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The Other Top 25 Preseason Rankings: No. 16 Belmont Bruins

Will Rick Byrd end his program’s three-year tourney drought?

NCAA Basketball: Belmont at Texas Christian Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Record: 24-9 (15-3 Ohio Valley Conference)

Key Returning Players: Dylan Windler (Sr. F), Nick Hopkins (So. G), Kevin McClain (Sr. G)

Key Losses: Amanze Egekeze (F), Austin Luke (G), Tyler Hadden (C)

Key Newcomers: Mitch Listau (No. 447 24/7 Composite). Grayson Murphy (RS Fr. G), Caleb Hollander (RS. Fr. F)

The Belmont Bruins fell short of making the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year after losing to Murray State in the OVC Championship game. To add salt to the wound, the Bruins failed to win a regular season championship for the first time since 2008 despite an impressive 15-3 conference record.

However, Belmont fans have a lot to look forward as Belmont fields a very talented squad that has a solid mix of star veterans and young talent. Belmont coach Rick Byrd is one of the most accomplished coaches in college basketball and he knows how to win big games. Although the Bruins have a major competitor in Murray State, it will be interesting to see how Byrd responds to another program challenging his supremacy in the OVC.

Key Non-Conference Games

Nov. 10 vs. Illinois State
Nov. 12 vs. Middle Tennessee
Dec. 15 @ UCLA
Dec. 19 vs. Western Kentucky
Dec. 29 at Purdue

Three things to watch:

Three point frenzy

The three point shot has always been a major staple of Byrd’s offense. Rick Bryd was a pionneer of establishing a heavy emphais on three point shooting in college basketball. Since 1996-1997 season only the Duke Blue Devils have made more threes than the Belmont Bruins. Over the last seven years, Belmont has ranked top 15 nationally in three point effective field goal percentage.

Expect the Bruins to rely on the deep shot once again in 2018-2019. Last season, Belmont ranked No. 4 nationally by averaging 11.5 made threes per game. Five different Bruins made over 50 threes last year, including Dylan Windler and Nick Hopkins’ 42 and 39% clips from three, respectively. Additionally, true freshmen Mitch Listau and Grayson Murphy should be dangerous shooters off the bench.

Which freshmen will step up?

Belmont has a solid veteran core made up of Dylan Windler, Kevin McClean, and Nick Hopkins. Aside from its veteran nucleus, the roster has a lot of question marks.

The biggest question mark surrounding this Belmont team is their lack of depth, especially after losing core members Austin Luke and Amanze Egekeze to graduation. Byrd replaced those two stars with two freshmen who have a chance to be really good for a very long time.

Freshmen guards Mitch Litsua and Grayson Murphy to play significant roles in their first season. Murphy played well in three games last season before injuries forced him to redshirt the remainder of his freshman season. Listau, a 6’4 combo guard from Wisconsin, is Belmont’s highest rated recruit since Ian Clark. The freshmen point guards will try to replace Austin Luke’s 7.8 assists per game last season, so Byrd may have to lean on one of his young freshmen to be floor general for this talented Belmont team.

Both freshmen give Byrd more ball handlers and an offensive weapons he could use off the bench. Keep an eye on Litsua and Murphy’s early development this season.

Vegas facts: Belmont covers

Last year, Belmont had a very impressive 18-12-2 record against the Vegas number. With covering at 61.5% clip and clinching three upset wins as an underdog Belmont ended up being one of the most profitable teams in college basketball.

Through the first half of conference play the Bruins were 14-6-1 ATS winning their backers an average of 12.5 units. The Bruins were the darlings of professional bettings until the betting public hopped on the bandwagon and the bookmakers caught on. Vegas then made Belmont a double-digit favorite in 7 of their last 10 regular season games, and the Bruins finally started to fall short of covering the spread.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Vegas linemakers and bettors react to Belmont’s success this year. The Bruins are in some very favorable spots betting in the beginning of the year, including their home opener where they could be a home underdog to Illinois St.

X Factor: Dylan Windler

The Bruins will go as far as Windler takes them. Windler is a versatile do everything wing who can score in a multitude of ways. Windler lead the Bruins in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (9.4), and is the frontrunner for the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year. Because there is not an obvious answer of who is going to replace Amanze Egekeze’s 16 points per game last season, Windler has an opportunity to produce astronomical numbers with a higher usage rate.