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The Belmont Bruins: Paper In Fire

Can they turn potential on paper into tournament results?

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Belmont Bruins have a recent track record as strong as any mid-major in the country, coming off another 20-win season and their fourth consecutive Ohio Valley Conference regular season championship. They are also one of only three schools to earn automatic bids to the NCAA tournament in seven of the past 11 seasons, along with Kansas and Gonzaga. They can beat you inside via OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds, who has led the NCAA in field goal percentage two seasons. Last year, Belmont as a team was ranked No. 1 in the country in overall field goal percentage (62.6) for the third time in four years. If you chose to shut down the inside game, however, then Belmont would light you up from outside the arc, where it averaged 10.6 threes per game, good for fourth in the NCAA and a big reason why the Bruins put up 90 or more points eight times last season.

But when they got too close to their expectations, the Belmont Bruins' dreams went up in flames like paper in fire. They missed their ticket to the big dance last season after losing to Austin Peay by a point in overtime in the OVC tournament semifinal. It was their first loss to Austin Peay since the Governors joined the conference in 2012. Like a jockey who pushed his horse too early in the race, Belmont came out of the gates well ahead of the pack, but ran out of gas and struggled down the stretch, losing its last 3 games of the season.

The Bruins also struggled mightily away from the Curb Event Centre in Nashville, going 8-10 on the road as compared to 11-1 at home. On paper or in reality, those road woes will help your season smolder.

Looking ahead to the 2016-17 season, on paper, the Bruins seem entrenched as the favorite to win the East Division in the OVC. Belmont lost only two players to graduation and return a potential All-American in the senior Bradds. Through 100 games, Bradds' field goal percentage (.690) is the best in NCAA history. His basketball pedigree is unmatched as well -- his grandfather, Gary Bradds, was the 1964 National Player of The Year and has his number 35 retired at Ohio State. His father, David, played at Dayton University from 1987 to 1991 and reached the Second Round of the 1990 NCAA Tournament.

The Bruins also return 6-8 junior F Amanze Egekeze, who scored in double figures in 13 games, as well as senior guard Taylor Barnette (10.6 PPG) and junior guard Austin Luke, who had 11 games with eight or more assists.

On paper, coach Rick Byrd and his Bruins are poised to make it eight NCAA Tournament bids in 12 seasons. However, this season they need to leave some gas in the tank for the home stretch so this season doesn’t go up in flames, like paper in fire.