Such a fun feeling when the first tourney berths are handed out eight days prior to Selection Sunday. Florida Gulf Coast and Harvard have already punched their tickets, and Belmont joined that group Saturday night by winning the Ohio Valley league tournament. In what will probably be the best game of the weekend once all is said and played, Belmont needed to knock out defending champ Murray State to earn an auto bid.
Bruins guard Kerron Johnson sent the game into overtime with a beautiful fadeaway off his weak foot just before time expired -- then won it 70-68 for Belmont with the play seen in the video above. It's the first season for Belmont in the in OVC (previously a member of the Atlantic Sun), and this is the third straight NCAA tournament for Rick Byrd's team.
In fact, Byrd's coached the program to six tournament appearance in the past eight years. Prior to the inaugural invite in 2006, the Bruins had never been to the Big Bracket. On Saturday, the Bruins trailed by 10, took a lead, fell back by seven, and fought its way to an extra session.
A really impressive win there, yet a really sour loss for Murray State, which of course had that huge 2011-12 season that was undefeated into February and culminated with a No. 6 seed in last year's tournament. Isaiah Canaan, a preseason All-American, had a good game but dribbled the ball off his foot with the game tied at 68 and what could've amounted to the final possession.
Yeah, a stinger, for sure. Murray State, at 21-10 doesn't have the oomph to warrant at-large consideration for the NCAA tournament. But they should get a serious look for the NIT. The team is talented enough to win games there.
As for the NCAAs, there's a legacy to carry on here. The Ohio Valley has won its first tournament game in the NCAAs the past four seasons. This Belmont team is equipped to continue that. Guard-oriented and a very effective shooting team from mid range and beyond.
Players to know: Johnson and his teammate, Ian Clark. They are the dynamic backcourt duo that has a claim -- a legitimate one -- to being among the five best tandems in all of college basketball. We detailed Belmont's new look and success behind Johnson and Clark earlier this season on the blog.
- Record: 26-6 overall, 14-2 in Ohio Valley
- Most recent tournament appearance: 2012
- Jerry Palm predicts: 12 seed
- KenPom ranking: 42
- Sagarin ranking: 54
- RPI: 22
- Best wins: at Stanford, Middle
Tennessee State, Ohio
- Worst losses: Northeastern, at Tennessee State
- Notable stat: Belmont shoots 57 percent from 2-point range, second-best in the nation. The shot selection is really impressive, especially when you consider this team doesn't have a big man to anchor in the paint. That's not normally the case with Byrd's teams, but the coach has had to change schemes up this year and his team's ability to make from distance has come through.
Video via Big Lead Sports. For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, like us on Facebook and subscribe to the thrice-a-week podcast on iTunes. You can follow Matt Norlander on Twitter here: @MattNorlander.