Top 68 Team Previews: #65 Belmont Bruins
Rick Byrd plans to have the Bruins dancing (ESPN.com)
By Charles Dumez
Monday, September 17, 2012
Last Season: 27-8 (16-2)
Key Losses: Mick Hedgepeth, Scott Saunders, Drew Hanlen
Head Coach: Rick Byrd
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Kerron Johnson, Sr.
SG: Ian Clark, Sr.
SG: J.J Mann, Jr.
PF: Blake Jenkins, Jr.
PF: Trevor Noack, Sr.
Few teams in college basketball can boast the consistency of Belmont since the 2005-06 season. Belmont is one of three schools with five automatic NCAA Tournament bids in the last seven years, along with Kansas and Memphis. They have routinely dominated the Atlantic Sun, winning 41 of their last 44 conference games. But that is in all in the past for the Bruins as they embark on their first season in the Ohio Valley Conference. The competition will stiffen as they get to know new foes like Murray State, but do not expect this team to fall off the map. Rick Byrd has been with this team since 1986 and has over 500 wins at the helm of the Bruins, one of only four active NCAA coaches to boast that after the retirement of Jim Calhoun.
The Bruins have talent to spare in the backcourt. The talent begins with senior point guard Kerron Johnson. He is the engine driving the Belmont ship dishing out 5.2 assists per game last year and can attack the basket with the best of them. He also led the team in scoring last year putting up 13.8 points per game last year. He is not a high percentage shooter, but he can pull up in the paint and knock down enough jumpers to keep the defense honest. He is also a plus-defender and very good on the fast break.
Ian Clark joins Johnson in the backcourt and they form a potent combination. Clark is the shooter among the two, connecting on 40.5 percent on his three-pointers last year. Rounding out the three guard lineup is J.J. Mann who brings size to table. At 6-6 he is an experienced wing who could possibly rotate and play the four if Byrd wants to go small at times. Playing small might behoove Byrd considering the returning talent in the backcourt and the new blood that is joining the fray.
Craig Bradshaw is a 6-3 and 205 pound guard who can shoot, pass, and get to the rack. With the embarrassment of riches Belmont has, he may not need to contribute right away, but as the season goes on he should see a lot of the floor. Jeff Laidig is another guard to watch and will contend for quality minutes. Caleb Choway is a heady leader, but needs more seasoning before he is ready to make his mark.
That being said, they do have issues to sort out. They lost a lot of size with the departures of Mike Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. Hedgepeth garnered the starts in the middle and put up 9.6 points and led the team with 5.6 rebounds last year. Saunders was the biggest body for Belmont at 6-10 and 250 pounds and a better defender and scorer than Hedgepeth. He tallied 10.2 points per game in 2011-12. That is not the worst of the Belmont's losses. Drew Hanlen was a major part of Belmont's excellence in the last four years. A sharpshooter with a superb 48.2 percent shooting on three-pointers last year on nearly six attempts per game.
Belmont has a track record of plugging in players and not missing a beat. Production should not be an issue for this team. Players who have waited patiently will be thrust into the forefront this year for Belmont. Trevor Noack and Brandon Baker will compete for minutes this year in the paint. Baker is the more versatile player, but not quite as offensively rounded as Noack. Noack has plenty of starting experience and should have no issues going right back into that role. Blake Jenkins made 14 starts last season and while the numbers do not jump off the page at you, look for him to made strides this year and become a bigger part of this offense. The frontcourt should be serviceable this year, which is all they need to be with their potent backcourt. The rest of the Ohio Valley Conference should be worried about their newest member.