NCAA Tournament Sleeper: Belmont States Case As Top Team In OVC

Tuesday, February 12, 2019 12:24 PM UTC

Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019 12:24 PM UTC

The battle for the top spot in the Ohio Valley Conference has been tight all year long, but the Belmont Bruins get the nod as the team to watch beyond the regular season.

Rick Byrd has become a coaching legend at Belmont all the way back to the days when the Bruins first played as an independent from 1999-2001. After a successful stint in the Atlantic Sun with five appearances in the NCAA Tournament, he has led this program to two more trips in its first six seasons in the OVC.

The Bruins’ last trip to the Big Dance came in the 2014-2015 campaign as a No. 15 seed. Belmont has been able to win at 20 games in each of its last eight seasons and that run will be extended this year.

Belmont Overview

The Ohio Valley may not be the best Mid-Major conference in the country, but it should get high marks for being one of the most competitive ones. Belmont has had to go toe-to-toe against teams such as Jacksonville State, Austin Peay and Murray State all season to hold onto its tenuous spot at the top of the list.

This is the type of competition that leaves a team battle-tested when the madness of March rolls around. This is not the type of conference that gets all that much attention for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, so this year’s conference tournament in early March should be a good one.

Consistency is one of the big reasons why the Bruins earned a spot on the 2019 NCAA Tournament sleepers list. Belmont got a fast start out of the gate with nine wins in its first 10 nonconference matchups, including a quality 74-72 victory against UCLA as a 6.5-point underdog. The Bruins hung tight against Purdue to cover as 12-point underdogs in a nine-point loss to close out that portion of the schedule.

Their only real nemesis in conference play has been Jacksonville State, which already won both meetings this season. Since that second loss in mid-January, the Bruins appear to have finally hit their stride. With key wins along the way against Murray State and Austin Peay, they are the cream of the OVC that is clearly rising to the top at the right time of the year.

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NOTE: @BelmontMBB Dylan Windler ⁦@Dylan_Windler23⁩ 41-point performance sets opponent OVC record at Morehead and one shy of Belmont NCAA Division I era single-game record (42, Craig Bradshaw at Ohio 11/29/14) #itsbruintime pic.twitter.com/nm5aoqcM5L

— Belmont Basketball (@BelmontMBB) February 9, 2019
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Belmont Outlook

The ability to score points on one end of the court while keeping your opponents from doing the same at the other end is an obvious recipe for success. It really helps when you have a player such as senior guard Dylan Windler leading the way. He has been the Bruins’ leading scorer this season with over 20 points per game. He is also Belmont’s top rebounder with an average of 10 boards a game. His biggest attribute is that veteran leadership that leads to possible upsets against teams tempted to look past the Bruins.

One of Windler’s recent stat lines in a win against Morehead State consisted of 41 points and 12 rebounds while converting on 12 of his 20 shots from the floor. This includes an 8-for-14 performance from three-point range.

Belmont’s supporting cast includes a trio of players also scoring in double figures. Another senior guard, Kevin McClain, completes a very dangerous backcourt with nearly 17 PPG. He is shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Freshman Grayson Murphy is another guard who knows how to shoot the ball with a field-goal rate approaching the 50 percent mark.

You are not going to hear the national media talking up Belmont and the overall competitiveness of the OVC, but do not forget about the Bruins when it is time to start filling out your brackets.

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