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The Other Top 25 preseason rankings: No. 17 Belmont Bruins

There will be no decline in the Bruins’ first year after Rick Byrd’s retirement.

Temple V Belmont Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

2018-19 Record: 27-6 (16-2 OVC); NCAA Tournament At-Large bid (First Four — 81-70 W vs. Temple; First Round — 79-77 L vs. Maryland)

Key Returning Players: Nick Muszynski (C, RS So.), Grayson Murphy (G, RS So.), Nick Hopkins (G, RS Jr.)

Key Losses: Dylan Windler, Kevin McClain, Rick Byrd

Key Newcomers: Tyler Scanlon (F, Grad transfer via Boston University)

In 30-plus seasons as head coach of the Belmont Bruins, Rick Byrd helmed some phenomenal teams and coached scores of talented athletes. Fittingly enough, his final season with the Bruins gave him what was perhaps his most memorable year by way of having his most talented roster ever.

With future first round NBA Draft pick Dylan Windler leading the way, the Bruins won a regular season OVC title and impress enough members of the selection committee to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, giving the conference its first multi-bid year since 1987.

After the year, Rick Byrd decided to call it a career, and his former assistant Casey Alexander — head coach at Lipscomb, a school just a handful of miles down the road from Belmont — was hired to replace the venerable Bruin.

Key Non-Conference Games

In the past few years, Belmont has managed to schedule entertaining non-conference games, avoiding the dilemma that faces most mid-major coaches who simply can’t find anyone willing to schedule their teams.

Most of this is thanks to the reputation that Belmont has built up over the years as a mid-major opponent worth scheduling. As a team that provides consistent success, teams are fine scheduling the Bruins because they are one of the few mid-major teams who provide either a quality win or a not-so-damaging loss year after year.

This season is no different, as Belmont will take on some enormously talented teams in the out-of-conference slate, including Alabama (in its first year under former Buffalo head coach Nate Oats) and Western Kentucky, whose talent level this level is stunning for a mid-major program.

Nov. 16 at Boston College (Gotham Classic)
Nov. 23 at Saint Louis (Gotham Classic)
Dec. 21 vs. Alabama ( in Huntsville, AL)
Dec. 28 at Western Kentucky

Three Things to Watch

Big shoes to fill

There wasn’t a single soul who thought that Belmont made a poor choice in hiring Casey Alexander to replace Byrd. By this point, Alexander has proven himself to be a winner, turning Lipscomb into a 20-win team in his fourth season with the Bisons — including winning 52 games over the past two seasons — culminating with a trip to the 2019 NIT Championship Game.

Nearly everyone expects Alexander to be able to pick up right where Byrd left off, as he shares a similar style of play that’s focused on quick possessions and high-volume perimeter shooting. Additionally, much of the same staff remains, as program mainstays such as Tyler Holloway and Brian Ayers will be joined by Sean Rutigliano, an assistant to Alexander at Lipscomb.

Muszynski’s turn in the spotlight

While Dylan Windler was the guy earning all of the accolades last season, he wasn’t the only player on Belmont worth celebrating.

In his first non-redshirt season with the Bruins, center Nick Muszynski carved out a significant role for himself, becoming one of the conference’s best big men.

Indeed, Muszynski found himself involved in as many possessions last season as Windler, and the former boasted efficiency numbers that placed him 71st in effective field goal percentage on KenPom. Additionally, he has a hidden ability to knock down long range shots on occasion — a skill that could become a larger factor as his game progresses.

With Windler gone, Muszynski will no doubt be the go-to guy for the Bruins this season, and there’s a sizable chance that he will finish as both a First Team All-OVC selection and contender for OVC Player of the Year.

Grad transfer with star power

With Grayson Murphy providing stability at point guard and Muszynski dominating the paint, the biggest on-court question mark for the Bruins going into this year was replacing Dylan Windler.

Fortunately, the Bruins found their answer in Tyler Scanlon, a 6’7” grad transfer from Boston University. While he likely won’t be as outstanding as the current Cleveland Cavalier was in his Belmont days, Scanlon provides experience as well as efficient shooting. He’s exactly the kind of versatile player you’d want to replace the void left by a guy like Windler.

X Factor

It’s hard to pinpoint any weaknesses that the Bruins have, largely because they’re such a stable, well-rounded team. Yet for as much praise as Belmont’s offense routinely gets, it’s their defense that routinely got them into sticky situations last season, as they allowed teams such as Samford, Green Bay, Eastern Kentucky, and Jacksonville State to hang 90+ points on them.

Luckily for the Bruins, Alexander is familiar with coaching up defense. After all, he built Lipscomb into a squad that boasted a robust KenPom top-50 defense last season. If he is able to work some similar magic with this team, combining high scoring with a lockdown defense, Belmont will have the potential to be deadlier than ever.