Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Finding the Cinderella Team

In 2011, Rick Byrd's Belmont Bruins had what was probably one of the best seasons in Atlantic Sun history.  Belmont lost their season opener at Tennessee by nine, then rattled off five wins in a row before losing at Vanderbilt by nine. They got a rematch against Tennessee in late December, but lost that one by just a single point. However, the Bruins cruised through the Atlantic Sun, going 19-1 with some ridiculously lopsided victories. After winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament, the Bruins were given a 13 seed. They became a trendy upset pick, but were pretty much beaten wire to wire by Wisconsin.

Statistically, the 2011 Bruins had the nations 40th best offense and 23rd best defense. Better yet, the team was loaded with players returning for the 2012 season. All six Belmont players used on at least 20% of possessions they were in the game were returning for 2012. Belmont seemed poised to be capable of making a Davidson-esque run in March.

Fast-forward to November 2012. Belmont opened the season at Cameron Indoor against Duke. The Blue Devils pulled out a 77-76 win, but the general consensus was Belmont was a legitimate threat.

Belmont would go on to have another fine season. This time going 16-2 in conference and winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament yet again. However, the Bruins only manged a 14 seed and again were knocked out handily by Georgetown.

If you look at each player on Belmont's 2012 roster, everyone did what was expected offensively. Kerron Johnson and Scott Saunders were tremendously efficient in high usage roles. Mick Hedgepeth, Drew Hanlen, and Ian Clark were also equally efficient in their respective roles. In fact, Belmont became a top 10 offense in the entire country finishing just behind Purdue and just ahead of Baylor. Yet Belmont was unable to take that elusive next step only the elite veteran mid major teams take.

Defense, defense, defense. On the surface, losing 2011 graduates Jordan Campbell and Jon House seemed like fairly minor losses for Belmont entering last season. They weren't big losses at all on the offensive end, but clearly the Bruins were unable to get enough stops on defense with their 2012 roster to be considered a Final Four sleeper. It's easy to find veteran mid major teams that can shoot the lights out of and take care of the ball in any given year. It's harder to find one of those teams that can also get it done on the defensive end.

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