Posted on: March 3, 2012 9:35 pm

Tiny Dancers: Belmont Bruins

For the fifth time in seven years, Belmont will play in the NCAA tournament on behalf of the Atlantic Sun. Rick Byrd's had 20 wins with this team in seven of the past nine years, and get this, only Kansas and Belmont have had 12 league wins or more every year for 10 years. The Bruins are leaving the Atlantic Sun on top.

Yep, that's right. After establishing itself as the premier program in the conference, Belmont will head off to join Murray State in the Ohio Valley in 2012-13. Bruin fans chanted "OVC! OVC! OVC!" upon Belmont's bid-clinching 83-69 win over Florida Gulf Coast Saturday, which amounts to the most unlikely chant this weekend we will have this weekend. It's also the saddest. It should be interesting to see how the OVC shapes itself in the coming years. It's possible, even likely, Belmont won't find this success again soon. Prior to 2006, the program had never been to the NCAAs.

Let's get our focus back to this year. Does Belmont stand its best chance at March success? That's arguable. The team's really fun, and terrific on offense -- but not so much on defense. I think last year's 30-5 Bruins team was a better one, but this group has three seniors and three juniors who get significant playing time, so that could accrue to tangible growth. It's all a matter of matchups. What you should know: Belmont is dangerous and likely to be a chic upset pick. Despite being a weak rebounding team, they don't turn the ball over and are fairly staunch in their man-to-man defense.

Byrd is a good tactician as a coach, and they'll no doubt have wrinkles ready for whatever team they face. It's hard to see Belmont getting blown out in its first game.

Player to know: Kerron Johnson. Johnson is the speedy guard who takes on the biggest load for the Bruins. He scores more than 1.2 points per possesion -- only 5-11 Drew Hanlen equals that for Belmont -- and with a 63-percent true shooting percentage, he's in the top one percent of college basketball shooters. He led the team with 14.1 points and 5.2 assists per game. Not a lot of guys can check his ability, although he does have a few unforced turnovers each game.

The Bruins are back again. Will this be their breakthrough year in the NCAAs? (AP)

The Vitals:
  • Record: 26-7 overall, 16-2 in Atlantic Sun
  • Most recent tournament appearance: 2011, No. 10 seed, lost 72-58 to Wisconsin.
  • We’re thinking: 13 seed
  • KenPom ranking: 25
  • Sagarin ranking: 33
  • RPI: 60
  • Best wins: at Middle Tennessee State, vs. Marshall
  • Worst losses: Home against Lipscomb, at Miami (OH)
  • Notable stat: Belmont shoots 55.8 percent from the field in effective field goal percentage, which weights 3-point shots correctly. That percentage is the fifth-best in the country. The Bruins can score from everywhere.
-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 3, 2012 12:27 pm

A-Sun title game preview: Belmont a guarantee?

Belmont, a team that's made the NCAAs four of the past six seasons, is a team with a 93.5 percent chance to win Saturday's A-Sun title game against Florida Gulf Coast, according to KenPom.com.

So we're sayin' there's a chance, FGCU!

How'd they both get here? These small-guy/small-fry conference tournaments can go so fast when you're not catching every game, so here goes. Top-seeded Belmont took out Jacksonville (76-62) and East Tennessee State (69-61) earlier in the week. No. 6 Florida Gulf Coast upset No. 3 USC Upstate 71-61, then won dramatically over Mercer Friday night, 62-58. The title game tips at 7 ET on ESPN2.

The Bruins of Belmont are the team that deserves to get the bid -- even if FGCU getting in would provide the first true shock to college basketball this March. Belmont's played a tough out-out-conference schedule and is becoming a team that strikes a bit of fear into any big-conference opponent. The Bruins haven't lost a game since Jan. 21, and in the two games these teams played during the regular season, Belmont won by an average score of 91-58. Belmont has the 10th-most efficient offense in the country; FGCU is ranked No. 247 inadjusted defense.

The odds are stacked against first-year coach Andy Enfield's Eagles. Either we'll get a tight, exciting game -- or Belmont will blow out Gulf Coast again, setting up plenty of hype for the team's second-round NCAA game.

-- Matt Norlander
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 28, 2012 9:13 am
Edited on: February 28, 2012 9:24 am

What-to-know conference previews: Atlantic Sun

Belmont was the Atlantic Sun's overwhelming favorite in the preseason, and the Bruins won the league title by three games. That's good. But they just didn't get enough done in the non-league part of their schedule to ensure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins lost to Duke, Memphis and Marshall, and they split with Middle Tennessee State to finish 1-3 against the Top 50 and 2-4 against the Top 100.

So they'd better win the Atlantic Sun Tournament that starts Wednesday.

Otherwise, they're likely headed to the NIT.

The only Atlantic Sun schools to beat Belmont this season were USC-Upstate and Lipscomb. Both are on the other side of the bracket here, meaning the Bruins won't deal with either until a presumed title game. Still, Mercer is the No. 2 seed. The Bears are led by Langston Hall, who had 13 points in Saturday's 62-61 loss to Belmont. Put another way, Mercer nearly clipped Belmont three days ago. So while the Bruins are the favorite, they're clearly vulnerable and need Kerron Johnson to play big this week to avoid an upset that'll have Rick Byrd sweating on Selection Sunday.



Schedule: Feb. 29-March 3
Title game:


  1. Ian Clark, Belmont
  2. Torrey Craig, USC-Upstate
  3. Langston Hall, Mercer
  4. Drew Hanien, Belmont
  5. Kerron Johnson, Belmont

KenPom.com rating: 16

Sagarin rating: 17

NCAA Tournament Locks: None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams: Belmont

Last NCAA Tournament Appearances

  • Belmont: 2011
  • Campbell: 1992
  • ETSU: 2010
  • Florida Gulf Coast: Never
  • Jacksonville: 1986
  • Kennesaw State: Never
  • Lipscomb: Never
  • Mercer: 1985
  • North Florida: Never
  • Stetson: Never
  • UC-Upstate: Never

-- Gary Parrish

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 5, 2011 8:25 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2011 8:30 pm

Welcome to the Dance, Belmont Bruins!

As often as dominant teams fall in conference tourney games, nobody ever feels safe. Belmont, however, seemed destined to run the table from the beginning. The expected championship game with East Tennessee State didn’t materialize, however. The upstart North Florida Ospreys took down the Buccaneers and inserted themselves into the auto-bid picture.

Now, the Osprey was an endangered bird back in the 1970s, but these days the raptor is pretty much in the clear, so what Belmont did to them is actually legal, if a bit ugly. The 87-46 beatdown in Macon was heavily dependent on the ability of the Bruins to pound the ball inside, which they were able to do easily with big Mick Hedgepeth (pictured) in the game. The 6-foot-9 junior led his team with 23 points and 9 rebounds, which the smaller Ospreys had no answer for. 6-10 Scott Saunders – a transfer from Rice -- threw in 15.

The other player to watch for Belmont, though he wasn’t needed in the scoring arena much in the final, is guard Ian Clark. The sophomore shoots 43 percent from behind the arc, which could come in handy in the Big Dance, when larger teams may have more luck preventing the big men from getting inside.

Mick Hedgepeth battles down lowThe Vitals:

  • Record: 30-4, 19-1 A-Sun
  • Team colors: Navy blue and red
  • We’re thinking: 13-seed
  • KenPom ranking: 24
  • RPI: 51
  • Best win: ETSU, twice (22-11)
  • Worst loss: Lipscomb (17-13)
  • Most recent tournament history: 2008. 71-70 loss to Duke in first round.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Eric Angevine

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Tags: ASUN, Belmont
Posted on: March 4, 2011 11:32 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2011 11:46 pm

Atlantic Sun championship game preview

The A-Sun championship game will match the Belmont Bruins (29-4, 19-1) against the North Florida Ospreys (15-18, 10-10) at 6:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

First, we need to answer one basic question. What the heck is an Osprey?

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus), sometimes known as the sea hawk or fish eagle, is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey. It is a large raptor, reaching 60 centimetres (24 in) in length with a 2 m wingspan. It is brown on the upperparts and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts, with a black eye patch and wings.

Thanks, Wikipedia!

The Osprey are also surprise participants in the A-Sun championship game, after beating heavily favored East Tennessee State (22-11, 16-4) in a Friday night semifinal. The Ospreys won despite the presence of A-Sun player of the year Mike Smith on the opposite side of the ball. The ETSU Buccaneers had won at North Florida by four and demolished the Ospreys at home before falling in the postseason elimination game.

The Ospreys put a strong lineup of Parker Smith and Jerron Granberry (both 12.3 points per game) on the floor, alongside arch rebounders Andres Diaz and Jimmy Williams, Jr. (right). They will face another heavy favorite on Saturday evening, when they meet the Belmont Bruins for a shot at the A-Sun auto bid. North Florida has only been in the A-Sun for six years after re-classifying to D-I, and have never been to the NCAA tournament. This is the first time they've won even ten games in conference play.

The Bruins have, so far, treated the postseason with exactly the same nonchalant competence that they applied to the regular season. Of the Bruins' 29 wins this season, 19 came in conference. Their sole league loss came at Lipscomb on January 25. Since then, they've won 11 in a row. The Bruins flat crushed Kennesaw State in the opening round, getting a combined 26 points and 13 rebounds from Ian Clark and Mick Hedgepeth. Tourney host Mercer was a little tougher, but eventually succumbed by eight.

Clark and Hedgepeth have been the movers and shakers for Belmont all season long. 6-foot-3 sophomore guard Clark is the team's leading scorer, averaging 12.6 points per game. 6-9 junior Hedgepeth is the second-leading scorer and the team's best rebounder to boot. Of course, the Bruins didn't become so dominant by being a two-man show. 6-10 Scott Saunders is second only to Hedgepeth as an interior scorer and rebounder, and the team gets ample help from senior Jordan Campbell, who scorches the nets with a 46 percent deep shooting mark, and junior point guard Drew Hanlen is the ballhandler and distributor who makes the whole thing run smoothly.

You may have noticed there weren't a lot of seniors listed in that breakdown. This will be a tough team for years to come. We'll see if the Ospreys have enough magic left to take it to the Bruins in Macon on Saturday.

Atlantic Sun tournament bracket

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Eric Angevine

More College Basketball coverage
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 28, 2011 9:55 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2011 1:51 pm

Atlantic Sun tournament preview

The Atlantic Sun conference has been a two-horse race for a while now. Central Florida was the last team not named Belmont (19-1) or East Tennessee State (16-4) to win the league’s auto-bid. UCF did it in 2004 and 2005 before decamping for C-USA. ETSU has had the misfortune of facing No. 1 seeds in back-to-back seasons most recently, but the three years before that were all Belmont.

6-foot-9 Mick Hedgepeth raises Belmont's profileThis is notable because the Bruins may have played in one of the most memorable losses in recent tournament history. On March 20, 2008, juniors Alex Refroe, Matthew Dotson and Andy Wicke combined for 43 points in a 71-70 loss to the No. 2 seed Duke Blue Devils. It took a full-court driving layup by Gerald Henderson with 12 seconds left to stave off what would have been only the fifth 15 over 2 upset in tournament history.

This year, the top of the A-Sun standings look pretty familiar. Belmont has been one of the more consistent teams all season long, losing just three non-conference games (to Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee again) and going 19-1 in league play. With 6-foot-9 Mick Hedgepeth (right) and 6-10 Scott Saunders up front, the Bruins don’t look like your typical mini-major team. Add in the extreme loyalty of head coach Rick Byrd – he’s been at Belmont since 1986 – and you’ve got a recipe for consistent championship basketball.

The most obvious threat to Belmont’s run to the Big Dance are the ESTU Buccaneers. Coached by Murry Bartow -- son of legendary Memphis (State) coach Gene Bartow – the Bucs had a respectable 16-4 conference record that nonetheless contained a pair of ten-point losses to the Bruins.

You may be wondering which team in the league did manage to blemish Belmont’s record. The Lipscomb Bisons (12-8) hold that distinction. The only other team that seems like a threat is the Mercer Bears (11-9), if only because the tournament is being staged on their home court in Macon, Georgia.

Of the 11 teams in the A-Sun, only the top 8 qualify for the tournament. Florida Gulf Coast finished seventh, but was ineligible to participate as a condition of their recent re-classification to D-I. The Stetson Hatters and South Carolina-Upstate Spartans will also watch from home.

See the A-Sun tournament bracket



  1. Adnan Hodzic: Lipscomb
  2. Mick Hedgepeth: Belmont
  3. Mike Smith: East Tennessee State

Conference RPI:

Kenpom.com Conference Rating:  20

Sagarin Conference Ranking: 21


NCAA Tournament Locks:  None

NCAA Tournament Bubble Teams:  None 


Last NCAA Tournament Appearance:

Belmont Bruins: 2008 (71-70 loss to Duke)

ETSU Buccaneers: 2010 (100-71 loss to Kentucky)

Jacksonville Dolphins: 1986 (61-50 OT loss to Temple)

Lipscomb Bisons: Never

Mercer Bears: 1985 (65-58 loss to Georgia Tech)

North Florida Ospreys: Never

Campbell Fighting Camels: 1992 (82-56 loss to Duke)

Kennesaw State Owls: Never

Photo: US Presswire

Posted by Eric Angevine

More College Basketball coverage
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com