If you wonder how Rick Byrd consistently has his Belmont teams ready for Ohio Valley play each season, even when he loses scoring, rebounding, name the skill that graduates, you don't have to have more evidence than Sunday night's game against Butler.
The Bruins walked away with the 67-56 loss, but this game will give them more than enough confidence when Southeast Missouri State comes to town Thursday.
Belmont pushed the Bulldogs for a half, controlling tempo and getting a nice boost from their long-range shooting. But this was to be short lived as Butler's very physical game started to wear down the Bruins.
Suddenly the 3-point shot is short -- just 4-for-14 after the half -- and the defense can't respond in the same way off the glass, or on the break.
This wasn't the same Belmont team that managed to make things work in their favor for a majority of the first 20 minutes.
That isn't to say that this team is broken, or won't be able to hold up in the conference. Just the opposite. This is the kind of game that Byrd loves, because it teaches his team how to deal with adversity.
Look at the Belmont schedule and you can see that Byrd likes to challenge his teams. There will be a game or two that don't fit that mold, but look at this year's slate: Wright State, Ohio, Denver, Middle Tennessee, Evansville, VCU and Butler.
No, it isn't the murderers' row that some of their schedules have featured -- VCU and Butler are the only two team in the top 100 of the KenPom rankings this season so far -- but this is the kind of slate that will get a team into shape. Byrd has teams that are on par with the Bruins and will test them over 40 minutes. In a year when a down schedule might have made sense, the down schedule is one that a lot of teams would be doing a lot worse against than 8-5.
This is what the schedule is designed to do: learn and possibly excel. They Bruins almost pulled it out against Evansville. They have two losses against Wright State thanks to mistakes (turnovers in the first game really destroyed the Bruins) and allowing the Raiders to get comfortable shooting long-range (10-for-15 from 3-point range in the second).
Now they have faced two of the tougher defenses that any team will see. They won't see a VCU or a Butler in the OVC. They will feel like they are facing a breath of fresh air when they see all the lanes open for them on the court.
Craig Bradshaw and Evan Bradds will be able to work open and score. Plus Amanze Egekeze will round into a freshman of the year candidate. If he can perform as he did against Butler, he will excel over the second half of this season.
Sunday night goes down as a loss for Belmont, but the Bruins have learned a lot over the course of this nonconference run. The Butler game was just the final course as they prep for the final exams beginning Thursday night.
The Bruins are ready. Rick Byrd made sure of that.