I read a quote from Ian Clark once, and I’ll paraphrase it liberally, that basketball is a game of runs. One team will do well for a time then the other will do well for a time. The trick to being successful is in understanding how to capitalize fully on the times your team is doing well, and how to manage effectively when your team is not.
The same strategy can be used in evaluating a season. With six games left in Belmont’s regular season, it appears that the Bruins have righted the ship from some mid-season struggles and are poised to finish the season on a winning streak heading into the conference tournament. However, not every run in Belmont’s season has been so rosy.
Let’s look back at the season, breaking it down into thirds. Belmont has 31 games on its regular season schedule so I’ll break it down to 10-10-11.
The first third included Belmont’s three toughest opponents (Duke, Memphis & MTSU) as well as the current ASun front-runner Mercer. From November 11th through December 15th Belmont was 7-3, splitting a series with MTSU (both on the road) and losing to then-#6 ranked Duke and then-#10 ranked Memphis in the first two games of the season. In my opinion, Belmont played its best basketball in the first ten games highlighted by wins over Middle and Mercer and an average margin of victory of 16 points in the season’s first seven wins.
The second third of the season is where things began to break down. From a December 17th loss to Miami (OH) to an inexplicable loss to South Carolina Upstate on January 21st, Belmont managed a 6-4 record. On the surface, this doesn’t seem that bad as compared to the record in the first third of the season, however, the four losses, including Marshall and Lipscomb, came at the hands of much worse teams. But during this stretch, Belmont played 6 games away. It’s also important to note that both Christmas and New Year’s occurred during the second third. The highlights of this portion of the season would be a win at Austin Peay, a soon-to-be OVC rival, and a win at home against Marshall, setting the series back to 1-1.
Ultimately, the middle-10 games have served to dictate the overall opinion of Belmont’s season so far. But five games into the final eleven game stretch, the Bruins may well be on the way to righting the ship. With five straight victories over ETSU (Belmont’s favorite road venue), Jacksonville, UNF, Lipscomb and Austin Peay Belmont goes into its second to last road trip of the season with an aim of reminding the Atlantic Sun why its crew has won four of the last six conference championships and why it deserves to jump to the OVC next season. I look at the six games, in order of importance as follows:
- Mercer (Feb 25) – The final game of the season in the same venue as the ASun tournament against the current conference leader. If Belmont and Mercer are still tied for the lead at this point, it could go a long way in determining how Belmont’s ASun tenure will be remembered.
- ETSU (Feb 18) – The Bucs always play tough in Nashville and a loss to ETSU would set Belmont way back.
- Upstate (Feb 20) – Another must win. Belmont can’t lose twice to any ASun opponent and expect to win the tournament.
- Stetson (Feb 13) – We already noted that Stetson is Belmont 2.0. The Bruins handled the Hatters once this season but still can’t sleep on the rematch.
- FGCU (Feb 11) – Should be a walk-thru game, but then again, Upstate should have been as well.
- Kennesaw (Feb 23) – The poor owls of Kennesaw. I expected this team to be better this year. Belmont should win easily.
Let’s also quickly look at Mercer’s remaining five games in order to try and ascertain where they might be on Feb 25. Mercer beat 1Kennesaw in Macon by 30, beat 2Jacksonville and 3UNF by 10 and 11, respectively, beat 4Lipscomb in Nashville by 7 and lost to 5Belmont in the Curb by 4.
If past performance indicates future performance, Mercer should wrap up 4-1. But this is the ASun we’re talking about. Mercer will have to be ready for Lipscomb – the Bison(s?) may decide to play well that day. The Bears should also watch out for Jacksonville and UNF. Both of those teams are improving greatly and judging from Belmont’s past, it’s tough to win in Florida late in the season.
Agree? Disagree? Leave it in the comments for a good old-fashioned, Oxford-style debate.