The tournament field is out, and the Hoyas earned the three seed in the Midwest region, mercifully avoiding Ohio, VCU and Davidson in the first round. Their opponents — the Belmont Bruins — are no slouches, though. They’re riding a 14-game winning streak that started all the way back on January 23 and cruised to the Atlantic Sun regular season title before beating Jacksonville, East Tennessee State and Florida Gulf Coast in the conference tournament to seal an automatic bid to the Big Dance. Overall they went 27-7, including a 16-2 mark in conference. They challenged themselves early on, losing to Duke by one on the road to open the season before losing by 16 to Memphis in their second game.
More about the Bruins after the jump.
Belmont is located in Nashville, Tennessee and this is their fifth-ever NCAA tournament appearance, which isn’t particularly impressive until you consider that their first appearance was in 2006. Their second appearance (2007) saw them face off against second-seeded Georgetown, and the Blue and Gray won by 25 to kick off their run to the Final Four. In 2008 the 15th-seeded Bruins (nearly) captured the hearts of the country when they lost by one to Duke in the first round. Last year saw them win a program-high 30 games and qualify for the tourney, but the result was no different as they lost by 14 to Wisconsin.
Head Coach Rick Byrd has been at Belmont for 24 (!!!) years, and has steered the Bruins to at least 20 wins in six of the last seven years. His Bruins are a veritable offensive juggernaut this year, ranking fourth in the country with 81.5 points per game. On a related note, they’re very unselfish with the ball, and average over 17 dimes per game, which is the fifth-highest mark in the country.
The Bruins don’t get their points by relying on the brilliance of any one player—five players average over 21 minutes per game, with four scoring in double digits and another two averaging 9.8 and 8.5 points per contest. Junior guard Kerron Johnson’s 14.1 scoring average leads the team, as do his 5.2 assists per game. He gets his points pretty efficiently too, as he shoots 53% from the floor—although he’s a mediocre outside shooter, having made just 24 of 76 shots from behind the arc this year (31.6%).
Johnson’s relative lack of longrange success is more than offset by junior Ian Clark and senior Drew Hanlen, who shot 41% and 48% respectively from three-point land this year. Clark made 88 threes this year, while Hanlen made 91—by comparison, Hollis Thompson led the Blue and Gray with “just” 55 threes this year and Jason Clark was second with 44 makes. Sophomore swingman J.J. Mann isn’t shy either, as he made 44 threes this year, albeit at a relatively inefficient 32.4% rate.