NCAA BK

Belmont (30-4)

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COACH: Rick Byrd, 25 years at Belmont, four years in NCAA tournament.

HOW THEY GOT IN: Automatic bid (Atlantic Sun tournament champion).

GO-TO GUYS: On one of the nation's most balanced teams won't rely on one buck to put the ball in the hole. G Ian Clark is probably the closest the Bruins have to a go-to guy. The sophomore is the team's leading scorer at 12.5 points per game entering the NCAA Tournament and is the conference's second-leading 3-point shooter at 42.1 percent, trailing only teammate Jordan Campbell. Centers Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders split time and collectively put up big numbers. In the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship game against North Florida, the duo combined for 38 points and a dozen rebounds in 35 minutes. Both were second team all-conference picks, while Clark made the first team. Campbell canned nearly 46 percent of his 3-pointers and is one of several weapons this team can bring off the bench.


X FACTOR: Few teams in America can match what the Bruins do off the bench. After securing the NCAA tournament bid, they ranked third in Division I in points off the bench and led the nation in assists and steals from reserves. Saunders averaged 10 points without starting a game, while Campbell, G Kerron Johnson and G J.J. Mann can change games with either their offense or defense. Most teams go to the bench and just hope to survive, but Belmont goes to the bench and expects to thrive.

STRENGTHS: Depth, defense and 3-point shooting. At 9.7 steals per game, Belmont tied for the national lead in that category with better-known smothering defenses such as Missouri. Eleven players averaged double-figure minutes through the first 34 games and none play more than 25 minutes per game, allowing the Bruins to cycle fresh bodies every three to four minutes. That gives a high-pressure defense more bite, which helps it force more than 19 turnovers per game and create nearly 10 steals per game. Belmont averages 9.4 3-point makes per game, canning 38.1 percent from long range. Few teams use the 3-point line as much or as intelligently as the Bruins, who were in the top 30 in the nation in 3-point field goals entering the postseason.

WEAKNESSES: Belmont's aggression does cost it sometimes in the form of fouls and free throws. It's one of the few 30-win teams in college basketball history to take fewer foul shots than the opposition, permitting more than 23 free throws per game. While Hedgepeth and Saunders were a great 1-2 tandem, they rarely faced a power conference team with capable big bodies inside. What happens if they do and both get into foul trouble? That's one area where Belmont doesn't boast great depth.

Tagged: Belmont, Jordan Campbell, Scott Saunders

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