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NCAA Basketball

Road to the NCAA Tournament: Sleeper Team of the Week: Belmont Bruins

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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The University of Belmont may be one of the only NCAA tournament-bound schools in the country that has Google suggesting “academics” and “tuition” after the name, instead of “basketball” or “football” – this lack of athletic recognition is why any team that faces the Belmont Bruins in the NCAA tournament should be very worried.

Belmont went to the big dance last year, only to be overwhelmed by the No. 3 seeded Georgetown Hoyas. The Bruins were not ready to play at that level yet, but, now, in their first season as a member of the OVC after leaving the Atlantic Sun Conference, Belmont has dominated.

Let me repeat that – Belmont has dominated the OVC in their first season as members.

The Bruins have every opportunity to win the OVC tournament. Belmont has a better conference record than OVC favorites, Murray State, and barely lost the lone away game to the Racers 79-75. The Bruins have only lost one home game all season, and should cruise to the championship game against Murray State with ease.

Rick Byrd is an amazing coach, and after his repeated success at a school that isn’t known for sports, the Bruins are lucky that another team hasn’t snatched him away. Byrd has coached every one of his players far beyond their talent levels – which were already pretty high. Starting guard Ian Clark is one of the best three-point shooters in the country, and forward Trevor Noack can rebound with just about anyone.

Perhaps Belmont’s best aspect is its bench. The Bruins have five or six bench players that can play at any time in the game giving them a huge advantage over many NCAA teams that do not have a deep bench. This team lives a bit by the three, but the Bruins can back that up with a very healthy .398 percentage.

Belmont has a starting line-up consisting entirely of juniors and seniors who remembers the disappointing loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament last year. The Bruins are one of the most experienced teams in the country, and should have every opportunity to make it to at least the Sweet Sixteen.

The Bruins are set up to make a great run in the NCAA tournament, but not many people are talking about them. All the talk surrounding the OVC is about Murray State and what the Racers can do in the tournament, but Belmont is the better team in the OVC.

Belmont, not Murray State, will be the team from the OVC that surprises everyone when the NCAA tournament starts. Teams from the Big 6 Conferences: beware.

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2015 NCAA Tournament Profile: Belmont Bruins

Record: 22-10

Region – Seed: East – No. 15

RPI: 105

BPI: 54

Conference: Ohio Valley Conference

How They Qualified: OVC Tournament Champion

The Belmont Bruins have had success in the past, but this trip to the NCAA Tournament is a bit unexpected. Yes, Belmont won a share of the Ohio Valley Conference East Division title, but Rick Byrd has had better teams during his 29-year tenure in Nashville.

Byrd is an outstanding coach and he got his team playing well at the right time. Belmont has won seven in a row, including an 88-87 upset win over OVC regular season champion Murray State in the tournament championship game.

What You Need to Know:

Leading Scorer: Craig Bradshaw, 17.9 ppg

Leading Rebounder: Evan Bradds, 7.1 rpg

Leading Passer: Reece Chamberlain, 5.9 apg

Bad Losses: at Wright State, at Jacksonville State

Good Wins: Murray State

Byrd will have his team ready to play in the big dance. He has been there before, even though many of his best players haven’t. Junior guard Craig Bradshaw is an excellent shooter, while Evan Bradds is the main interior player for the Bruins.

Taylor Barnette is another outstanding shooter for Belmont, and he hit the game-winning shot in the OVC Tournament championship. Reece Chamberlain is an outstanding distributor at the point for the Bruins.

The OVC has had some success in the NCAA Tournament recently, but Belmont is probably a long shot to win a game. However, with Byrd’s experience on the bench, they will be a tough out.

Tim Letcher is a Featured Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimLetcher , on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

The Belmont Bruins have had success in the past, but this trip to the NCAA Tournament is a bit unexpected.

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