I realize mid-January’s a tad early to begin wrangling over seeds for the NCAA tournament, but then again the situation posed by Belmont this year is not your ordinary situation. Let’s get the easy part over with.
On paper the Bruins are a no-brainer. Ranked No. 26 nationally by Ken Pomeroy, Belmont is statistically indistinguishable from the usual “They’re a Meh Big East Team, Therefore They Are Ranked” suspects, to wit: Notre Dame, Georgetown, and Cincinnati. But why pick on the Big East – the Bruins also rate out equivalent (if not superior) to the oh-so-ranked likes of Missouri, Temple, and Kansas State. After eight conference games Rick Byrd’s team is outscoring opponents by 0.41 points per trip, which is unheard of. To find something that’s even in the same area code in terms of in-conference domination one would have to reach back to Memphis in the Calipari years.
Now the tough part. Who’ve they beaten? Absolutely no one, and that will still be true on Selection Sunday. Belmont lost to cross-town bully Vanderbilt by nine, and they’ve lost twice to Tennessee (85-76 and 66-65). Their “best” win would probably be their 93-60 thrashing of Arkansas State on November 17. The toughest opponent on the Bruins’ remaining schedule is East Tennessee State.
You see Belmont comes out of the Atlantic Sun, the conference with the worst NCAA tournament winning percentage in the country. No current member of the A-Sun has ever won a first-round game, though these very same Bruins did give a certain blue-chip program a very good scare in 2008.
Nor can Belmont offer us any Lester Hudson types that can at least provide persuadable feature writers with a statistical hook. Byrd spreads the minutes around so promiscuously he makes Mike Anderson look like John Thompson III. True, Ian Clark’s a solid dual-threat wing, Scott Saunders cleans the glass at both ends of the floor, and Kerron Johnson records steals like nobody’s business. But don’t hold your breath waiting for any of them to get the full Curry treatment. For the foreseeable future the Bruins will have to subsist instead on the occasional awed tweet. (Well, and this.)
I’m often asked if the selection committee “really” uses any of this Prospectus-y stuff. Belmont’s about to provide a nice test case. They have a good shot at running the table in the A-Sun, but even if they don’t they’ll exhibit a conference legacy-to-current team performance ratio that is historically out of whack. For the selection committee to treat the Bruins judiciously will therefore require a dedicated effort, one that lifts the conference room out of some very deep perceptual ruts. Where do you seed a team like this? Better still, what if Belmont loses in the A-Sun tournament? Do they (take a deep breath) deserve an at-large?
BONUS preemptive note! Another common question: “What team outside of the major conferences is set to make some noise in the tournament?” One ready answer to that for next year’s NCAA tournament is Belmont. This year’s nine-player rotation includes just two seniors.