2.7 apg, 2.0 spg
What made the Bruins so spectacular to watch last year was Kerron Johnson off the bench. It has been our speculation at the Byrd Cage that perhaps Kerron Johnson’s numbers were slipping this year was because he was being overplayed. When he was averaging just 18 minutes per game, he was scary good. However, since the Lipscomb up-set he’s been on point and proving himself to be the true starting point guard of this team.
1 – 2011 – One word- Depth. Our defense last year was so lethal because we were able to press for an entire game.
2 – 2012 – A remedy for a bad defense is a dehumanizing offense. Best offense we’ve ever seen.
3 – 2008 – Anybody else sick of the “Almost beat Duke” talks? X-factor? Justin Hare on the free throw line (think of him as a country-western Steve Nash)
4 – 2006 – Pace, pace, pace, they’d wear you down and then B-is-for-Boomer would slap the ball in your face. Just don’t ask him to post up with a sky hook.
5 – 2007 – It was really a transition year (pre-Renfro, pre-Campbell), that turned into a team that got scorching hot in the ASun tournament and rained fire on Johnson City beating ETSU by over 30 points in the championship.
Love the list? Hate the list? Let us know in the comments!
If this was a preview of the Ohio Valley Conference, Belmont passed with flying colors against Austin Peay on Monday night.
Scott Saunders must love the Governors as well, as his combined points and rebounds during our home and away match-ups this year is at 46 points and 16 rebounds.
The Bruins never let up, and perhaps the biggest story in the game was the 21 forced turnovers against the Governors. Our defense was relentless, our perimeter defending held the Govs to 16.7% behind the arc, and 42% from the paint. Our conditioning looked top tier, the opponents huffing down the court with five minutes left in the first half behind our fast breaks and spot-on passing.
Drew Hanlen scored 13 with 5 assists, while Mick Hedgepeth scored the same and had 7 boards. Blake Jenkins’ game was explosive as well. His spot-on assist to Scott Saunders in the first half looked like a perfectly placed throw from Manning to Manningham, and his dunk (although he was abruptly benched following) in the second half showed the spark that has caught fire on this team, bringing them to new levels.
The reserves even got some time to show what they were capable of, with red-shirt freshman Reece Chamberlain showing promise under the basket with his speed and ball-handling skills. He played 14 solid minutes of basketball, went 3-4 with 2 assists.
And with the entire Belmont (starting) bench holding their hands up in the “O” signal, red-shirt freshman Chad Lang entered the game. The excitement of the crowd was really unbelievable at this point, especially with us being up by nearly 40 points. I mean, the guy is huge. Almost 7 feet tall and 275 lbs, Lang towered over their Peay’s tallest at 6’8”. His bulky frame, combined with us being up the 40 points, just begged the refs for lame calls. But Lang’s charm to the student body is not just by size alone, his abilities are clear. His patented shot- hook? lob? toss? Okay, i’ll just call it the “Lang”- The “Lang” is dependable. It has clearly been practiced with discipline and just begs for more chances. Lang has the size and basics, he definitely does NOT need me to tell him that- I look forward to his development this off-season.
All in all, Belmont has been revving things up the closer we get to the tournament. If you haven’t noticed, our offense has been ranked in the top 10 in the NCAA. We are now ranked 5th in points-per-game and 7th in assists-per-game.
If Belmont keeps this up, well, it is from here to anywhere…
You may have seen this guy’s awful dunk on the Byrd Cage Facebook page or even here. I guess it doesn’t even count as a dunk, because it didn’t go in, but defining Jordan Burgason on that one clip alone is simply not fair, I hate to say.
Now understand this, I hate Lipscomb. As far as journalistic integrity goes, I post the truth- but you need to understand that the truth is going to be a bit biased here. This fact is unavoidable. I love the Bruins and I hate the Bisons.
All that being said, Jordan Burgason needs to be talked about. He is currently ranked fourth in the entire NCAA in 3-Point Field Goal % Per Game. He also averages 16.9 points per game.
So, it isn’t like he is just playing a few minutes and shoots a few threes. The guy is clutch, and the fact that we held to him four attempts (making two) is an admirable goal in and of itself.
So what went wrong last time?
PART ONE: LOSING AT HOME
Belmont’s defense allowed double-digit points from every starter and one bench player against Lipscomb on January 6 putting together a total of 85 points against us in total. We have only allowed three other teams to score 80 points or more against us this year, and those teams were; Memphis, MTSU, and Marshall. We even kept Duke below 80.
So what was the deal with Lipscomb? That always seems to be the question. Drew Hanlen, in our exclusive Byrd Cage interview, even said the same thing- and he didn’t have an answer. But to not look at last game as two separate halves drastically changes the story.
In the first half, Belmont and Lipscomb were evenly matched. Ian Clark had 14 by halftime, Drew Hanlen and Clark were a combined 6-9 from the three, and our bench even had five steals. We walked into the locker room at half-time up, 39-36, feeling hopeful about the outcome of the game. But things were going in for Lipscomb as well. Shooting over 50%, the Bisons obviously didn’t feel too bad about their position coming back out.
This is where things changed.
J.J. Mann made 1 out of 7 three-pointers. Kerron missed all four of his three-point attempts. In the second half we shot 5-19 at the 3 point arc. A miserable 26.3%. Of course they out-rebounded us in the second half. Our post players scored 7 total, with only 6 total rebounds.
We fell apart. They made 15 of 16 free throws.
I felt sick.
Lipscomb took the game 85-74 and proceeded to stand in the middle of our court in a huddle after the game.
“Get off the floor!” some yelled. ”Isn’t it curfew?” others screamed. Others stood silently, holding up 4 fingers. You may have won the battle, but we always win the war Bruin fans seemed to pronounce without words.
Defeat at home, in the worst way.
But now it is February, after-all, the Bruins favorite time of the year.
Tonight we will come in swinging.
PART TWO: THE THREE PART COMBO FOR WINNING AT ALLEN ARENA
1. Blake Jenkins. Blake has steadily risen to the top of the Bruins lineup, proving he can score below and stand tall as a strong arm defender in both the passing and shooting lanes. Jenkins’ success tonight will be a deciding factor in tonight’s game.
2. Controlling the ball. Drew Hanlen leads the tempo of the game in explosive bursts. His expert footwork, skilled ball-handling, speed, and minimal turnovers give Belmont the edge in the A-Sun when it comes to controlling games. But I would like to see what the Bruins can look like as a controlled, composed, and in-charge squad at the end of games. I haven’t seen that this year. Hanlen’s last minute lob down the court at the end of their last game against UNF gave Hanlen an ear-full from Coach Byrd when we were up and needed to control the clock. We’ll need to be focused down to the last-minute of tonight’s game with a quiet confidence to win at Allen Arena.
3. Shutting Down Jordan Burgason. The man has averaged 21.5 points a game since the first meeting with Belmont. He is, frankly stated, on fire and this must be squelched. While their team has only gone .500 since our last meeting, their inconsistency as a team cannot be counted upon at Allen Arena tonight. Hands must be in Burgason’s face during every shot attempt. An open Burgason equals a losing Belmont squad.
Now, if you will, a moment of silence for the last A-Sun conference rivalry game between these historic squads.
Tip-Off is at Allen Arena tonight at 6. Tickets may still be available here
Nashville Sports Talk Station 104.5 The Zone’s Kevin Ingram spoke with the Byrd Cage about the Lipscomb rivalry, expectations of this Belmont team, and his favorite memory of the Belmont squad.
Kevin Ingram joins the Bruin Sports Network for his 10th year as The Voice of the Bruins, and is co-host of 104.5 The Zone’s Wake Up Zone. He also does sideline reporting for Vanderbilt football and has play-by-play duties for the football radio broadcasts.
The Byrd Cage is grateful for the chance to interview Ingram as his experience with Belmont basketball is unparalleled in the profession.
Brett McReynolds: Thanks for agreeing to answer some of the Byrd Cage’s questions, Kevin. If you wouldn’t mind, tell us a little bit about your experience in the Belmont/Lipscomb rivalry.
Kevin Ingram: I think Friday will be my 17th game to call in the series, including the 2006 A-Sun final. It’s really an honor to be a part of, always a great atmosphere and a fun matchup. One of those games where it’s cool just to see the two teams on the same floor. Intense and hard-fought games, but typically cleanly played and with good sportsmanship. It is interesting to me how in many of the games Lipscomb’s won, the formula has been similiar…. Bruins open a first half lead, Bisons claw back and get within single figures by halftime… then Lipscomb locks things down defensively in the second half. The 2011 blowout by Belmont was stunning to watch, never thought I would see a Boulevard Battle that lopsided.
BM: What did you see specifically in our last match-up that really stood out?
KI: The first 2012 meeting at the Curb Center was especially disappointing for Belmont. It looked like the Bruins were in control with 8 or 9 minutes to play, but Lipscomb played great defense, made all the plays and hit everything down the stretch. I have a feeling Belmont is going to play well the second time around, especially with the emergence of Blake Jenkins. Allen Arena is a tough place to win… the crowd is right on top of the floor, and I would imagine the lighting can be a challenge for shooting if you’re not used to it.
BM: Do you think Belmont’s move to OVC will hurt the rivalry? Do you see Lipscomb taking the jump to the OVC soon?
KI: From my conversations with the coaches and others, it sounds like the rivalry will continue even with Belmont going to the OVC next season. Scheduling non-conference games is so difficult, a home-and-home would make a lot of sense. It will lose something with the teams no longer being in the same conference… that dynamic has certainly made it interesting. I do hope they will schedule the games when students are in, as the atmosphere loses something otherwise. Not sure about Lipscomb going to the OVC. I also hope Belmont can keep playing ETSU, they’ve been a good rival in the A-Sun.
BM: At the beginning of the season, some bracket experts had Belmont projected as high as an 11 seed in the tournament. The latest brackets project Mercer in the NCAA tournament. How do you see Belmont now versus your preseason expectations? What do you think has been Belmont’s greatest weakness?
KI: Belmont has lost more games this season than we might have expected, although last season spoiled us and raised expectations to ridiculous levels. Those one-point games are the ones that keep coaches up at night. If Belmont wins the conference tournament, they’ll likely have in the mid-20′s in wins… probably looking at about a 14. At least that would be my guess…. they’re better than a 15, but who knows when it comes to seeding.
BM: Give us one memory from the Belmont/Lipscomb rivalry that really stands out to you.
KI: As for a favorite memory in the Belmont-Lipscomb games I’ve been a part of… it’s hard to come up with anything better than the 2006 conference championship game. Every part of that day was intense… from the silence of breakfast with the team, to the hard-fought first 40 minutes and overtime… so many plays by different guys… Justin Hare’s 3-point play might have been the biggest in the program’s history, certainly in the NCAA era. In the end, everyone on the Belmont side was thrilled to win and make the Dance for the first time, but knew that it could have just as easily gone the other way, and the Bisons would be celebrating.
Belmont plays Lipscomb at Allen Arena on Friday. Kevin Ingram will be calling the game. Tip-off is at 6 p.m.