CO-OVC POTW, Ian Clark, will have to get hot if the Bruins are going to upset the Cats.
The OVC's streak of 4 straight years with an NCAA Tournament win is now the responsibility of the conference's newest member.
It started in 2009 with a Morehead State win in a play-in game versus Alabama State. Since then, the representative from the Ohio Valley Conference has won at least one NCAA Tournament game every year.
However, for the first time since 2008, the OVC will not be represented by a team with the initials MSU. Instead, it is the new guys from the Atlantic Sun, who came into the OVC and took it over.
The Bruins went 26-6 and 14-2 in conference, giving them their highest seed in the tournament in school history. With an 11 seed in the west, they face an Arizona Wildcats team that was, at one time, ranked as high as No. 4 in the country.
Since this game was announced, I have gone back and forth on who I think will advance to the round of 32. The coaching match-up between Rick Byrd and Sean Miller also feels like a toss-up. I truly believe this game could go either way.
After all, an 11 seed beating a 6 seed is hardly even an upset. In the last two years a 6 seed has been "upset" by an 11 seed five times.
I think it is safe to say a team seeded 11 will win a game again this year, but will it be Belmont?
WHY BELMONT WILL BEAT ARIZONA:
Ian Clark: The guy is averaging almost 47 percent from three. Where Clark has been really effective is in transition and kick outs after offensive rebounds. While averaging over 18 points per game, Clark is the Bruins' leading scorer and can light the Wildcats up if they don't get out and defend on the perimeter.
Wildcats ranked 277th in defending the three: As bad as Arizona is at 3-point defense, Belmont is not a good match up for them. The Bruins had a game earlier this season in which they started by hitting 13 of their first 16 3-point shots. If Arizona continues to not locate shooters and leave guys open behind the arc, Belmont could build a sizable lead in this one.
The supporting cast: The Bruins are not Ian Clark or bust. J.J. Mann might be one of the most underrated OVC players this season. The 6-6 forward is averaging over 10 points a game and can score in a variety of ways. Trevor Noack is another big guy who can stroke from three. At 6-7, Noack is Belmont's tallest starter and where he can finish around the rim he will pose a bigger threat to Wildcats with his outside shooting. Noack is the Bruins second best 3-point threat, shooting over 40 percent. Another starter, Kerron Johnson, runs the point for Belmont. Johnson doesn't shoot the three like some of his teammates but the southpaw is just as smooth as anyone. It was his shot with 9.1 seconds left that tied the OVC Championship game and his pull-up with 1.2 seconds left in overtime that won it.
WHY ARIZONA WILL BEAT BELMONT:
Size: Belmont does not have a lot of big guys. Noack (6-7) and Mann (6-6) are the tallest players on Belmont's roster that receive quality minutes. Although Noack has 20 pounds on Solomon Hill, one could see how the senior from Los Angeles could have a huge game on Thursday. Hill averages over 13 points per game and shoots a respectable percentage from three. Also look for 6-10 freshman Grant Jerrett to receive some minutes. The forward is good for a couple of threes per game and will bring more size to trouble the Bruins.
Belmont in the half court: It's not that the Bruins are terrible in the half court, it is just that they are most effective when shooting threes in transition. Ian Clark does have a decently quick release but his shot is low, about eye level. Murray State guard Stacy Wilson is not a player one would classify as a defensive specialist and he held Ian Clark to just 1 of 5 shooting from three, mainly because Clark couldn't get any looks in the half court set. Arizona has Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson to put on the Belmont guards and that could be troublesome for the Bruins.
0-5 in the NCAA Tournament: The closest Belmont has come to an NCAA tourney win was a 71-70 loss to Duke in 2008. Now, I realize that has nothing to do with this year's team. But as for someone who has picked Belmont to upset a higher seed a few times in the past only to be disappointed, I urge you to use caution when betting on the Bruins.
THE FOUR FACTORS:
As you can see from above, Belmont averages more points but Arizona is cleaning the glass on the offensive end. The Bruins can ill afford to allow the Cats many second chance points if they want the upset.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING:
Final Four: Kansas, Indiana, Louisville, Ohio State. Biggest upsets: Belmont over Arizona & Akron over VCU.queencitysports.mayhem.cbssports.com/brackets/print…— Michael Bundt (@bundtm11) March 18, 2013
My upset picks: Montana over Syracuse, Belmont over Arizona, Bucknell over Butler.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 18, 2013
The most dangerous seed that's a 6 or above? Arizona. Wildcats have experience, size, and talent. Sean Miller has been in two Elite Eight's.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) March 18, 2013
With many people already predicting a Belmont win, the Wildcats will not be overlooking the Bruins. Arizona, if they can get past a tough second-round game, is a team who has the potential to make a decent run in this tournament and actually come out of the West Region. They started off the season 14-0 for a reason. They are a good team. They also finished the season 5-5 for a reason. They are beatable.
Belmont will get looks from three and they will hit their share of triples. If they can keep Mark Lyons in check and keep the turnovers to a minimum, they'll have a chance.
In my opinion: first to 75 points wins and with the Bruin sharp shooters, they get there first.
Belmont 77, Arizona 71