Record: 26-6, 14-2 Ohio Valley RPI: 18 Coach: Rick Byrd, 27 seasons, six NCAA appearances Last NCAA tournament appearance: lost to Georgetown 74-59 in second round (2012) Notable wins: Stanford, Middle Tennessee, Ohio, South Dakota State, Murray State
Senior guard and team captain Ian Clark, the Ohio Valley Conference co-player of the year, is program’s all-time leading scorer during Division NCAA Division 1 era. While leading the team in scoring at 18.1 points per game and shooting 46.3 percent on 3-pointers, he was still named OVC Defensive Player of the Year after winning the same award last season in the Atlantic Sun. He was a Naismith Player of the Year candidate and made all-conference all four seasons, including three in A-Sun and one in OVC. Out of Memphis (Tenn.) Germantown High, he has scored in double figures in 101 of 131 games as a four-year starter. What makes him more effective as a deadly outside shooter is backcourt running mate Kerron Johnson, also a senior at point guard.
Coach Rick Byrd is in his 27th season at Belmont. His 664 career victories, including 571 while leading the Bruins, ranks seventh among active college coaches. He is generally regarded as a coach’s coach, having already been named to the NAIA Hall of Fame and Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. The team is a reflection of Byrd’s understated disciplined approach that allows his team to adjust to different game situations. He was recently named a finalist for the third time for the Skip Prosser Man of the Year Award, named for the late Wake Forest coach that honors achievement on the court and moral integrity off it.
No. 21 Arizona, also an at-large selection, had no trouble with non-Pacific-12 opponents by going 12-0, but in-league play wasn’t as easy. The Wildcats went 0-5 against the league’s other NCAA-bounds teams (UCLA, California and Oregon). They are also 5-5 in their last 10 games. Arizona got an offensive boost this season from leading scorer Mark Lyons, a senior guard and Xavier transfer. Following their third loss of the season to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semifinal, Wildcats fourth-year coach Sean Miller was fined $25,000 by the league for criticizing officiating. Against Belmont, senior forward Solomon Hill will plays his 137th game, second-most in program history. Arizona loves to push the ball and score, averaging 73.3 points per game. When they surpass 70 points this season, they are 17-2.
Did you know
The Bruins know how to let it fly. Every year but one since becoming a Division I member in 1996-97, they have ranked among the NCAA’s top 25 in made 3-point field goals per game. This year, Belmont averaged 8.5 treys per game, tied for 11th nationally. Better yet, they made 38.6 percent of their 3s, ranked 18th nationally.