The Arizona Wildcats spent three different nights this season losing to the Bruins. The Cats will get a shot to finally get a win against the Bruins on Thursday, but this opponent will look wildly different than in those first three games. The Belmont Bruins put a team on the floor that does not in any way resemble the UCLA Bruins that Arizona struggled so mightily against this year. But that doesn’t mean Arizona shouldn’t be wary of the upset bid.
Over the next few days, we will no doubt break down as much as we possibly can about the Belmont Bruins and what Arizona’s chances are against them. This is a bit of a look at Belmont’s tournament and recent history. That’s important because this Bruins team has a bit of something to prove.
Belmont is making its sixth tournament appearance since 2006, but it has lost in each of its first round games so far. Four of the five games have been blowouts, but Belmont just missed a three-pointer at the buzzer that would have taken out #2-seed Duke in 2008.
The Bruins are one of the oldest teams in the country. They started three seniors and two juniors this year, so those players were around in the past two years when Belmont dropped games in 2011 as a #13 seed to Wisconsin 72-58 and in 2012 as a #14 seed to Georgetown 74-59. These three seniors will no doubt be hungry to prove that Belmont can join the list of up-and-coming mid-majors who can get an upset over a Goliath.
The best Belmont team ever was two years ago in 2011 when it went 30-4 in the Atlantic Sun. Strangely, that team only received a #13 seed, even though it destroyed nearly its entire conference and most of its non-conference opponents. Those Bruins ran out of gas with about ten minutes left in its first round game against Wisconsin. (Belmont fun fact: the loss to Wisconsin was in McKale Center.)
As senior point guard Kerron Johnson goes, so go the Belmont Bruins. He’s been their best player for two years, and his lack of production against Georgetown last year left him as the primary scapegoat for the failed upset bid.
Belmont gets an #11 seed this year thanks to an extremely high RPI ranking of #20. One wouldn’t think that a team with losses to Northeastern, Central Florida, Murray State, and Tennessee State would be able to get a seed that suggests they would have been up for an at-large bid. Never mind that Belmont needed a crazy comeback just to win the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title over Murray State. In that game, MSU was up by 7 with 2:25 left and by 4 under a minute. Belmont tied the game with 9.1 seconds left to get to overtime where it hit a go-ahead bucket with 1.2 seconds left. Such is the nature of NCAA seeding, though.
Belmont has only played two other teams of a high caliber like Arizona this year. One was a game at VCU, where Belmont had 24 turnovers in a 75-65 loss. If Arizona has a Havoc-like full-court defense in its bag right now, this might be the time to break it out. Belmont also lost by 29 at Kansas in a game where they shot 8 of 38 from three-point range. If Sean Miller can find a way to recapture the amazing three-point defense he coached the Wildcats to in 2011 and 2012, now would be a great time to break it out.
Belmont is an experienced, hungry team looking for its first NCAA tournament win. So far, the Bruins have been a popular upset pick, which can only serve to boost their confidence even further than their comeback win to get into the tournament did. Arizona may have some big matchup problems here, and it needs to beware of this scary first game. New Mexico, Ohio State, and Gonzaga should not be on any Wildcat’s mind at this point.