Belmont never stood a chance against Arizona in the Round of 64. The Wildcats prowled their way into the tournament hungry and the Bruins became their prey Thursday evening. However, it’s not Belmont’s fault; they landed the wrong matchup, and it didn’t bode well for the Nashville school that’s still looking for its first tournament win.
For the sixth time in school history, Belmont lost its opening game in the NCAA Tournament. Arizona cruised to an easy 81-64 victory, the fifth double-digit tournament loss for the Bruins. This isn’t surprising even though numerous experts picked the Bruins to move on.
Prior to the season, Arizona started in the top five. Many expected the Wildcats to contend for their first national championship since 1997 when they defeated the University of Kentucky in overtime.
And Arizona started 17-0; never in a million years did any top experts suspect that the Wildcats would have to face a team like Belmont in the second round. But then they lost to Oregon, UCLA three times, California, Colorado and USC over the final six weeks of the season. That’ll drop you in the rankings real fast.
Still, the loss to the Trojans was the only suspicious loss. Oregon, UCLA, Cal, and Colorado are dancing and Arizona went 8-0 against mid-major teams. Six of those wins were by at least 20 points; Belmont should have never been a pick to beat Arizona.
It’s not Belmont's fault. How do you beat an Arizona squad that has five players over 6-8 when the Bruins only have two?
Belmont lost the rebounding battle 44-18 and Arizona capitalized with 17 second chance points compared to Belmont’s one. Not to mention, no Bruins averaged more than 4.7 rebounds coming into Thursday’s game. Trevor Noack (4 rebounds) was the only Belmont player had more than two rebounds Thursday. Kaleb Tarczweski (8), Kevin Parrom (8), Brandon Ashley (7) outrebounded the Bruins 23-18 on their own.
So why did the experts choose Belmont to beat Arizona? Coming into the contest, Belmont was shooting 38.6 percent from outside, and Arizona was ranked No. 277 in the country when it came to defending the three. Problem is that Arizona came in shooting 36.7 percent from downtown. Unlike Belmont, the Wildcats had the advantage of dumping it inside. Arizona shot 9 of 17 from 3-point land. The one dimensional Bruins shot 8 of 27.
Basketball is a team sport, and the bench matters. Yes, four Bruins came in averaging double-figures, Arizona only had three. But only five Bruins average more than four points a game. Seven Wildcats average more than five.
JJ Mann (13 points), Kerron Johnson (22), Ian Clark (21) scored 72 percent of the Bruins points. It took Parrom (12), Tarczweski (12), Mark Lyons (23), Nick Johnson (12) to score 70 percent of the Wildcats points. Don’t forget Arizona dished out 13 assists, Belmont had a measly seven. The more talented team won and this is what was supposed to happen.
Did Arizona play its best? Should they have had more second chance points, more assists? It’s quite possible the Wildcats could have realistically beaten the Bruins by 40 or 45 points.
Oh well, there’s always next year Bruins fans. Don’t blame the loss on the players, blame the selection committee. You never had a chance with this one.