Belmont vs. Indiana State HOOPWAR Analysis: Justin Gant's Improvement Key to Sycamore Success

I believe I can fly - Stephen Dunn

Belmont's team feels just right from year to year, which makes it hard to get excited about. But Indiana State has had to adjust thanks to a departure of one of their high-value players from last season. It could be enough to give the Sycamores the edge in the rematch.

It is probably a testament to Belmont coach Rick Byrd that the team feels like an old t-shirt. You know what you are getting; it fits great; and rarely let's you down.

From the stellar defense, to the offense that seems to find another star player to step up every season, the Bruins have become the perennial stalwart in the mid-major ranks.

Now no one is going to give them credit for that. Too many disappointments in the NCAA Tournament have degraded the value of the brand. Everyone expects greatness going in, only to be let down when that "great upset pick" doesn't come through.

But this team seems to reshape and reform back into the same precision executing team every year no matter the March outcomes.

The difference this year might be the effective spread of the value across the players who see the floor the most. From J.J. Mann's 6.7 HW30 to Reece Chamberlain's 1.96 HW30, the Bruins have four players with 250 minutes who are just churning out positive value when on the floor.

But recently we have seen a dip in what Belmont has been able to do, partially because of the missing Chamberlain. He came back against Kentucky, but it was clear that the time away hadn't been kind to his ability to run the offense.

Belmont still soldiered through that game, and managed to hang in there with extra passes and wide-open threes. But the overall talent of the Wildcats eventually won out down the stretch when the shots that were keeping the Bruins in it stopped falling.

Still, this is a team that has such a great value chain that on any night you can't count them out. They can shift strategies in an instant to take advantage of the gifts that each player brings to the floor.

The other side of the ball is going to have a similar makeup, led by Jake Odum as always. The most interesting thing about Indiana State this season though has been the change in the need to rely on Odum more than any other player to lead the team.

He still logs his minutes on the floor, but his role no longer needs to be the primary scorer, and part of that is the improvement of Justin Gant in the offense.

The Sycamores took quite a blow in losing R.J. Mahurin after last season. His 1.7 wins last season were the second most on the team, and it was going to be difficult to just move players into that wing role that he had.

But they didn't need to, and have recovered and improved as an overall team as a result. Gant started taking more shots inside and has become a real asset to this team. His defense has slipped a tiny bit from last year, but his offensive explosion has more than made up for it.

This has allowed Jake Odum to be more creative on offense, not needing to make his own shot, but feeding to Gant, or to Manny Arop.

As we saw in the first meeting, this game will be close. Indiana State has the home court advantage and the deeper value chain that should allow them to actually close out the win this time around.

Belmont might have the more valuable player right now in Mann, but Indiana State is the pick for HOOPWAR.

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